Is Your Favorite Name More Popular Than You Think?

The Number One girls’ name of the decade so far is Emily, with about 190,000 babies receiving that name since 2000.  And the top boys’ name is Jacob, given to nearly 229,000 boys this decade.

But there are other names that are given to more than twice as many babies as those Number One names.  Not many parents realize that the names they’re choosing carry this huge degree of popularity.  No states or government agencies track these names or alert people to what vast numbers of children receive them.

Why not?  Because they’re not a single name but a meganame, or a cluster of names, if you like.  These are names that are closely related in form and spelling, with lots of overlaps that sound exactly alike.  There are many examples in modern U.S. baby names – including to some extent Jacob and Emily themselves – but let’s focus on three of the most notorious.

For boys, the premier meganame might be thought of as the Aden cluster.  It includes the following names, arranged so that the relationships are most obvious:

ADEN
AIDEN
AIDAN
AYDEN
BRAYDEN
BRADEN
BRADY
CADE
CADEN
CAIDEN
CAYDEN
KADEN
KAIDEN
KAYDEN
HAYDEN
JAYDEN
JADEN
JAIDEN
JAYLEN
JALEN

There are undoubtedly more variations and spellings that might be included here – we didn’t diverge to Adrian or Zayden, for example – but taken together these names were given to about 480,000 baby boys in the 2000s, more than twice as many as received the name Jacob.

Of course, Brady and Jaylen feel fairly different – but Aden, Braden, and Jaden don’t, and Caden, Kaden and bros sound exactly alike.  Unsuspecting parents, especially those who haven’t been around kids much since they moved up to middle school themselves, might hear a name like Hayden or Aiden and think, wow, that’s really unique.  I want a special, modern, stand-out name for my son, not something everybody uses, like Jacob or Michael or Matthew.

And then they end up with a name that’s twice as common as any of those popular individual names.

For girls, let’s look at the meganame we might call Aylee (or Ayla or Kyla).  It’s far-ranging, and while you might not agree that every name below should be included in the cluster, there are many we left out.  This name cluster embraces:

BAILEY
BAYLEE
HAYLEE
HALEY
HAILEY
CALLIE
KAILEY
KAYLEE
KAYLEIGH
KAELYN
KAYLA
JAYLA
SHAYLA
MAKAYLA
MIKAYLA
KYLA
SKYLA
SKYLAR
SKYLER
KYLIE
KYLEE
RYLEE
RYLEIGH

Nearly 540,000 girls received these names this decade, compared with fewer than 200,000 who were named Emily.  And again, there are many more variations that might be lumped in with this group.

Another megapopular name that crosses gender lines is the Alex cluster, which accounts for nearly half a million baby boys and girls born this decade.  The names we’ve tallied in this cluster are:

ALEXANDRA
ALEXANDER
ALEX (boys)
ALEXA
ALEXIA
ALEXIS (both genders)
ALEXUS (girls)
LEXI
LEXIE
ALESSANDRA
ALEJANDRA
ALEXANDRIA
ALEJANDRO
ALEXANDRO
ALEXZANDER

The lesson: Alex might be a solid, attractive name that works equally well for boys and girls.  What it’s not is distinctive.

If you end up deciding you love Hayden or Hayley or Alexa anyway, go right ahead and choose them.   Just be aware that any name that’s got lots of close relatives is bound to feel far trendier than you’d guess by gauging the popularity of that name alone.

Thanks to our wonderful intern Danielle Miksza for her help with the research and math for this post.

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16 Responses to “Is Your Favorite Name More Popular Than You Think?”

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Kayt Says:

April 7th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I would personally include Zaydon and Raiden in the boy cluster, actually. Traditionally, Raiden doesn’t rhyme with the cluster names, but I have a feeling, since it’s appeared in the top thousand for the first time ever last year, it’s been used as a ‘unique’ variant of Aiden and friends. I’ve been preaching the dangers of the Aiden names for years. Thanks for covering this!

Jenmb Says:

April 7th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I found this out when we were considering Alexa and Gabriella for girls names. Neither of them are ranked exceptionally high, but when you include the variations/alternate spellings, their just too popular for our tastes.

Emmy Jo Says:

April 7th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Meganames are tough for teachers. This year, I have a Chloe, Callie, Kayla, Kylie, and Riley. Yep, I get them confused all the time. The teacher next door tends to get the “Aden” cluster — last year it was Jayden and Trayden; this year she has Aiden and Hayden.

Jill Says:

April 8th, 2009 at 2:13 am

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why trendy/misspelled meganames appeal to anyone. The yooneek spellings are seriously downwardly mobile, and sadly destroy the original, authentic name.

Michaela, for example, was once a lovely name, but for some reason, people thought it wasn’t special enough, and tried to make it more yooneek by butchering the spelling. Do they not understand that intentionally misspelling a name is not unique, and only makes the result look like a giant typo?

