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Baby Names: Solving the Popularity Puzzle

September 27, 2016 Abby Sandel

They’re looking for an unusual baby name for their son, and they’ve found a favorite. The only trouble? Their top name might be the next big thing. 

Shayna writes:        

I am due with a baby boy and one of the only baby names my husband and I agree on is Arlo.

I have two concerns with this name.

I keep reading that in 2016 it could be popular, because of Disney and Hollywood parents. I had a unique name growing up and loved it! I felt bad for all the Brittanys and Ashleys of my generation. I dread accidentally giving my son a trendy name, and having him go through life as Arlo H. We’re in Canada, so we’re looking for relevant statistics here.

Secondly, should I worry about a nickname? Will kids call him Arie (too feminine for my liking) or Ar? Low? Or is Arlo short enough that a nickname won’t be required.

His middle name will be John Wayne or Jonathan Wayne.

Help!

The Name Sage replies:

For years, parents blithely selected names without regard to popularity. They knew that their Mary wouldn’t be the only one, but didn’t mind.

It’s the complete opposite of how we name today, preferring our children’s names be distinctive. If possible, we’d love for them to be the only one – at least in our immediate circles and their grade school classrooms.

As much as I understand the impulse, it’s easy to go too far in the other direction. We reject many names we love, only because they might be too popular.

Let’s talk about Arlo. The name is, indeed, becoming more common throughout the English-speaking world. Some of it might be thanks to The Good Dinosaur, featuring a friendly Apatosaurus named Arlo. (He helps out a human boy called Spot.)

It’s also because o-ending names for boys have become stylish choices. Leo is a go-to favorite, and romance language names like Mateo are also trending. This has opened the door for Milo and Marco and Theo – all sorts of o-ending names for boys. Arlo definitely makes that list!

But here’s the good news: the most popular names are given to fewer children than ever before. For example:

  • In British Columbia in 1965, the most popular name was David. It was given to around 675 boys. In 2015, the number one pick in British Columbia was Oliver – with just over 200 newborn boys receiving the name. (Note: Canada does not publish names data on a nationwide basis, though the provinces do make information available.)
  • The numbers for the US are similar. In 1965, there were over 81,000 Michaels, the top name for that year; the current top name, Noah, was given to around 19,500 boys last year.

 

Those numbers signal a shift in how we choose names. Even if Arlo surged into the Top Ten, chances are that you wouldn’t know dozens of them.

But it doesn’t mean you’ll never meet another Arlo. Our daughter’s name is not in the current Top 1000, but we know two others. As soon as you settle on a name, you’ll listen for it more closely – and perhaps become anxious if you hear it too often.

The challenge is this: if you prioritize choosing a name that no one else is using, you may find it tough to settle on a final choice. A few that might substitute: Enzo, Ezio, Aldo, or Roscoe.

I think Arlo hits the right note – it’s a modern name with a cool sound, but plenty of history, too. You might meet others, but I doubt your Arlo will get lost in a crowd.

As for a nickname, I think your instincts are right. Arlo is short and complete and therefore very unlikely to require – or attract – a nickname.

If Arlo is the name that you love, I would use it with confidence.

Let’s have a poll, because I know it will be helpful to hear from others.

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About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.
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