British Baby Names Trends: 5 categories on the rise

British name maven Eleanor Nickerson, aka Elea, has her finger on the pulse of naming trends in the UK.

For most people outside of the UK, “British Names” are typified by the old Victorian legacy of Empire and afternoon tea, or the ethereal mystery of ancient Celtic folklore. The stereotype often favours rarefied aristocratic favourites such as Percival and Araminta, or tongue-twisting indigenous Gaelic choices like Aonghus or Caoimhe.

If you look at the most popular names that are actually used in Britain today you will see a much more varied picture. Like other Western countries there is a large influence from film and television, a popular cult of celebrity, and a growing awareness of global fashions (yes, we have many Neveahs and Jaydens, too).  And yet, even in our modernised naming practices, British trends still manage to make a subtle nod to history in a style that feels quite unique.

1. Resurrected Edwardians

The Four Generation Rule is in full force in Britain at the moment, reviving long lost Edwardian gems. Current Top 100 favourites in England, Wales and Scotland include Ruby, ElizaFlorence, Harriet, Martha, Matilda, Arthur, Oscar and Stanley, while lower down the ranks names such as Beatrice, Dorothy, Edith, Elsie, Albert, Ernest, Hubert and Sidney have seen a large rise in usage in the last ten years.

Some turn-of-the-century favourites have been reinvented with a fresher appeal. Millicent dropped out of the Top 100 after 1914, but has seen a revival in the popular Millie. Archibald also fell out of fashion after 1914, but his diminutive, Archie, has seen a meteoric rise over the past decade.

The Edwardian craze for floral names is also back in fashion. Add up all the spellings, and Lily is Britain’s #1 name for girls. Daisy, Poppy, Holly, Jasmine and Rose also rank in the Top 100, with Violet, Iris and Ivy not far behind.

2. Celtic Charm

Our Celtic heritage is a part of British culture that we are very proud of.  Native languages include Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Manx Gaelic, and all of them have produced a multitude of unique and historic names that Brits love to use.

In the 1950s Sheila, Brenda, Sharon, Fiona, Glynis, Ian, Brian, Keith, Graham, Kevin, Trevor, Patrick, Gareth and Donald were all Top 100 favourites. Roll on to the 80s and Kelly, Kirsty, Sian, Lindsey, Craig, Scott, Sean and Gavin had taken their place.

Now British parents are extending out the net. Scotland is providing a wealth of historic surnames and place names, and Wales is offering up several choices coined straight from Welsh vocabulary.

Names that currently fall in the Top 100 of across all England, Wales and Scotland:

Caitlin
Erin

Keira
Isla
Megan
Niamh
Skye

boys

Aiden
Callum
Connor
Cameron
Dylan
Evan
Finlay
Kian
Kieran
Kyle
Liam
Logan
Oscar
Owen
Rhys
Riley
Ryan

The Top 100 in Wales also features indigenous creations such as Seren, Ffion, Carys, Cerys, Lowri, Mali, Nia, Cadi and Catrin for girls and Osian, Gethin, Cai, Ioan, Ieuan, Iestyn, Lloyd and Iwan for boys.

Scotland’s Top 100 names includes Eilidh, Orla, Iona and Mirren for girls and Rory / Ruaridh, Fraser, Euan / Ewan, Arran, Brodie, Scott, Murray, Angus, Ross , Finn, Lennon and Declan for boys.

3. The ‘EE’s Have It

Classic diminutives are a huge trend in Britain at the moment, and many outshine their formal counterparts. You are far more likely to meet a baby Alfie (#4), Charlie (#5), Evie (#10) or Maisie (#14), than an Alfred (#154), Charles (#62), Eva (#37) and Margaret (#505).

