Likeability revisited

Jun 29th 2006

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?


By MnK (not verified)
July 1, 2006 5:56 PM

I would never pick a name for "Likeability" factor, espeically not a "nickname as a given name" (eg Charlie, Alfie, Molly etc - they sound more like pets names than children's names!!)

Maybe I'm unusual I duuno, but it seems very superficial to choose a name for that reason - because its "likeable".

I don't relaly like any of those names. I do like classic names like Charles amd William but I prefer to think of the child actually being named Charles or Wiliam and then being called Charlie/Will as a nickname. That way they can adapt the nickname when they get older.

Emily is pretty but way too popular and I have never been able to take to the name Amy or (Aimee) after meeting several girls of that name who were really not very nice!!! Ellie is also way too popular, especially in the UK these days. If you like Elie why not call your daughter Eleanor/Elisabeth etc and just shorten it to Ellie? She can change it to Liz etc then when she's older if she likes.

I do feel I'm a lone voice here however!

By JN (not verified)
July 1, 2006 9:19 PM

Hmmm... I know this isn't meant to be scientific, but red flags came up for me when I noticed that the most "likeable" names were unambiguously White.

It makes sense to me that people associate "likeable" with nicknames. After all, when you like someone, you are more apt to shorten their name in an affectionate way. Example: I may formally call someone Katherine, but if I like and feel close to her, I would easily transition to calling her "Katie."

By Christina (not verified)
July 2, 2006 1:56 AM

I know what JN means about shortening someone's name to a nickname when you like them...after all, I call my friend Alyssa "Al." (:

Could all those names sound "white" because blacks have tended to either give their children white names (before the mid-century), but were more apt to choose unusual and invented names not in the top 1000 (after the mid-century)?

As for Latino names and the like, I've noticed it mentioned before that names that sound too "exotic" don't always score high in friendliness. Although the Latino population is growing in America, their names (i.e. Guadalupe, Jose, etc.) have yet to assimilate into all ethnicities--thus, they retain an "exotic" flavor.

By Shelly (not verified)
July 2, 2006 4:17 PM

"unambiguously White"?

Ever heard of:

Jackie Robinson (given name Jack)
Jack Johnson
Charlie Parker
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Samuel L. Jackson
Sammy Sosa
Sarah Vaughan
Willie Mays
Will Smith

I think some of them might feel unambiguously not White.

By misspixie (not verified)
July 2, 2006 9:42 PM

You should do a poll on unlikeable names! I was talking to my husband about possible baby names and suggested Trey and he immediately said, "No way. Every Trey is a jerk." I road-tested this and most of my friends had the same reaction. Interesting, yes?

By CRT (not verified)
July 3, 2006 3:07 PM

Trey tends to be a nickname for someone who is the 3rd. So William Henry Smith, III, would become Trey. (I've also heard of Trip as a nickname for the third.) And I think there tends to be a general assumption that people named Jr., the 2nd, or the 3rd are white upper class, and therefore snooty. Or perhaps your husband doesn't like naming children after their parents because he considers it pretentious. Either way, Trey is an interesting one when discussing "likeabiltiy," because there is more to it than just the name.

By Molly D. (not verified)
July 4, 2006 4:45 AM

Thank you Laura!

i'm sorry that MnK doesn't like my name :(

By Jen (not verified)
July 4, 2006 10:59 AM

I think Christiana is probably right - many black parents favour unique names so you wouldn't be able to make a generalisation such as "All 'X's are nice" because you may only have met one or two.

Whereas you've probably met lots of Sarahs and Toms so you can make a generalisation that they are usually nice (or not).

By Jim (not verified)
July 5, 2006 9:06 AM

CRT, I've never heard of a person known as "The 3rd" to be called Trey. That's really interesting. And also, my father has mentioned numerous times that he thinks naming your child after yourself is "a big ego trip," so he would definitely agree with your statement about snootiness.

By Christiana (not verified)
July 5, 2006 12:23 PM

It's interesting what MnK said - as I was just having a nickname/no nickname conversation with my BF this morning. She said she hates the idea of naming your kid something you don't plan to call it (she likes Abby, but won't name her kid Abigail since she doesn't feel she'll ever use it) whereas I like the nn factor so my child has choices as he/she grows older.

On the subject of "ambiguously white" I know several Guadalupes that I would say were of the likeable variety but I don't know ENOUGH of them to add them to that list.

