Name Inflation, Scrabble Style

Sep 22nd 2004

You see a car drive by with a metallic avocado finish, and you know you're looking at the pride of 1973. You see a blouse in neon chartreuse, and it's 1999. As colors are to fashion, letters are to baby names. They sweep in and out of fashion, alone and in combinations. The hot letters today sound quirky and exotic, the kind of letters that beg for individual attention.

But how do parents know which letters are most exotic? No problem. That question was answered generations ago by an unemployed architect named Alfred Butts, who invented the game of Scrabble. Butts chose point values for letters based on popular usage of the time, with the workhorse letters (vowels, l, n, r, s, t) worth one point, and the rare birds far more.

Those depression-era value assignments remain an intuitively accurate portrait of letter "exoticness." The letters that jump out from a rack of Scrabble tiles -- Z and Q (the 10-pointers), X and J (8), and K (5) -- also catch the eye in a name. They're beloved by the brand-name consultants who've coined such names as Exxon and Verizon, and they're the first stops in the alphabet for parents who want to give their children's names punch.

Here you see the percentage of American babies whose names include at least one high-value tile, either as the first letter (blue) or anywhere in the name (green):

Since 1900, the rate has nearly doubled. American parents' instinct to avoid the "ordinary" has created a name-scoring explosion.

A few points to ponder about that graph -- first, note that the first letter of the name accounts for more than half the occurrences of high-value letters. The exotics, fittingly, don't mingle with the commoners. Letters like Q seldom venture into the middle of a name, unless it's a foreign import (Jacques, Enrique) or an African-American invention (Tyquan, Laquita).

Second, consider that J is a great leveling factor. It's rare in common English words, with their Anglo-Saxon and Greco-Roman roots. But names more often have Hebraic roots, making J a common naming letter. A handful of biblical standards like John, James and Joseph were enormously popular a century ago, and their frequency swamps the growth of names like Xander and Quinn. If you look only at the rarest, most aggressively exotic letters, the trend is far more dramatic:

To Be Continued...

Comments

1
By Anonymous (not verified)
September 24, 2004 6:14 PM

ohhhhhhhhh this is so exciting :)-shawn

2
By Izette (not verified)
February 14, 2005 9:39 AM

Wow. My parents made up my name: IZETTE (female form of IZAK/ISAAC - biblical) - I've only found 2 other Izette's ever and I've never found the exact spelling in any 'baby name guide'! And for a bonus I've got a Z in it!!

3
By darren oldman (not verified)
February 16, 2005 7:47 PM

It's strange how increasingly popular quentin has become over the past 30 years, but similar names quinton and quinten have declined.

4
By kjones (not verified)
March 2, 2005 7:31 PM

So the most valuable name would be something like... XyQyzjyk? (Zuh KWIZ jik)

5
By Anonymous (not verified)
March 6, 2005 2:40 AM

I've met someone with the last name Izette, although I can't remember how it was spelled.

6
By Anonymous (not verified)
March 8, 2005 2:49 AM

If you look at the Saints of the Church, you'll find plenty of "exotic" names that people are known to use if it fits their faith. Take Xavier for instance. It comes from St. Francis Xavier with I think is cool!

7
By Anonymous (not verified)
March 23, 2005 5:49 PM

I have a friend who's name is Zheng, Qiong. By your theory, the name must score high, at least score 20.Don

8
By Anonymous (not verified)
March 29, 2005 8:29 AM

My daughters name is Abrina and i have yet to this duplicated. She is now 14 and loves her name. I feel it has made her very popular.

9
By Anonymous (not verified)
April 30, 2005 2:30 AM

this site sucksJoan

10
By Anonymous (not verified)
June 24, 2005 2:38 PM

My friend has a theory: if you're 32 years old there is a 5% chance your female name is Carey. Or the same name with a different spelling. My cousin split from his wife for a trophy wife 20 years younger. When I heard her age, I said, "I bet her name is Carey." I was right, and the wager paid me $32--her age. Any Carey you meet will be 32 give or take a yr.

11
By Anonymous (not verified)
July 12, 2005 8:44 PM

iv eyt to met any one named adina,it very unpopualr

12
By Antoinette (not verified)
November 22, 2005 3:58 PM

Does V count? I'm using Violet for a girl and also love Sylvia, Virginia and Evelyn.

13
By Christina (not verified)
February 27, 2006 8:57 PM

Hey, thanks for the idea, kjones! When I have a daughter, I'll name her XyQyzjyk!

But she can go by Carrie.

14
By elena (not verified)
April 21, 2007 10:21 AM

I am looking for a name for a new male pup which is an akbash a cattle protection dog from Turkey and he will have a sister which is already on the farm her name is Maggie.

15
By Adina (not verified)
May 28, 2007 12:09 PM

my name is adina and in my country it`s very popular...

16
By Catherine (not verified)
April 6, 2008 8:33 AM

causes as the like fluctuations in that of all other commodities. The frequent loss of those Before the reformation of the gold coin, the price of standard gold bullion in the market had,

17
October 26, 2008 8:17 AM

Wouldn't surprise me. Wasn't Mr. Xypq. . .(something of other, I don't remember his fullh name), an impish opponent of Superman in some of the early comics?

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March 5, 2016 12:19 AM

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My friends was expecting this year :)

Let's hope that this chart can really help him and her wife!

Pray for her!

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