Two-syllable  –ie or –y ending names are all the rage, and many fill up the Top 100 rankings:

Amy
Chloe
Daisy
Ellie
Esme
Evie
Gracie
Heidi
Holly
Katie
Lacey
Lexi
Libby
Lily
Lucy
Maisie
Millie
Molly
Phoebe
Poppy
Rosie
Ruby
Sophie

Tilly
Zoe

Alfie
Archie
Charlie
Bailey
Billy
Bobby
Bradley
Finley
Freddie
Harley
Harry
Harvey
Henry
Jamie
Louie
Ollie
Riley
Stanley
Toby

4. Swift and Sure

Sleek and snappy names are another current fashion in Britain. The second most popular style in British names, after the two-syllable “ee” sound, is the use of slick one-syllable names. Grace, Brooke, Paige, Faith, Skye, Niamh, Rose, Eve and Beth are top for girls; Jack, James, Max, Jake, Luke, Kai, Rhys, Ben, Kyle, Joel, Jude, Sam, John, Cole and Jay are hot for boys.

5. Hyphenation-Nation

The trend for two-syllable –ie names, and slick one-syllable names often combine together in a multitude of hyphenated names. The statistics for England and Wales confirms that, in 2010, 9045 girls and 1574 boys received a hyphenated name. The hugely popular EllieMay, EllieMae and EllieMai, for example, ranked at #205, #265 and #380 respectively.

The data for England and Wales does not include names with a count below three, so a great many hyphen combinations are misses out of the data. Scotland has no such restriction, and their stats show that, staggeringly, 12% of all the girls names, and 6% of boys names, registered in 2011 were hyphenated names.

The overall trend shows that, for girls, Lily, Ellie, Ruby and Lacey are the most common first element, with May, Rose, Grace, Leigh and Ann as popular second names. Alfie, Tyler and Riley are the most commonly hyphenated first name for boys, with James, Jay and Lee as the most popular second names.

Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a primary school teacher living in Coventry, England and author of the blog British Baby Names 

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19 Responses to “British Baby Names Trends: 5 categories on the rise”

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laurenevelyn Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 12:49 am

I know a little boy named Gethin it’s such a nice alternative to Ethan and Nathan, and gethie is a cute nn

Mischa Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 9:49 am

I don’t really understand two trends in Britain or elsewhere: (1) the nickname as first name trend and (2) the hyphenated name trend. While I love some nicknames like Maisie and Charlie, I much prefer to give children the fuller names of Margaret and Charles on the birth certificate. In my opinion, both trends tend to “infantilize” children and take away the option of reverting back to a longer name when they grow up and enter the job market. This world has become so “youth-obsessesd” that it’s even influencing name trends. As a Anglophile, I’m always interested to hear what’s happening in Britain so thank you, Elea, for your interesting blog.

Flick Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 10:15 am

I agree with Mischa on the nickname bit – I don’t see why you would want to make you child sound like a 3 year old for the rest of their life. You’re naming a person, not just a baby.

I tend to like the “Resurrected Edwardians” Rupert, Edith and Alice are all on my list.

Poppy528 Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Whoa transport me to Britain! Just kidding, your pound is too expensive. 😉 Love Matilda (Millie!), Harry & Harriet, Arthur, et al. The name Alfie gives me the heebie jeebies, still not sure why!

OliviaSarah Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 11:17 am

Personally, I don’t think that not having a longer name to ‘back up’ a nickname will effect a person’s chances of getting a job, especially here in the UK. By the time all the Ellies, Millies, Evies and Alfies are old enough to have jobs or apply for universities, they’ll be amongst thousands of others with similar names, and lots of people seem to forget that. Also, I’m fairly lost at why people assume nicknames have to be ‘childish’. Don’t most Deborah’s go by Debbie and most Elizabeth’s by Lizzie/Beth, even into adulthood?

