What's not to like?

Jun 9th 2006

A friend of mine named her son William, called Will. Why? She explained to me: "we said the whole name out loud and thought, 'that sounds like a guy you'd really like.'"

Friendly, likeable, nice. Sounds like an obvious goal, doesn't it? After all, studies show that women and men alike rate niceness as a most-sought-after quality in a mate. But I talk to a lot of parents about names, and the most common concern is finding a name that's distinctive. That's followed by questions about whether names sound sufficiently global or sophisticated or tough or creative or masculine or educated or Christian or Jewish or...you name it. But "likeability" seldom comes up.

It's not just Baby Name Wizard readers. Type "popular baby names" into Google and you get 268,000 results. Type in "likeable baby names" (or likable) and you get absolutely zip, zero. Ditto for "kind-sounding names." We don't seem to be looking for niceness in names as much as we do in people.

Yet likeability is a powerful quality. Imagine for a moment that your son will grow up to pursue a career in sales, or in politics. A name that casts a sunny glow and makes people want to like him and talk to him could be an invaluable asset. And don't most of us, at one time or another, need the skills of a salesman or politician?

Think about a name that makes you smile and feel comfortable with a person. One that makes you want to talk to a new kid at school -- or read an email from a stranger. (In fact, this whole topic struck me after seeing a message from one Sam Apple in my email inbox. I had to click on it immediately.) We all have our own name comfort zones, shaped by our own experiences and the people we've loved and loathed. But most of us share the instinct that, say, a Charlie sounds more approachable than a Sterling.

So why aren't we out hunting for niceness? The trick is that names with broad likeability generally don't sound creative or sophisticated. Most are thoroughly familiar, their rough edges worn smooth by generations of use. And most are casual, including lots of cuddly nicknames. That's not always a fashionable combination. So many parents accept a style tradeoff, sacrificing friendliness for uniqueness or savoir faire. But if sheer likeability is what you're after, here's a starter list of names that elicited warm smiles in a poll of the people in my immediate vicinity. See if you agree...and tell me your own choices:

Charlie
Jeff
Sam

Amy
Beth
Emily
Molly

Postscript: after compiling this list I realized that some namers do indeed place a premium on friendliness and likeability. More on that in a blog to come...

Comments

1
By Sonja (not verified)
June 9, 2006 3:43 PM

Great list! I especially agree about Molly and Beth.

2
By Christiana (not verified)
June 9, 2006 4:30 PM

It's interesting that the boys names are all standard nicknames while most of the girls names (exception: Beth) are stand alone names. But they're "classics" - of course they're likeable!

I'd add Sarah and Jack to the lists.

3
By Molly (not verified)
June 9, 2006 4:38 PM

I always think that Dan or Danny sounds like a nice guy.

4
By Kristen (not verified)
June 9, 2006 4:52 PM

My husband and I do consider the "kindness quality" when thinking about a name. The girl name we love evokes for both of us an image of someone who is kind, sweet, and generous, while still sounding like a good, grown-up name.

I would add to Laura's list...

Faye
Hallie
Leah
Lucy
Maisie
Sofie
Sunna

Adam
Ben
Emmett
Evan
James
Liam
Seth

To me, shorter names with soft consonants seem unpretentious and altogether approachable, making them sound "nice."

5
By jb (not verified)
June 9, 2006 5:19 PM

My pick for the nicest name: Charity. Defined in Webster's as: benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity.

Can't get much nicer than that!

6
By Angela (not verified)
June 9, 2006 6:11 PM

When choosing a name for our son we went with a name that had a likable nickname - Henry nn "Hank". The doctor that delivered him said he liked it because Hank sounded like a guy that he would love to have a few beers and go fishing with. Likability is very important in a name for us. Laura's post was very interesting to read, its so true that people are out for unusual baby names these days.

7
By Judy (not verified)
June 9, 2006 6:40 PM

Interesting. My sister must value likeability above all else. She's sixteen weeks pregnant and has Charlie picked out for a boy and Molly for a girl.

