Hot Baby Names: What’s news this week

What names are attracting the most buzz right now?  Baby Name News columnist Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain keeps her ears open for this week’s hot baby names.

I’ll admit it.  I’m name-obsessed.  When I’m handed a business card, I have to stifle the impulse to ask about the middle initial.  (Is that D for David or Dennison – or Danger?)  My loved ones have long understood that they cannot call to report that so-and-so had the baby without also sharing the child’s given name.  I eavesdrop.  I ask.  Rarely is there a waking hour in which the topic does not cross my mind.

And yet, we name nerds mostly travel through the world in anonymity.  Sure, our closest friends know that we’ll have something to say about every choice, whether the newborn in question is Harper Seven Beckham or the little boy down the street.

But there’s never a good time to reveal that you’ve been quietly judging, and so being outed is always the tiniest bit awkward.  It happened to me earlier this week, with someone I’ve known for only a few months.  Her first question – well, what do you think of my kid’s name?

Never have I been so grateful that she had chosen the sparky, stylish Milo long before we’d met.

Here are my nine picks for the most newsworthy hot baby names this week:

Amy – The new Christina Applegate/Will Arnett/Maya Rudolph sitcom Up All Night, billed as a “modern take on parenting,” debuts in a few weeks.  Since all the stars are the parents of nicely-named youngsters themselves, I expected that the fictional daughter of Applegate and Arnett would have a great name.  Piper, maybe.  Or Adelaide.  I watched the previews, listening and listening, not believing what I was hearing.  Amy?  The name that was second only to Jennifer in the 1970s?  The name of Will’s real-life wife?  Others have pointed out that Amy isn’t so outlandish.  She’s a logical nickname for the popular vintage choice Amelia, and feels at home with favorites like Zoe and Mia.  She’s been falling since 1977.  Could the show reverse her fortunes?

BertProject Runway includes contestant Bert Keeter, the elder statesman of the new season.  He won the first challenge handily.  For most parents, Bert is Ernie’s BFF, the pigeon-loving, uni-browed half of the preschool set’s favorite odd couple.  But Bert was also a Top 100 staple in the late nineteenth century, and big brother in the long-running Bobbsey Twins books.  Bert’s siblings’ names – Nan, Freddie, and Flossie – sound fresh today.  Now that Leo is mainstream, might hipster parents consider Bert?

Bruce – The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2011 just wrapped, so I’m compelled to mention the all-time best shark name ever: Bruce.  Yes, Bruce. The cast of Finding Nemo included a Great White by the name, but Nemo’s striving vegetarian shark friend was named in homage to the fleet of mechanical sharks used to create the 1975 masterwork Jaws.  Hollywood legend has it that the inspiration for the 1975 versions was Steven Speilberg’s attorney, entertainment lawyer Bruce Ramer.

EstherHappy 90th birthday to swimmer-turned-Hollywood star Esther Williams, known for her elaborate aquamusicals in the 1940s.  The million-dollar mermaid’s Old Testament name has been stuck in fashion limbo for years, but with choices like Eleanor and Beatrice on the rise, can Esther be far behind?  Ewan MacGregor used the name for his second daughter in 2001.  And in other birthday news, Saturday was the 100th birthday of Lucille Ball, whose name — both Lucy and Lucille —  is also on the rise.

Indiana – Before Indiana Jones was the world’s most famous archeologist, the nineteenth united state was sometimes bestowed as a baby name – for girls. Then along came Dr. Henry Walton Jones and his adventures. Actors Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix gave the name to their son in 2004, reportedly inspired by Summer’s late brother – River played a young Indiana in one of the movies. Now Ethan Hawke and wife Ryan have given the name Indiana to their new daughter, a little sister for Clementine – and half-sister for Maya and Levon.

OctaviaToday is August 8 – 8/8, doubly lucky in many Asian cultures – a fitting day to celebrate this numerical name.  She’s a possible substitute for the oh-so-popular Olivia, and she’s also the name of actress Octavia Spencer.  You might remember Spencer from her time on Ugly Betty, but starting this week you can find her on the big screen, as outspoken maid Minny Jackson in The Help.

