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Top Ten Girl Names: Too Popular to use?

December 20, 2016 Abby Sandel

Their favorite name has been in the US Top Ten for years! Should they find something new, or embrace a very popular name?

Sara writes:

My husband and I are expecting our second daughter. We thought we had arrived at the right name, but I keep having second thoughts.

Our older daughter is Dorothy Katherine and our last name is a three-syllable, Czech name, starting with R. It’s a bit of a mouthful. We chose Katherine as her middle name because it was my grandmother’s middle name and my mother’s first name. We love the name Dorothy and she often goes by Dot as a nickname.

For our second little girl, we’d like for her middle name to be Ruth (we each have a grandmother with that name and really like it).

We thought we had landed on Abigail as the first name. I like the name a lot but my concern is that it’s too popular! My name is Sara and I was always the fourth or fifth “Sara” in my class.

I like Abigail because of its traditional, colonial connection. My other favorites are Harriet, Frances, Louisa, Beatrice, and Ida. My husband tends to like more modern names: Lisa, Molly, Maude. We both liked Penelope and Margaret, too. But at this point I feel like we’ve read over the same 20 names a million times!

We are totally stuck and only weeks away. Thanks for your help!

The Name Sage replies:

What should you do when your favorite name is everybody else’s favorite name, too?

After all, if Abigail was as uncommon as Dorothy, this wouldn’t be a discussion. (I may be biased, but I think Abigail Ruth is a great name!) But while Dorothy comes in at a relatively rare #714, Abigail has ranked in the US Top Ten for fifteen years straight.

The good news is this: the most popular names are no longer as common as they once were. Based on frequency of use, today’s Top Ten Abigail was 1985’s Rebecca or Erin – around Number 25. In 1965, the equivalent would be Kathleen, at Number 34.

More good news: Abigail doesn’t sound like many other names. Sure, Abby can be misheard as Gabby or Addie. But there’s really only one way to spell Abigail. That’s very different from Sara and Sarah, two familiar spellings of one very popular name.

And yet, it’s absolutely true that you will meet many more Abigails than Dorothys. It’s perfectly possible your daughter will share her name with another girl in her kindergarten class or soccer team, and spend months answering to Abby R.

I’d suggest this: assume that her name is Abigail Ruth, unless you can find a name that you like more. Popularity might be a drawback, but is it really worth trading the name you love for one you like less, just to minimize your daughter’s chances of sharing her name?

Let’s take a look at names that might substitute for Abigail, with an emphasis on choices that feel slightly more modern. I’ll avoid any name in the current Top 200, and also look for something that lends itself to an easy nickname.

Adelaide – If you like Abby, I wonder if you would like Adelaide, nickname Addie? The downside is that there are many popular names that shorten to Addie, including Top 25 Addison and at least nine spellings of Adeline. But at Number 273, Adelaide remains far less common than Abigail.

Agatha, Agnes – I always expect the Aggie names to catch on, given the popularity of Abby and Addie. But so far, they remain very rare indeed – neither has appeared in the US Top 1000 for four decades. I do think the Ag sound is the tiniest bit harsh, and yet they’re also substantial names with plenty of history and great meanings.

Coraline – If classic Caroline is too common – and it has been in the Top 100 since the 1990s – it might be worth considering Coraline. Neil Gaiman stumbled on the name as a typo, but it has existed in French since at least the mid-1800s. Coraline ranks outside of the current US Top 500, making it familiar, but not too common.

Eloise Dorothy brings to mind Dorothy Gale, of The Wizard of Oz fame, ruby slippers and all. Eloise belongs to another fictional girl, a mischievous, outgoing six-year old living at New York City’s Plaza Hotel. Like Dorothy, Eloise requires no nickname. But it does shorten easily to Ellie, Lo, or maybe even Lou. It reminds me of Louisa from your list, and Lisa from your husband’s suggestions.

Georgia Georgia is one of those names that almost everyone likes. The state makes it slightly Southern, but it is used pretty much everywhere. Sisters called Georgie and Dot are quite sweet together.

Juliet Juliet currently ranks Number 240; Juliette comes in slightly higher, at Number 226. It reminds me of Harriet, from your list, but with a slightly more modern appeal. Though, of course, Shakespearean Juliet could never be dismissed as a recent invention.

Matilda – I wonder if you object to Maude because it’s so short? It’s not modern at all – it’s medieval! In fact, it’s the form of Matilda often used in English during the Middle Ages, and it enjoyed a revival in the 1800s, thanks to a Tennyson poem by the name. Matilda currently ranks Number 535, and shortens easily to Tillie. It strikes me as a logical sister name for Dorothy.

Susannah – I’ve saved my favorite for last. Susannah – also spelled Susanna, and a few other ways, too – was quite popular in Colonial America. We think of Susie as Baby Boomer name, but really that’s Susan. Susannah hits exactly the right note today – familiar, but seldom heard. Susie and Sukie work nicely as short forms, but, like Dorothy/Dot, none is required.

Susannah tops my list of names you should consider as alternatives to Abigail. But I also think there’s one from your list that deserves a second look – Louisa. It’s close to Lisa, and comes with nicknames galore, including Lucy, Lulu, and Lou. It’s every bit as literary as Dorothy, and barely ranks in the current US Top 1000. It seems like Louisa might check every one of the boxes.

But, at the end of the day, if Abigail still feels like your absolute favorite name, I wouldn’t avoid it on the basis of popularity alone. Let’s have a poll, because I think this is the kind of question where more feedback is better.

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

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