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In Defense of Emma and Ethan: Ten Good Reasons to use a Common Name

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by Abby Sandel of  Appellation Mountain

I love unusual names.  I can defend the wackiest of celebrity appellations, from North to Pilot to Blue.

And yet some parents feel pressure to avoid a popular name – or even a name that might become popular.

If you grew up answering to Jennie S. or Mike T., you might worry that Logan and Mia will have to sign every piece of schoolwork with their last initial, too.  But it might be a mistake to discard your long-time favorite name just because others have discovered how great it is, too.

Here are Ten Good Reasons to call your baby Ethan or Emma, Ava or Jake.

10. Popular names tend to be great names with broad appeal.

Read through any list of popular names and surely you’ll find many that are attractive.  How often have you heard – or said – something like this: “I love the name Olivia. Too bad she’s so popular!”

9. They’re easy to spell.

Unless you name your daughter Emmaleigh or your son Maessen, one advantage of a common name is rarely having to correct others.

8. Repetition is usually unnecessary.

Try this exercise. Call your daughter Clio.  Introduce her to someone new. Hear new person say, “Hi, Chloe.” Politely say, “Actually, she’s Clio.” Repeat a bajillion times.

This probably wouldn’t happen with Evan or Harper – we expect to meet children with those names.

7. Even a #1 name is less popular than it ever was in prior generations.

I don’t know a single boy named Jacob, even with two school-aged kids and a neighborhood packed with little ones.

Fewer children are receiving a Top 1000 name, and fewer kids are answering to the most popular choices, too.  Yes, your daughter could be one of two girls named Sophia in her kindergarten.  But she’s probably not going to be one of four.

6. Avoiding popular names is harder than it looks.

Some parents rule out any name ranked in the Top 100, or even any name in the Top 1000.  But rankings are only part of the story.  Adelaide charted at #343 in 2012, the kind of familiar-but-not-common status that many parents would appreciate.  But add in Addison and Adalyn, and you might hear an awful lot of Addie.  Now imagine that you chose Adelaide over your long-time favorite Charlotte in hopes of finding something more unusual.

5. Some of the most popular names are evergreen.

If you love the classics, why not use Elizabeth and James for your children? Yes, they’ll know others with their name. Hop in a time machine and you can probably meet another James or Elizabeth throughout much of history.  There’s something powerful about such enduring choices.

4. Some popular names will become modern classics.

Miley and Jaidyn will fade, but other names stay with us.  Amanda ranked #3 in 1982, and she still feels wearable twenty years later.  Andrew is less popular than he was a few years back, but you would never call him trendy.

It’s reasonable to assume that plenty of today’s most popular names will remain likeable, and certainly wearable, in the future.  Think of Jennifer.  Yes, she’s in mom name territory today.  But nearly 2,000 newborns were named Jennifer in 2012, and chances are that none of them will share their name with a classmate.

3. Some kids embrace being one of many.

I once met a Kate who grew up with a best friend called Katie. They loved having the same name.  There’s just no way to predict whether your child would rather be Sophie T. or the only Seraphina.

2. There are no guarantees that an uncommon name will stay that way.

The year is 1996. You choose the lovely, unusual Annabelle for your daughter.

Fast forward to 2013, and every time you call your teenage daughter’s name at the mall, three preschoolers turn. (Your teenager, of course, does not answer, because you’re embarrassing her.)

Today’s fashionably obscure choice – Everly or Esme – could be just a few years away from catching on.

1. Your favorite name might have meaning.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to name your daughter Emma, after your favorite book. Or William was your beloved grandfather’s name. If that’s the case, their popularity doesn’t matter one bit. The name will always feel just right.

What do you think? Would – or did – a name’s ranking in the Top Ten stop you from using it?

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Abby Berry Juice profile image

About the author


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.
View all of Abby's articles View all Berry Juice Bloggers


26 Responses to “In Defense of Emma and Ethan: Ten Good Reasons to use a Common Name”

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Plutophelia Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 2:51 am

I don’t have a problem with ‘popular’ names at all but I do hate ‘trendy’ names. When names become so popular so fast then drop off five or six years later it can really age your kid. That being said, I love most ‘trendy’ names now like ‘ava’ or ‘sophia’ or even ‘olivia’. they are really strong and beautiful. I just hate names like ‘gunner’, ‘brayden’, ‘kayden’, or ‘kayleigh’ they are sticky sounding and carry a certain….cheapness about them.
I just hate when people DON’T choose a name because it is too popular, chances are you’re kid won’t really care if their name is super unique. My name is Hilary and where I grew up it was rather uncommon (not outlandish I was just the only on in my school) and it kind of sucked. I love my name now but sometimes the duff/clinton references wear on me. The point is you shouldn’t feel obligated to name your child one of a kind because your kid is one of a kind, it will just let you down when you hear someone else use the name.

