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
There were 10,000 Zacharys born last year and almost 5,000 Zoes, but that was about it for Z-starting names in the Top 100. This doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of other names with this distinctive initial worth considering, from the contemporary sounding Zayden to the ecclesiastical Zebediah. Here’s a categorical breakdown:
ZELDA –The longest running American Z-girl, in the Top 1000 for most of the years from 1880 to 1967, the now dated sounding Zelda was long attached to the troubled wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, though that could change through its association with a Nintendo game character.
ZOE — Sharing mega-popularity with cousin Chloe, the Greek Zoe–which means life–is currently at #56, with offshoots ZOEY and ZOIE following behind. Though it sounds and feels modern, its use dates back to the third century.
ZARA –This name entered the mainstream in the early 1980s when England‘s Princess Anne bestowed it on her daughter.
ZACHARY –In the Top 100 for a quatrter of a century, peaking at #12 in 1994, Zachary is the one classic Z name. The English version of the Hebrew Zahariah, it also has historic cred via 12th President Zachary Taylor, and several coolizing spellings and short forms.
You’ve probably noticed that Aiden is now way more popular than the original Irish Aidan. And also that Zoey is catching up with Zoe, while other names like Isiah, Kaleb, Camryn and Sienna are either ahead of or breathing down the necks of their conventionally spelled cousins. Sometimes the reasons for these changes are clear-cut, sometimes it’s just something in the ether.
Not that this is a new thing. I remember the first time that someone asked me to spell my first name. “Huh?” “Well, is it Linda with an ‘i’ or Lynda with a ‘y’? Without my really noticing, Lynda had become a spelling alternative in the wake of the popularity of Lynn. Something similar has happened with Aidan/Aiden. When the epidemic of rhyming ‘en’-ending names erupted–Jaden, Braden, Caden et al–it was a logical development to make Aiden a legitimate member of that family. And when ‘K’-beginning boys’ names became a rage, Kaleb began pursuing Caleb up the list.
The case of Zoe/Zooey is a little different, as the spike of the latter version can be pretty much traced to a single phenomenon–‘Zoey101’–the Emmy-nominated teen sitcom starring (now teen mom) Jamie Lynn Spears, which appeared on Nickelodeon in 2005. And the publicity surrounding Jamie Lynn’s big sister Britney’s second son helped spread that spelling of Brayden. The rise of the British actress Sienna Miller spurred the spelling change of the Italian town of Siena, actress Jorja Fox legitimized the phonetic spelling of Georgia, and Gossip Girl hottie Chace (originally his middle name) Crawford has the spelling of his name chasing Chase.
In terms of image, rather than spelling, Scarlett Johansson challenged the long-term connection of her name to Gone With the Wind spitfire Scarlett O’Hara, just as the charms of Jude Law have managed to erase the age-old associations of his name to Judas.
Can you think of any others?
Linda wrote last week on the question of whether a name’s meaning still means anything. Maybe not so much, and yet several of today’s most stylish names mean “life”. Eve and Eva, Aisha and Zoe, Liv and all forms of Vivian share the life-affirming meaning.
Even if parents aren’t searching for a name with a specific meaning, the fact that an attractive name carries an equally attractive meaning can only be a plus. Beautiful, strong, graceful, intelligent, star: These are all great meanings that may support the appeal of a name. But life may be the most powerful meaning of all.
If you like the life-affirming meaning and want a name a little further off the beaten track, here’s a short list of other options: