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With the possible exception of Jay, no first name has been in more headlines in the past few weeks than Conan.  Which got me to thinking about all the image reversals this name has gone through over the years.  In our first book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, for example, it was listed between Clarabell the Clown and Ebenezer Scrooge as a definite no-no, because of its barbaric associations.

But that in itself was a turnaround from its one-time saintly aura.  The original St. Conan– then pronounced kun-awn– was a zealous 7th century Irish missionary—also known as Mochonna—one of the earliest bishops of the Isle of Man,.  He was followed by a few other minor Irish saints by that name, including St. Conan of Assaroe and St. Conan of Ballinamore.  And in Irish legend, Conán mac Mórna was a member of Finn MacCool’s warrior band.

For centuries the name remained within the confines of Ireland, except for gaining some middle-name recognition via Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, who, though born in Scotland, was of Irish heritage and who, as a struggling young doctor, had so few patients that he took to writing stories to make ends meet

Then, in the 1930s, a pulp magazine writer named Robert E. Howard created a wandering barbarian hero who eventually became a Marvel comic book character in 1970.  At first a sword and sorcery hero in a magical world, within a few years he had morphed into the more familiar muscle man materialized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian.

That remained Conan’s seemingly immutable image until the lanky red-haired O’Brien came on the scene as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1988, occasionally appearing in sketches.  When he got his own late night show in 1993, suddenly the witty Conan O’Brien became CONAN—a single name celeb—overshadowing his hulkier fictional predecessor.

Despite or because of all this, Conan, unlike such Irish mates as Connor and Colin, has never appeared on the US top thousand.  Is it because of the lingering barbarian association?  I’m curious to know if it’s a name you would ever consider using, and if not why. Do you see it as just another Gaelic possibility or forever tied to one of those two personas?

And what about  the other names on that old  J&J taboo list?   Some of them have managed to escape their stereotypes:  Felix is no longer only a cat or fussbudget, little Lulu a comic strip character, Olive Popeye’s girlfriend, or Oscar still just a grouch. And there are signs of hope for Kermit, Casper, Linus and Grover.

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Old Lady Names: Ready for the Next Wave?

Vintage Names

A sizeable number of people come to nameberry every day searching for Old Lady Names – and they’re not looking for a new moniker for Grandma.  Rather, they’re looking for Old Lady Names that sound new again for babies.

As a genre, Old Lady Names are approaching their third wave of stylishness.  The initial wave was identified in our first baby name book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, published in 1988, as the hot Grandma names and the edgier Baby Women names.

Hot Grandmas included such folksy choices as:

ANNA

ANNIE

EMMA

HANNAH

JESSIE

LILY

MOLLY

NELL

NORA

SADIE

SOPHIE

The more buttoned-up Baby Women names we called “the names of the rich great-aunts who, ten years ago, you might have prayed would not ask you to name your child after them.  These included such now-stylish (but then-outrageous) choices as:

BEATRICE

CLARA

CORA

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Confessions of a Name Nerd

Name Game

For years, it was my dirty little secret. I had special paper: lined white pads with no margins or holes down the left side. The pens had to be just so too, heavy black or blue fountain pens like we used in Catholic school. I needed two decks of cards, shuffled together. And my name lists, that was the most important thing.

I called it Writing Names, and the only people who knew I did it, my parents and my younger brother, teased me mercilessly about it. It was weird, they said, crazy even. And so I kept it secret from the rest of the world, not only when I was ten and eleven and twelve but for years afterward.

I was seriously unpopular during that time, too old to race around on bikes or play house in the woods, but too young to be so ashamed of my name obsession that I’d give it up. After school and through long summer days, I’d get out my paper and my cards and my lists and I’d settle in for hours alone with my Name Game.

Here’s how it worked: I had four lists of 144 names each – girls’ names, boys’ names, last names, and place names. The names on the lists were each keyed to a pair of cards: ace-two might equal Barbara, say, or eight-three Joseph. I’d shuffle my cards, divide them into two equal piles, and then turn over the first pair, which would indicate the fathers’ name in the family I was inventing. Then mom and last name.

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Beyond Ava & Aiden is Born

avaaidencover1

Beyond Ava & Aiden hits the bookstores today,  the first complete all-new edition of our landmark book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, totally revised from beginning to end, with a brand new title and lots of brand new features.

Like what?  To recapture the freshness, lightness, humor and user-friendliness of the original, we went back to our basic four-part structure of Style, Image, Sex and Tradition.  Out went the Popularity section, since so much of that information is now accessible instantly online.

We’ve added fresh advice and approaches to the challenges of naming a daughter and naming a son, new categories like Green Names, Powerboys and Metrodudes, Baby Gods and Goddesses, and Mixed-Marriage Names–hundreds of the kind of subjective lists we invented, pointing out not only current trends, but where they come from and where they’re going.

Finding the right name for our baby was a major challenge.  (The naming of The Baby Name Bible had been such a torturous process that we documented our struggle in an article in Publishers Weekly magazine.

We knew it was time to let go of our original title, since Jennifer and Jason are now the parents of the new generation of babies.  But which alliterative pairing to choose?  Among the many considered and rejected: Beyond Emily & Ethan, Beyond Addison & Aiden, Beyond Adam & Eva, Beyond Jayden & Jada, Beyond Miley & Max.

And then the latest popularity lists decided for us, with Ava and Aiden pulling ahead of all their trendy compatriots to become the Jennifer and Jason of today.

We can’t wait to hear what you think of the result.  And to give you more of a taste of what’s in the new book, we’ll be  posting excerpts every Friday through the summer, starting this week.

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finnmaccool

One of the great mysteries of baby-naming is how a name comes seemingly out of nowhere to become a fashionable, popular choice.

Finn is such a name.  When we wrote our first baby-naming book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, 20 years ago, Finn appeared in exactly one place: As a So Far Out It’s In name, in the Irish surname category.

Finn has a lot going for it, starting with the very first inspiration for the name, the greatest hero of Irish mythology, Finn McCool.   How could a name not be cool with an ancestor like that?

But unlike other, far more complex Irish names, Finn has tremendous crossover potential.  It’s also kind of Scandinavian, sort of fishy, easy to spell and say, plus has several attractive relatives: Finnian, Finnegan, Finlay.

And it’s been chosen by such high profile couples as Ed Burns and Christy Turlington for their son, while Angie Harmon and Jason Sehorn named their daughter Finley, a version also chosen by Lisa Marie Presley for one of her newborn twin girls.

Once you dissect all that, it’s easy to see that Finn‘s popularity hardly came from nowhere.  And it’s a name that’s unlikely to fade away again anytime soon.

For more names from Irish mythology, check out our new book, Cool Irish Names for Babies.

AND HAVE A HAPPY ST. PATRICK‘S DAY!

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