FairMaiden Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 3:25 am

I do prefer the more obscure names. My parents gave me one, and I always appreciated hearing “Oh, that’s a pretty name” when introducing myself. That said, reason #1 is so perfectly true, and I named my firstborn the very common William Ray. He is named after both his great-grandpas, and shares a middle with another grandpa and a grandma. Plus William means “protector,” which we loved for a big brother. William might be a top 10 name, but we’ve only met toddler Liam’s so far, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. No regret. I just named my second child, and this time indulged in a rare find — Verity Sakura. The meaning of my daughter’s name is equally significant to me and DH, and despite the commonality of big brother’s name, we think William and Verity make a great sib-set.

Maple10 Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 6:28 am

After being called “Rachel B”I’m choosing a name for my daughter that’s in the bottom half of the top 1,000. For some reason though, I feel like the name is going to catch in and shoot to the top (I’m even afraid to write it). I guess that’s why it’s important to pick a name that you love, and that you think your child will love, and be content with your decision. Even though I wish I had a unique name, I could never change it. It’s just part of my identity.

navygirl7 Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 8:35 am

I agree that common names are less of an issue than we make them out to be – at least to me. I’d much rather name my daughter Ava or Olivia than something outlandish, hard to spell and impossible to catch upon introduction.

Sconniegirltina Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 8:37 am

My husband and I chose a top 10 name for our daughter without even realizing it was a top 10 name. We had never heard it used for a child and we are teachers! Turns out it isn’t very popular in our state. Once we found out, we weren’t disappointed. We also paired it with a more unusual middle name. I hope she isn’t one of three Mias is her class, but you could pick a rare name and still end up in they same situation. I know multiple Emmersons, Grahams and Griffins! Pick what works for you and your beautiful baby.

bounceparty Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 9:28 am

I definitely agree with #2! My parents named me Chloe in the 90s, and they thought they had found such a unique, rare choice. Little did they know. As it turns out, a lot of my friends’ parents were thinking the same thing, as I am one of 3 Chloes in my grade, one of 3 Chloes on my soccer team, and my one of my best friends has another best friend named… Chloe. Not to mention all the baby Chloes popping up every where now.

GrecianErn Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 10:02 am

I was always “Erin D.” and my husband had it even worse, since “Scott” was popular for decades. When we started dating, there was another Scott Jones in his small hometown… that one was a very bad man – rape, domestic stuff… People would freak out when I told them who I was visiting. So I always said, the Good, older, Scott Jones, not the bad guy in his 20s. 🙂

We named our son Weston, in the hope that he would be the only one in his class, etc. And it was such a new unusual, but easy to pronounce name! And then we started hearing it everywhere! I figure he’ll be the beginning of the trend. Though my favorite Weston find was a 13 yr old (when mine was 18 months)… he was one of 4 “W” boys – Wyatt, Warner, Walker, and Weston. I like all but Wyatt. 🙂

I like names not in the top 100 in our state or top 50 nationally. But one of my Girls loves has Emme as a nn… and I think that will be popular. Oh well. 🙂

When it comes to naming these next two, we’re looking for names that are easy to say, read and yell. 🙂 Because you have to be able to yell their names. 🙂

Maerad Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 10:03 am

I’m not sure which point this fits in with but still!
My name is Caroline. It’s been in the top 100 for the past 100 years (was 99 in 2007 but that’s the closest it’s been to being out) and in the 1990s when I was born it was the 93rd most common name of that decade (all in the US). Yet I have never met another girl my age, or younger, with the name Caroline. I’m using US stats and I’m a Brit so it might be a little off but the point is there I feel.
The name Caroline seems very familiar so people assume that it’s popular, when really, it isn’t. Or at least, not nearly as much as people think it is.

Maerad Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 10:04 am

That should say top 100 for the past 10 years! Sorry!

Sorceress Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 11:00 am

I think many parents who want to use rare name don’t care if name is classic or not. These parents want children with unique or semi-unique name, so “classic” names are out of question.

So I really don’t think “classic argument” will convince somebody to choose Elizabeth if he want his child to be only Elizabeth in town.

lisar Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 11:11 am

#8 is not something I really considered until I had my daughter. We named her Harriet, and I find that we are always having to repeat her name, or sometimes people don’t really know what we are saying. Our boys names are more common and this was never an issue. But of course we love her name, and I wouldn’t have changed it anyway!

tori101 Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Totally agree with this!
I dislike trendy choices like Jayden and Neavah. But classics which happen to be popular are just great names, choices like James, Elizabeth, and Olivia are beautiful.

