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Long Name or Short Name? There’s No In Between

By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

For every Seraphina, there’s a Jax.

A glance at the US Top 100 lists from 1963 and 2013 suggests that the most popular names have gotten longer over the last fifty years.  Back in 1963, the only Top 100 name longer than three syllables was Elizabeth.

Today there are nine: Elizabeth is joined by Alexandra, Olivia, Gabriella, Isabella, Serenity, and Penelope for girls, plus Alexander and Jeremiah for boys.

There are more three-syllable names, and fewer single-syllable ones, too.

At the same time, there seems to be a steady rise in parents who introduce their children as Liliana-not-Lily.  In Disney’s new flick, Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, the luckless kid at the center of things is Alexander, not Alex.

Other stylish picks, like Atticus, don’t easily shorten like former favorites Michael and Robert.

And yet, some parents have gone the opposite direction.  Plenty of fast-rising names are short.  Some feel traditional – Finn and Jude, Rose and Mae.  Others are newcomers – Kash and Jase, Saige and Sloane.

In the UK, the land of Alfie and Millie, soap opera Hollyoaks poked fun at the trend, with the arrival of Theresa and Dodger’s baby girl, MyraPocahontas Regina Madonna.

But the divide is real, and growing.  Some parents are Team No Nickname, opting for Tess on the birth certificate, while others choose elaborate first and double middles, like Marguerite Elisabeth Celeste, and call her Greta from day one.

This week’s highest profile birth announcements demonstrate the split – from the frilly and complex, to the minimalist and straightforward:

Esmeralda Amada – After weeks of speculation, we learned the name of Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling’s baby girl.  Esmeralda is the Spanish word for emerald, best known as the love interest in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.  (Both the Victor Hugo original and the Disney version with the singing gargoyles.)  Amada is Latin for beloved.  Mendes played a character called Amada in 2007 movie We Own the Night.  All together, that’s seven syllables of frilly, feminine name.  The only questions left are: Will the famous couple call their new daughter Esme for short?  And will Esmeralda be the new Isabella?

Alexandria ClaireBaby Mendes-Gosling isn’t the only new arrival with an elaborate given name.  Joe Francis and Abbey Wilson welcomed twin daughters this week.  (Yes, that Joe Francis.  Is now the father of two daughters.)  Alexandria could be slightly more regal – Queen Victoria’s given name was Alexandrina – but at five syllables, it is about as long as a given name gets in English.  It brings to mind scholarship, thanks to the ancient library at Alexandria.

Athena OliviaAlexandria’s twin has an even brainier name.  She’s Athena Olivia, as in the goddess of wisdom.  And while Athena is less of a mouthful than Alexandria, her full name is actually seven syllables, compared to Alexandria Claire’s count of six.

Kennedy Taylor – What would you expect a country music singer called Bucky to name his daughter?  Bucky Covington – born William – and fiancee Katherine Cook went with Kennedy Taylor for their new arrival.  It’s a double-surname choice that feels rather presidential, thanks to 35th president John F. Kennedy, and twelfth president Zachary Taylor.  Then again, Taylor must also feel like a girl-next-door name in Nashville, thanks to the chart-topping Taylor Swift.

Vik Barthelemy – Let’s leave Nashville for the Netherlands, where Dutch model-actress Lieke van Lexmond is a new mother.  Her son is Vik – just Vik.  The Dutch are big on short names, with brief choices like Bram, Sem, and Saar in vogue.  As for the middle, that comes from Caribbean island Saint Barthelemy, better known as St. Barts in English.  It’s a favorite vacation spot for Lieke and partner Bas van Veggel.  The name embraces both trends – the super-short and the dramatically long.

Ford – We’ll end with a name that is truly restrained.  Television screenwriter Ryan Murphy and husband David Miller have welcomed baby #2.  Big brother Logan is joined by Ford.  The pair seem to have gotten more daring with their names since becoming parents.  Logan is a modern staple for boys, while Ford is an up-and-comer.  And Ford is also the epitome of a brief-but-complete name.

Do you like longer names, shorter names or a mix?  Are you hearing more long names for babies?  Or more short ones?