The poor children will have to correct people’s spelling for the rest of their lives! The whole misspelling trend seriously baffles me. 🙁

momto2 Says:

June 29th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I spelled my daughter RYLEE because my best friends name was Lee I didnt do it to be “yooneek” or different I did it because it had significance and meaning to me and my husband. I didnt do it to be trendy in anyway. Where we live I have yet to meet another Riley, Rylee Ryley, Kylie so this doesnt effect me.

proudmom2b Says:

August 3rd, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I never understood the crazy spellings either (I am not including Rylee in this statement, I think that is a very pretty variation) What I don’t like is when people take a name that could be spelled in 5 letters and spell it in 7 or more. And I agree with you Jill, those children will have to correct people on the spelling the rest of their lives.

Another thing that bothers me a little though (I have noticed it as a reoccurring theme on this site especially) is why people say they “hate” a name just because its popular. I named my son (who is now 1) Braden because I fell in love with that name about 10 years ago. Did I know it was super popular now? Not at the time. Would I have picked another name for him if I had known it was lumped in with the “over-used” names. Probably not. I love his name. I didn’t pick it to be “trendy” I picked it because I love it. People act like its ridiculous to pick one of the “aden” names because of how popular they are and really I think that attitude is ridiculous. No offense to anyone. I think people need to stop worrying about what other people think and just pick the name they want for their own children. Whether its one of the most popular or something no one has ever heard of.

Just my two cents, I guess.

vito208 Says:

December 17th, 2011 at 12:45 am

Well said Jill

luweiaeclare Says:

January 12th, 2012 at 1:08 am

Jill, so agreed.
Mikaila is so over used
I used to like the name Mckayla, but now Micayla is on my nerves. So may Michaylas where I’m from! And another name that has gotten to the annoying stage? Mckynzie. Sure, you know it’s Mckenzie, or Mac Kenzie (which I think is the worst) but no matter how you spell Myck Kenzeigh, it is not any more Yoonik! It would be like taking the name Karen (minus the legitimate derivations) and spelling it Care Rynne. I am sick of this, and It Honestly does a disservice to the poor young kid stuck with it. That is all.

I also dislike how name popularity can ruin a name. For instance, Alexandra has been such a treasure of a name to me, but now, there are billions of them, many nice, many not-so, so it is just ruined to me 🙁

lefty82 Says:

March 13th, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Being a child of the 80’s named Kristin, I had to deal with mispronunciations and misspellings my entire life since there were so many “Chris” names popular then. Kristen, Kirstin, Kirsten, Christen, Kristian, Kristi, Kristine… To this day people at work still struggle – I’m called Kristi, Kee-ear-stin, Kir-stin, Kristian… I have learned to just go with the flow – if it starts with “Kris” somebody is probably talking to me!

sundancer Says:

May 19th, 2012 at 12:01 am

You’re preaching to the choir. The majority of people who read this article are on this site because they DON’T want to name their son Aiden or their daughter Skylar or Mikayla. We’re here because we’re trying to find a unique name but not TOO unqiue that it sounds strange… which is why all the awesome names like Liliana and Sophia have suddenly jumped to the top whereas only about ten years ago they weren’t anywhere near the top. Sites like this help people find awesome names! So thank you.

Mego0801 Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 7:16 am

This is why I let go of Avilin. It isn’t popular, probably won’t be, but I made a list of over 20 sound-alike names so I decided to give it up!

KAM Says:

July 13th, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I absolutely love the name Alexander- always have, always will. it’s sad that it’s so popular!

erin13 Says:

July 15th, 2012 at 6:25 am

I’ve always loved the name Aidan, I just love how it looks and how soft and yet strong it sounds, but I could never use it now it’s so popular. Bradan and Caden are massive guilty pleasure names of mine too…

sarahmezz Says:

February 2nd, 2013 at 7:45 pm

My SIL named her daughter Alexa. I already had a cousin named Alex, a close friend’s baby named Alex, and another friend’s daughter named Alexandra. I thought…very original. I think they think it’s much less common than it is.

Twingirlz Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 10:09 am

My daughter is Ryleigh and at the time, we tried to pick names for our twin girls that were not Top 10 names. Ryleigh wasn’t top 10 that year, but was Top 20 (spelled Riley though) We chose this spelling because it’s a unisex name and I wanted it to look like a girls name. (My other daughter is Brenna) It was funny because we had friends who were having a baby a few months before me and they named their son Riley. I’m not a big fan of “yooneek” spellings but I don’t think we did that with Ryleigh, it was just a common variation. I always say I doomed my girls to a life of spelling their names, but I think that with so many variations now, most people have to do that anyway.

mysoutherncomfortzone Says:

December 11th, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I wish Skyla wasn’t so trendy because I actually like it!

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