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
We’ve been scrutinizing your responses to our recent survey, in particular the question that asked what you’d like to see more of on nameberry, with an eye to accommodating your suggestions. Quite a few responders put in requests for more ethnic names— with pronunciations—and a couple took note of our blog on birth announcements in the London Times, interested in seeing similar subjects, which Pam will be updating soon.
So, since we aim to please, this time we are taking a look at announcements in the Irish Times over the past few months–the ethnic and not-so-ethnic names found there–with pronunciations when needed.
The current batch of newborn names in Ireland shows a typical mix of Anglo-Saxon classics (especially for boys), modern Irish standards , and the old Gaelic names that have been revived and become fashionable in recent years, as well as some internationally trendy choices. Below are some of the more interesting, with pronunciations where useful–bearing in mind that they change from region to region (and reference book to reference book).
Among the currently most popular girls’ names are Emily, Lucy, Isabel (and Isabelle, Isabella and Isobel), and Grace, with several appearances of Hazel and Sophia/Sofia , Rose and Ruby. Leading middle names in this sampling appear to be Elizabeth, Grace, Rose, Louise, May and Maeve.
Here, some of the more unusual choices–including some interesting combos:
If you’re looking for some eye-opening name moments, try browsing through some vintage name books and you might be surprised to discover just how dramatically perceptions of some names have changed over time. In some cases what we think of as perfectly valid current choices have actually been written off as dead and gone. Today’s popular Ava, for instance, was rarely thought worthy of inclusion in most name books, even fairly recent ones. But one generation’s dusty skeleton can be reborn as another’s darling baby boy or girl, so it’s a risky business to write off a name (at least post-Etheldred period), as can be seen from the comments below about some names we love today:
ABIGAIL – turned into a cant term for a lady’s maid, and thenceforth has been seldom heard even in a cottage (1884)
CHLOE – its main use has been by pastoral poets (1945)
ESME – is now sometimes given to girls (1945)
MATILDA — among the most disliked names for girls (1967)
SOPHIA – went out of fashion in the 19th century (1945)
VICTORIA – is now almost obsolete (1945)
COLIN — by the 16th century was regarded as a rustic nickname and it gradually died out altogether (1945)
CONNOR – now survives mainly as a surname (1945)
JONAH – most everywhere regarded as sissy (1967)
In a recent blog, one half of the Nameberry partnership suggested ten neglected names–five for girls and five for boys– names that aren’t receiving the attention or popularity they deserve. Now here are ten more from the other half–names that have been consistent favorites of mine, but which have never really caught fire despite our recommendations. (I should add that two of the names on the first list–Barnaby and Dinah–have been enduring loves of mine as well–in fact Dinah was the runner up to Chloe when I was naming my daughter.)
So, from the Land of Lost Opportunities:
AMITY. Unlike her solid, serious, one-syllable virtue-name cousins Hope, Grace and Faith, Amity has a lacy delicacy as well the wonderful meaning of friendship. And yet it has not appeared in the Top 1000 in 150 years. The same is true of the similarly neglected VERITY, which also has the attraction of a trendy V-beginning and the meaning of truth.
DUNCAN. This handsome Scottish name has always been near the top of my boy favorites list, for its combination of sophistication and bounce. It has literary cred from Shakespeare (Macbeth) to James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans). Though it hasn’t been completely neglected –it reached as high as 377 in the late 90s heyday of D-names like Dylan, Dustin and Dalton–it’s never been fully appreciated. Could Dunkin’ Donuts be to blame?
GENEVA. Believe it or not, this was quite a common name a century ago, in the very low one hundreds in the first two decades of the 20th century. Being one of the original place names, with the long-popular Gen-Jen beginning (and logical nickname), it’s surprising that it hasn’t been picked up on in the modern age.
JANE. Whatever happened to Baby Jane? Once ubiquitous, it has virtually disappeared, and while the names of several of Jane Austen heroines have succeeded, her own name has not. I’ve never thought Jane was plain, seeing it as much more vibrant than cousins Joan and Jean. It makes a sweet, old-fashioned middle name too–moving away from dated Mary Jane to cooler combinations like Ethan Hawke’s Clementine Jane.
LARS. One of a number of appealing Scandinavian names that have never made their mark in this country, Lars is strong, straightforward, friendly, and a touch exotic–a perfect choice for someone seeking a distinctive no-nickname name or a namesake for a Grandpa Lawrence. (And for those who like the en/-an-ending trend, there are also SOREN, KELLEN, and STELLAN.)
LIONEL. Not quite as obviously leontine as Leo or Leon (of which it’s a French diminutive), Lionel has a lot of multi-dimensional cred, as a Knight of the Round Table, and in the jazz and TV-character worlds. Runner-up: the Welsh LLEWELYN, if only for its cool double-L nicknames–Llew, Lleu and Llelo.
MIRABEL, MIRABELLE. The perfect alternative for those tiring of the mega-popular Isabel and Annabel and Miranda, this is another choice that has never reached the Top 1000, despite its feminine charm and accessibility. It can also be considered a nature name, as mirabelle is the name of a variety of sweet yellow plum. Italian version MIRABELLA is another winner.
POLLY. Why Molly and not Polly? I’ve never understood the enduring popularity of the one and the neglect of the other, both being vintage rhyming nicknames for Mary. The disparity might be accounted for by the childlike, innocent, pigtailed, Pollyannaish (and maybe avian) image of Polly, a name which has hardly been heard since the 70s, (except maybe for Mattel’s Polly Pocket dolls), having peaked on the charts in 1881! I say it’s time for a revival.
REMY. A French name that’s not as effete as Anatole or Antoine. Au contraire. Remy–meaning someone from the city of Rheims and sometimes associated with the Cajun cadences of New Orleans– is lively and charming, with just a pungent whiff of cognac. Kids will relate it to the plucky rat chef hero of Ratatouille.
ZEBEDEE. A distinctive Biblical name with zip as well as gravitas, belonging to the fisherman who was father to two of the twelve disciples, James and John. Other pluses: the cool initial Z and the cool nickname Zeb.