Popular Baby Names: Be careful what you wish for

Guest blogger Emily Van Do grew up longing to find a pencil with her name on it and then–whoops!–she tells us how she felt when Emily became #1. 

 When I was a kid, I hated my name.

I always associated the name Emily with older women.  When I say older, I mean women in their fifties.  To a five- year-old, that was ancient!  One of the Emilys I knew was my aunt.  The other involved a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion and some very impressive tornado effects.

I grew up in the 80’s and my name was not common.  In 1970, the year I was born, Emily was the 173rd most popular name, as per the social security stats.  When I discovered that, I was surprised it was as high as 173.

At number 173, you would expect to hear someone else named Emily — not necessarily in the same class, but somewhere in the school!  Yet, as a kid, I never heard anyone calling out for another little girl named Emily.

Throughout grammar school, I would sit in class and daydream about being a Michelle, a Stacy…or a Jennifer!  If I were a Jennifer, I would have two other girls named Jennifer in class.  The teacher would have to add an initial when she called on me.  I would have an eraser with Jennifer written on it!

I would go into a store and look for my name on those “name” kiosks.  I wanted a toothbrush, a notebook, a pencil —  anything!  There was never anything!

Oh, how I longed to be common.

For years I would tell my mother it would be her last year with a daughter named Emily.  I was finally going to change my name.

For years, my mother would tell me it’s “coming back.”

Then things started to change.

In 1989, my first year of college, Emily moved up the ranks to #13!  I walked into an English Literature class.  The professor took attendance and called out Emily – with two different last names!  I remember being completely amazed.

My name started showing up on merchandise.  Suddenly, I could buy as many Emily pencil sharpeners as I wanted!

I would be in a store and someone would call out, “EmilyEmily!”  I would turn around and realize I wasn’t the Emily they wanted. Before I knew it, Emily turned up on yearly baby name lists as one of the most popular names for girls.  In 1996, for the first time, Emily was the most popular girls’ name.

Suddenly, Emily was common.  Emily was very common.

Somehow, I wasn’t so happy about the sudden emergence of my name (or what felt like the sudden emergence of my name).  For years, I wanted to have a mainstream type of existence.  I wanted to be like everyone else.  When you’re young, you want to blend into the room like wallpaper.

In college, I realized how great it was to NOT be like everyone else.  I began to treasure my differences.  I liked my curly hair.  I embraced my curvy figure!  I was happy that I didn’t know anyone else who liked The Indigo Girls.  Yes, I actually liked my name!

Oh, how I longed to be…uncommon.

Emily Van Do is the author of Mama Never Told Me…which can be found at Destination Maternity Stores.  You can find her at :

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33 Responses to “Popular Baby Names: Be careful what you wish for”

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Alexa Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:26 am

That is very interesting. I always loved being the only Alexa (short for Alexandra), and am very disappointed that Billy Joel named his daughter Alexa, because now it is too popular.

Andrea Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:27 am

I’m your age and I’ve only known one other Emily in my age range. It’s epidemic among girls born since the 1980s but I’ve always liked it and probably would have used it myself if I had kids.

On the other hand, I have a first name that has always ranked somewhere in the top 100 but has never been a top 10 name and a VERY common last name. There are still several women with my first, middle and last names in the same town. Mix-ups with the other Andreas mean a comedy of errors at the pharmacy and occasionally with credit agencies. Imagine if I’d been Jennifer!

Cassie Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:41 am

I have always loved that not many people share my name. Any Cassie that I ever ran into was actually Cassandra.

Not being able to find pencils and name plates bothered me too though. But the other day I finally found a little Colorado license plate with my name on it. I was so excited that I, a grown woman, bought it right then and there. It is now sitting on my desk collecting dust like I always imagined it would.

I hope my kids are not bothered by not being able to find mini license plates wither their names on them (I like uncommon names). But if they are anything like me they will love being different.

