By Abby Sandel
Have your favorite baby names changed this year?
Thinking about the names that captured my attention, week after week, I sense a theme. The names feel modern, but have history and roots. They’re not invented, exactly, but in most cases, they wouldn’t have seemed like given names twenty years ago. Maybe even ten!
In some ways, that’s because the line for outlandish baby names has been pushed way back. Blame it on the Kardashians. After North, Saint, Reign, and Dream, names like Wren, Kai, Blaze, and Saylor seem as ordinary as the Jasons and Megans of an earlier generation.
The good news is that parents can exercise considerable creativity to choose distinctive names rich with meaning. Or even inventing them – our summer contest for new names resulted in hundreds of fresh, new possibilities.
The downside, of course, is that pressure to choose the right name can be intense. Many parents-to-be find themselves debating if a name is too different. Or maybe too ordinary, a worry expressed by a generation of women who grew up answering to Jennifer C. or Ashley J.
Here are my nine picks for nine names that came up in discussion week after week in 2016.
Arrow – I’m intrigued by Arrow. Once reserved for superheroes – think Green Arrow – it’s now gaining as a baby name. Jensen Ackles of Supernatural and wife Danneel recently named their daughter Arrow, a twin for son Zeppelin. The babies join big sister Justice. It’s dangerous and edgy, but it’s also a modern virtue name. Arrows, after all, find their target. If Arlo and Willow are on the upswing, Arrow fits right in.
Forest – After Holly Madison and Pasquale Rotella named their daughter Rainbow in 2013, it seemed like they were joining the anything-goes club. But Forest strikes a different note. It’s an understated nature name in an appealing shade of green. Forrest – a common surname spelling – appears in the current US Top 1000. In fact, Forrest ranked in the Top 200 back in the 1910s and 20s. That makes Forest a modern word name with plenty of history.
Fox – Today’s parents grew up with Fox Mulder seeking the truth on supernatural hit series The X-Files. Combined with the x-ending of Alex and Max, Fox feels like a modern nature name in the key of Forest. You almost expect to find a few historical figures with the first name. Instead, it’s common as a surname – think Michael J. – and recently has attracted more attention as a first. 193 boys were named Fox in 2015, putting it just a dozen births or so outside of the US Top 1000.
Lillie – Country music’s Holly Williams and husband Chris Coleman welcomed a daughter named Lillie Mae Louise earlier this year, a sister for Stella June. There’s nothing surprising about the name Lily, a Top 50 choice for girls for the last decade, before we consider Lillian and a dozen similar Lil– names. But I’m intrigued by their spelling choice. Back in the late nineteenth century, Lillie was the standard spelling, and Lily a less popular alternative. Parents simply aren’t swayed by the idea of a “correct” spelling anymore, and that’s not always a bad thing.
Liv – I’ve pegged Liv as a rising name for girls in the coming years. Liv Tyler emerged as a rising star in the 1990s, and Julianne Moore named her daughter Liv in 2002. Since then, American parents have slowly discovered this Scandinavian import. It comes from an ancient Norse name, but coincides with the modern word for life in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. It also feels like a short form of the mega-popular Olivia. A short, modern sound combined with meaning and roots? That’s the very definition of a 2016 baby name.
Lorelai – Even as some parents opt for the short and sweet, plenty of others look to longer names, and use them nickname-free. A generation of kids called Isabella-not-Bella and Sebastian-not-Seb paved the way for names like Lorelai. German folklore gives us a siren-like creature called Die Lorelei. Modern American television gave us Lorelai Gilmore. Parents have embraced both spellings, with the –lei ending ahead, but –lai gaining fast. A century ago, the name would have been fanciful and rare. Today, it’s as expected as Matilda or Celeste.
Thayer – Ends in –r names have eclipsed ends in –n choices, especially for boys. Just ask Carter, Hunter, Parker, Cooper, Asher, or Sawyer. Factor in the ‘th’ of Theo, and you’ll find Thayer. Around 50 boys were given the name last year – a big increase from a few years earlier. That makes Thayer one of the names waiting in the wings. It has the right sound and style; now it just needs to be discovered. It made my list of undiscovered boy names earlier this year.
Vera – Vera, on the other hand, is a name we all recognize. Like Liv, it benefits from a great meaning. It comes from a Russian word meaning faith, but also brings to mind the Latin verus – true. It’s a fresh vintage revival name for girls, more than tripling in use in the last half-dozen years. Lately, it’s on the top of my list for parents worried that Ava and Cora are too common.
Wilder – Let’s end with Wilder, a name that debuted in the US Top 1000 last year, and feels certain to climb in the future. It might be the boys’ name I’ve written about most this year, one that feels preppy and rugged, pop culture current and enduring and literary, all at the same time. Will Wilder join all those other –er ending names in the boys’ Top 100? It’s much too soon to say, but for now, if you’re crushed that Ryder has caught on, Wilder might be the choice for you.
What names have caught your eye in 2016?