By Laura Wattenberg (not verified)
July 5, 2006 12:36 PM

Just wanted to weigh in on some interesting comments...

On full vs. nicknames, I assume most parents will use the full name on the birth certificate -- say, Andrew instead of Andy. Still just as likeable as a nickname! (The more interesting choice may be between friendly Andy and fashionable Drew.)

On race, as others have noted the list isn't really so "unambigously white" -- names like Will and Sam are cross-racial classics. What JN might be responding to is the lack of clearly NON-white names. Part of that doubtless reflects the composition of the reader base here, but a big part is also the "timelessness" criterion. Distinctly black names are a fairly modern phenomenon, and most fly into and out of fashion quickly. A name like Will, in contrast, has been used steadily by generations of African-American parents.

By Wendy (not verified)
July 6, 2006 1:15 AM

full verses nicknames. Personally, I always wanted a full name. I was jealous of my siblings who had a choice
of which name to be called. (Incidently, my brother Andrew was called Andy as a child, changed to Drew in his 20's, but he is still very likeable. ;) ).

I gave my daughter a full name which has several nickname options. So far she prefers her full name.

By Char (not verified)
July 6, 2006 4:26 PM

An opininion from a lurker here. I'm amazed that Dave did not make it on to a likeable list. That is bar-none the name with the "nicest" connotations, male or female. Daves are always everyone's buddy.

I'm also surprised Tom is there, as I personally cannot separate it from the term "peeping tom"-it has pervy undertones, which are not exactly likeable IMO :).

As to the discussion, I would also go for a full given name as opposed to a nickname. My brothers had a friend whose given name was Joey. All he could do with it when he got older was shorten it to Joe. I suppose he was lucky his mom didn't name him Andy or some such thing.

By Jamie (not verified)
July 6, 2006 8:15 PM

My husband and I have had the conversation of nickname or no nickname...

His name is Michael (Mike) His brother's name is Christopher (Chris)
So obviously he likes names that offer an option...

My name is Jamie, My brother is Scott and my sister is obviously I like the idea of no nickname, or at least I don't see not liking a name because it doesn't have a nickname...

I have a feeling this will be an issue when we do have a child especially since it's already come up in conversation...

By Christiana (not verified)
July 6, 2006 8:24 PM

I totally agree with Laura about the white vs. non-white names. I know plenty of african americans who have likeable race neutral names - more than names specific to their race which are less popular, so therefore less familiar.

By Molly D. (not verified)
July 6, 2006 10:40 PM

As Laura said names like mine and Katie and Jack are now evolved into given names - for example i don't think many even remember or know now that Molly was once a nickname - it's that weird time warp again

By Molly D. (not verified)
July 6, 2006 10:47 PM

Maybe Laura might write a "In Defence of Molly" post one day

By Jen (not verified)
July 7, 2006 8:40 AM

Peeping Tom! LOL, I never thought of that, that name's gone right down in my opinion now.

By Bob (not verified)
July 10, 2006 6:05 PM

Speaking of likeable, came up with a name that my wife didn't like so I'm sharing it with the world: Frenesi Calliope (last name here).

By Elizabeth (not verified)
July 11, 2006 12:29 AM

Frenesi! I can understand why she didn't like it. It means "frenzy" in Spanish.

By Elizabeth (not verified)
July 11, 2006 12:44 AM

I just spotted the least-likeable name on the list: #679 for boys, Aryan. Who would do such a thing?!

By Eleni (not verified)
July 11, 2006 4:58 AM

Would anyone like to share an opinion on the name Helen or Helena? I'm suprised it hasn't come up at all in the discussions of old-fashioned names sounding new again. Does it carry too many old-lady connotations?

By Christiana (not verified)
July 11, 2006 2:19 PM

Eleni - My opinion is that Helen is still to "old lady-ish" but Helena could be wonderful. Look at Helena Christensen the super model! And she could always be nicknamed "Lena" for a more modern sound. Of course, if you have your heart set on Helen, Leni is a good nn.

By Christiana (not verified)
July 12, 2006 4:12 PM

I once read a book where the main character's name was Arien (pronounced the same way as Aryan) and I thought nothing of it, until I suggested it to my husband and he said "no way!" because of the Aryan race connotation. Once I'd heard that, I was totally in agreement, even if the spelling was different, i'd hatet to have my kid carry that all her life.

