The Social Security Administration announced the 2011 Most Popular Baby Names on The Today Show this morning.
The complete Top Ten are:
While browsing through a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine, I came across an article about the current generation of picture books and their bratty protagonists. It was illustrated by an image from a book called Finn Throws a Fit. Aha, I thought, so juvenile authors are on top of current naming trends. This impelled me to go running (figuratively) to my local Borders to seek further evidence.
One difference I noticed immediately was that there were more little human protagonists and fewer of the porcine (excluding Olivia), feline, canine, bovine, etc persuasion than there were in the past, and there were, as the article pointed out, a lot more angry children populating the pages, and a lot more preoccupation with poop and farts.
In terms of names, I was surprised to see that there was a book title containing almost every currently popular choice—almost as many as there are on the personalized pencils in the airport—a big upswing from the past. Here are some titles all released since the turn of the century–and they’re just the tip of the iceberg!:
CONSTANCE and the Great Escape
ELIZA and the Dragonfly
My Name is Not ISABELLA
IVY and Bean
JUNIE B., First Grader
Let’s Find LUCY
RUBY’S FALLING LEAVES
When SOPHIE Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry
TALLULAH in the Kitchen
Goodnight, my sweet VIOLET
DEXTER Gets Dressed
KYLE’s First Crush
LIAM Goes Poo in the Toilet
OLIVER Who Would Not Sleep
PHINEAS & Ferb series
WALTER the Farting Dog series
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)
Ava is one of the biggest recent baby name success stories, jumping from almost the bottom of the Top 1000 twenty years ago to #4 last year–and it could be heading for #1. I’m certainly hearing it everywhere I go, in the street and in the supermarket, and seeing it on popularity lists worldwide. This brings to mind two questions: A) What can you substitute if you like Ava but don’t want such a trendy name? and B) Is Ava the name that will knock Emily out of top place or will it be one of the other leading contenders?
Here are a few ideas if you’re looking for an answer to A:
AVALON. Deriving from the Celtic word for apple, this is a very romantic place name–it was an island paradise in Celtic and Arthurian legend where it was a beautiful island renowned for its luscious apples, the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged. In the present day, it’s the main city on the California island of Catalina.
Starbaby namesake? Daughter of 24 and Heroes actress Rena Sofer.
AVERY. If you’re looking for an alternative with a unisex-surname spin, this is it. The only problem is that Avery is pursuing Ava up the popularity list–and also, if you care about literal meanings, ‘Elf ruler’ doesn’t have much revelance in the modern world.
Starbaby namesake? Daughter of Angie Harmon & Jason Sehorn. NEWS FLASH: Amy Locane just had a daughter she named Avery Hope.
AVIS. A vintage birdlike name which, like cousin Mavis, was once more popular in England; here the dated ‘s’ ending (as in Doris and Phyllis) and the rental-car connection lessened its chances. But now it’s old-time, funky feel gives it some degree of nostalgic charm.
Starbaby namesake? Daughter of Baldwin brother Daniel.
EVA. Several glamorous Evas–Longoria, Mendes, Green–have given Eva a popularity boost. But bear in mind that in several cultures Eva is pronounced Ava, so though it may not look as trendy, the sound’s the same.
Starbaby namesake? Dixie Chick Martie Maguire’s twin daughter.
ADA. Sounding as fusty as Ava did ten years ago, Ada is in line for a possible piggyback revival. Trivia tidbit: Ava Lovelace, daughter of the poet Byron, is considered to have been the very first “computer programmer,” 19th century style.
Starbaby namesake? Not yet.
For twelve years now, since 1996, the most popular name for girl babies has been Emily. But it looks like Emily’s reign as the top girls’ name may be coming to an end–something we won’t know until the next Social Security list comes out in May. In all fairness, Madison or Emma deserves to take the top spot–they’ve been hovering around it for so long, but there are five other newer names that are hot enough to threaten Queen Emily’s supremacy.
What’s interesting about four of the five current contenders , Addison being the exception, is that they’re trendy without the sound or feel of trendiness typical of some of the high-rated names of a few years ago–Tiffany, Brittany/Britney, Ashley–that flashed onto the scene, became red hot, and then faded. The difference with the present group is that they have deep roots, both historic and literary, and though they are clearly feminine, they also have strength and substance.
ADDISON is the name that’s had the most rapid rise, being the logical rhyming successor to the long-running Madison, and the first name in a while to have sprung from a TV show–Grey‘s Anatomy/Private Practice. Currently at #11, it would be a long shot for first place, though it did reach that spot in two states
AVA is a name imbued with old Hollywood glamour via Golden Age star Ava Gardner and has taken off like a rocket, largely because of its use by a dozen or so current movie stars, starting with Reese Witherspoon. It already headed the lists of nine states last year, and was #5 on the national list.
OLIVIA is a Latinate name popularized by Shakespeare for a leading character in Twelfth Night and has continued to be used in literature all the way up to the contemporary kids’ book porcine character Olivia. # 7 last year, it was also #1 in three states
ISABELLA was of course the Spanish queen who backed Cristoforo Columbo’s voyages, as well as being the name of a British royal, a character in Shakespeare‘s Measure for Measure, in Jane Austen and in Wuthering Heights. Last year, it was #3 nationally, top name in nine states.
SOPHIA has been a favorite of British novelists, starting with the heroine of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, and shares reflected cinematic stardust with Ava, this time via the sultry Sophia Loren. Three states had this name at #1 last year, it was #6 nationwide.
So these are the candidates. Place your bets.