Rose Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 4:49 am

Most of my life I’ve hated my name as well. My name is Rosemary, although since my early school years I’ve been known as Rosie or Rose. But I’ve not really liked any of those variations because I always thought they were all old ladies name. But back in the 70s/80s when I grew up I also longed to be a Jennifer, Michelle, Stacy or a Lisa, Julie, Kelly, anything that sounded young and pretty! Now that I’m now 42 and am ok with being Rose/Rosie because I feel I’ve grown into my name. But as sad as this sounds, having an old ladies name really affected me when I was young, and not in a good way. Unlike Emily my name hasn’t become very popular. And I still can’t say I like my name, but I’m ok with it since getting older.

Eve Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 4:52 am

I legally changed my name when I was 21, my name was made up and I was bullied awfully for it. I changed my name to Eve because it’s still [well apart from the Evie which is becoming popular now!] not common but people understand and can pronounce the name without help!! I too always longed to find my name on things when I was growing up – instead my parents bought my things like an engraved bracelet with my name – best of both worlds!! I gave my daughter an unusual name – Saraya and recently bought her a “Best little girl in the world” cup because her name wasn’t on them!!! Also… if I could get my other half to agree “Indigo” would be at the top of my girls list!!

Sienna Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 5:27 am

I love this post! I’m going through exactly the same thing at the moment. I was eighteen when I first met someone else with my name, and I was amazed. Then Sienna Miller hit the spotlight and all of a sudden I can hardly move for all the little Siennas running around (I live in Australia, where it has been in the Top 10 for the past couple of years). I do feel the loss of individuality, but luckily I have an uncommon middle and last name as well so the chances of anyone coming up with my entire name are pretty damn slim. As Emily pointed out, though, there definitely is an upside to having a common name – my MIL bought me a little pink torch (flashlight) emblazoned with my name last Christmas, with the words “I thought you wouldn’t have had any of these growing up, so here you are!”

Hana Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 7:28 am

My situation is similar to yours as I’ve never met another Hana and I’ve never been able to find a Hana pencil or keychain or whatever. I have met many Hannahs and Hannas (never a Hana), and found merchandise with those spellings on it. I would never buy the Hannah pencils though because it wasn’t my name and that upset me to no end when I was younger. I asked my mom why she couldn’t have named me Hannah, but she always said that I would appreciate being a Hana when I was older. So even though Hana is similar in sound to the ever popular Hannah, I love my name and the fact that its much more uncommon than all the Hannahs and Hannas.

Caren Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 8:08 am

I went through a similar situation, although I doubt my name will become popular for a while 🙂 All my little cousins and my sister (Michael, Stephanie, Michelle) got personalized things for Christmas… my name was nowhere to be found. Even if you could find Karen, there was definitely nothing with Caren. I daydreamed about being a Jessica… now I’m very happy with my name, and it suits me! I only knew one Emily growing up, interesting to think about!

Heather Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 8:21 am

I would love to have a less trendy name. Heather was mega-popular for sucha short time period that now everyone will always know that I was born in the mid-70’s. It just doesn’t seem cute anymore. In rebellion, I named my daughter Margaret!

Kat Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 8:51 am

I grew up hating my name too. My name is Katheryn. Everyone else in my grade had short breezy names like Amy, Tracy, Liz, Mimi, Shelley, etc. My name felt clunky and masculine. Now that I’m older I realize it’s the spelling I dislike. No one ever spells it correctly, and it just looks stupid. Had I been named Katherine, I think I would not have minded quite so much. Now most all my friends call me Kat and have for 20 years; I much prefer it. I intentionally named my daughter something short and without any real variants so that she would not feel similarly disgruntled.

Emily Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 9:50 am

My name is Emily (I was born in 1985) and oddly I only knew one other Emily growing up. When I got to college though I was one of about 6 on my dorm hall. I was named after my grandmother…I’m actually the 6th generation Emily in my family so I’ve always liked my name since it goes back SO FAR in my family history. Now, that I have become an elementary teacher though I can see how many Emilys there actually are. There are probably at least 4 or 5 in every grade level. Sometimes a co-worker will be calling “Emily!” down the hall and I’m always surprised when I turn around and they are talking to me. I usually assume they are trying to get the attention of a student. ha!

Jenn Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 10:30 am

I grew up in the 80s with the Jennifer name that was at the top of the lists and I hated it. OH how I wished and hoped for a less common name. I never bother to look when someone calls out Jenn/Jennifer/Jenny/Jenna. I even know people with the same first and last name since my last name is common as well. Every year, I search the SSA lists to see what’s popular and what’s growing in popularity….

