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.
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.
I once wrote a magazine story where I went looking for all the women named Pamela Redmond in America. It was a strange experience, meeting this wide range of women — a welfare mom in California; a factory worker in Iowa; an architect in New York City — with whom I expected to feel a kinship based on our mutual name. But didn’t, necessarily.
According to a new tool called How Many of Me?, there are 51 people named Pamela Redmond out there, but only one named Pamela Satran, one of the best arguments I’ve heard for using my husband’s name. My kids Rory and Owen are similarly one-of-a-kind, though my husband (Richard) and older son (Joseph) share their names with a couple of other people on the planet, undoubtedly long-lost relatives.
If you’re looking for a truly unique name for your baby, or just want to see how common your own name is, check out this tool. Of course, a lot depends on your last name. A Smith or a Jackson may have to come up with something really unusual to qualify as unique. I tested it out and came up with 3,198 Emily Smiths and 3,122 Matthew Jacksons, but only a couple of statistically likely Andromeda Smiths or Jericho Jacksons.
Of course, if your last name is (I picked these out of the phone book) Nienaber or Emenogu, you’ll have a much easier time being distinctive. You can choose a popular name such as Isabella or Ethan and still be fairly sure your child’s full name will be one-of-a-kind.
You may even feel, if you have a unfamiliar or complicated last name, that it may be preferable to choose a common first name for your baby, that Emily Emenogu will have an easier time overall than Aanisah Emenogu. And you may be right.
Some people try to make a name “more unique” by varying the spelling or pronunciation, turning Ashley into Ashleigh or Ashlea or pronouncing is ash-LAY-uh. Take this route only if you don’t mind spelling and respelling and explaining a name for the next hundred or so years. And definitely DON‘T try this if your last name is Smythe.
You may want your baby’s name to be unique. But there may also be such a thing as too unique.