How Important to You is a Name’s Distinctiveness?

How Important to You is a Name’s Distinctiveness?

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!

About the Author

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse joined the team in 2017, writing about everything from the top baby name trends 2023 to how not to choose the next big baby name. As Nameberry's head moderator, she also helps to keep our active forums community ticking.

Emma's articles on names and naming trends have been featured in publications including the Huffington Post, People, Today's Parent, Fatherly, and Good Housekeeping.

A linguist by background, Emma speaks several languages and lives in England's smallest county with her husband and four young children. You can reach her at