ClaireElise Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Although part of the reason many of my favourites are my favourites is that they are somewhat umcommon (and out of the top 100, definitely), I agree with this. You shouldn’t give up a name you ADORE due to popularity, and just because you choose an umcommon name doesn’t always means that your child won’t run into others with his/her name. Example: within the kindergarten community where I work, there were 4 Avas (of course!), 3 Ellas (of course)…and 3 Kierans (what?!?)! I’m sure all of the mothers of all of those Kierans expected him to be the only one in his group!

shieldsc Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I totally agree with you! I love being a berry, but sometimes I think we get to obsessing way too much over popularity or how well a sibset flows when really most people don’t notice or care about those things (unless the sibset is REALLY bizarre like James, Elizabeth, Thomas, and Vesper). I love Elizabeth and would totally use it if there weren’t already dozens of Elizabeth’s on my husband’s family tree with our same last name! In fact, I don’t know a single Elizabeth under the age of 10 in my town (I have kids aged 9, 7, and 2 so I’m exposed to lots of names, too). I also don’t know any Sophia’s, though I do know a few Emma’s and MANY Olivia’s!

dindlee Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I think shieldsc hit it on the head when she said that we obsess over popularity and sibsets here on NB. The vast majority of people don’t notice. I have really been falling in love with Elizabeth lately because it is classic and timeless and dare I say it, common. Me naming a future child Elizabeth would be very unusual in my family, my group of friends, and the kids my child would associate with. Most of the children I know have made up or über kreative names. I wish we wouldn’t dismiss names just because they are popular or common.

Abby Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 4:31 pm

@sconniegirltina – So true! Unusual names can repeat, especially in circles where parents have the same influences. (We know zero Jacobs, but two John-Pauls. But we’re Catholic, my kids go to Catholic school AND we live a stone’s throw from Catholic University. In that light, it is a wonder we only know two …)

@ClaireElise – Your Kieran is my John-Paul! Crazy how that works …

@lisar – I wouldn’t change Clio’s name, either. But I do wonder if it will irk her at some point. She’s not quite five, so it is too soon to say.

@GrecianErn – Yes, you do have to be able to yell it! 🙂 And oh dear – having to say “no, the GOOD Scott” is wild. But betcha that happens all the time to the Bill Smiths, Anne Joneses, and Mike Thompsons of the world.

raqkel Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I will personally look to use common names when naming my future children in the next couple years. Lovely article!

karateleshi80 Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Lol I have a traditional Sophie and Ava 🙂 but their full names are Sophira and Avaleigh. I named them with the hope that they will have the benefits of having normal and unique names and people can pick whatever they wanted to refer them.

We mostly get blank stares and silence when most people hear their names but their names have meaning to my hubby and me.

Their grandfather delights in telling people and calling them their names which is so cute and the kids and carers at daycare insist on calling Sophie her full name, they find it fascinating lol 🙂

mrs_anton_yelchin1990 Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 7:06 pm

My List is a mix of common, popular names like “Charlotte” for example, and uncommon names that are hanging outside the top 1000 like “Ophelia”. I like what I like.

I think I would be a little wary about giving my child a top 10 name..but at the same time, if it was absolutely my favorite name then I wouldn’t want to give it up, regardless of where it stands on the popularity chart.

EmilyVA Says:

July 11th, 2013 at 7:48 pm

I really like this post. My sister and I had top 100 names and I think we both liked them a lot.
The graphic is great too.

tfzolghadr Says:

July 12th, 2013 at 5:29 am

Great post, as this is something I’ve struggled with a lot. However, I do think there’s one additional aspect: the surname. My nephew is Brian, and has a surname as popular as Smith. Not really such a good combo. However, my surname is extremely uncommon in the U.S., and sounds exotic and foreign… it’s almost nice to have a slightly familiar name to balance it out and avoid discrimination. I have felt quite torn, though, as my top pics Benjamin (my late grandfather’s name… Beniamino), Soren, Emiliana (a nod to my heritage… but *sigh* Em- names, Emilia, and Amelia have all become popular these days), Valentina, and Nova are all popular to varying degrees these days. While I’d like to go for something like Mavi, Evren, Emre, Parisa, etc., I feel like it just wouldn’t match the surname, and might even lead to discrimination in the future… So sometimes a surname can influence the choice…

JessicaT11 Says:

July 12th, 2013 at 8:40 am

As a kid whenever we went on vacation I could never find any of the silly souvenirs with my name on them, like mugs or mini license plates. “Jessica” was so popular they were always sold out. I guess its a weird reason to pick a common but not super popular name, but it stuck with me. “Have I seen this name on a souvenir key chain?” Everybody looks for their name even if they don’t buy them.

paigemontana Says:

July 12th, 2013 at 5:51 pm

In my opinion you like what you like. So don’t let popularity effect your choice, because their are so many people trying so hard to avoid common names that they are actually making the uncommon names common! And if you honestly love a name and don’t name your child that certain name because it’s “common” then you may regret it!

