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Category: research

African American baby playing with the letter A

A names – those that start with the letter A – have become the most widely used in the U.S., given to over 10 percent of all babies, more than double the proportion of children who were given A names in the 1950s.

You can peg the popularity of A names to pure fashion, and definitely, A names ranging from the classic Abigail and Alexander to the trendy Addison and Aiden have been on the rise for a couple of decades now.  While this may be part of an overall trend toward vowel names, which are up across the board while most consonant-starting names are trending down, A is up the highest.

But there’s evidence that A names may be beneficial for your child in more substantial ways.  A study by researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Diego found that students whose names begin with the letters A and B earn better grade point averages than those whose names start with C or D.  And more law school students named Anna and Andrew tend to go to top-ranked universities like Stanford than those called Chris and Drew.

Even more significant, another study suggests that people with A names live longer – in some cases, as much as a decade longer – than those whose names start with the letter D.   Scary, but compelling if you want to give your child every advantage in life.

A names account for  20 entries on the girls’ Top 100, up from only five (Ann, Anne, Anna, Anita, and Alice) in 1950.  They are, in order of rank with their standing in parentheses, for girls:

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socialsecurity2

 Since the Social Security site showing the rankings of baby names is the bible for so many nameberries, we thought we’d turn to webmaster Jeff Kunkel to give us some insight into how it developed–and his instrumental part in it.

Soon after Social Security joined the internet, I became webmaster for my office, the Office of the Chief Actuary.  A high priority in those days was providing the public with information on cost-of-living increases and other things that affected Social Security beneficiaries.  The lists of baby names begun by Michael Shackleford, who was then a co-worker, were decidedly a low priority.

However, the popularity of the baby name web pages soon became apparent.  Dissatisfied with simply presenting the baby names as lists of the top 1000 names by sex for each year of birth, I wrote an interactive computer program that would allow people to select the year of birth, select the number of names to display, and select whether to display the number of occurrences of each name.  In essence, the program allowed people to generate their own customized lists.

My desire to see how the popularity of my daughter’s name changed over time, coupled with the success of that list-generating program, inspired me to write another program that would provide a way to see time trends in the baby name data.  The resulting new program proved to be even more popular than the list-generating program.

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2010 Top Names

See the hottest names for 2011!

Baby names 2010, nameberry style, are a fascinating collection, with Charlotte still at the top of the list for girls. Seraphina and Olivia follow at numbers 2 and 3, as they did at the end of the first quarter.

Names making the biggest leap up the list for girls are Harper, Jane, Quinn (influenced, no doubt, by Glee), Clara, Clementine, Ivy (a new entrant to the Top 100), and Bryn.  Other names new to the girls’ list are Juliet, Jillian, and Pearl.

Names falling the fastest are Willa, Lydia, Piper, and Lauren. Off the Top 100 this quarter are Bella, Beatrix, Maya, Mila, and Yvaine (though we confess to having to idea how that made it to the most-searched roster last time around).

Our Baby Names 2010 Top 100 list is compiled from the most-viewed names on nameberry for the first half of the year. The up and down arrows represent movement up or down the list compared with the first quarter of this year; an equal sign means the name is in the same position as it was first quarter. Double arrows indicate movement of more than fifteen places up or down.

Don‘t, however, take the meaning of the arrows too much to heart.  Often they represent movement of only a place or two, and a name’s movement over a single quarter can be influenced by a host of small factors unrelated to a true shift in popularity.

Of course, this list is vastly different than the official list of Most Popular Names in the U.S. The Social Security list is based on all actual births and name choices in the country, while the nameberry list measures which names our relatively style-conscious visitors are most curious about. Plus the nameberry list is up-to-the-minute, while the most recent Social Security list is for 2009.

Consider this, then, a look at which names will be more popular in the months and years ahead. We got some flack when we issued the quarterly list for calling these “elite” names, but we stand by that characterization. On the premise that nameberry’s visitors are better informed about names and have more discerning name taste than the general population (you do, don’t you?), we see these as names favored by parents who are looking for names with style, class, and staying power.

