On Choosing a (mega) Popular Baby Name

Did I fail my son by naming him Noah?

By Jen Simon

Is there any easier way to judge our fellow parents than by their children’s names? A name is the first thing we learn about a person. It’s how they’re presented to the world. It’s the defining declaration a parent makes when labeling his or her child. Often, parents plan for months — sometimes even years — for the perfect name, and we either approve of it, disapprove of it, or, if we’re judgmental jerks (hand raised), make fun of it.

For anyone with even a passing interest in baby names, there’s no better fodder than the countless name lists, round-ups, and slideshows. Each one serves as an indictment in its own way.

The lists of the most popular baby names? They allow us to sneer at the herd mentality of the masses. They let us know who will be in our children’s classrooms, who we’ll see on the playground, and whose pictures will clog our Facebook feeds. Don‘t know a Sophia? You will soon! (Of course, I know a Sophia, and you do, too. Everyone is named Sophia.)

Even more fun are the lists of the most unusual names of the year. Those allow us to turn our noses up at the weirdos who think their children will have a shot at normal life with a very abnormal name. Cheese? I mean, really? Even this hard-core dairy aficionado can’t believe that eight sets of parents legitimately named their children “Cheese.”

Before I had kids, I thought it would be best to err on the side of the unusual. After all, as a Jennifer, I have my generation’s “it” name. My small high school class boasted seven (!) other Jennifers, and it’s not even like my last name helps to distinguish me — there are two other Jennifer Simons at my pharmacy alone.

I never thought I’d repeat this particular mistake of my parents’, yet here I am, a Jennifer with a child whose name is in the (dreaded) Top Ten. Yes, I’m one of the masses who gave her child a common name. And, after getting used to it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Here’s why:

When it came time to choose a name for my son, I didn’t want something too far off the beaten path, like parents who deliberately searched for names not in the top 1,000 — but I also didn’t want something too trendy, something that would broadcast the decade in which my kid was born. Needless to say, it couldn’t rhyme with “Aiden” and it couldn’t start with a K.

Primarily, though, my husband and I had one basic requirement when it came to a name: it needed to have an obvious spelling and pronunciation. This was in part due to the fact that I grew up watching my mother’s frustrations over her name. Not only was her name, Ileene, on the unusual side, but the fact that it was spelled strangely meant that she ended up spelling it out for people on a near-daily basis. Even now, in the age of emails and Facebook — when her name is literally written for them — people still can’t stop themselves from misspelling it.

So, for our first son, we settled on “Noah,” which means my husband (whose name is Matthew, also a fairly popular name) and I unwittingly gave our son one of the ten most popular names nationwide for baby boys born in 2009. And now, of course, it’s THE most popular name. Sigh.

I didn’t realize the extent of the name’s popularity until my son went to camp last summer. In his class of 14, there were two boys named Noah, one boy named Noam and one girl named Noa. Granted, Noam and Noa are probably only found in the Jewish day school crowd, but still — four of the 14 kids had similar names? That’s ridiculous! Initially, I was sure that I had failed my son.

But I soon realized that none of the kids seemed to care. My son was Noah T. (he has his father’s last name). The girl Noa was, appropriately, Girl Noa. Each kid grew into his or her own nickname. My Noah decided he would be Noah T. Rex and began hulking around, declaring he had sharp teeth and would only eat meat (OK, that was a different problem we had to tackle).

His class made me rethink some of my own prejudices about popular names. After all, what’s the point of giving your kid a strange name? Even if you think you’re choosing something totally unheard of, someone else out there will have the same thought as you. Even “Cheese,” as unusual as it is, isn’t wholly original — eight families each thought they were naming their children something one-of-a-kind, and what did they get? A weird name that seven other kids also have.

Does an unusual name signify a child’s special-ness? Whether our kids are named Edward, Sophia, Tuesday, or Atlas, they are all unique. Or Younique. Or Uneek. Well, you know what I mean. And no matter what his or her name is, each child still retains a distinct individuality.

Your kids are going to be the same people whether they’re named Jason, Jayden, or Juice. (Hey, if Apple can be a name, why not Juice?) But which one will get them teased? Which one will they spend their whole life repeating and re-spelling?

There’s no reason to raise eyebrows and complicate phone calls with a name just to prove your child is different. Your kids will be different just because they are who they are. Except for those eight kids named Cheese. Those kids will totally be the most normal, boring kids ever.

This article appeared previously in HuffingtonPost.

Jen Simon writes about motherhood, sex, relationships, pop culture, depression, anxiety, feminism and travel. She is a Huffington Post blogger and a Babble contributor and has contributed to Scary Mommy, Your Tango, and Conde Nast International Traveler. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jensimonwriter and on Twitter @NoSleepInBklyn and read more about her on JenSimonWriter.com.

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15 Responses to “On Choosing a (mega) Popular Baby Name”

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SimoneKadele Says:

June 4th, 2015 at 11:12 pm

Well-put! But I still prefer less common names….

lesliemarion Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 12:24 am

I have nothing against popular names, but I do love fresh and unusual or less used names. In other words, it’s fine to name your son Mason or Noah, but it’s equally fine to name him Forest, Tangier, or Eben. And I certainly wish more people would do the latter.

dindlee Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 5:18 am

Preach! Someone who understands there is a difference between popular and trendy! Popular doesn’t equal bad! And giving your child an unusual name does not guarantee they will be the only one.

