How Important to You is a Name’s Distinctiveness?

Our Question of the Week

We all know that the official popularity rankings don’t tell us everything there is to know about how popular our favorite baby names really are…

First, there’s regional variation: a cursory glance at the state-by-state popularity charts will tell you that parents in Oregon who are looking for an uncommon nature-inspired name might want to avoid Rowan (national ranking: #140) for a son or Juniper (national ranking: #314) for a daughter, which actually rank at #55 and #43 respectively in that state.

And the same is true on a much smaller scale: your friend group or kindergarten cohorts might be awash with bohemian picks like Fox, Arrow and Huxley, while just around the corner in the next neighborhood you’d be tripping over little Fredericks, Arthurs and Henrys.

And then there’s the issue of alternative spellings, which can make a big difference to the real-world popularity of a name, as our annual Playground Analysis shows. Names like Kayden or Adeline, which have multiple mainstream spellings, get a big boost when all of these spellings are combined, while popular names with a single dominant spelling, like Oliver and Ella, drop way down the list.

So, where does distinctiveness come in? Let’s give an example: Lilla might seem like a super-rare choice at #4314 in 2017, but with Lillian, Lily/Lilly, Lila/Lilah/Lyla, Liliana/Lilliana, Layla/Laila/Leila and Lola all charting in the Top 500, will it really feel all that unique? Ditto Eveline (#4000), which could easily blend in to all the Eves, Evas, Everlys and Evelyns, or Maxton (#672), which has both the trendy -axton bunch (Braxton, Jaxton, Paxton, Daxton) and the other Max– names to contend with.

So, today’s Question of the Week is this: how highly do you rate distinctiveness when searching for a baby name?

If popularity is important to you, do you look only at a name’s national ranking, or at the state-specific rankings, or do you also take into account the popularity of similar names? Or do you try to avoid soundalike names entirely?

Do you think distinctiveness is always a good thing, or is some similarity to already familiar names a neat way of making an unusual choice feel more wearable?

Have you ever rejected a name you loved because it was too close to another name? Why was it a deal-breaker for you?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below, or come and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

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14 Responses to “How Important to You is a Name’s Distinctiveness?”

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Aunt_ning1 Says:

January 16th, 2019 at 8:44 am

To me the most important thing was having a name that was more recognizable than my own Jeannie and that was heard of and easier to spell. I also didn’t want my child to be one of 6 with his name in school. When I landed on his name, it almost got changed because I felt that James was too common. Then after talking to teachers, friends and even a pediatrician I realized that almost no one had met a James that was little. There were a few teenagers here and there but not many. James is now 2.5 and I have only met 1 other James, and he was 6. I know it is a top 10 name in the US, but apparently not in the Pittsburgh area. It is an extremely common middle name though. Out of the babies here at work, we have Aaron James, Grayson James and Roman James, and then my James Louis.

Kipperbo1 Says:

January 16th, 2019 at 12:56 pm

I have taken names off my list for being too popular, like Rowan, Jude, Finn, Jasper, etc

calyma Says:

January 16th, 2019 at 2:04 pm

When I have kids, I want to use names that are recognizable but not too common (i.e. in the top 1000 but not the top 10). However, when the time comes for me to determine what’s popular, I won’t be turning to the Social Security Administration. puts out a list every year similar to the Playground Analysis but it combines all names the SSA releases data for (any spelling used at least 5 times).

It makes a huge difference! For 2017, according to the SSA, #1000 was Alora for girls and Jaxx for boys. On the NN list those names were 423 and 210 respectively, when grouped with their more common counterparts.

jmsouthern Says:

January 16th, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Having grown up with the very vanilla name Julie, distinctiveness was second only to beauty in importance when I was considering names for my daughter. For most of her education, she’s been the only Calyssa; now as a sophomore, she tells me that there is a Calissa in another grade in her high school.

arietta-rose Says:

January 16th, 2019 at 6:12 pm

I tend to like distinctive names that are at the same time classic, timeless, and/or have a historical connection. My top names are Ada, Victoria, Leonore, Solomon, Felix, and Oliver at the moment, and I know that two of those (Victoria and Oliver) are uber-popular, while others (Ada, Solomon) are a bit behind. And I am absolutely okay with that.

saoirse123 Says:

January 16th, 2019 at 7:12 pm

One of my pet peeves is popular names with multiple spellings. Even if a name is lovely in every other way, if it has more than one accepted/common spelling, it would not make it on my list. Though Leila/Layla/Laila is very pretty, it won’t make the cut.

The other thing I consider is what I call the “generic boy’s name”: if someone introduces themselves as Dan, Steve, Alex, Mike, Dave, etc, I’ll probably forget their name. I’m glad that boy’s name popularity is becoming less static than is has been for this reason.

Adalee Says:

January 17th, 2019 at 2:36 pm

My husband and I have an ongoing list of names that we chose based on family names and name meanings. . Neither one of our first names are on the charts for popularity so we tend to shy away from top 100 names unless it’s after a family member–we’re planning on using Emily as a middle. I think that counts for distinctiveness

The list of names that we agree on is pretty short but somehow we’ve managed to pick first and middle names for three boys and three girls. We’re just starting our family so I am hoping that having six names ready will be enough.

laurelrobyn Says:

January 17th, 2019 at 3:32 pm

For me, if the name can have a common nickname then it’s discarded from my personal list. I’m not a nickname person so I like to choose names that are naturally shorter and can’t easily be nicknamed. I also like when a name can’t be confused for a more popular name or has one tiny difference from a common name.

Dadtwobe Says:

January 17th, 2019 at 6:41 pm

My two cents:

I’d say just go with the name you genuinely like for your child. I am sure there are going to be be a few Williams, Henrys, and Aidans, etc around but who cares if you like the name.

Also, many of the names that people love online and via social media feel much more popular than they really are. For example, I really doubt that you’ll find several children named “Jasper” “Casimirs,” and or “Atticus” at the same playground. I do think you’ll hear a lot of talk about them on-line even from people who would never really use them because they are interesting and fun names.

blueylit Says:

January 18th, 2019 at 10:15 am

As someone who herself has an incredibly boring name, the aim is to find something a bit different that won’t be repeated in the classroom but doesn’t raise eyebrows as odd when they introduce themselves as an adult. I love distinctive and uncommon names but I want to make sure my kid doesn’t feel weighed down or singled out by their name.

yellowplums Says:

January 18th, 2019 at 2:26 pm

I will get rid of a name if it is too popular (I try to avoid Top 100) or if it has too many spellings/popular variants. Eve was a front-runner for most of my pregnancy, but my area has so many babies named Evelyn/Eva/Ava/Evie, and it didn’t sit right with me. I also love Lilah, but there are too many spelling variations, some which are very popular, to make it a possibility for me.

indiefendi2 Says:

January 18th, 2019 at 3:10 pm

Distinctiveness is THE most important part of a name to me. It probably comes from me having a unique name but I would never want my future child to have a popular name. All my cousins have common names.

Shia Says:

January 21st, 2019 at 8:18 am

When my Husband and were picking names we both agreed our childrens names couldn’t have a nickname. My maiden name is in the Top five of baby boy manes and it has a dozen nicknames. With our first son we named him after GGFather, GF, and his Dad. If we have girl it want be as simple. We both like Via and a few others too.

Esolis07 Says:

January 22nd, 2019 at 1:19 am

For me it is just about how much I love the name itself or the meaning. My son has a very common name but it was a name his father and I loved and agreed on lol. However, his middle name is unique ao I think it is a good balance. His father leans towards more unique names (compared to others where we live) such as Talon or Dante. Both of which I despised lol

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