While browsing through a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine, I came across an article about the current generation of picture books and their bratty protagonists. It was illustrated by an image from a book called Finn Throws a Fit. Aha, I thought, so juvenile authors are on top of current naming trends. This impelled me to go running (figuratively) to my local Borders to seek further evidence.
One difference I noticed immediately was that there were more little human protagonists and fewer of the porcine (excluding Olivia), feline, canine, bovine, etc persuasion than there were in the past, and there were, as the article pointed out, a lot more angry children populating the pages, and a lot more preoccupation with poop and farts.
In terms of names, I was surprised to see that there was a book title containing almost every currently popular choice—almost as many as there are on the personalized pencils in the airport—a big upswing from the past. Here are some titles all released since the turn of the century–and they’re just the tip of the iceberg!:
CONSTANCE and the Great Escape
ELIZA and the Dragonfly
My Name is Not ISABELLA
IVY and Bean
JUNIE B., First Grader
Let’s Find LUCY
RUBY’S FALLING LEAVES
When SOPHIE Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry
TALLULAH in the Kitchen
Goodnight, my sweet VIOLET
DEXTER Gets Dressed
KYLE’s First Crush
LIAM Goes Poo in the Toilet
OLIVER Who Would Not Sleep
PHINEAS & Ferb series
WALTER the Farting Dog series
There are some celebrity kids’ names that are immediately embraced by other parents and become instant hits. Take Kingston, for example, the name chosen for personal reasons relating to the city in Jamaica by Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale: it had all the ingredients to make it a success– accessibility, likeability, a strong, familiar sound with regal overtones, plus extremely high-profile parents.
Another name with similar qualities is Maddox, the first son of Angelina Jolie, which first entered the popularity lists in 2003 and has been steadily climbing ever since. A few recent names—Honor (Warren), Clementine (Hawkes), Seraphina (Affleck), and Harlow (Madden) spring to mind—were direct hits, and seem sure to spread.
On the other side of the coin are those that were just as instantly rejected as too weird for everyday consumption: the Ikhyds, Banjos, Bandits, Pumas, Pirates and Peanuts.
Some names that were greeted at first as too audacious have now become accepted.Romeo, second son of Victoria and David Beckham, had been considered too melodramatically Shakespearean until it became associated with a cute blonde crew cut and a British accent.The name of Romeo’s brother Brooklyn also produced a few guffaws when it was announced—but then other parents started to separate the two syllables into Brook and Lyn, gradually cancelling out the New-York-accented borough association and transforming it into a pretty name for a girl: now Brooklyn ranks in the Top 50 of girls’ names. That other New York borough name, Bronx, however, got an instant thumbs down.
Of course a lot of it is about exposure. The fabulous name of the kid of some C-list actress who has never once been seen in the pages of People or viewed on Access Hollywood probably isn’t gonna make it.
On the other hand, names that are paraded before the public daily, like Kelly Ripa’s Lola and Joaquin can’t help but be noticed and emulated. Teri Hatcher named her daughter Emerson in 1997, but it wasn’t until Hatcher hit it big with Desperate Housewives that the name really took off—as has her co-star Marcia Cross’s much-photographed twin’s Eden.
So which names have definitely been given a celebritized bounce? The leader of the pack is—hands down—Ava, used by no fewer than a dozen stars, most notably Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe in 1999, and which is now the fifth most popular name in America.
Some others that have been boosted by a celebrity connection are:
AVERY for girls
FINLEY for girls
HARPER for girls
There ‘s also a more recent contingent of starbaby names that seem to have the potential for becoming more widely accepted, including:
Ava is one of the biggest recent baby name success stories, jumping from almost the bottom of the Top 1000 twenty years ago to #4 last year–and it could be heading for #1. I’m certainly hearing it everywhere I go, in the street and in the supermarket, and seeing it on popularity lists worldwide. This brings to mind two questions: A) What can you substitute if you like Ava but don’t want such a trendy name? and B) Is Ava the name that will knock Emily out of top place or will it be one of the other leading contenders?
Here are a few ideas if you’re looking for an answer to A:
AVALON. Deriving from the Celtic word for apple, this is a very romantic place name–it was an island paradise in Celtic and Arthurian legend where it was a beautiful island renowned for its luscious apples, the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged. In the present day, it’s the main city on the California island of Catalina.
Starbaby namesake? Daughter of 24 and Heroes actress Rena Sofer.
AVERY. If you’re looking for an alternative with a unisex-surname spin, this is it. The only problem is that Avery is pursuing Ava up the popularity list–and also, if you care about literal meanings, ‘Elf ruler’ doesn’t have much revelance in the modern world.
Starbaby namesake? Daughter of Angie Harmon & Jason Sehorn. NEWS FLASH: Amy Locane just had a daughter she named Avery Hope.
AVIS. A vintage birdlike name which, like cousin Mavis, was once more popular in England; here the dated ‘s’ ending (as in Doris and Phyllis) and the rental-car connection lessened its chances. But now it’s old-time, funky feel gives it some degree of nostalgic charm.
Starbaby namesake? Daughter of Baldwin brother Daniel.
EVA. Several glamorous Evas–Longoria, Mendes, Green–have given Eva a popularity boost. But bear in mind that in several cultures Eva is pronounced Ava, so though it may not look as trendy, the sound’s the same.