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22 Responses to “Long Name or Short Name? There’s No In Between”

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SunKissedChild Says:

October 12th, 2014 at 11:48 pm

I prefer long names that have a nickname, my husband and I do, as do all our siblings.

AnonymousPerson Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 1:49 am

I like both, but I think in naming my own children I would mainly choose names that aren’t too long and not too short, and don’t need a nickname. Two-syllable names. Now that I think of it, all of my immediate family and most of my extended family as a two-syllable name and no nickname, so I guess that’s the naming style in this family.

GoodHope Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 7:00 am

Short and sweet for me! Most long combos are too fussy and frilly for my tastes.

minisia Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 7:18 am

I’m quite impressed (and surprised) with Alexandria Claire & Athena Olivia.

petalpusher Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 7:29 am

As a teacher, I’ve really seen the shift in the last few years of children going by the entire long name without any nickname. It is Charles, Joshua, Robert, and Samuel…not Charlie or Chuck, Josh, Bobbby, and Sam. I’m also seeing so much more diversity in all of the names of students. This year I have a Tigerlily, Violet, Olan, Ceasar, Omar, Topanga, Bruno, and Atticus among many others. I hope to post a full list someday.

bootsie Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 7:44 am

I usually prefer short and simple names. I don’t really have much an opinion on nicknames – a nickname makes sense if a name is longer than 3 syllables. If I prefer a short form – like Sam, Tess, or Gwen – over the unabridged version, I’d rather just put the nickname on the birth certificate than something I don’t really like and will never use.

The_Supernatural_Hufflepuff Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 8:15 am

I like both short and long names but I have mostly long names on my list

Lo Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 8:41 am

Do you mean just girls names? Reading the first paragraph that is not stated, but the name Christopher immediately jumped to mind as another name of 3 syllables in the top 100.

lindsW Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 8:48 am

For the record, the BOOK of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was first published in 1972.

BabyNameAholic Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 8:56 am

Now that I think about it, not many of my top names are over two syllables. I have David, Aubrey, Warren, Wallace and Maverick all two syllables. And only Gideon with three. And my girls I have Lorraine, which is two. And Rosemary, which is three.

I dont really have a preference, either. I like what I like.

Abby Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 10:10 am

@petalpusher – Topanga? That’s amazing! Boy Meets World fans, I guess?

@Lo – You’re right! I missed Christopher.

Chloe14 Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 11:14 am

I like both long and short names! The longest names I love for girls are: Prudence, Shannen and Alexandra and Constance and as for short names for girls I love: Rene (Pronounced Renee with only one E at the end), Maizy, Anne and Beth. For long names for boys I love: Macaulay and that’s about the only long name I love for boys and as for short names for boys I love: Seth and Paul.

Again I don’t really have a preference really either! I love what I love…

Mary-la Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 11:40 am

I love long, elegant names with short, cute nicknames (my current fave is Adelaide Juliet Winter whom I would call Addie. My other faves are Clementine “Kit”, Anastasia “Tessa”, Frederick “Fox”, and Augustus “Gus”)

But my sister is in the other boat! All her favourites are short and cute. Violet, Poppy, Chester. Not single syllable, but still short enough to be short.

freddiethepink Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

My gosh I LOVE Barthelemy, it’s so great to actually see it used 😀

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I think, for me, it depends on the name and the possible nicknames. I adore Prue, but wouldn’t mind her being named Prudence. I love Margaret and so many of its possible nicknames, like Greta, Gretchen, Maggie, Maisie and Mae. But as far as Maisie, Greta and Mae go, I wouldn’t use them alone, even though that would be what they were called from day one. They just feel too incomplete. With Tess, a longtime favorite of mine, I don’t like any of the longer forms, except maybe Thessaly, but I don’t think I’d ever use it.

As for boy’s names, I’m not big on nicknames. Thomas would be Thomas. Alexander would be Alexander. The only name I would make an exception for is Samuel, because I absolutely love the nickname Sammy. I’m on the fence with Ben names. I would prefer Benjamin over Ben, but Ben over Bennett. And I like Bennett.

indiefendi Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I like long names with short nicknames like Angelina nicknamed Angie or Lina. But I like some short names too like Brooke. I have a cousin named Brooke who officially elongated it to Brookelynn (which I think should’ve been Brooklyn–keep it simple). But if I use a long name it’ll probably have a short middle or a short name with a long middle. Or just use two-syllable names. A combo I really like is Magdalena Alessandra because it just flows so well! The names on my list is generally long, at least 3 syllables.

