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)
When Matthew McConaughey chose the name Levi for his son, he was, in a subtle way, naming the baby after himself. How so? Because in the New Testament, Matthew and Levi are two names for the same person.
There are many other such pairs of names with close connections that aren’t immediately evident, whether they be different ethnic versions of the same name, double identities for the same person, having historic or literary ties, or as sharers of linguistic elements. Being aware of this can be a useful tool for baby namers seeking not-too-obviously linked twin or sibling names or, like McConaughey, another less egoey version of your or your spouse’s name.
And of course it could also come in handy when looking for a more modern substitute namesake for a fustily-named family member. As much as you may have adored your Grandpa Roland, for example, you still might prefer the more dashing Orlando for your baby boy.
Here are a few examples, though of course there are countless other ethnic-switching possibilities out there:
When we parse the annual Social Security list, we usually focus on the top names–what’s the new Number One, which names have made it into the Top 25, even the Top 100. But there are many names on the Popularity List that actually aren’t all that popular– certainly not commonly enough used to deter parents who are looking for a distinctive name.
In the lower depths of the list, there are a number of neglected names that were given to fewer than 350 babies across the country last year, real hidden gems sprinkled among the more unusually configured Cloes, Alyvias and Jovanys. These are appealing names that are recognizable to all, with real history and meaning, but which would still stand out in a crowd (or in a pre-school).
Among them are:
DIXIE — One of the most engaging of the saucy showgirl nickname names, with an added dash of Southern spice.
JUNE — Springtime month name starting to come back into bloom.
JUSTINE –An elegant name with deep Latin roots and a righteous meaning.
MARIN — A shimmering water name, distinctive and sophisticated.
TAMARA –With both Russian and Hebrew roots, has a dramatic, creative image.
TESS — Has a lot more substance, strength and style than most single-syllable names; a good middle name choice too.
CONRAD –A solid, serious name with literary cred.
DARWIN –Perfect for the son of scientists, but also appealing to any parent looking for a name with a stylish sound and historic significance.
FLETCHER –An occupational (arrow-maker) name with an abundance of quirky charm.
KILLIAN — Dynamic Irish saint’s name; only possible drawback is tie to the trendy brew.
REX — One of the few trendy x-ending boys’ names with a real–even regal–meaning.
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