A few more sound ideas

Oct 12th 2005

After I wrote about the decline of consonant clusters in names, a reader noted that certain pairs like TR actually seem to be going up: TRavis, TRistan, TRevor. In fact, about 20% of consonant sound pairs have been significantly more common over the past 30 years vs. the previous 70.

What makes a cluster buck the trends and rise? There seem to be two main factors. First, clusters that stick to the start of names like BR (BRandon, BRooke, BRianna) do better than those that hang around in the middle. In fact, while TR is a trendy starter, it's on the outs as a center sound--think paTRicia and gerTRude. Second, a pair has a better shot if it leads with a strong unvoiced consonant, a sound made just by the passage of air through the mouth without vibrating vocal chords. Top letters include S (SPencer, SKye) and K (KRista, KRistopher).

And some more quick consonant hits...

• The separation of consonants isn't just an American trend. Take a look at the top names in Germany, traditionally the land of Ernst and Wolfgang, Bertha and Helga:

BOYSGIRLSMaximilianMarieAlexanderSophiePaulMariaLeonAnna/AnneLukas/LucasLeonieLucaLea/LeahFelixLauraJonasLenaTimKatharinaDavidJohanna • There is one trendy group of names where voiced consonant pairs are actually hot. It's the girl's names taken from old-fashioned boys names that were themselves adopted from surnames (which were usually borrowed from place names. Namers are good recyclers.) Try Sidney, Shelby, Lindsey, Courtney, Whitney, Aubrey.

It makes sense that those names would have more of the outmoded pairs, since they're selected from a field of outmoded names. And the very fustiness of the choices for men helps sharpen the style for girls--think of singer Avril Livigne tossing on a striped necktie.

A few more consonant-packed candidates that could follow the same path: Clancy, Murphy, Kirby, Arley, Finley and Tierney.


By Anonymous (not verified)
October 14, 2005 5:59 PM

Have you looked into what's happened with names that can be spelled with either one or two (repeating) consonants? It seems to me that names like Michelle, Phillip, Allison, Matthew, and Todd are more popular than their single-lettered counterparts. Have the shorter versions gained in popularity as the country's names have become more vowel dominant?--Elizabeth

By Anonymous (not verified)
October 14, 2005 6:16 PM

I've recently been wondering why Octavia and Ophelia haven't become more popular, given their similarity to Olivia. But this consonant thing could explain it, no?

By Anonymous (not verified)
October 20, 2005 6:04 PM

Well, I see "Ophelia," and I think of two qualities: crazy and suicidal.

By branm (not verified)
June 6, 2006 9:08 AM

i like KLeatus