8
By Valerie (not verified)
June 9, 2006 7:34 PM

Very thought-provoking as usual, Laura! I would add
Grace
Anna/Annie
Tim
Ben
Harry

My husband and I think that certain names also seemed to embody unfriendliness! Our top pick in that regard was Jennifer, but I would also add Tiffany and Amy (sorry, just had bad experiences with girls of those names). Also Rick, Derek, Eustace.

9
By Jamie (not verified)
June 9, 2006 8:12 PM

Laura,
I was wondering if you ever looked into the popularity of names based on children being named after their parents. For example, I was born in 1979 (Jamie) and was named after my father, one of the many James' of the 40's and 50's.

Just curious...Love your blog!

10
By Christiana (not verified)
June 9, 2006 8:19 PM

Add Katie to to the "likeability list" - I've never met an unfriendly Katie. Also, Dave. You've gotta love a guy named Dave.

11
By Terri W. (not verified)
June 9, 2006 8:37 PM

And then there's the inverse of this phenomenon -- my mom works as a prison librarian and has noticed that there seem to be an unusually high number of "Roger"s in prison ...

12
By Eliza-Rose (not verified)
June 9, 2006 10:21 PM

I would add Gemma and Ivy. I can just picture girls with those names being extremely warm and friendly.

13
By Camilla (not verified)
June 9, 2006 11:25 PM

Steve. Steve is such a nice guy.

14
By JN (not verified)
June 9, 2006 11:29 PM

There are good reasons why "likeability" is not a big factor. For one thing, people don't use the word "likeable". But, more importantly, it's far too subjective in our age of social saturation-- where we are meeting so many people and constantly reframing our name associations.

The names you suggested, Laura, are all pretty common and my immediate reaction to them is based on the people I know who have those names-- some of whom I like more than others.

I do think, however, that sounds can generate the likeability factor. I agree with Kristen that shorter names with soft consonants are easier, even friendlier on the ear.

We're planning on naming our son "Arlo" which, I think, has a friendly sound to it. It's also unique enough that people are unlikely to be flooded with name associations when they hear it. Hopefully, our kid will be nice enough that he can also generate a warm association with the name by simple force of his personality. Isn't that how it should be, anyway

15
By Michi (not verified)
June 10, 2006 12:54 AM

About the nicest name I can think of is Alan. It sounds like such a warm, friendly guy. For girls, Millie. Imagine if you found out that there was a couple in your neighborhood named Alan and Millie. Don't they sound like friendly people?
I suppose there's an exception to every rule(for instance, I know a Will that makes me want to bang my head against a wall, and I know a Spencer who's just a sweetheart), but it does seem to hold true.

16
By Ellie (not verified)
June 10, 2006 2:08 PM

i'd say Sadie for girls and Noah for boys!

17
By Wendy (not verified)
June 10, 2006 2:31 PM

I agree that Steve is always a nice guy. Bob use to be a nice guy, but now he is a little crazy.

Charity may be kind now, but for those of us old enough to remember her, she is a stripper from the musical "Sweet Charity".

I think the "e" sound at the end of the name often makes one sound friendlier. Example: Andy is always a nice guy to hang around, but Andrew isn't so likeable.

18
By Rebecca (not verified)
June 10, 2006 5:56 PM

Interestingly, I have negative (mean) associations with all of the names you listed other than Charlie. Girls named Molly, Beth, and Amy tortured me as a child. Emilys, Jeffs, and Sams have varied in niceness and meanness.

19
By Abby (not verified)
June 10, 2006 9:03 PM

I'd have to take Beth off that list, personally.

And, like others, I'd add Ben. I don't think I've ever met one I didn't like! Ditto for Annie.

20
By Debra (not verified)
June 10, 2006 9:43 PM

My husband, Matt seems to have a pretty likable name. I agree that Arlo is both unique and friendly. I hope that people think Jasper, the name we are giving our soon to be born son is both unique and friendly as well. I don't think (Sorry) that Ivy sounds friendly though due to the association with poison. Our daughter is Mika (pronounced Mee-ka, like Nina) and kids love to say her name, but adults have a hard time saying Mica (Mike-a) most of the time. It is a real name though, japanese for new moon.
Love the blog, Laura.

21
By Kristen (not verified)
June 11, 2006 1:05 AM

Debra, I love your daughter's name, Mika. It's very similar to my favourite name for a girl. Jasper is one of my favourites too, although my husband dislikes it. I think it's friendly but also spunky. Good taste!

