A few weeks ago I asked for opinions on "likeable" names -- friendly, approachable names that make you want to like someone. 93 comments later, it seems like a good time to tally the responses and see if we can map out an anatomy of friendliness.
I counted nominees from blog posters, added in my original poll, and subtracted negative votes.
Here's the final list of 21 broadly likeable names:
Laura (now that sounds likeable, smart, and good-looking!)
The common threads on this list seem to validate the idea that there is such a thing as a "likeable name." Granted, many readers noted that personal experience with a name can overrule its intrinsic qualities. One creepy ex-boyfriend named Tom can ruin Tom for you forever. But on neutral ground, most of us do respond to a predictable set of niceness triggers.
Nicknames clearly have a leg up. 15 of the 21 on the list are traditional nicknames, though some (Molly, Jack) have evolved into given names. The girls' nicknames all end in an -ee sound, while single-syllable nicknames rule for boys -- Tom and Sam rate over Tommy and Sammy. The few male nicknames on the list that end in -ee are those without single-syllable variants. That might explain Charlie's status as the #1 most likeable boy's name; it has the friendly sound of a diminutive without being cutesy.
Beyond nicknames, short is in. Only Charlie is over 5 letters, only Emily over 2 syllables. I also see hints of an Old-Testament trend: In addition to the Adams, Sarahs and Bens on the list, a bevy of Noahs, Leahs, and Seths just missed the cutoff.
What of popularity? My usual graphs have to be taken with a grain of salt when we're talking about nicknames. A graph of Annie doesn't tell you how many Anns, Annas and Annettes go by that name, and a graph of William doesn't distinguish between Will and Bill. Nonetheless, I can tell you that the names on the likeable list are generally common, but not overwhelmingly so. Most of all, the likeable names are timeless. As a group they span generations, with a dip in the '40s and '50s. Individually almost all of them reliably make the top 1000 decade after decade.
So there's your reciple for friendly likeability. Think of it like picnic food: relaxed, easy, traditional and familiar. That lemonade, those sandwiches would have looked just as natural in a wicker picnic basket in your grandparents' time as they do in your cooler today. And just thinking of them, don't you feel the sun shining?