Popular Names Your Mom Never Heard Of
The biggest critic of parents’ baby name choice? Yup, that would be Grandma!
According to a 2016 survey, almost half of new parents who received negative comments about their newborn’s name said that they came from their own mom.
Whether you’re surprised or totally unsurprised by that statistic – no comment from me – it’s true that grandmothers (and grandfathers) chose their children’s names in a completely different baby naming landscape than the one that exists today.
A Brave New World of Baby Names
Thirty years ago, the top girl name, Ashley, was used more than twice as many times as the current #1, Olivia. The equivalent for boys, Michael, was almost three times more prevalent in 1992 than Liam was last year.
Now, even the most popular girl and boy names are given to just 1% of babies. And super rare names – those outside the Top 1000 entirely – make up almost a third of all names in use.
Those highly unusual baby names represent increased cultural and linguistic diversity in naming, but also a proliferation of new word and place names, novel surnames as first names, and recent inventions that feel completely unfamiliar – and, in some cases, downright crazy – to today’s grandparents.
We crunched the numbers to reveal the currently popular baby names most likely to get that “His name’s what?!” reaction from Grandma.
These modern favorites were all given to over 1000 babies last year, but were entirely absent from the official US baby name records three decades ago in 1992.
Read on for the most popular girl and boy names your mom (and dad) never heard of!
Popular Girl Names Your Mom Never Heard
This lively choice blends the stylish Ev- sound of classics like Eva and Evelyn with the super trendy -ly ending, and the result is a big hit!
Everly has been one of the fastest rising girl names of the past decade, entering the Top 1000 in 2011 and climbing to #50 last year. The Everleigh spelling, now at #100, was also unheard of in 1992.
Like all influential celebrity names, Nevaeh came into the spotlight in the right place at the right time. It was almost unheard of until rapper Sonny Sandoval chose it for his daughter in 2000, going from 8 births the year before to almost 1200 the year after her birth.
Nevaeh (“heaven” backwards) peaked at #31 in 2001 and now ranks at #86.
Adalynn and Adalyn are both Top 150 girl names today, but were completely unused back in 1992. And alternative spelling Adelyn was used just 22 times that year.
This super-popular group of names, which also includes Top 1000 choices Adeline, Adelyn and Addilyn, would rank in the current Top 10 if all variant spellings were combined.
Although the Y version has now overtaken the traditional Emerson spelling for girls, both are now predominantly female in the US: given to over 3600 girls in total last year, compared with fewer than 1300 boys.
But back in 1992 there were zero girls recorded with either spelling of the name, although Emerson ranked at #993 for boys.
A spelling spin on the Hawaiian Kailani or Kalani, this modern coinage was completely unheard of until 2015, when mononymous singer Kehlani put it on the baby name map. It now ranks at #150 and rising.
Wistful word name Journey was in very rare use back in 1992, given to 13 girls and eight boys that year.
But this version is part of a newer phenomenon: a boom in new and respelled girl names with the -ee ending that reached its apex in the 2010s. Other examples include Aubree, Hailee, Kenslee and Rylee.
The -lynn names are another thoroughly modern trend, despite Lynn itself retaining a solid midcentury flavor.
In the 2010s and 2020s, any short and trendy girl name element – think Ava, Brae, Nova, Rae, Sky – is liable to receive a shiny new -lynn suffix if, as my own mom would say, it “stands still long enough”.
Oak is one of the newest fashionable name elements for both genders, and Oaklynn has leapt from zero births in 2010 to over 1400 in 2021.
In contrast to its native Scotland, Finley has been more popular for girls than boys in the US since the mid noughties, when it was used for a flurry of celebrity daughters.
It currently ranks at #211 for girls and #265 for boys, making it one of the top truly gender-neutral names of the moment. Back in 1992, however, just eight boys and no girls were recorded with the name.
This streamlined Old Hollywood surname is a real rising star in the US: up 86 spots last year alone. But elsewhere in the Anglosphere, it has already well and truly landed.
At the latest count, Harlow is a Top 100 pick in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. But it didn’t appear on the extended US baby name list until 2002.
This long, lilting name only made its debut on the US charts in 2011, the year it was worn by Zoe Saldana in the film Columbiana. It’s a spin on Cattleya, a genus of orchids found in South America, where the character is from.
Cataleya remains especially popular in states with the highest Hispanic and Latino populations, such as New Mexico, Texas and California.