Can a small number of people searching repeatedly for a specific name skew the results? No. We can see not only how many times a name was searched but by how many unique individuals, so to those of you who tried to game our system by searching for Pervis and Gomer: We’re on to you.

Here, the Top 100 girls’ names for the first half of 2010. Tomorrow we’ll bring you the boys.

girls

1. CHARLOTTE =

2. SERAPHINA =

3. OLIVIA =

4. VIOLET up

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The Color of Names

Education

To guest blogger Kaitlin (Greyer) and others who share her synesthesia, every name has a distinctive color, shape and texture; a fascinating condition she describes for us here.

It seemed an unlikely place for this to happen.

As I recall, I was fifteen years old – sitting in the booth of a local Burger King with my mother as we picked at our burgers and fries, too hot to really eat anything; it was mid-June or July.  I had just begun to dabble in my name obsessions, collecting baby name books when I could find them cheap and carefully recording list after list in blank notebooks.  It was no surprise to my mother, then, that the unique name of the clerk – Turquoise – had caught my eye.  The sound of this name sent a jolt of crimson color straight to my brain.  As we sat in the back of the store, talking quietly, I turned to my mother and said:

“Mom, do you ever, like, see a color in your head when you hear a word or a name?”

She paused.  Then: “Yes,” she said.  “I named you Kaitlin because it’s bright yellow and it makes me think of sunshine.  It’s a happy color; I wanted you to be happy.”

“But Kaitlin isn’t yellow,” protested my fifteen-year-old self.  “It’s pale lavender and grey, the color of a pearl.”  She nodded.  “I guess our colors are different.”

This is how it began.  We started with her name, my name, the names of my father, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins, comparing our respective colors for each.  Mom told me about the colors of her current favorite names and the colors of the names she’d considered for me.  It developed into a special connection between us, as well as a sort of game: whenever we checked out at a department store or restaurant, we would make special note of  the name tag of the person waiting on us.  As soon as they were out of earshot, we’d each blurt out a color.  “Jane” was chartreuse or eggplant, “Michael” pumpkin or scarlet.  Gradually, we discovered that her colors were just that – colors, as though suspended in water or hanging in the air.  My colors, on the other hand, had depth.  I have a sense of whether a name moves left or right, up or down in my head, or whether it is static.  If the name has a dimension, I can describe that, too:  some names, like Ella, are two-dimensional, a sheet of colored paper.  Others, such as Oliver, are domed; some are even complete spheres.  Most names have a texture, often best compared to fabrics, but Christopher is smooth and shiny like the skin of a fruit, and Lydia is sandy and cratered, akin to the face of the moon. 

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Lemony Snicket Names

lemony

We are honored to have as today’s guest bloggers Don and Alleen Nilsen, recent co-chairmen of the prestigious American Name Society, writing about the clever use of literary allusions in the thirteen Lemony Snicket books.

As long-distance grandparents, we are constantly on the lookout for books that we can enjoy listening to on CDs while we commute to work and can then forward to our children to enjoy with their children while they make their own commutes.  Daniel Handler’s thirteen Lemony Snicket books have been the all-time winners in this category, and one of the reasons is Handler’s skill in recycling the names of literary or pop culture figures to make playful allusions.

Humor scholars use the term Wabbit literacy (from “that wascally wabbit” in the Bugs Bunny cartoons) to describe the flip-flop process in which children become acquainted with the names of classical figures through pop culture allusions prior to meeting the  same names in “the original.”  The Lemony Snicket books are a superb illustration of this process as children meet Dr. Georgina Orwell, an eye doctor who hangs an ever-watchful eye over her door; Uncle Monty, who as a herpetologist cares for a huge python; a villainous couple named Esmé and Jerome Squalor who live at 667 Dark Avenue, c.f. J. D. Salinger‘s short story “To Esmé with Love and Squalor,” and Mr. Poe, who has a son named Edgar and is the appointed guardian of the children’s inheritance which is placed in the Mulctuary Money Management Bank.

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