Category: Pamela Redmond Satran
As the authors of, literally, the book on Cool Names, you’d think we’d know everything there is to know about cool baby names.
But the definition of cool is so fluid and so subjective, it’s difficult to point to one name, or one group of names, and proclaim it as universally cool.
Yet sometimes, you know cool when you see it. I was reading about the British actor Damian Lewis the other day — the redheaded hunk on Homeland — and noticed (of course) that the names of his children with fellow actor Helen McCrory are Manon and Gulliver.
Huh, I thought. Now THOSE are cool names. Undeniably quirky, but cool.
While the roots of Linda‘s name nerdism are different from mine — you can read her story here– and I’m sure you all have your own stories to tell, which we’d love to hear! — I trace a large part of my fascination with names to my Catholic girlhood.
Most kids back at Immaculate Conception School were dying to know whether the nuns had hair under those veils or what they wore to bed at night, but to me those mysteries paled in comparison to the nuns’ names.
Nuns got to pick new names for themselves when they entered the convent. That itself was appealing enough, but what was really amazing was that their choices were not confined by ethnic background, historical period, or even gender.
The principal of Immaculate Conception, for instance, was named Sister Miriam Gervase, an appellation that had it all going on. Miriam may have been a Mary relative, but it was one used mostly by Jews. unfamiliar in our Irish and Italian Catholic enclave. And Gervase! That may have been a hot name in 6th century Gaul….for guys. But in mid-20th century New Jersey, it really stood out in the world of Gerrys and Jeans.
On a recent trip through the South, I met two young sisters charmingly named Mason and Ellis. Surname-names for girls are characteristic of the traditional South, where family last names have long been passed down as firsts to girls as well as boys.
Little girls might well have a conventional first name like Mary or Elizabeth, but their full name is Mary Ellis (say) and they’re known as Ellis. The Mary or the Elizabeth might be mom and/or grandmother’s name; it’s the Ellis part that makes the name distinct.
Of course, surname-names are used for girls in many places beyond the American South these days, though not everyone likes the practice. Boys’ names should be left to the boys, some feel, and girls’ names should be decidedly feminine, and unisex names are all-around unappealing.
Linda and I have spent a lot of time over the years tracking the ups and downs of baby names and making sense of the movements. Often, it’s possible to divine trends in the popularity lists: Girls’ names that end in a are marching up the ladder in seeming unison, for instance, while New Testament names for boys are moving down.
But sometimes, the patterns are not so easy to discern. Sometimes, in fact, the shifts seem downright contradictory, undercutting any attempt to identify a trend.
Sure, sometimes you can credit a celebrity for a name’s rise or blame a slide on the fact that a name has been around so long that people have gotten tired of it and are turning to a new flavor. We do get, for instance, that Britain‘s newest royal is responsible for the predominance of Kate over Katherine, and that Oliver is simply a fresher name than the long-popular Christopher.
Still, even with those examples, the rise of one name at the same time another, very similar name drops can be amusing. Some notable pairings from this year’s list:
Over 1500 new baby names joined the Social Security extended list this year, 641 boys’ names and 896 names for girls. Nephele, one of the original Berries, tallied all the new baby names for us from the complete list of names given to five or more children in the U.S. in 2011.
Are there any gems in the bunch? A couple, which we will highlight for you in a moment. For the most part, though, the new baby names are either kreeatif spellings of old names – Cathrynn and Zakarri – or inventions such as Dhyey and Blessn unlikely to inspire many imitators.
Still, the names below are notable for a variety of reasons, though they’re not all recommended:
ARLINGTON – Of all the fresh place name possibilities, this one is particularly attractive.