It may look like a Hawaiian name, but Milani is actually a newer coinage. Is it an elaboration of Italian place name Milan? A respelling of Melanie? A smoosh of the trendy -lani ending with the popular Mi- beginning from names like Mia and Mila? Most likely, a combination of all three.
Either way, Milani has proved a modern hit, now ranking at #302. But it wasn’t recorded at all three decades ago when today’s grandparents were naming their children.
Popular Girl Names Rare in Mom's Day
These modern favorites, all given to 1000 or more baby girls last year, registered 50 or fewer births in 1992.
Mom might have heard of these names, but they were on very few people's lists back when today's grandparents were choosing their own daughters' names.
Popular Boy Names Your Mom Never Heard
Now poised on the brink of the Top 100, Legend was completely unheard of as a baby name back in 1992. This bold word name made its debut the following year, but really picked up steam from the mid noughties – likely due to the influence of rising star John Legend.
The mythology names in use thirty years ago felt much more pedestrian than today’s most popular choices: think Cynthia and Diana for girls, Troy and Hector for boys.
In Greek myth, Atlas was a Titan condemned to hold up the heavens on his shoulders. His name has leapt up the baby name rankings over the past decade: from outside the Top 1000 in 2012 to #149 last year.
Angelina Jolie thrust this cool Welsh surname into the spotlight when she gave it to her adopted son in 2002. It entered the Top 1000 the following year, and now ranks at #174.
Maddox sparked a whole trend of punchy X-ending surnames for boys, including Lennox and Knox – another Jolie baby name. Both were given to just nine babies in 1992, but now rank among the Top 400 boy names in the US.
The generation-defining popularity of Aiden over the last couple of decades has spawned a whole host of rhyming spinoffs, such as Ayden, Cayden, Kayden, Jayden and Zayden. All were given to fewer than 50 babies back in 1992, but over 1000 babies last year.
Zayden is one of the most recent risers, boosted by modern parents’ love of that spiky Z sound – especially for their sons.
It’s perhaps no surprise that this sporty surname wasn’t on parents’ radars thirty years ago, given that British soccer star David Beckham was only just making his professional debut back in 1992.
Within a decade, it had started cropping up on American birth certificates, and it entered the Top 1000 in 2008, the year after Beckham started playing for LA Galaxy. It now ranks at #222, just a few spots below soundalike Beckett.
A shorter, sharper take on Jack or Jackson, this modern mini name has gained a lot of ground over the past generation.
Not only does this spelling now rank at #243, but Jaxx is at #918, and Jaxon, Jaxson, Jaxxon, Jaxton and Jaxtyn all make the Top 1000 too. All were vanishingly rare or completely unheard of thirty years ago.
Egyptian city name Cairo was used just seven times in 1992, compared to more than 1000 last year. But Kairo is now even more popular than the original, given to over 1300 baby boys in 2021.
As well as that dynamic O ending, Kairo benefits from the recent popularity of Kai and a whole cluster of cool boy names containing the same sound: think Kyler, Kylo, Kyrie, Kyson and Khairi.
Big, bold names have become much more mainstream in recent years, but Maximus comes with the additional bonus of classic, easygoing nickname Max. Russell Crowe’s powerful character in Gladiator boosted it into the spotlight in 2000.
Preppy word-name-meets-surname Crew feels like a contemporary classic, similar to streamlined choices like Drew, Clark and Ford. So you might be surprised to learn that it only debuted as an American baby name in 1995!
Now also found in variant spellings including Cru, Crue, Krew and Kru, it currently sits at an all-time high of #263 and rising.
Another example of a punchy X-ending surname that has caught on in a big way in the wake of Maddox et al. Hendrix is a musical hero name that feels like an edgier take on classic Henry, revived by the current generation of parents from a historic low thirty years ago.
2010s pop culture phenomenon One Direction boosted this spelling of the cool cross-cultural name Zane or Zain, which has both English and Arabic roots. Zayn is now the second most popular spelling in the US, just below literary surname Zane –which was the only version in the Top 1000 back in 1992.
All names relating to the late basketball star Kobe Bryant boomed in 2020, the year he and his young daughter were tragically killed in a helicopter crash. But it actually peaked back in 2001, when his professional career was really taking off.
Kobe rose from obscurity to become one of the highest rising names of 1996-97, when he burst onto the mainstream stage as the youngest ever NBA starter.
Popular Boy Names Rare in Mom’s Day
These modern favorites, all given to 1000 or more baby boys last year, registered 50 or fewer births in 1992.