By Elizabeth (not verified)
July 12, 2006 8:03 PM

Oh wow. I looked at the link for Aryan Justice and can't believe it. That's far worse than the little boy named Maiden! What an evil thing to do to a child.

By Aileen (not verified)
July 19, 2006 1:50 PM

That Aryan Justice link is waaaay crazy. How terrible for that little girl!
There are actually a couple "likeable list" names that sound more "unlikeable" to me. Katie, for one. Any adult woman who hasn't migrated over to Kate/Katherine/Something else tends to be trouble, in my experience (APOLOGIES TO ANY NICE, NOT TROUBLE, ADULT KATIES!--this is only my experience)

By Jennifer S (not verified)
July 20, 2006 3:16 AM

I'm surprised that "Jake" is making the "nice" list for so many people. I'm a teacher (a profession that will destroy many name associations for sure!), and in a discussion with my colleagues, we found that almost every Jacob we came across was a stinker!! I looked the name up in the Bible and found that it means "deceiver". Coincidence? I think not. Maybe the nice "Jacobs" switch to "Jake".

By whipporwhill8 (not verified)
July 26, 2006 12:01 AM

i think that giving a child a name that can be diminutive at first, and then lengthened upon majority (for the proper dignity) is a very good idea. To the lady who had it--- thanks that's helpful.

As to white names... Sarah is spelled in the US with Roman characters, but its actually an Arab name. My ex named the half sister Sarah, and that name was used locally long before the bible left the area for Europe.

By Tansey (not verified)
July 29, 2006 8:11 AM

I LOVE the name Tom and it was second on my list for my second child after Sam - had to be Sam as it had emotional connotations for me, and he's his name through and through.
Those old fashioned 'peeping' toms or 'simple' simons are just silly relicts of childhood - there are so many different names now most kids have better things to do with their time than tease this way, and if they do then they need chores - quickly!

By metro (not verified)
August 7, 2006 2:56 AM

I think D'reletrius, Tipsyquishhiyya, and G-Dawg are very likeable. More likeable than those on the list.

By Gina (not verified)
August 16, 2006 6:32 AM

I named my daughter Rebekah,who is now five, using the biblical spelling to be a little different, and then met three other people who did the same thing. We call her Becka or Becky. When people ask her name, she will tell them Rebekah. I named my son Clifford in honor of my adopted Dad. I worry he will be teased at school. His middle name is Benjamin, and his innitials are CBC. We call him Clifford at home. Any suggestions to minimize the teasing when he goes to school? Should we encourage people to call him CB, or CBC as a nickname, should we switch to calling him by his middle name Benjamin, or Ben? I wanted to honor my Dad, but I also don't want to cause any hardship to my son. He's a quiet, thoughtful little guy.

By lindsay (not verified)
August 17, 2006 5:36 PM

you could him cliff.

By lindsay (not verified)
August 17, 2006 5:38 PM

why dont you call him cliff?

By Tansey (not verified)
August 18, 2006 12:02 AM

Gina - Cliff or Ford? Give him the choice - he may surprise you :-)
Way too many Ben's out there - he'd be just another Ben (initial).
Or CB would be more original if Cliff or Ford don't appeal to him - he's the one that has to live his name after all.

By Eva (not verified)
August 18, 2006 5:35 AM

What about the name Beth for girls? It reminds me of the sweet, wonderful Beth from Little Women.

By Lisa R. (not verified)
August 18, 2006 5:00 PM

>Eva asked: What about the name Beth for girls? It reminds me of the sweet, wonderful Beth from Little Women.<

As a nickname or as a standalone, I like Beth. As an Elizabeth, I had lots of nickname options (Beth, Liz, Betty..), but mom pulled "Lisa" out of the air and it stuck. Grandmother's only comment - "But isn't that awfully Italian?" (ha ha).

I don't mind names that don't have a ready nickname, but I'm not a fan of nicknames as a "full" name. Guess I just like the formal option. I'd rather call my son "Jack" but have the "John" available for when he's sworn as a judge or senator. Same with a girl - Peggy is fun and lively, but Margaret is the name that gets elected to the partnership.

By Gina (not verified)
August 22, 2006 6:10 AM

Thanks for the suggestions on what to call my little guy (Clifford Benjamin). I never thought of Ford. I think he would like to take a nickname like CB. I thought Cliff sounded too old, but maybe not. Really the only Cliffords(or Cliffs) I know are my dad and Clifford Huxtable. Both very likable!

