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The Nameberry 9: What’s a normal name?

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In The Nameberry 9 blog this week, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel, addresseses the question of “What is a ‘normal name?”

The news was filled with so-called normal names this week.  But what defines a normal name?  Is it a Top Ten choice that plenty of people your age share?  Or are normal names the ones that remain in popular use for decades?

Singer Ne-Yo insisted that his son’s name is fit for a gentleman, and I wouldn’t argue – it’s a great name.  But it is also a name that seems poised for the Top Ten, meaning that some perceive him as trendy, a cousin to Jayden and Aiden.

A widely-discussed report trumpeted the demise of Mad Men names, citing Don and Betty as examples of the most endangered appellations in all of nameland.  There’s some truth to that, but it is equally true that plenty of names are enduring classics, the kind of choice that makes it difficult to pin down a child’s year of birth.

Normal changes, at least when it comes to given names.  The endangered name list included plenty of perennial favorites, and that leads us right to our nine most newsworthy names this week:

James – The buzz about poor Betty and Don being so out of fashion included a list of others supposedly on the brink of extinction, like James – a name never out of the US Top 20 – and William, currently in the US Top Ten.  The boys’ list was packed with timeless choices, including David, Charles, and Thomas.  Maybe you won’t name your next son Roger, but many of us would consider one of the names on their so-called watch list.

Elizabeth – Okay, you’re probably not going to name a daughter Shirley or Sandra, so the girls’ endangered list feels more agreeable.  One thing makes me hesitate, though – while Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis might not be an Elizabeth, plenty of Bettys have been.  Calling Elizabeth fading is a mistake – she’s the most evergreen girls’ name over the past century or more.  Elizabeth simply transforms, chameleon-like, as girls answer to Beth and Ellie and Liza and Libby and Liz through the generations.  Betty will be back.

Peggy – Many of the Mad Men women have names that seem likely to make comebacks.  File the ambitious Peggy Olson’s appellation among them.  A traditional short form of the enduring Margaret, Peggy has also had her day in the sun as an independent name.  Waltzing More than Matilda recently ran a birth announcement for a new Peggy Marie, the daughter of an Australian politician.  Another one that seems likely to stage a revival?  The ever so capable Joan.

Isla Elizabeth – But back to Elizabeth.  The Queen of England has welcomed another great-grandchild.  Royal watchers were surprised when Peter and Autumn Phillips named their firstborn Savannah in 2010.  New baby Isla Elizabeth is thirteenth in line to the throne and in 2010, her given name ranked #22 in EnglandIsla might not be a conventionally royal appellation, but it is one she’ll share with many girls her age.

Virginia – Speaking of royalty, Italian singer Andrea Bocelli welcomed his third child and first daughter.  Virginia Bocelli shares her name with an American state originally named for England’s Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.  Like Don and Betty, Virginia’s most popular days are behind her, but she can easily be considered a classic.

JoshuaJames Van Der Beek’s son is Joshua, a little brother for Olivia.  We weren’t expecting anything outlandish from the Dawson’s Creek star, and Joshua – in the US Top 20 since the 1970s – fits the bill.  While junior’s name might not be as classic as dad’s, it is easy to think of Josh as a modern staple.

Mason – He’s another name likely to earn the title of early 21st century favorite.  R&B singer Ne-Yo is dad to Madilyn and Mason, and recently gave an interview explaining that he and Monyetta Shaw chose it because “Mason Evan Smith, you have to respect that name.”  I think that’s a reaction that many parents seek.

Vincent – Another name that should command a certain amount of respect?  Vincent, of course.  Between de Paul, Van Gogh and Vega, he’s a little bit of everything.  Eponymia’s recent profile gives us plenty of reasons to consider Vincent.

India – Let’s end with a name that one bearer described as weird, instead of normal.  India Lopez wrote, “having an unusual name is like being a celebrity – people assume you’re interesting …” It is a nice reminder that there are benefits to nearly any baby name you choose.

How many of the names on your favorites list would be called normal?  Do you hesitate to use names if they might be perceived as ordinary?  Or are you willing to overlook popularity for a name you truly love?

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