Starbaby namesake? Dixie Chick Martie Maguire’s twin daughter.
ADA. Sounding as fusty as Ava did ten years ago, Ada is in line for a possible piggyback revival. Trivia tidbit: Ava Lovelace, daughter of the poet Byron, is considered to have been the very first “computer programmer,” 19th century style.
Starbaby namesake? Not yet.
Which baby name trends do we see coming in for 2009 and which do we see heading out? Here, our predictions for the year ahead.
BIGGEST BIG-PICTURE TREND: DEPRESSION ERA NAMES
The hit TV show Mad Men, set in the early 60s, reintroduced names that were all the rage when the characters were born in the 1930s: Don , Betty, Joan, Peggy. They’re plain names fit for hard times, and we predict the hardscrabble months ahead will inspire more babies with these names: Dorothy, Helen, Ruth, and Frances for girls; Thomas, Edward, Frank, Raymond, and even Harold for boys. Plus the stylish new occupational names–Gardener, Ranger, Miller–are likely to gain in appeal for both boys and girls as actual jobs become more scarce.
MOST SURPRISING COMEBACK NAME
Leon, middle name choice for Brangelina twin Knox, had become a joke in the U.S. but was on the rise in Europe, where all lion-related names–Leo, Leonora, Lionel–are tres chic. Leon and Leonie are the number one names in Germany and for the first time in decades, have style potential here.
BEST NEW TREND INSPIRED BY A CELEBRITY BABY NAME
Jessica Alba’s infant Honor has ushered in a new appreciation for virtue names, on the rise through the name ranks–and hopefully also in spirit–with Faith, Hope, Patience, Mercy, Justice, True, and Pax.
HOTTEST GENDER-BENDING TREND
Boys names that end in a vowel sound and girls’ names that end in a consonant. Examples: Ezra, Eli, Milo, Noah, Hugo for boys, and for girls, Annabel instead of Annabella, for instance, or Eden instead of Emma.
TRENDIEST TREND-RELATED TREND
Names that are considered too trendy by stylish parents by virtue of their association with other, trendier names or with high-visibility celebrities. Examples: Ada, fresh yet too close to the megapopular Ava. Pearl, too much like groovy Ruby. Roman, son of Cate Blanchett and Debra Messing. And Matilda, toddler of Michelle Wiliams and Heath Ledger.
GIRL TREND READY TO JUMP THE SHARK
BOY TREND READY TO JUMP THE SHARK
COOLEST MIDDLE NAME TREND
Names that carry powerful meaning, launched when people adopted the middle name Hussein in solidarity with Obama. Less name than symbol, the new middle name may carry political meaning, convey ethnic background, stand in for a place, animal, character, or thing that has meaning for the parents.
NEW “IT” VOWEL
MOST FASHIONABLE CONSONANT
NAME TREND THAT’S BEST FOR THE EARTH
MOST SURPRISING CELEBRITY NAME INSPIRATION
Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post was the media star of the 2008 election, is an attractive and influential person but hardly the kind of tabloid hottie who usually inspires thousands of baby namesakes. But joining Ashton and Angelina, the name Arianna has ascended with Huffington’s renown, reaching number 70 in the last year counted and certain to zoom much higher.
TREND WE’D MOST LIKE TO SEE DIE
For twelve years now, since 1996, the most popular name for girl babies has been Emily. But it looks like Emily’s reign as the top girls’ name may be coming to an end–something we won’t know until the next Social Security list comes out in May. In all fairness, Madison or Emma deserves to take the top spot–they’ve been hovering around it for so long, but there are five other newer names that are hot enough to threaten Queen Emily’s supremacy.
What’s interesting about four of the five current contenders , Addison being the exception, is that they’re trendy without the sound or feel of trendiness typical of some of the high-rated names of a few years ago–Tiffany, Brittany/Britney, Ashley–that flashed onto the scene, became red hot, and then faded. The difference with the present group is that they have deep roots, both historic and literary, and though they are clearly feminine, they also have strength and substance.
ADDISON is the name that’s had the most rapid rise, being the logical rhyming successor to the long-running Madison, and the first name in a while to have sprung from a TV show–Grey‘s Anatomy/Private Practice. Currently at #11, it would be a long shot for first place, though it did reach that spot in two states
AVA is a name imbued with old Hollywood glamour via Golden Age star Ava Gardner and has taken off like a rocket, largely because of its use by a dozen or so current movie stars, starting with Reese Witherspoon. It already headed the lists of nine states last year, and was #5 on the national list.
OLIVIA is a Latinate name popularized by Shakespeare for a leading character in Twelfth Night and has continued to be used in literature all the way up to the contemporary kids’ book porcine character Olivia. # 7 last year, it was also #1 in three states
ISABELLA was of course the Spanish queen who backed Cristoforo Columbo’s voyages, as well as being the name of a British royal, a character in Shakespeare‘s Measure for Measure, in Jane Austen and in Wuthering Heights. Last year, it was #3 nationally, top name in nine states.
SOPHIA has been a favorite of British novelists, starting with the heroine of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, and shares reflected cinematic stardust with Ava, this time via the sultry Sophia Loren. Three states had this name at #1 last year, it was #6 nationwide.
So these are the candidates. Place your bets.