By Candy (not verified)
August 22, 2006 3:23 PM

My son and his wife are expecting their first child. If it is a boy, he will be named after his father and they want to call him Trey (III). The only problem is that my other son's child is named Trace and they do not want two name to be so close in the immediate family. I like Trip; anyone have any other suggestions? His given name will be William David.

By Christiana (not verified)
August 22, 2006 7:53 PM

Gina - not to be obnoxious, but CLiff Huxtable was actually Heathcliff HUxtable! :-)

Candy - We're planning to call our son Trey for the third, too. My husband has his heart set on it, even though I don't like the concept of sharing a name. My husband is always getting mixed up with his father - even as far as his credit report, etc. He even tried to sign up for a cell phone and was told he was dead (my f-i-l is deceased). At least the nn will be different - both my f-i-l and my husband are "Chuck". Trey is my fave for the 3rd, I not crazy about Trip - personally I wouldn't worry about the closeness of the name to Trace (cool name, btw) so you've got cousins who are Trey and Trace? My cousins are Courtney and Kelsey and my grandmother is always mixing us up because of the hard "K" sound.

By Beth (not verified)
August 23, 2006 5:44 PM

What do you guys think of the name Henry? I like it because it's an old name but doesn't necessarily sound too old-manish. Also, I can see it being cute for a baby, but also sounding distinguished when he's grown up. Do you think it sounds too old-fashioned?

By Lisa R. (not verified)
August 23, 2006 6:04 PM

Re: Henry. It's not in my top-10 favorites, but I don't think there's anything wrong with Henry. (And if he's desperate for a nn, there's always "Hank"!)

As far as it being "too old-man-ish" - remember that he's going to spend WAY more time as an adult than as a child (G_d willing), so having an adult name is probably a good thing.

By Tansey (not verified)
August 24, 2006 3:27 AM

Beth - one of the English royal princes is Henry, known as Harry. Hank is uniquely American - I've never seen it used anywhere else.

By Missy (not verified)
August 24, 2006 3:05 PM

Christiana- I named my son David Lee McMullon III. We call him Tripp. My f-i-l is David, my husband is a Jr., we call him Dave. I have gotten nothing but compliments on my sons nickname. My only problem now is my sister is expecting and her husband is a Jr. and would like for his son to be a third. We are running out of nicknames. Any suggestions would be a great help.

By Eleni (not verified)
August 29, 2006 5:06 AM

Henry is a great, classic name that suits a man and is adorable in a little one.

Maybe it's just me, but I've never liked the names Trip, Trey or Chip. I think naming a child after the parent of same sex is fine and good (I'm the fourth Elena/Helen in my family, and it's not really problematic) but choosing a nickname related to the actual name is more appealing to me.
(My Mom went by Helen, I go by Elena, as did Great-Grandmother before me, and my grandmother went by Nelly as she got older.)

But that's just me, I know. Some people really find those nicknames endearing.

By Abi (not verified)
August 30, 2006 8:58 PM

Henry is a very royal name (we got up to Henry VIII) to my ears. Especially because of Prince Harry at the moment. Harry is rightly a familiar version of Henry, although Hal is also used (in Shakespeare's plays about various King Henrys).

By Christiana (not verified)
August 31, 2006 3:46 PM

Missy - I love Trey as my favorite nn for a III. Trip is cute and I've heard Chip or Chipper before as well. (I don't really get the relation though). I also like Trace (think 3 in spanish pronounced in American!). I suppose your sister could always call your son "Three" but that seems a bit over the top! (Though I think there is a musicain out there that legally changed his name to Seven and if you think back on the old TV show Blossom, her best friend was Six.)

Henry does seem very regal. My godfather is a henry and he's such a nice man, just love him to bits. Very professional and personable. His son is Henry III and even though the Henry's in the family get progresively larger (Gramps is kind of a small man, Henry is average and Henry III is a good sized man now) they call him Little Henry. Even at nearly 40 years of age. I've always hated that, but now it seems funny on Little Henry because he's so much larger than his dad.

By fawnbaker (not verified)
September 2, 2006 8:02 PM

What do you think of the name Sloan?

By rachel (not verified)
September 8, 2006 8:26 PM

sloan is awful. sounds like moan.

By laura (not verified)
October 6, 2006 3:38 PM

I don't know how many times as a kid I was asked if 'they call you Laurie for short?' Even as a child, I was all, um, Not Shorter. So, no.