Abby@AppellationMountain Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 10:54 am

LOVE your story, Emily! It’s quite like mine, actually. I was an Amy, born in 1973 when EVERYONE was Amy. Now I’m Abby … and wouldn’t you know it? All the little girls are Abby, too.

It doesn’t bother me much, but if I had it to do over again, maybe I’d be Seraphina … oh, wait …

braveangel2 Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Great cautionary tale!

I got the best of both worlds – a name that only one other school girl had, and all the personalized junk my heart could desire. Since Angel was both a word and a name, it worked out, but not until I was in my teens. Most of the time, I would see Angela. But then, I have my own baseball team, so I felt better about that.

dancer4life Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I was born in the mid 90’s and my mom was set on naming me Jessica. But during the third trimester, she was at the library checking out a name book and came across the top 100 most popular girl’s names. The top name was Jessica. My mother, Penny, did not have a very common name growing up and didn’t want her daughter to have a super common name. So, when I was born the Jessica became Julia.
Julia is still a common name, but I much prefer it to Jessica and would have probably changed it later in life had I been named Jessica.

Joy Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I love my name. I’ve always been the only Joy in school and class but could still find my name on items. My twin Cherish on the other hand was the only Cherish every where almost and she couldn’t much find items with her name on it.

I’ve always been told mostly by my sis that Joy was old and established which is true but Cherish was new and unique which was cool bad sad because she couldn’t just walk into a store and by something with her name on it.

Now Cherish is becoming a little more popular. I hear it more now and we went to a high school with one other Cherish. Cherish wasn’t too happy about that.

I love our names. Its cute and different and very well thought of.

Emmy Jo Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I’m an Emily, too, born in 1981. The name seems to have become popular in my area about two years after I was born — I never had any other Emilys in my classes while growing up, but I had several friends with little sisters called Emily.

I tend to see it as a good thing that our name become significantly more popular AFTER we were born. Since the majority of Emilys are younger than us, someone who just hears our name will automatically assume we are younger rather than older. 🙂 And we have all the advantages of having a name that people now like without the disadvantages of having grown up feeling like one of many.

Taffy Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I’m very impressed by the child attending your English Lit class.

Emily Ryan Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Another Emily here, born in 1983. Growing up, I met exactly one other Emily–a girl a few years older than me who went to my preschool. Other than that, I didn’t meet another one until high school, and even then there was only one other Emily, and she was 2 years younger than me.

I always loved having a unique name when I was younger, to the point where it would seriously annoy me when I met another Emily–like, I would try to distance myself from her because I dreaded being “Emily 2” or “Emily LastInitial”. Now I am teacher and not only do I share a classroom with another teacher named Emily, but there are 4 or 5 students with the same name in my very small school. I still like my name, but I admit that I hate how popular it’s become. I am definitely trying to pick something offbeat enough for my own kids that they don’t go through the same thing! Though I guess you never can predict what will catch on…

Charlotte Vera Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Ugh, I know how you feel. Growing up, Charlotte was pleasantly uncommon at #306 when I was born. However, I liked it that way. Now little Charlottes are popping up everywhere! When I make new acquaintances now, people frequently end up calling me Roseanna and my 15-month-old daughter Charlotte, not vice versa.

Gracie Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

As a Grace/Gracie in my thirties, my name wasn’t too popular when I was little. Now, however, I’m constantly meeting little Grace and Gracies, particularly as a head teacher in a primary school.

Gracie

Alyssa Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 4:14 pm

As an Alyssa born in 1978, I liked my name, but I hated that no one could spell or pronounce it and that people thought my parents had made it up. I also desperately searched for something with my name on it. Since I’d never heard of anyone with my name, I was so excited when I heard of Alyssa Milano and was happy when it became more popular because people became better at spelling and pronouncing it (although it’s still a problem). When my name started showing up on things when I was about 20, my mom would buy everything she could find, I finally had to ask her to stop :).

