Where all boys end up nowadays

Jul 19th 2007

As I research names I'm constantly poking into dusty corners of data and compiling arcane charts. Most will never see the light of day, but one has grabbed me so hard I just have to share. So strap on your helmets, we're going data mining!

For background, I'm convinced that that the whole baby-naming enterprise has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. Part of what I'm trying to do is to demonstrate that this change is real and get a handle on what it means. One natural place to look is in name endings. As I've discussed in the past, endings do a lot of the work of giving a generation of names its trademark sound. (See the posts called "It's how you finish," parts one and two.)

So here is a graph of boys born by the last letter of their given names, back in 1906:

Only 11 letters were in common end-letter use, led by a clear "Big Four" that memorably spell ENDS (think George, John, Edward, James.) Now let's leap 50 years ahead and chart the same data for boys born in 1956:

It's hard to compare the graphs in this format, but the changes are relatively modest given the 50-year time span. The exact same 11 end letters dominate as in 1906, and the Big Four ENDS all rank among a new Big Five. This is the fundamental conservatism of the English men's naming stock, the immovable core of Johns and Jameses that endures across generations. Or did, at least. 'Cause take a gander at 2006:

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a baby naming revolution.

More on this in the months to come...


By Penn (not verified)
July 21, 2007 6:25 PM

Allira--I think it's true that the names you like in your teens aren't the names you like in your twenties, or thirties... but that's not necessarily true if a name is attached to your own, real child--then you'll probably always love it. I think Leonidas is fine--it can be Leo or Leon for informal occasions, or if you later find the long version cumbersome.

Not sure if you know that a Confederate general, Leonidas K. Polk, is the historical person that will probably come to mind among US history buffs--you can decide if that's okay with you.


By Misha (not verified)
July 21, 2007 8:54 PM

Allira - I like Leonidas, esp the nn Leo!, although if you decide to go with a top 20 name, choose one that's more timeless than trendy... names like the whole Jayden, Brayden, Hayden, etc. thing are probably the ones you might end up regretting when they (hopefully) go out of style in the future!

And on the N-ding topic, I agree with a lot of people above: combining the charts would help a lot, but the ones already here are astounding! Actually, I was planning to go with Julian Drake for a son, but am thinking Julius Drake might be better in case I might want to name a future child something with an -n ending and then I would hate for all my sons to be like JuliaN, AdriaN, IaN, etc. which all happen to be names I love! Although I have already planned in my head for my next son to be a Rafael, or Luke Rafael!

By Valerie (not verified)
July 21, 2007 9:02 PM

The only Leonidas I've come across is the Belgian chocolate maker- in Belgium they pronounce it Lay-ON-ee-das.The chocolates are AMAZING so I have good associations...:)

By Beth (not verified)
July 21, 2007 11:35 PM

Allira, I like your choice of names! Leo is cute and trendy, Leon a bit less expected. Leonidas sounds Greek...

While I was mulling this over I found a "trendy name generator," a joke site I thought this group might like. It's at http://nine.frenchboys.net/trendy.php

The page heading says: "WARNING: Using this generator for serious purposes, such as actually naming the helpless fruit of your loins, may cause a wide range of symptoms including uncontrollable snickering, typographical errors and matricide."

The names it generated for me were:


which cracked me up.

By George (not verified)
July 22, 2007 12:09 AM

Hi! Your web site is helpful. Many thanks. Best regards!

By RobynT (not verified)
July 22, 2007 3:25 AM

SJ: Maybe Evie or Evelina? Although I do like Evelyn. It's my mom's name and I think it's a classic. I also like Nancy, Karen, and Linda--my aunties' names that I think have the same feel.

Allira: I wonder if it would help if you told us the reasons you like Leonidas. Leonidas is kind of out there but maybe you have good reasons about what it means to you or something. (I think your mother and her friends may have a point in arguing against Leonidas, but I don't think the argument they are making is a very good one.) I think Leon is a cute nn though. I think it is a fine name on it's own too.

By erin (not verified)
July 22, 2007 4:06 AM

BETH that website is HILARIOUS, but also slightly scary. I can see people using some of the names!!!!!

As for names ending in "N", Mason is another one that's really popular now. Thanks Laura for pointing this out. I'm happy to realize the names I like (Elliott & Chance) aren't following the trend! I guess that means I'm thinking outside of the mainstream.

