Category: name variations
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Does a different spelling alter the image of a name?
We’re not talking about kreeatif spellings here, but standard variations. For example:
• Would Ann of Green Gables have seemed like a slightly different character? (She passionately advocated for the e at the end of her name, claiming it made it “so much more distinguished.”)
• Do you see Catherine as more classic than Katherine?
• Is Isobel more exotic than Isabel?
• Aiden more modern or American than Aidan?
• Elisabeth softer than Elizabeth?
• How about Susanna vs Susannah, Margo vs Margot, Mae vs May?
Any other examples you can think of where different spellings alter your perception of a name?
The idea for this blog arose, as so many good things do, from the nameberry forums, in this case one on name spellings. In particular, the focus was on names that had more than one legitimate spelling, and asked visitors to pick their favorite of the two (or more).
With so much talk these days about yooneek spellings of names – variations invented to make a name more “special” – it’s interesting to explore those names that have more than one bona fide spelling.
Of course, there may be some controversy over what constitutes bona fide name spellings. On the forum, some people took issue with spelling variations springing from different origins of a name: Isabelle as the French version and Isabel the Spanish, for instance, and so not really pure spelling variations in the way that Katherine and Kathryn are. Others argued over spelling variations that might more accurately be differences in a name’s gender or pronunciation.
There are obviously a lot of ways to split this hair. And we’ve made a lot of judgment calls some of you may disagree with. Sure, Debra might be a modern variation of the Biblical Deborah, but it was so widely used in mid-century America it’s now legitimate, or at least that’s the way we see it.
Here are some girls’ names with more than one spelling that we consider legitimate.
- Annabel and Annabelle (and Anabel)
- Anne and Ann
- Ariana and Arianna
- Briony and Bryony
- Brooke and Brook
- Claire and Clare
What are the most popular girls’ names in the U.S.? If you consult the official Social Security list, or most of the state lists, you’ll get one version. With each name counted individually by spelling — Sophia and Sofia are counted separately, in other words — the national list of most popular girls’ names (I’m going to include the Top 15, for reasons that will become evident) is:
But to Katharine Hales — aka nameberry’s k_lareese — this didn’t look quite right. Hales, an attorney who is studying to be a law librarian, wanted to name her first child Lillian, with the nickname Lily. But when researching the name, she noticed that both Lily and Lillian were in the Top 30. If you added all the spelling and variations of the name together, she wondered, mightn’t you end up with a true popularity number that was significantly higher?
It’s become a truism that once a name gets too popular, no one wants to use it anymore. (Which reminds me of the famous Yogi Berra saying: Nobody goes to that place anymore. It’s too crowded.)
So what do they use instead? Often, a name that’s the same but different.
More interesting, though, are the names that are just now appearing on the horizon as similar-but-different substitutes for names that are becoming overly popular. The appeal of these names is obvious: They seem to offer fresh spins on favorites that are feeling a bit tired.
The down side is that so many people tend to flock to them, they’re often in danger of becoming – like Emma – overexposed themselves.
Here, some current favorites and the daughters (and sons) they’ve spawned. Interestingly, some popular names inspire new choices that may cross gender lines.