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Favorite Names: Why We Love What We Love

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Most people, name aficionados and ordinary citizens alike, have favorite names.  My own favorites are often the subject of  professional curiosity, with interviewers asking what my favorite names are and why.

The whats are easy: Eliza has long been my favorite girls’ name, and Joseph my favorite name for boys.

But the whys are more complicated.

I decided I loved the name Eliza after a college friend whose taste I admired proclaimed Eliza her favorite name.  She knew a gorgeous girl named Eliza, and felt it combined the best of vintage charm and modern quirkiness.

I agreed, but what’s really remarkable about my love for Eliza is how long and how much it’s survived.  In the decades since it became my favorite, I’ve named three children (none of them, alas, Eliza, as my husband dislikes the name) and coauthored ten baby-naming books, along with developing this site.  I’ve talked to thousands of parents about their name tastes, and developed more sophisticated tastes of my own.

And yet my love for Eliza survives.  It still feels to me like a perfectly balanced name, with its alternating vowels and consonants, its melange of hard and soft sounds with a streamlined minimum of letters.  I love the way it calls up the images of both a Jane Austen heroine and a Broadway dancer, with the plucky Eliza Doolittle in between.  It’s become more popular in recent years — thanks partly, I know, to how energetically we’ve championed it — and I feel a pang of jealousy whenever I meet a little Eliza.  And yet it hasn’t become over-exposed and probably never will.

The reasons I love Joseph are very different.  It was my dear dad’s name, and my grandfather’s name, and I got to use it for my own older son.  I love the simple good-guy nickname Joe.  Down-to-earth, straightforward names for boys appeal to a deep-seated preference of mine, undoubtedly rooted in my love for my dad.

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