By baby names expert (not verified)
July 22, 2007 9:48 AM

The graphs put an interesting perspective on baby name statistics. There does seem to be a rise in popularity of Irish/Celtic names (many ending in N), which can be accredited to the rise of fantasy movie popularity. The genre seems to glean its character name influences from the Celtic cultures.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
July 22, 2007 3:20 PM

What struck me about the names ending in "n" is that there were many fewer names ending in "son" than I expected. That said, there are still a lot! Here is a list of the "son" names for boys in 2006 next to their respective rank:
36 Jackson
39 Mason
55 Jason
87 Carson
176 Bryson
218 Grayson
232 Harrison
233 Dawson
249 Hudson
276 Tyson
353 Jayson
399 Anderson
424 Jameson
447 Nelson
503 Greyson
512 Wilson
534 Jamison
539 Emerson
562 Addison
642 Jefferson
673 Lawson
752 Kason
753 Cason
862 Branson
887 Samson
895 Garrison
947 Edison

My prediction is that next year Karson, Carston, and Brayson will debut.

I realized as I was looking through the list that not only do so many of the names end in "n," there are also a lot that end in "ne" and thus have the same sound (Stone, for example). Fascinating. To my ear the "n" provides a much softer ending than a "k" or "d," for example. Do the rest of you agree? Why would this sound have taken off so much in the last 50 years to the exclusion of the others?

By Elly (not verified)
July 22, 2007 3:25 PM

Allira- yes, your taste in names will change as you age, but if you love Leonidas now, you'd probably hate a top-20 name more in the future. Besides which, I still love many of the names I liked as a teen- so don't worry too much. Leonidas is a classic name (can't get anymore classic than a king of Sparta!), and its nns of Leon and Leo are normal without being annoyingly ubiquitous. If you do think it might be "too much," don't limit yourself to the top twenty, but have a look at the timeless sort of names...James/Thomas/Henry, not Ryan/Jacob/Noah. But speaking as someone who is about 30- Leonidas is great. Go for it.

Why N? is it something to do with tv/radio advertising? What else has changed language dramatically in the last years 50?

By Jessica (not verified)
July 22, 2007 10:11 PM

I wonder if Elly has a huge point? "What else changed language dramatically in the last 50 years?"

Allira: I am guessing that you know in you heart of hearts if you think you will tire of this name. If you suspect maybe, even a teeny tiny bit, go for another timeless classic. If it has ben there for a long time and you really like it - and the leon and leo - use it. Your taste will change but your style is who you are.

By Tansey (not verified)
July 23, 2007 12:26 AM

Allira - one trick I was taught many years ago was to put the name you're fond of in a sentence:Mrs/Ms yxz, can *the name* come out to play? Now say it over and over and over - and I mean over, at least 50 times a day for three days. If at the end of that you still like the name, then it's the one. From my own newer experience, imagine it being read out at their university graduation. I have to say I was really pleased my own children's names sounded good. Don't look at the top 20 names if you can help it - there lies mundanity, which you're way too young for. They'll only be children for a few years but they have to live with a boring name for maybe 60 adult years.

By Valerie (not verified)
July 23, 2007 12:50 AM

For regular readers of this columnn, I have breaking news from Lausanne, Switzerland. My friends the German/French couple whose children were named Anna, David and Clara (particularly pan-European I think), an third daughter... Charlotte.
No, not what I was expecting (or Nymbler either), but still a name that works well in different European languages.

When I wrote about this before and wondered what the fourth child would be named, I remember one of you had suggested Sophie, Nico, Max or Theo which were all great choices. What do you all think of this choice? Does Charlotte harmonize with the others? I actually think so.

By Valerie (not verified)
July 23, 2007 12:57 AM

PS Laura, I totally love Nymbler, but one of the choices for a sibling of the above was Dara... Clara and Dara??

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
July 23, 2007 1:32 AM

Congratulations to your friends, Valerie! I wouldn't have predicted Charlotte, but now that I see it, I'm surprised I didn't think of it. I think they work very well together. I hope the kids get along as well as their names do! I was stunned once again today by how my children can fight over anything, even a speck of dust on the floor.

