Menu

Eclectic Naming Trends: Global, Gender-Neutral, Classic

November 2, 2014 Abby Sandel

By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

It’s tempting to predict the future.  Difficult, too.

Last week, I stumbled across this 1994 article in the L.A. Times.  Nameberry’s Pam predicted the stylish names of the future would be Felix and Frances, Charlotte and Claire, Hazel and Dexter.

Twenty years later, it’s all come true!

But it’s also become increasingly difficult to imagine what’s next for names, and the most recent high profile birth announcements illustrate why.

In our anything-goes age, possibilities abound.  From Arabella to Zhang, the names parents are choosing make for an eclectic bunch.

And yet there are definite trends to spot and celebrate in this creative and daring age.

Here are nine of the most interesting trends of the moment – and the celebrity baby names that illustrate how to wear them.

Nickname-names will be mainstream – Some parents have always chosen Kate over Katherine, but we’re living in a moment when nickname-names are increasingly common on the birth certificate.  Actress Ashley Williams and husband Neal Dodson recently welcomed son Gus.  Just Gus.  With thousands of boys named just Jack and just Max every year, no surprise that Gus, too, is creeping towards the US Top 1000.  The benefit in our connected age?  The name on your LinkedIn profile matches the name on your passport, no explanations required.

Heritage matters – For generations, we named our sons Joseph after grandpa Jose or great-uncle Giuseppe, who’d been known as Joe since he’d set foot in the US anyway.  Now we’re more likely to use the original, undiluted form.  Tennis star Novak Djokovic and wife Jelena recently named their firstborn Stefan.  Some speculated that it could be for 1980s and 90s Swedish tennis legend Stefan Edberg, now a coach.  But Djokovic explained that Stefan is a nod to the family’s Serbian heritage.  It’s the same reasoning made by the parents of one-quarter Irish Maeve in Fresno.  And it’s a powerful way to embrace your heritage, even if you’re not choosing family names.

Heritage is global – NBA star LeBron James and wife Savannah recently announced the arrival of their third child and first daughter, Zhuri Nova.  Zhuri is a form of the Swahili name Zuri – beautiful.  It’s almost my favorite name of the week, because in our global, connected society, why should all of the names be European in origin?

Rediscovery forever – It’s tempting to declare names gone for good, but is that ever really true?  Sometimes heard in the nineteenth century, the frilly confection Arabella has become the latest -bella name to catch on, rising from obscurity to the Top 250 in the US in less than a decade.  Ivana Trump has an Arabella, and now British singer and former X-Factor runner-up Rebecca Ferguson has given the name to her third daughter, a sister for Lillie May and Karl.  Few names are ever truly gone for good.

Invention forever Love it or hate it, this is the age of innovation in baby names.  Maverick once seemed outlandish – even political, following the 2008 presidential election.  Now?  Maverick is mainstream, ranking #272 in 2013 and climbing fast.  It’s the choice of 2011 Amazing Race champs Ernie and Cindy Halverson for their new son, Maverick Zhang.  As for that middle?  It’s a heritage choice for Taiwanese-American Cindy.

Classics still count – If you can’t imagine naming your baby Zuri or Zhang, no worries.  Classic names do endure.  Television host Debbie Matenopoulos and husband Jon Falcone just welcomed daughter Alexandra Kalliope.  Regal, saintly, and ancient, Alexandra has been more and less popular over the years, but like Margaret and Elizabeth, Katherine and Mary, she has staying power.

Classic with a twist – There’s a middle way between conventionally classic and completely new.  British pop star Robbie Williams and wife Ayda Field went this route for naming their son, Charlton Valentine.  A surname related to the buttoned-down Charles, Charlton feels like a modern surname name, but one with history aplenty.  Hollywood actor Charlton Heston comes to mind, as does The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Carlton Banks.  Williams and Field are also parents to Theodora Rose, called Teddy, so they’re well-versed in the classic-with-a-twist approach.

Surname names are equal opportunity – Actor and late night talk host James Corden and wife Julia recently welcomed daughter Carey.  That’s just Carey – the couple already has just Max at home. But this isn’t another example of the nickname-name trend.  Carey is Julia’s maiden name, and makes a great first for a daughter or a son.

Gender neutral means just that – So often lists of “gender neutral” names are lists of boyish names used almost exclusively for girls.  But lately that’s changing, and this week’s World Series final gave another reason to hope that names can remain wearable for our sons even as we consider them for our daughters.  San Francisco Giants’ pitcher and MVP Madison Bumgarner wears his first name well.  Bumgarner was born in 1989, when there were over 1200 newborn girl Madisons and about 130 boys.  As of 2013, there were over 10,500 girls and just 40 boys.  But with boys answering to Maddox and Madden, is Madison really out for a son in 2014?

What do you think the future holds for baby names?  Anything you’d add to this list?

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.

View all of Abby's articles