OlivierOliver is big news, the #1 boys’ name in the UK and a fast-climbing choice in the US, too.  But how about Olivier?  The French form of Oliver is worn by another Project Runway contestant, as well as screen legend Sir Laurence Olivier.  The pronunciation is a tiny bit challenging – instead of AW-liv-er, it becomes o-LIV-ee-ay.  If boys can answer to Jeremiah and Sebastian, Joshua and Gabriel, is Olivier really too feminine?

Priscilla – I truly don’t think you should name your child after a cast member of Lifetime’s extreme reality series The Bad Girls Club any more than I think you should name your daughter Snooki.  But after seeing previews for the current season, I’ll admit I had to look up the names of the, er, ladies.  It wasn’t at all what I expected.  Current contestant Priscilla wears a very prim and proper name.  Past seasons have included Zara, Cordelia, Portia, Lyric, and Wilma.  Not bad for a show designed to highlight women at their worst.

TurnerHarper is the Hollywood go-to name for girls, and Asher topped Nameberry’s Hottest Names of 2011 list.  If ends-in-er names have really arrived, would Turner appeal to parents?  There’s brave Will Turner from the first three installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  Hayley Turner’s success as a professional jockey promises to pave the way for other women in the sport – she just scored another notable win.  There are multiple possible origins for the surname – it could’ve been worn by a tower guard, a tournament official, or a craftsman who made objects by turning them on a lathe.  The real question, of course, is whether Turner would be a sister for Harper – or a brother.

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23 Responses to “Hot Baby Names: What’s news this week”

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Stefanie Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 1:45 am

I love the name Octavia, but for a different person – feminist science fiction writer Octavia Butler.

Bruce is my favorite shark name too! Fish are friends, not food! I don’t like it for a kid though.

NameGoddess Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 1:52 am

I used to not be a fan of Amy, but after seeing Amelia “Amy” Pond in Doctor Who, I find it a good nickname!

Lydie Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 4:42 am

Amy still sounds quite fresh in the UK, I know lots of little girls called Amy, it’s seen as a classic like Charlotte or Amelia.
Bert/Bertie will always be a dog’s name for me.
And Bruce the Shark… Brilliant but I named my husbands beast of a car after him!
Octavia is beautiful and underused, would love to hear it more often.

Abby Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 4:58 am

Lydie, that’s interesting – and really, a good point. She’s one of the Little Women and has been around for ages, so Amy is as classic as Amelia.

And NameGoddess, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amy is a nickname for Amelia on the sitcom, too.

LOL Stefanie – not sure about Bruce on a kid these days, either, but I do really enjoy the sound.

namefan Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 8:35 am

I agree with the comments about Amy – a classic over the long term but was a bit overexposed in the 1970s. I think the name has a “simple beauty” appeal on its own as well as being a good nickname for those who think it’s too insubstantial. Abby, since the reason you didn’t like being an Amy was its popularity I think if you had been 20 years older or younger you might have liked it better when it wasn’t as popular.

Olive Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 8:42 am

I’m really starting to like a lot of P names recently (probably thanks to my newly discovered Prudence), and I love Priscilla!I also adore Octavia. DH has promised we can use it someday – well… the day we have an 8th daughter, which I doubt will ever happen xD

Oliver is nice, but super duper popular here in the UK. Plus it’s too similar to my name. Bruce is pretty cool too.

Oh – and I’m totally a silent eavesdropper too! Yesterday at the pool I heard a father calling for his 6 year old daughter Maeve (or ‘Maevie’!). I literally almost hugged him! Instead, I restrained myself to a knowing smile and spent the rest of the day listening, and hoping to catch the names of Maeve’s younger brother and sister. I didn’t.

Marginamia Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 9:43 am

Bert, Nan, Flossie and Bruce! I grew up with a Bert, actually–great guy!

Nanette is fantastic, too, as a full name for Nan. I just profiled a Nell today on Marginamia –it’s sounding fresh to me again, though I can’t help but think of Nell Harper from Gimmie a Break. ha! Not such a bad namesake, though.

Flossie is my favorite, though, from the above list (even if she’s sort of an aside.)