I will take my combined-spellings-#7-most-popular-named child, thank you!

Saracita00 Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 11:56 am

I don’t understand the assumption that every parent who chooses an unusual name is trying to distinguish their child as “unique” or otherwise establish individuality by way of their moniker. Sure, I’ve come across parents who rave about how much they love “Elyzzabith” because it will make their daughter “unique” from all the other Elizabeths and Ellies, but I’ve met even more who are just plain bored by hearing the same Top 100 names everywhere they go. Variety is the spice of life, and there are literally thousands of names to choose from. Without going so far as “Cheese.”

Addie88 Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Great article; I agree, wholeheartedly.

emilybk Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 2:13 pm

I think a lot of the names in the top 10 are lovely – I’ve always liked Noah, Jacob, and Aidan. I think most of the top 10 names get to be top 10 because there’s something universally appealing about them. I used unusual, but not unrecognizable, unpronounceable, or unspellable, family names for my own two kids, but I have no problem with most of the beautiful classic names in the top 10.

chi1127 Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 6:48 pm

There are plenty of easily spelled and pronounced names below the top 100 that aren’t remotely as weird as Cheese. There are maybe two names in the top 100 that I even fit my style of naming. I’m not trying to name my kids something super unique. I just tend to have different taste than what’s popular. My top three name choices for my son were Malcolm, Ansel, and Sebastian. And my current favorites for a daughter are Adele, Estelle, and Astrid. There’s nothing inherently wrong with popular names. I just don’t find them personally appealing.

frustratedauthor Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 10:33 pm

I have nothing against popular names at all. And I do love my name. But… I have a common surname, a Top 10 first name (from the year I was born), and a common middle. I frequently run into people with the same first and last name as me, and a time or two, people with the same first, middle, and last. Kind of a bummer, and sometimes one that poses practical problems.

frustratedauthor Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Okay, hit the submit button too soon. My common name has caused practical problems, and because of that I would probably not use a super-popular name. Imagine applying to the same graduate school at the same time as someone with your exact first, middle, and last name. That happened to me, and it was a headache. But I certainly see nothing wrong with popular names (and in fact, love several). Noah is one of my favorites. On the other hand, there are many less common. wonderful names that aren’t over-the-top or weird. For me, less common is probably the most comfortable route. If I ever did use a popular name, I think I’d either use a really uncommon middle or two middles so that down the road, he or she would have something to help differentiate them from others with their name.

barrybaby Says:

June 5th, 2015 at 11:48 pm

Thanks for the post! I’ve been stressing that my first girl choice is getting so popular, but this post helped me realize that my future child will be a unique, original person with or without having a common name.

MarieLalie Says:

June 6th, 2015 at 12:13 am

I have the most common name on the world. It probably helps me that my two surnames aren’t common, but from time to time I realized that I very much prefer my normal, super common name than be named with some weird name, or a mispelled name beyond recognition or something so terribly old fashioned. There is an universal beauty on those top 10 names and on “classic” choices and everybody, more or less likes them. Popularity never bothers me and I have nothing against people who search for something unique, what bothers me is parents that love a name, but drop it because suddenly is on the top 100. Of course there is lovely choices outside the Top 100 (I love Esmeralda, Adelaide and Helene, for example and they are not even close), but choosing in porpouse a name because how it ranks in a list? If you love a name use it. If you love Sophia, Emma, Elizabeth, Noah, Liam, ect, go for them and use it. If you love more unusual choices go for it. But don’t drop a name just because it’s popularity. It isn’t worth it. Your child is going to be as unique as it can be. They don’t need an unusual name to feel special.

jennelyse Says:

June 6th, 2015 at 12:13 am

As a Jennifer, married to a Jeffrey, I wanted names that were “different but not weird”. Like the article says, no weird spelling, people should be able to pronounce it and have heard of it. We chose Milo for our son and Reva for our daughter. I wanted them to fit in and stand out at the same time.

peach Says:

June 6th, 2015 at 5:57 pm

My thoughts were perfectly said by Sarasita, Chi, and frustratedauthor.

Haids1987 Says:

December 4th, 2015 at 6:15 pm

You’re right, popular names are popular for a reason: because they’re nice. But since I worked with young kids for so many years, I am just plain tired of hearing these names all the time. Aiden, Brayden, Jayden, Cayden, and Hayden are done to death. Emma, Sophia, Olivia, Ava, and Madison run rampant. In my opinion, it’s not that the names are bad, it’s that they’re boring.

Toronto87 Says:

June 5th, 2016 at 9:19 am

Popular: sure (I put names like Sophia, Olivia, James, and Jacob into this category). These names have had surges in the past, but have been steadily used even when not hugely popular. You don’t know right away how old someone named James is.

Trendy: not a fan (I put names like Ava, Jackson, Mason, and Harper in this category). In the past, trendy names have also included the likes of Jennifer, Lisa, and Linda. You hear those names and assume that person is a certain age. They become ‘mom’ names or ‘grandma’ names. And inherent in trendy names is the fact that they will eventually feel dated.

My two cents:)

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