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Category: names of the week

What makes a name a name?

Kid portrait

By Abby Sandel, AppellationMountain

What makes a name real?

To think bigger, what makes a word real?  That’s the question raised by English professor and language historian Anne Curzan in her TED talk.

They’re long-standing questions, but the speed of our modern age means that change happens fast.  Imagine a name like Nevaeh catching on before MTV, or Jayceon before YouTube.

Curzan points out that dictionaries are written by people, people who are listening very carefully to how the general public uses words.  So tweet and defriend make the cut.

The same thing happens with baby name books and websites.  Nevaeh wouldn’t have appeared in the 1980s, but she’s firmly installed today.  And while Jayceon might be too new to appear in print, the fast-rising variant can be found on most of the major baby name sites.

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Nameberry 9 by Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain

It’s been a quiet week for high profile arrivals.  Sure, Michael Weatherly of NCIS fame and wife Bojana welcomed son Liam.  It’s a great name – friendly, upbeat, accessible.  Liam is also a solid favorite in the US, just like big sister’s name, Olivia.  Last year, he was the #1 choice in at least nine states, and shows no signs of slowing down.

But name news isn’t just about celebrities.  In order for parents to consider a name, they have to know that it exists.  Books, television, movies, athletes, actors, song lyrics, people in the headlines – they can all add new options to an expectant parent’s shortlist.

Baby name books have always surfaced some unusual possibilities.  I fell in love with Hephzibah in a paperback name encyclopedia from the 1970s, the same book my mother used to circle mainstream options like Jill and AmyHester came from The Scarlet Letter.  And Caroline, a name I eventually used as one of my daughter’s middles?  She’s from a Psychedelic Furs song, a classic I never noticed until I heard the lyrics.

Now Nameberry, and the vast community of baby name blogs and websites, is part of that process, too.  This week was filled with daring, even fanciful names for girls with global influence.  Some of these might seem too much for a first name, but I can hear most of them in the middle spot.

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For The Nameberry 9 this week, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel finds a nonet of  familiar boys’ names that you might not have considered.

Are you watching The League?  The FX comedy is about a group of friends who form a fantasy football league.  Draft picks matter, in real sports as well as those played only on paper, and so the fourth season opened with a quandary.  Dad-to-be Kevin had traded naming rights for his newborn son in exchange for a better draft pick.  The new baby arrived, and Kevin’s buddy named the bouncing baby boy … wait for it …

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Nameberry 9: Top new TV names

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For this week’s Nameberry 9,  Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel got busy with her remote as she surfed for the most fascinating names from new TV shows.

The kids are back in school and there’s a chill in the air – must be time for the new Fall television line-up!  I’ve been listening for character names – bland, bold, and everywhere in between.  Last week we discussed Walden, the new roomie on Two and a Half Men.  The jury is still out on how the series will fare with Ashton as a co-star, but berries agreed – Walden is a winner of a name.

Even the most high profile shows today attract a fraction of the viewing audience that tuned in just a decade back.  That might be good news if you’ve been planning to name your newborn Walden, but it does make me wonder: are the days of television launching new names over?  So many great choices, from Allison to Xander, owe their popularity in part to a television character.

Or is the opposite true?  You couldn’t name a kid Jed in the 1960s without conjuring up The Beverly Hillbillies. Now that we’re all watching dozens of different shows, maybe it will feel less problematic to borrow a name from a favorite series.  Here are a few that caught my eye:

Anders – Comedy Central’s sophomore sitcom Workaholics follows three slacker friends – Adam, Blake, and Anders, known as DersAnders ranked #936 in 2010 – that’s pretty obscure, but it is also about the best the name has ever fared.  The evergreen Andrew might strike some parents as too ordinary.  The character’s nickname, Ders, works for Anders or Anderson.

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For this week’s baby name news, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel picks the nine newsiest names, but looks at why it’s a plus to pick a popular name ahead of the curve, what the hottest new nickname is, and when some names have run their course.

Let’s say you named your daughter Stella back in 1999.  Your Stella is now in her teens, but somehow every friend-of-a-friend is using your name for their new daughter, and it isn’t just your imagination.  Stella barely registered in the US Top 1000 back in 1999, but today, it is a Top 100 pick – and rising.  You find yourself thinking unkind thoughts about Tori Spelling, and wondering why other parents can’t be just as creative as you were, back in the day.

While parents might find it irritating, I suspect that the kids who grow up with ahead-of-the-curve names probably like it just fine.  I know a 30-something Mackenzie, a 20-something Hannah, and a recent conversation about a teenaged Sophia made me think: is the happiest of occurrences to receive a fashionable name early in its rise?

It is a tricky feat to pull off, but if you’re lucky enough to be the parent of a 6 year-old Harper or a tweenaged Lucy, congratulations.  Your child will probably grow up sharing her name with attractive fictional characters, as well as the kids she babysits.

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