Although I’ve never really liked double-barralled names much. There are a few which I like, but they’ve always seemed weird to me.

clairels Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

OliviaSarah, I’m with you. I think the Brits have it right–if you know you want your child to go by the nickname just USE the nickname. Don’t assume that just because Millicent or Alfred is on the birth certificate that’s what people will call you. In most cases, it’s the opposite. My mother is a Barbara who’s spent most of her adult life trying to get people NOT to call her Barb. It’s still an uphill battle.

samjaymc Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I’m from the UK, and I totally agree on the Edwardian classics!

katybug Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

The hyphenated boys’ name trend is completely foreign to me, and I hope we don’t see it come to the US.

miloowen Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Wouldn’t it be so cool to see a Prince Alfie or a Princess Daisy?

Flick Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 6:39 pm

@ Oliviasarah – I think Debbie and Lizzie sound just as juvenile as Millie or Ellie. They just do not sound complete or adult in any way.

Roux Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Like Mischa, I don’t like the nickname trend. At all, actually. However I think OliviaSarah makes a good point that by the time these kids start getting jobs their names will be incredibly mainstream and normal. The reason I prefer the full name, Elizabeth, for instance, versus Lizzie, is because it provides so many more options for your child. I was given a name with virtually no viable nickname options, Rachel (Rach… Ray… neither really stuck) and have a best friend named Alexis. She goes by Al, Ally, Alex, Lex, Lexie… she’s got a ton of options and it’s something I’ve always been envious of. My point is that it’s better to give your child the full version of the name so that they can play around with the nickname options (and the full version) and see which one(s) suit them best. 🙂

miloowen Says:

June 26th, 2012 at 9:52 pm

That’s so true. My name (Leslie) has no nn options at all. My daughter started out as Katie, went to Kate, and now calls herself Kitty, something she couldn’t have done if she hadn’t had a full name.

WaltzingMoreThanMatilda Says:

June 27th, 2012 at 12:41 am

I can almost feel the Anglophilia ebbing away somehow …. 😉

We have the same trends, although I don’t think there are quite as many double names here. However, when in use, I’d say most of the girls are Something-Rose and most of the boys are Something-Jay. I’ve also noticed double boys names just being initials, like BJ, or initials spelled out, like Cee-Jay.

titch Says:

June 27th, 2012 at 3:35 am

I love the “Resurrected Edwardians” and loathe hyphenated names!

Ainscough Says:

June 27th, 2012 at 4:58 pm

My daughter has 2 of the “resurrected Edwardian” names but not as a hyphenated name. In Ireland it is a certain type of person who gives a hyphenated name 😉

originofnames Says:

June 27th, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I love boys names like Cameron, Connor and Logan, they feel so strong and smart. I can never find a strong girl name that have that same feel, names that are not the usual, Alexandra, Morgan or Megan.

http://www.meaning-names.com

cpepper Says:

June 28th, 2012 at 11:22 am

Are those hyphenated names a lower or lower-middle class trend? Is that what Ainscough Says means about “a certain type of person”? It makes me think of the American two-part names that tend to sound more Southern, Appalachian, Ozark or just plain poorer. Names like Billy Bob or Bobbi-Sue. My sister has the name Joanna, which is a standard enough combination to not sound weird–until she married someone with the last name Ray. Thankfully she kept our multisyllabic last name rather than becoming Joanna Rose Ray. My great grandmother was a Lily May, which always sounds charmingly “country” to me. It’s hard for me to imagine the name in the modern UK.

Biancah Says:

October 9th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Is Alfie popular over different socioeconomic groups in the UK? It seems to reek of a name being called out on the estate. I guess it could be because I imagine it to be associated with 70’s sitcoms set in working class towns etc.

stacielynne Says:

August 3rd, 2013 at 11:00 am

I love long names that let you have nickname options. My sister Jennifer always was called Jen or Jenny which I liked. My name is Stacie so there are no nicknames for that , I wish mom mom would have named me Anastasia and than I could have had the option to go by Stacie for a nickname. It’s just nice to have options, that is why all three of my children have long names they can shorten to nicknames.

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