I’m not sure how I feel about Indiana yet. I’m generally not a fan of place names, but the ones I do like, I really like. I find that the ones I like often predate the place or have other strong associations. It reminds me a tiny bit of True Romance’s Alabama Whitman. I love the nickname Indy or Indie. I’d be sold or not after hearing the reasoning and what they plan to call her. And it does make much more sense to me as a girl’s name.

Charlottie Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 10:27 am

Ooh! I would love to meet sisters called Flossie and Nan! Wouldn’t that just be darling? (:

I don’t think I’d ever use Turner, it just reminds me too much of Turnip.

corsue Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 10:50 am

There’s also a new show called Whitney. Maybe that show will help the name make a little comeback, too.

martina Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 12:50 pm

I like Indiana. It is fun and has the nicknames Indy,India, Di, Dee, Diana, and more! I don’t think I would personally use it because my list of top choices is already in need of some cutting down. However, I do love the name and would love it if someone I know chose it.

Abby Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Corsue, there was a contestant on Next Food Network Star called Whitney – she was very likable, and I found myself rethinking the name.

And namefan, you’re absolutely right. Part of my reaction to Amy is that I did live through being one in a crowd! The name has grown on me considerably – I’d be excited to have, say, a granddaughter named Amy. I think.

Diana from Indiana – of course! It’s right there, isn’t it? But Martina, I can honestly say that I never saw it until you pointed it out. And that does make nicknames like Di and Dee Dee more possible.

Sarai Charlotte Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Octavia Butler was great! Ya’ll have got to stop mentioning all the names I really love and want to keep secret.

Leslie Owen Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Octavia is one of my secret loves, too, for exactly the same reason. I keep trying to teach a spec fiction course at my high school with Butler on the program — maybe one of these days.
Amy of course was named by Alcott because her sister was May — Amy inside-out. It has been a nickname for Amelia/Ama/Amabel/Amica since colonial times.

Sarai Charlotte Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 5:49 pm


I did not know that about Alcott and Amy. I think that is a sweet way to name a character or person after someone.

tessa magnolia Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I have a neighbor who told us his name was Bruce so we called him Bruce, obviously. One day he exclaimed, “Why do you keep calling me that?” “Well, isn’t your name Bruce?” “No. It’s Brusk! With a K! BRUSK!”

Needless to say, whenever I hear the name Bruce I automatically think Brusk. (Bruce with a k sound at the end) 🙂

Andrea Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 7:40 pm

TV sitcoms generally choose simple, common, every guy/gal names for main characters. Amy fits the bill better than one of the wilder names that stars would choose in real life.

Abby Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Brusk? Wow! That’s new.

Is Octavia really the next big thing? She never seems to get a negative reaction. My aunt had a friend called Olympia – loved that one, too, but a) no good nicknames – Lympi is clearly out and b) it still has a whiff of luggage about it.

RebelAngel Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I like Amy it’s my name! I think of it as a classic name and I was not born in the 1970s I was born later and so it wasn’t that common among my classmates. I think there might have been one more in the entire school. I was named after the Little Women character and I always thought that it was cool being named after a literary character. It’s also nice that when people first meet you they can easily spell your name and they don’t mispronounce it!

Chloe Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 10:28 pm

@NameGodess , samesame !
@RebelAngel , I have a friend named Amy who is my age (I am a teen) .Her sister’s name is Vicky and her parents are from Vietnam ..Two things I note as I wonder about the story behind her naming as I am too timid to ask …
I love the names on this lists ..interesting …

Jacqueline Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Olivier has been on my middle names list for boys for a long time. I don’t believe it’s feminine, although it could be used that way.

AussieSteph Says:

December 8th, 2011 at 6:32 am

Oliver and Esther both well-used here in Oz. I am a primary teacher; there 2 Olivers in my class & several more (maybe even 10 in a school of 450 students) around the school. We also have 2 or 3 Esthers in the school. I think Australian name trends seem to resemble the British trends much more than the American trends.

plainname Says:

December 29th, 2011 at 4:58 am

The movie “The Orphan” ruined the beautiful name Esther for me. When I saw that movie I was young and it really disturbed me. Now, when I think Esther, I think of that creepy ponytail-haired girl.

emilymaryjane Says:

December 30th, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Esther Williams played a movie star in Million Dollar Mermaid. She played now forgotten actress Annette Kellerman (my idol). Annette now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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