Abby Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I’m an Abigail (Abby) born in 1980. I SO know the pain of this post. I didn’t meet another Abby until college…and even then there were only three of us in a campus of about 2,500. Now I get whiplash at the grocery store from hearing “Abby!” shouted down the aisles. My closest cousin’s name: Emily. Our mamas were just WAY ahead of the curve, I guess.

Emmy Jo Says:

July 26th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

All three of us Emilys that have commented are teachers. How strange!

Patricia Says:

July 27th, 2010 at 7:23 am

I knew an Emily who was a teacher too. Perhaps that has to do with the sort of parents who were naming their daughter Emily in the ’80s. This Emily’s parents were both teachers too, her mom at the elementary level, her dad, at a college.

Jenny Says:

July 27th, 2010 at 8:26 am

Those personalized things cause nothing but trouble. The uncommon names aren’t there, the really popular names are sold out (ask me how I know) and anything with multiple spellings gets cheated. (Is Sophia popular enough now that Sofia is available too?) My mother actually named my sister Alison after seeing it on a rack of bookplate stickers and thinking that was the only spelling. Not quite…

I still think uncommon tops overly common. You can always special order pencils, but mixed up credit information or prescription drugs is just dangerous.

Emily Says:

July 27th, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I am an Emily born in 1989 and I hate how common my name is. I always hear it shouted at small children, and it was confusing in school to be Emily (Last Initial).
I can’t believe its still so popular.

olivegreen Says:

July 27th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I can totally relate! I’m an Olivia born in the 70s. As a child, I wanted to be Cindy 🙂

Jennie Says:

July 28th, 2010 at 2:32 am

I think that everyone just wants what they didn’t have. I’m a Jennifer from the 80s. Growing up, I hated my name so much that I tried every different variation I could think of: Jen, Jenni, Jenny, Jenna, Jenny-Lynn, and when that didn’t work, I insisted that everyone call me Geri or Ryan (what? I was 8!). I just wanted to be different. I finally settled on Jennie which works well for me, but sometimes I still wonder what could have been if my mother has named me Daphne like she was going to.

Now, no one in their right mind would use Jennifer; probably because all the horribly tortured Jennifers (like myself) are growing up and having babies of their own. It is safe to say that my children will never have such an overused moniker as I did, and I think most other Jennifers will agree.

I think that all kids need some time to adjust to their name. It was something that they didn’t choose and that they have no control over, which can be hard for a kid. If my nephew had his way, his name would be Shark, but when he’s older (and the novelty of Shark would have worn off) he’ll be much happier that his name is Jack.

sophie Says:

July 28th, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I’m a Sophia and when I was born it was ranked #185. I hated being the only Sophia, I felt like my name was so weird and uncommon, although I’ve only ever gotten compliments on it. I’m the only Sophia/”Sophie” in my grade, and I think there’s only one or two others in my school (over 1000 students). I also could never find anything with my name on it!
Now it is #4, every other little girl I meet is Sophia or Sophie! I definitely agree – be careful what you wish for!

olivia Says:

July 31st, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I am an Olivia born in the 1970’s. I met one other at a mutual friends birthday party. I arrived after her so she was Olivia 1 and I was Olivia 2. I was about 8 and it was at that point that I decided I loved being different.
Well we all know what happened to my name.
My daughter is Matilda and its moderately common, there are 2 in her school of 400 kids. Still other mothers calls her Olivia and then quickly correct themselves. She has 2 Olivias in her class and there are countless in her school .
The same thing happened to my husbands name. Our children love to buy us tat with our names on.

Madalyn Says:

October 8th, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I feel EXACTLY the same. I never met anyone named Madalyn when I was growing up–I was born in the late ’70s, unless they were old ladies. And I never found the pencils with my name on them. Now I hear parents calling out “Maddie” and “Madalyn” all the time, and almost every time I meet someone they say, “Oh I have a niece/grand-daughter/friend with a baby named Madalyn/Madeline/Madaleine… and I cringe inside as I watch my former uniqueness fade away. EVERYONE has a niece named Madalyn these days. I feel your pain.

Hannah Says:

March 16th, 2011 at 1:11 am

When I was in Kindergarten or younger, I hated that I didn’t know any other Hannahs. Now? 7 in my year at school.

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