By Michi (not verified)
July 23, 2007 1:33 AM

I wouldn't be surprised if Gideon did pick up soon; between the old stock Biblical name trend (Elijah, Caleb, Gabriel, etc), and the 'n' ending, I'd say it's just waiting to be rediscovered.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
July 23, 2007 1:57 AM

OK, I just looked at the girls' list to see how popular the "-son" names are. Here's the scoop: There are only four such names in the top 1000 for girls, but there are 12 spellings of them (14 if you count the ones ending in "-syn"). They are (with the rank before them):

3 Madison
--403 Maddison
--408 Madyson
--414 Madisyn

27 Addison
--370 Addyson
--612 Addisyn
--767 Adison
--877 Adyson

46 Allison
--256 Allyson
--271 Alison
--471 Alyson

305 Emerson

The variant spellings of Emerson have not yet cracked the top 1000. If you're looking to win Laura's pool next year, Emersyn, Emmerson, or Emercyn might be good bets!

By Megan (not verified)
July 23, 2007 2:32 AM

As a teenager, my absolute favorite "future daughter name" was Kelin. However; when I married my husband, I knew that I could never use the name. Our last name ends in an "in" sound, and I'm not a fan of the rhyming first and last names. Of course, _my_ name rhymes now - but I at least had a choice in the matter. :)

By Jessica (not verified)
July 23, 2007 3:14 AM

Charlotte is perfect. IMHO. :)

Allira: My mom recent told me to yell my baby's name out the back door several time a day for a week or so and see if I still like it. All forms of it. As in firstname, firstname middle name, first middle lastname.

By RobynT (not verified)
July 23, 2007 3:40 AM

I think Nymbler probably recommends Dara when Clara is put in as an inspiration because it's not only for sibling names but also more general, "If you like X, you might also like Y." You know like if you like Clara, but you already have a Clark and Clark and Clara together would be silly...

By Rebecca (not verified)
July 23, 2007 4:07 AM

Holy cow. This makes me very very happy that the boys' names I have picked out end in v, i, and h.

By SP (not verified)
July 23, 2007 12:54 PM

It would be cool to have a European version. You all act so shocked by totally popular, trendy European name choices like Charlotte and Leon.

Leon is something like the number 2 or 3 name in Germany (VERY POPULAR) and also popular in places like Switzerland and France. Charlotte is similar...it's an extremely trendy name at the moment, with the nick-name of Lotti.

These trends are somehow connected to the US trends as well. Not sure how though. I think more people are choosing "Euro sounding" names (Such as Tobias, Mattias, Marcus, etc) and it will become a trend it itself.

By molly h (not verified)
July 23, 2007 1:49 PM

On Leonidas:
Allira - I say go for it, I think it's a great name.

To others wondering about the pronunciation: LEO-nigh-das.
And I actually commented about this on a post from a a few months ago, wondering if there'd be a re-emergence of this name because it's the name of the lead character in the movie 300 (which is based on a comic book which is in turn based on actual events about a group of Spartans in ancient Greece who fought off an invasion of Iranians). Big 2007 pop culture blip-on-the-radar especially with younger viewers. Great movie, btw.

By Catharine (not verified)
July 23, 2007 2:28 PM

My mother, slightly morbid though this is, pictured potential baby names on a wedding invitation and on a gravestone. It was important to her to think ahead to whether the name would work on an old lady, and not just a little baby.

By lizpenn (not verified)
July 23, 2007 6:17 PM

Whoa, that's pretty intense advice. I'm now picturing my daughter's gravestone. Hopefully a very very long time in the future, but ... yep, I still like her name. She'll make a great old lady.

By Christiana (not verified)
July 23, 2007 6:39 PM

I am in the habit of writing the name over and over in it's different forms (full, initials, potential nicknames, etc.) to see if I like it, etc. I've dumped a few this way.

We have a chosen nickname for our son-to-be (if my baby is a boy), since he will be a Charles the III and my husband is Chuck and sometimes Charlie. We chose Tre (meaning 3) but my husband's family doesn't seem to like it.

By June (not verified)
July 23, 2007 8:45 PM

Allira: I agree with Molly, if you love this name, go for it.
With the popularity of the movie 300, I suspect we will be seeing more boys with this name, so it is unusual without being too "out there". Also, "Leo" or "Leon" are classic shorter versions.
Finally, as I look back on the babyname lists I made as a child,(yes, I kept them) I have found that nearly all of the names I liked as a 10 year old I still enjoy today. The list I made as a 16 year old is even more enduring, as there is only one name on that list (Mirandy, ugh!) which I wouldn't use today,... and this is nearly 30 years later.

By AJ (not verified)
July 23, 2007 9:06 PM

Breaking topic a bit here. I saw that Wolfgang Puck got married to a (Mid East? Eurasian?) woman named Gelila. Anyone know the pronunciation? I assumed it rhymes with Delilah, juh-LYE-luh. Or is it juh-LEE-luh? Does the initial "G" take a different sound?