22
By Caren (not verified)
June 11, 2006 1:39 AM

Wow, what a cool topic, as usual!! You rock, Laura. (I'm a long-time reader and this is my first post.)

I agree completely that Sam and Charlie sound like likeable guys--also agree with Molly for a likeable girl.

Here's my likeable list:
Alice
Patti
Bella
June
Ellie

Mike
Ted
Aidan
Kyle
Keith

I also love Christiana's and Molly's picks.

Off topic: I work with kids of all ages, and I just met 12 year old boy named "Vann." He's named after his grandfather. I think this is adorable and ultra-cool. What's your opinion?

23
By Caren (not verified)
June 11, 2006 1:47 AM

I also love Sadie (suggested by Ellie!) and Gemma (suggested by Eliza-Rose!). I also love both of your given names as well. My name is Caren and I think it works well in my career but it's a little lackluster. Eliza-Rose is musical and unusual without being frilly or odd and Ellie is just adorable. Also, JN, I love your choice of Arlo; it's cute and timeless and distinctive. Kristin--I'm a little dismayed to see Emmett on your list since I was hoping it would continue to hover under the radar. (It's on my short list!) However, as it has been mentioned on here elsewhere, it's hard to choose a terrific name and expect that others won't find it terrific, too! I guess we have similar taste!

24
By Meaghan (not verified)
June 11, 2006 2:10 AM

I think Chris is a likeable name for both genders. Also, for boys: Mark, Tim, Dave/David. For girls: Libby, Jenna, Cassie.

25
By Helen (not verified)
June 11, 2006 7:41 AM

In the UK a radio 1 DJ recently ran a campaign "all Emmas are evil" based on the fact that he'd never met a nice Emma prompting people to think about the likeability factor of different names.

Personally I would offer Tom, Ben & Joe as the most likeable boys names.

I'm less sure about girls although I once knew a girl called Tree - short for Theresa - Fullalove which has to be up there as a favourite.

26
By Beth Rang (not verified)
June 11, 2006 12:17 PM

We named our son William ("Will") too, and it fits him so well. He's very social, very sweet and lights up around people. I have to agree with those who nominated Ben and Tom as names which make me think of nice guys, although I admit I've met a very dour and arrogant Ben once. For girls, Vicki has always struck me as a name that made me think nice too.

27
By chris (not verified)
June 11, 2006 6:55 PM

What's not to like about the name Dawn?

28
By Suzanne (not verified)
June 11, 2006 9:16 PM

When we were looking for a boy's name we didn't intentionally seek "likeable" names but found ourselves drawn to names that we later described as "warm and friendly".

I'd add Henry, Max, Jake and Jack. Sadie, Maggie, Ellie for girls. They're everyone's favorite Aunties and Uncles. What's not to like?

29
By Evie (not verified)
June 12, 2006 12:48 AM

"And then there's the inverse of this phenomenon -- my mom works as a prison librarian and has noticed that there seem to be an unusually high number of "Roger"s in prison ..."
I heard somewhere that the names Dwayne and Wayne are disproportionately attached to criminals. I wonder what Wayne Brady thinks of that!

I once knew a guy named Steve who said he liked his name because you had to smile to say it.

30
By Molly S. (not verified)
June 12, 2006 6:16 AM

My parents are big on likability - my sister is Amy, and I'm Molly Beth. The only thing I don't like about my name is its association with youth. I always wonder if Molly will work when I'm 70. Of course, it's a very old name - "Mollie" was popular 100 or so years ago. I wish it was a nickname, so that I could put a longer, more formal name on a resume. Then there's "gun moll," Twenties slang for a gangster's girlfriend. Having grown up with a "likeable" name, I'm planning to give my own children something a little more fashion-forward.

31
By Sarianne (not verified)
June 12, 2006 9:26 AM

Hmm, I have to disagree with a lot of those.

Dawn: never liked it. Knew too many old fat men named Don. Also has that Ahhh sound.. ugh.

As for Allen, or Alan, it's not nice..there is a whole generation of 50 year old men named Allen. It's too pretty to be masculine and too many balding man own it to be feminine.

