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Cool Names: Baby names more stylish across the ocean

December 29, 2014 Pamela Redmond
British baby names

The Top 100 names of England and Wales are resplendent with choices that feel a lot more chic and surprising in the US than they must in the UK.

Freya, for instance, the Norse goddess name that’s become a Top 20 staple on the other side of the pond, just cracked the US Top 1000.  Florence, which has been stylish in the UK for decades now and still stands at Number 29, fell off the US Top 1000 in 1982 and has yet to reappear.  Harriet is Number 61 in the UK while it hasn’t been on the US Top 1000 since the 1970s, while Martha stands at Number 73 in the UK and rising yet is at 803 and sinking in the US.

The boys’ Top 100 in the UK includes names such as Arthur, Freddie and Frederick, Louis, and Stanley that rank much lower in the US.

Below the UK Top 100, it’s impossible to quantify baby name trends as statistics don’t exist.  Instead, we must rely on anecdotal evidence: What fashionable young parents in Shoreditch and Swansea are naming their babies, compared with names considered stylish in Soho (the New York one) and Silver Lake.  While there are some similarities — fashionable parents on both sides of the pond love Iris and Oscar, Ada and Arthur — there are many fascinating differences in taste.

Our prime examples of names that are more stylish on the UK side of the pond than the US:

girls

Agatha – The ancient saintly Agatha is a name that’s a more viable contemporary choice throughout Europe than it is in the US, where it dropped off the Top 1000 at the end of World War II.  In France, as Agathe, it’s in the Top 100, and it’s a stylish choice in England and WalesAgatha is Greek for “good woman”.

Edith – After a decades-long downward slide, Edith is beginning to creep back up the US list, now standing at Number 719.  One stylish-if-tragic inspiration: Warhol It Girl Edie Sedgwick.  Edie and Edith are both stylish in the UK and also make the Swedish Top 100.

HenriettaHenrietta and Harriet are twinned names in the US, both names of the rich great-aunt you hope won’t ask you to name the baby after her.  In the UK, Harriet is popular choice while Henrietta is a chic and stylish one.  Both names are feminizations of Henry.  Newly-stylish short form: Etta.

Jemima – In the US, Jemima is seen as a name tainted by racism, the name of the grinning black mammy on the syrup bottle.  In the UK, this beautiful biblical name is not weighed down by this stereotype and is well-used for stylish young ladies.

Mary – There have simply been too many Marys for too long for the name to be considered stylish again in the US, but in the UK, where traditional names are also cool, Mary is distinctly fashionable.  On the plus side of Mary are all its wonderful short forms, which include such chic choices as Maisie, Mamie, and Polly.

NancyNancy is on the rise in the UK, set to break the Top 100, while in the US it’s sinking toward oblivion.  One of the classic mid-century names, Nancy ranked in the US Top 20 from the 1930s until the 1960s, but is a grandma name today.  Originally a diminutive of Ann but used independently for centuries, Nancy has a while longer to nap in the US before a revival.

OrlaOrla is an ancient mythical Irish name that’s ranked in the Top 100 in Scotland and Ireland and is fashionable in England and Wales, though largely unknown outside of Harry Potter in the US.

Ottilie – The exotic upscale Ottilie, feminine form of Otto, is chic in the UK but in the US, dropped off the Top 1000 more than a century ago and was given to a mere six baby girls in 2013.  Variation Ottoline or Ottiline are even more rare, given to fewer than five girls in the US last year.

Tabitha – This lovely biblical name, which means “gazelle”, has never been able to shake off its Bewitched association in the US, and feline nickname Tabby doesn’t help its popularity.  It’s been heading downhill ever since its show-inspired peak in 1978,  But in Britain, Tabitha is stylish and fairly popular, ranking in the Top 200.

boys

BertramBert in all its forms is distinctly in in the UK but still out in the US.  British parents love Albert and Bertie, with the buttoned-up Bertram a chicer variation.  Bertram dropped off the US Top 1000 more than 40 years ago and was used for only seven boys last year.  An association sure to cheer any little boy: Bertie is one of the friendly trains in Thomas the Tank Engine.

Gilbert – Another Bert variation finding favor in England and Wales, Gilbert’s been sliding down the US list since 1929 and is now teetering at the very bottom, Number 996.  But Gil or Bert or Bertie can be appealing short forms.

Hector Hector is a relatively popular name in the US, especially among Latino families, standing at Number 277; in the UK, the name has an upscale, stylish image.  Hector also has a wonderful association to the great hero of the Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad.

HerbertHerbert Hoover, president during the Great Depression, may have inspired this name’s peak in the 1920s, when it was in the Top 25, and also propelled its demise. Herbert finally dropped from sight in the US about a decade ago and last year was given to only seven baby boys.  But in the UK, Herbert rides the Bert-related style wave and is a fashion favorite.

JagoJago is one of those names that is virtually unknown in the US – it was given to fewer than five babies in 2013 – but is widely known and definitely upper-crusty chic in the UK.  But it has definite possibilities here, given its relationship to top name Jacob – it’s the Spanish and Cornish variation – and cool o ending.  Pronunciation is jay-go or yay-go or sometimes yah-go.

KitKit as a male name originated as a short form of Christopher in the UK, but these days is fashionably used on its own. Kit does have a history as a boys’ name in the US, via legendary cowboy Kit Carson, and last year was a rare unisex name, given to 13 girls and 11 boys.

RalphRalph hangs on at the bottom of the Top 1000 in the US, but it’s been on a downward trajectory since the 1920s and feels like a crusty uncle’s name.  But in the UK, it’s a chic, sleek favorite, pronounced Ralf or sometimes Rafe, as in Ralph Fiennes.

WilburWilliam in its many forms has been fashionable in the UK since the birth of the prince in the early 1980s, and Wilbur is one of the cooler, fresh variations.  In the US, Wilbur has been off the charts for 30 years and is better associated with the radiant pig of Charlotte’s Web.

WilfredWil has a lot going for it in the UK, namely Wil and Fred, two stylish syllables that combine to make one up-and-coming name, rising through the popularity list.  In the US, only 20 boys were named Wilfred last year.  Huge advantage of this name is the range of possible attractive short forms, from Will to Freddie.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized 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. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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