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

July 13th, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I find it weird that some people had to go through school using their first name and last name initial. Growing up, I don’t think there was a lot of that in my school, despite my being born in the late 80’s when all kinds of little Andrew’s, Jennifer’s and Jessica’s were running around. I knew Aaron/Erin, but they didn’t have very many classes together or run in the same crowd. For a couple of years in middle school, I had a Kacee Brown and a Casey Brown in my class, how can you add a last name initial and still not get them confused. The teacher would usually call out “Casey with a C” or “Kacee with a K”. That, and the fact that they ran in the same crowd, may be why Casey just started going by C.

My name was the only one I remember hearing that probably should’ve had a last name initial with it and my name, Irene, is rarely heard on people my age. I’ve known of three others at or around my age growing up and even had a class with one of them. Typically, the teacher would be looking at whomever she was calling and the other would just go about their business. It wasn’t that big of a deal to stop what you’re doing for a second then continue. I mean if a teacher calls out “Sophia T”, all the little Sophia’s are going to look up before she gets to the last name initial anyway.

If it’s that bothersome to a parent that their kid is one of several, they can always go for a name with a lot of possible nicknames (or try to come up with a nickname you don’t hear for the name much. Or even have them go by their middle or last name). I think that’s why I didn’t know a lot of kids that had to use their last initial. I knew several Elizabeth’s but one went by Liz, another Beth, another Lisa, another Elle and the last just went by Elizabeth. Isabel’s Spanish nickname is Chavela (or -ita), which is what we call my niece who is three and is no doubt going to be one of several in her class, but she could also be Isa (EE-sah) instead of Izzy. And Adelaide doesn’t need to be one of several Addie’s in her class, she can be the only Delly, Ada or Lady (which sounds like a dog’s name but could be cute if the parents were brave enough).

I don’t think parents should worry about the popularity if you like a name. My issue with popular names right now, is why have they become popular… I love the names Mason and Penelope, for a heck of a lot longer than that Kardashian chick has had a kid with either name, but I’d hate to introduce my little Mason or Penelope and have people ask “Oh, like (enter appropriate Kardashian here) Kardashian’s little kid?” Uh, No… Like my kid right here! (And the only reason I even know that there’s a Kardashian with kids named that is cause I was mentioning liking those names to my cousin and my brother overheard and said “That’s what What’s-Her-Name Kardashian named her kid”, but that alone tells me that other people would make the same association!)

Erinm Says:

September 18th, 2013 at 9:49 am

It’s funny, the top 10 names in Australia are nothing like they used to be- when I was at school we had 5 Kates.4 Rachels 3 Melissas. But the top names now, I haven’t met one child called Ava or Sophia. Plenty of Ethans though. If you look at the numbers there were only 400 Williams or so in 2012, in 1996 there were over a 1000 of the top name. I have loved the name James since I was 5 and that’s how it’s going to stay…

wickedjr89 Says:

November 10th, 2013 at 8:34 pm

This is very true. Berries get so caught up in popularity and sib-sets. Less kids today than ever have the “popular” names so even with a top 10 name there is a good chance that your child won’t have another in their class with the same name. Also my name is Stephanie, i’m 24. My name was in the top 10 then, when many more kids were named popular names unlike today and yes I was one Stephanie out of many in school. You know what? I didn’t hate it. I love my name. Yes it was kind of annoying at times but I got over it. I can’t see myself as any other name, i’ve been Stephanie for 24 years and that is how it will stay even if there are many other Stephanie’s around my age. I love my name. My middle name is Jean, also a very common middle. So what if Stephanie Jean is common (though i’ve never met another Stephanie Jean though i’ve met a Stephanie Ann and Stephanie Marie, other popular middle names. I’ve met many women with the middle name Jean, Stephanie just wasn’t their first name lol) Stephanie Jean flows well and I like it. Jean is also my mom’s middle name :). The person makes the name not the other way around. Yes baby naming is something to think seriously about but some do go over-board with it, and I am a bonafide name lover. By over-board I mean what this blog says. As for sib-sets most people don’t think about such things unless it’s bizarre.

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