Baby Name Popularity: Changing perceptions

Name news of the week

By Clare Bristow

Popularity isn’t what it used to be. That’s something that’s said a lot in baby name discussions, usually to reassure parents that even if they choose one of the top names in the country, their child (probably) won’t be one of seven Emmas or Noahs in their class. The statistics show that, year after year, the most popular names are being given to a smaller and smaller percentage of children.

The flipside of this is that unusual names aren’t what they used to be, either.

With the pool of names no longer dominated by a few top names as it was in past generations, more children are given names that they don’t share with many people. In some communities, having a name that stands out is the norm.

That’s what these parents found. Some people have trouble with their son’s name, Hazen, but over time they’ve realised that his non-traditional name fits right in with those of his classmates. They include Jet, Rig, Bliss and Reign.

Here are some more new-normal names from the news this week.

Diverse communities, diverse names

In our connected world, especially in places with international populations, the pool of names comes from all sorts of languages and cultures. In her latest video on Scary Mommy, the Name Dame speaks to people with names from their own cultural background and others’. There are some cracking names, like Rahm, Kavi and Solé (and insights from Nameberry’s Pam!).

Another way of using names from another culture: these Syrian parents in Canada are among several who have named their son after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And if you’re looking to French culture for name inspiration, how about these fabulous siblings featured on Jolis Prénoms? Their full names are Philippine Liliane Maïa Liberté, Ambre Léontine Violette, and Marceau Georges Pierre.

Recent risers

If you named your son Kingston 15 years ago, it would have been vanishingly rare. Today? At #132 in the US it’s hardly rare, but unless you live in a Kingston-pocket, you won’t find one in every class. Actors LesleyAnn Brandt and Chris PayneGilbert have just called their son Kingston Payne. Chris has been using the hashtag #thekingpayne to introduce his son, so it looks like they’re following the fashion for royal names.

It’s the same story for Jett. It didn’t take off (as it were) until the mid-1990s, but it’s been in the 300s since 2009, making it a solid but non-traditional choice for boys. New Zealand model Nikki Phillips recently welcomed a son called Jett.

Wisdom is still an unusual pick, but it feels like a natural successor to Justice as a modern, unisex virtue name. It’s also a plain-English translation of Sophia. Now that showbiz star Kel Mitchell has named his daughter Wisdom, will we see more girls (or boys) called Wisdom in the name pool? Kel had his finger on the style pulse when he called his son Lyric, but his older daughter’s name, Allure, remains obscure.

Crossing genders

Ryan, Dylan, Micah…what will be the next boys’ name to go mainstream for girls? Niall, maybe? One Direction singer Harry Styles said this week that he’d consider naming a daughter after his bandmate, and while that may never happen, it’s not such a crazy idea. Parents have been using rhyming Kyle for girls for decades: it was last in the Top 1000 in 1990. Soundalike Nile is also used for both boys and girls, like the female writer Nile Cappello.

Local heroes

Sometimes a name that seems daring in one neighborhood is common – or at least familiar – in another. It’s not just on a state level: towns and cities can have their own favorites. These Houston-inspired names have local meaning, but some of them might have wider appeal. What about Milam, Tinsley, Sealy or Cheo?

Not unusual enough

In the latest installment of how women named Alexa feel about sharing their name with voice-controlled technology, one Alexa wonders why Amazon didn’t call it something less popular, like Echo. This mythological word name certainly isn’t as common as Alexa, but it’s not the rarest name either. It was given to 100 girls and 15 boys last year.

Inspiration everywhere

When unusual names are the norm, how do you find one that no one else is using? You might find inspiration in the most unlikely places, like the names of mattress companies. Eve and Casper are the most mainstream brand names, and more out-there options include Leesa, Saatva, Helix, Zinus and Tomorrow.

Are uncommon names the norm where you are? Would you use one?

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5 Responses to “Baby Name Popularity: Changing perceptions”

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Wandarine Says:

July 27th, 2017 at 1:30 am

In addition to the Syrians in Canada naming their children after Justin Trudeau: There was at least one reported case in Germany of a Syrian mother naming her daughter Angela Merkel (firstname middlename)

epowell Says:

July 27th, 2017 at 7:57 am

I have to wonder about your sourcing of “Milam” as a local hero name in the Houston area. That is my son’s name and we live in the Houston area and I’ve never met anyone else with that name and a lot of people don’t even know how it is pronounced. It is My-Lum as in Ben Milam the Texas war hero which is obviously super regional. I wrote a full post about it here: http://emilyjonathan.blogspot.com/2016/03/his-name.html

teacupsandtiaras Says:

July 27th, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Looks like the link to Jolis Prenoms goes back to Justin Trudeau! (Not that I mind it, sigh.)

I’ve been trying to come up with multicultural combinations (i.e. works for French/Spanish/English) lately myself!

ClareB Says:

July 27th, 2017 at 1:52 pm

@epowell, Thanks for sharing your son’s name story! How great that you have a real-life Milam. Very true, it’s not common at all – only 8 born in the US last year, and less than 5 of them in Texas. I never knew about Ben Milam before reading the article about Houston names, I love how much we learn incidentally through names.

epowell Says:

July 31st, 2017 at 1:32 pm

@ClareB – thanks for the reply! My son goes by his middle name so it wouldn’t have been recorded. His first name is actually John. So I guess there are nine of them 🙂

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