Crimanal or ugly names:

#1 Richard It's such an ugly name, so many serial killers and creeps have it. It sounds yucky.

I also don't like Chad, Dave, Dan or Ted (come on, who doesn't think of Ted Bundy?) Those names make me think of greasy haired teenagers in band T-shirts in 1979 who listen to satanic music.

"Nice" names:
Katie, Amy, Emily, Emma, Hailey, Chloe, Hannah
Will, Steve, Charlie, Tommy, Christopher, Jake

32
By Stacey (not verified)
June 12, 2006 12:20 PM

I think the reverse of this phenomenon is more likely to be a major factor in choosing a name; that is, people are more likely to reject a name because of negative associations (because of someone they know and dislike personally) than they are to specifically choose a name because it sounds friendly. My sister rejected the name Ian as a possible boy's name, despite the fact she'd always really liked it, after she met an Ian she really didn't like. My husband like the name Rachel for a girl, but I wouldn't consider it because I've met a number of Rachels that I didn't like. Then again, we just named our son Will, so maybe subconsciously we were taking "likeability" into account!

33
By Christiana (not verified)
June 12, 2006 12:32 PM

I agree with Stacey - I'm more likely to reject a name based on a negative association than chose one based on "likeablilty." I'll never name my kid Mark (despite having that be the name of 2 good friends husbands) after the kid who purposely split open my finger when i was 6, causing 32 stitches and several hours in the ER. I'll never name my daughter Joy (although it's being considered for a middle name, but I will never use it by itself) after I girl I competed with for years in high school, ditto Christine, despite my best friend being named Kristine.

Also, my sister's name is Coral and even though I think she is probably the sweetest, nicest person I've ever met, her name just doesn't do it for me.

34
By Jen (not verified)
June 12, 2006 2:03 PM

Wow! So interesting. My opinion is that the 'ee' sound on the end of names and/or soft constants really help with sounding 'nice'. As in Sophie, Andy, Millie, Hannah, Ruth, Adam, Josh etc.

However, a name I always thought was really sweet, and ticks all those boxes - Ellie - is VERY popular in the UK and now I meet lots 'chavs' (chav = white trash!) with daughters called Ellie. After hearing theme screeching that name up and down the high street, it's not so 'nice'!

35
By anonymous (not verified)
June 12, 2006 3:08 PM

I am also more likely to avoid names due to "unfriendly" associations. Lisa, for example. I grew up with tons of snotty Lisas. And Todd and Shane- ugh, those remind me of the profane, heavy-metal listening creepy guys from high school.
Friendliness/niceness is a big factor for me, too. I am married to a Charlie, and maybe when I first met him his name might have made him seem more approachable and trustworthy.
Other "nice" names to me are Amy, Katie, Sarah, Natalie, Emily, Anna, Allison, Lily, and Josie. They all sound like sweet caring girls.

36
By Katryn (not verified)
June 12, 2006 3:21 PM

For some reason, Millie and Ellie rub me the wrong way. They seem like skinny, sour, pasty-faced girls who will grow up to be that kind of unpleasant person who works in customer service but really shouldn't.

Short names with an 'ah' sounds seem nicest to me: Sarah, Hannah, Laura, Mara, etc.

37
By Christiana (not verified)
June 12, 2006 4:49 PM

Katryn - I agree with you for the most part. I'm really not a fan of "Millie" I can't get past that sour old lady persona. I like Sarah, Hannah and Laura, but I'm amused you put Mara on the list since it means "Bitter"!

38
By Christina (not verified)
June 12, 2006 5:38 PM

I love the name Arlo--it's on my short list for future boys' names (although he probably won't fit in where I live).

I also love the name Murray, even though it's a surname, a river, and an "old man's name." I like it because it's warm, unpretentious, and has a bit of a spunky New Yorker edge to it. (maybe I've been watching too many reruns of "Mad About You.")

All these regal-sounding names on little boys, like Tristan, Sebastian, and Dominic, are a little too much for me. (I mean, come on...at least call them Tris, Sebbie, or Dom when they're chubby two-year-olds.)