Myosotis Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Most of my favourites are pretty much in the middle, but I suppose slightly on the longer side (around 2/3 syllables, almost all 7 letters). I’ve recently organised my favourites into length, and (excluding all the in the middle ones) it turns out I quite a lot more very short names than long/very long ones. But the shorter ones tend to be a lot more similar (Clio, Hugo, Niko, Enzo, Enna etc.). I do really love both long and short names though.

amf0224 Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I love a mix! I love names like Seraphina, Celestia, Analeigh, Juliette, Genevieve, and Arabella but also adore Wren, Claire, Blair, and more. I find myself liking in the middle names too like Alice, Aria, Ariel, Violet, and Scarlett. So, I love all lengths of names!

lesliemarion Says:

October 13th, 2014 at 10:49 pm

I love a lot of longer names like Araminta, Forsythia, Eglantine, Dorothea, Fredericka, Wilhelmina, Catherine, Virginia, Elizabeth, Taffeta, etc. Especially girls’ names.

For boys I am more mixed. I like short names like Moss, Muir, Elm, Spruce, Pine, Roan, Bram, Keir — soft,, strong names.

But I also like two and three syllable names for boys as well.

All I can really gather is I like traditional and/or length names for girls much of the time and am all over about boy’s names,, though I am drawn to some lovely one syllable names.

Netta5187 Says:

October 14th, 2014 at 12:30 am

I like longer names like Penelope, Francesca, Alexandria. Clara, Pearl and Charlotte are a few of the few short names I like. For boys I like Sebastian and Theodore.

jasminegarden Says:

October 14th, 2014 at 6:09 am

I’m very mixed. Prudence is my first choice for a girl, there’s pretty much 2% chance I won’t use it, and even then it would probably be something similar. It’s likely I would call her Prue, but I would also call her Prudence on occasion, and would write her full name on her birthday cards, on school applications, etc. – all the formal stuff but some informal as well. She’d be Prudence on her birth certificate too. I have a similar opinion for Elizabeth, who would be Elizabeth 50% of the time and Betsy 50% of the time, I honestly don’t know which I prefer so I guess she would be both. However, my opinion sways for my 2 favourite boys names, Billy and Xander. William and Alexander are both lovely names but for some reason I would put the short forms Billy and Xander on the birth certificate. I guess I think they’re more substantial than Prue, or that they’d stand out seeing as more and more boys are being called by their original classic names.
Other long names for girls that I like: Amanda, Amidala, Cordelia, Francesca, Jessica, Katherine, Kristina, Natalie, Natasha, Rebekah, and Sheridan.
Short names (less than 3 syllables) for girls I like: Anya, Aoife, Blaine, Blake, Brooke, Buffy, Daisy, Daphne, Darcy, Gemma, Judith, Katie, Laura, Leia, Lottie, Padme, Paige, Phoebe, Piper, Rosa, Rose, Sadie, Sarah, Sidney, Tatum, Willow, and Zoe.
Boys names with 3 or more syllables I like: Anakin, Anthony, Humphrey (or is it 2 syllables?), Joshua, Keanu, William (still more likely to use Billy), and Zachary.
Boys names with less than 3 syllables I like: Alfie, Arthur, Ashton, Calum, Harry, Heath, Jack, James, Kian, Leo, Liam, Louis, Luke, Micah, Michael, Niall, Thomas, Tristan, and Zayn.
(Sorry for the long post by the way!)

J_Anne Says:

October 14th, 2014 at 9:12 am

I’m firmly in the long names with nicknames camp. I especially love old fashioned names, like Eulalia, and Winifred for girls and more timeless choices for boys, like Alexander or Theodore, things that will never really be an out of left field name, all accompanied by various nick names for daily use.
I do agree with the person who said that this may be a family thing, because I was just thinking through the names of all my first and second degree relatives, and they all have long names, the shortest I can think of is four syllables, and most are 6 or 7. To me they aren’t long, just normal length so a shorter name like Ava Rose seems bare and nickname names like Molly or Liam seem incomplete.

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