Baby Names LESS Popular Than They Seem

Baby Names LESS Popular Than They Seem

by Pamela Redmond Satran

When the 2013 US Popular Baby Names list came out back in May, we ran Kelli Brady aka The Name Freak‘s wonderful Playground Analysis blog, with her count of the REAL Top 50 baby names. Kelli tallies all spelling variations of the top names to arrive at their actual rankings, which puts Aiden et al instead of Noah at Number 1 for boys, for instance, and bumps Jackson (and Jaxen, Jaxon, and Jaxson) up to Number 2.

Our focus is usually on which names are MORE popular than you’d think when you add in all their spelling variations.  The idea is that parents want to be forewarned when they’re likely to hear their favorite baby names far more often than they’d guess based on the official rankings.  Zoe and Aubrey, counting all spellings, are actually in the Top 10 for girls, for example, while Kayden and his many near-identical twins rank not at Number 93 but at Number 9.

But what about those baby names that are LESS popular than they seem judging by the official statistics?  Parents may veer away from some names, both classic and modern, that are actually somewhat more distinctive than they appear.  I’m not talking about names that are a couple of rungs further down the ladder, based on Kelli‘s analysis, but those that are significantly softer by our own subjective measure.

The point is: If you’re shying away from these baby names because you believe they’re too popular, maybe you owe them a second look.  They are:


Elizabeth — Interestingly, the girls’ top names are more likely that the boys’ to be MORE popular than you’d guess, because they’re more likely to embrace lots of spelling variations.  The first notable exception to this rule is the ultimate classic girls’ baby name Elizabeth, Number 10 on the official list (where it’s ranked more or less forever) but way down at Number 20 in the Playground Analysis.  What’s more, Elizabeth carries a range of nicknames, from the more fashionable Lizzie or Libby to the unusual Zibby or Bets, which can make it further distinctive.

CharlotteCharlotte has long ranked at or near the top of Nameberry’s own popularity list, and Charlotte‘s many admirers may be dismayed to see her approaching the Top 10 in the official count.  And definitely, Charlotte has the potential to be the Sophia of the future.  But for now, Charlotte‘s real ranking is at Number 22, not Number 11, and so you can breathe a bit more easily about naming your daughter Charlotte, especially if you DON‘T call her Charlie, Number 240 and heading sharply uphill.

EllaElla is short, simple, and complete unto herself, a cooler alternative to Emma or Bella.  But she ranks at Number 15 on the US list after a very steep climb, which may give you pause.  On the Playground Analysis, though, she’s significantly more unusual at Number 29.  If you’d like to keep Ella as distinctive as possible, don’t shorten (or, er, lengthen) her to Ellie, a nickname that’s MORE popular than you’d think.

HarperHarper may be one of the fashion hits of the decade, propelled from outside the Top 1000 to an official Number 16 in just a decade.  Credit To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee, Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place character, and its choice by the Beckhams for their only daughter.  While undeniably trendy, Harper is not quite as popular as she seems, way down at Number 32 in the Playground Analysis.

Grace — Classic Grace slips from Number 22 all the way down to Number 40, making it a much more distinctive first name choice than you’d think.  But beware of using it as a middle name, where along with Rose, it’s quickly become overused.

VictoriaHow often do you hear the regal classic Victoria in the playground?  Much less often than its US Number 25 ranking would suggest: It’s Number 42 on the actual ranking.


Noah — By any measure, there are a lot of little boys named Noah around these days.  But not quite as many as Noah‘s new Number 1 ranking would suggest.  In the Playground Analysis, it’s only Number 5, and when you consider that Aiden, Jayden, and Kayden are ALL in the Top 10, Noah is going to feel far more unusual than all those rhyming variations.

Liam and William Liam and William both still rank in the Top 10 in the Playground Analysis, but at Numbers 7 and 8 versus the official 2 and 5.  Maybe not hugely significant, but for lovers of one of these two related classics, that might be just significant enough.  Other high-ranking classics such as Michael, Alexander, Daniel, James, Benjamin, David, and Joseph are all similarly down a few notches from their official rankings.

Samuel and Isaac— The Biblical Samuel and Isaac are both fashionable classics somewhat less common than they seem by the official count, with Samuel at Number 32 and not 25, and Isaac at 35 versus 29.

NathanNathan, another longtime fashionable classic boys’ name from the Bible, stands at Number 40 in the real statistics versus Number 31 on the official US list.

Luke — The Biblical Luke is Number 42, a significant slide down from his official Number 34, BUT the related Lucas (and Lukas) is more popular than it seems.

Henry — Nameberry favorite Henry may have risen to Number 37 on the official US list, but he’s down at Number 46 in the Playground Analysis, good news for all the Henry lovers on Nameberry.  An advantage that will keep Henry feeling less popular than he looks: No common spelling variations or stylish nicknames.

Owen — I admit I was personally relieved to see Owen, my own younger son’s name, at Number 47 on the Playground Analysis list, down significantly from his official Number 38.  While Owen may continue to rise in the official standings, he’s kept from feeling overly popular ala Aiden and Jayden et al by the fact that there’s only one common spelling of Owen — the Irish Eoin or Eoghan homonyms being out of the question for most Americans.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.