39
By Dana (not verified)
June 12, 2006 7:04 PM

My grandfather's name was Arlo and he was just awful--please revive the name with wonderful little boys instead of mean old men! Leah, Sarah, Isaac, Matthew, Tom, Logan, Noah, Laura, Laurie, --these all seem like nice folks to me. Bad associations: Dawn, Troy, Beth, David...gosh there are so many.

I love Colette but my family wouldn't stand for that--have an ex-aunt w/the name. I think it's great but I might get disowned.

40
By Caren (not verified)
June 12, 2006 7:28 PM

Dana--I think Colette might be making a comeback. I have two friends with a Collette and Colette nn Co.

41
By Christina (not verified)
June 12, 2006 8:36 PM

I agree with Steve being a nice-guy name. Every Steve I've known has been a great guy (except for my grandfather), and every time I hear somebody talking about a Steve, they usually say something along the lines of "Yeah, Steve is a good guy."

Now that all the droves of Tylers, Tysons, etc. are growing up, "Ty" is starting to join the ranks of Steve. I've never met a Ty that I haven't liked. Tyler, on the other hand, is a different story.

42
By Shani (not verified)
June 12, 2006 10:01 PM

I just have to put in a plug for Andy--don't know why, but it is one of the nicest sounding names I can come up with.

43
By Debra (not verified)
June 13, 2006 12:47 AM

I like Colette as well. I loved Cosette (from Le Mis), but my husband wouldn't go for it. I also argree with Christina about Murray being a nice, friendly name.

Kristen: Thanks for the compliments on our kids names. Is your similar name choice Mia? I think that is cute too.

The friendliness is an interesting topic. I spoke with my husband about the topic and mentioned how I thought Charlie was on the friendly list as many others do, and he disagreed since in the Vietnam war the US soldiers referred to the enemy as "Charlie". I didn't realize this even though I've seen a handful of war movies, so its also interesting how men and women differ on their opinions of friendliness. Then I tried to explain how I thought Gretchen (although I have known some nice ones) is an unfriendly sounding name and he disagreed as well, but I think he is basing it on the fact that he dated a nice Gretchen in high school!

44
By Jen (not verified)
June 13, 2006 9:47 AM

Christiana - I read Molly means 'bitter' too. I still think it's a nice sounding name though.

45
By Jenny (not verified)
June 13, 2006 10:08 AM

Can I ask what people feel about naming children after family members. My husband is keen to give our children our first names as middle names, as this is what his parents did.

I'm not keen as a) I dislike my name and don't want my child to be stuck with it and b) it seems somehow arrogant to name your child after yourself.

Any opinions welcome!

46
By Christiana (not verified)
June 13, 2006 12:24 PM

Jenny -
I'm all for naming after family members, including yourself 1. if you like the name, 2. as long as you differ with the nickname so you don't have someone yelling "Bob!" and getting 2 people or "Little Bob" (which is mean for when they're older). My husband is Chuck, so was his dad and he was either Chuckie or Little Chuck for years.

I know several families that take the father's first name for the kids middle name (father David gave his kid the name Daniel David, etc.) or pass along the middle name in general (my best friends husband/f-i-l, dad all have the middle name of Thomas - now so does her son). But there is no point if you don't like the name. Your kid probably won't either.

47
By Kristin (not verified)
June 13, 2006 2:47 PM

I agree that Andy, Dave and Steve are nice, harmless-sounding names. For girls, I don't know if there is such a thing. Women are so mean to each other that for nearly every common name, I've met someone unpleasant as well as pleasant.

48
By Kristen (not verified)
June 13, 2006 3:14 PM

I think a name can still seem likeable and friendly to me, even if I know someone disagreeable who has that particular name. Not every Seth, James, or Evan I know has been a sweetie, but I still think those names have a kindness quality.

49
By Sarah A. (not verified)
June 13, 2006 5:17 PM

American Baby's website lets you search for names that visitors have rated as "kind" (among other traits like active, popular, and creative)

http://www.americanbaby.com/ab/babynames/

50
By Jamie (not verified)
June 13, 2006 6:09 PM

Jenny-
I posted earlier about being named after my father James, my name is Jamie...and the meaning of my name is James' daughter. So, I've always grown up knowing that my name meant exactly who I was...I've always been proud of being named after my father.

About "kind" names, I've always thought that Sarah was a very kind sounding name.