I've been reading "Harry Potter" and was struck by Ollivander, as it sounds like a combo of two Eng names, Oliver and Evander, much like Alexander and Xavier were combined at least once to form Alexavier.

By cec (not verified)
July 23, 2007 9:22 PM

I'm 30, I love Leonidas, and think nn Leon is adorable. Grandma may not love the name right now, but when she's holding him in her arms, it won't matter what his name is--she'll love him dearly! (And the advice to stick to the top 20 is probably well-intentioned, but awfully limiting!)
Good luck!

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
July 23, 2007 11:48 PM

Do I read this correctly? Are you pregnant?

By Help... (not verified)
July 24, 2007 12:54 AM

Still trying to settle - last minute-ish - on a middle name for Lincoln. HOW do you pronounce Evander? I like the look and my own initial pronunciation but not sure where to go to find "the real" pronunciation...

By Valerie (not verified)
July 24, 2007 2:58 AM


By Amber (not verified)
July 24, 2007 4:48 AM

ee-VAN-der? Maybe?

Allira: I like Leonidas. Leonidas Joseph is great. Sure your tastes may change as you grow older, but you don't know which tastes will do the changing. Choosing from the top 20 would be a mistake. It's better to go with a name you love now than choose one you never cared much about in the first place.

By melanie (not verified)
July 24, 2007 2:15 PM

Allira: I do think that the list ofnames I liked at twelve are not names I would chose now, but some of that has to do with the way they would fit into our family. Having named one son already, I find that I have set myself into a particular style. I don't hate the names, just don't like them like I used to. I also agree that once your child's name is selected it will grow with your child. It sounds like you aren't stretching so far for an unusual name that it can't fit into mainstream and that is probably where the biggest problem would be.

This talk of N's has highlighted for me my biggest concern for naming my son Evan. It isn't really so high in popularity that I would be worried (Lower than our son James' name) but it sounds so much like Ethan that I'm afraid he will just get mixed up with the very many Ethan's that I see in my naming circle.

By kygirl (not verified)
July 24, 2007 4:57 PM

Ethan and Evan don't sound anything alike to me ... EE-than vs. Eh-VAN. Not the same initial sound and not the same syllable gets emphasized. The only things they have in common are the starting and ending letters.

By molly h (not verified)
July 24, 2007 5:36 PM

melanie - i agree with kygirl, Ethan and Evan are quite distinctive to me. I mean, yes - they both have the initial "E" and the "-an" sound. But in style and tone, they're very different to me.

By Valerie (not verified)
July 24, 2007 8:54 PM

I would pronounce it EH-van, not Eh-VAN. What's the consensus?

By Marjorie (not verified)
July 24, 2007 8:58 PM

MICHI - re: Gideon.........
not very common but I had a great uncle named Gideon, known by Gid. His brothers were Sardius(Sar), Persis (Percy) and Marcus (no nn as far as I know). Persis seems to be a girl's name according to Google! Their sister was Angeline. Very religious "chapel" English family.

I named my son Mark but wish now I had used Marcus with Marc for everyday!

By tess (not verified)
July 24, 2007 9:10 PM

re:Gideon....SHHH...That is the name I was hoping my son would name his next-someday child. His name is Gabriel and I thought Gideon would be a similar name and same initials. I may need to get a pet to use it...but I hope it doesn't become too popular. My son never went by a nickname(his choice) and ,I assume, his would not either. Of course, now it is bothering me that it ends in "n"!

By Suzanne (not verified)
July 24, 2007 9:46 PM

In the US at least, Evan is EH-vun. I do think Evan and Ethan sound similar, so I understand your concern if there are tons of Ethans around. Too bad as I love both names!

I don't know... for some reason Gideon really doesn't do it for me. Something abou the sound - I think it's the way the mouth/throat forms the "gid" sound that feels odd. It also reminds me of Gilligan ('s Island) and the word "giddy". But, it's possible that once I heard it used as a given name (I never have) that could change.

By MD (not verified)
July 24, 2007 10:18 PM

What are peoples thoughts on Jennifer?

(i was told at the doctors surgery that unisex names are a pain in the butt when it comes to records etc and it's a sexist trend)

By tess (not verified)
July 25, 2007 3:20 AM

To MD- I loved the name Jennifer so much that I had a baby with that name written under it in my college dorm...but that was about 40 years ago! The name has had such tremendous popularity over a long period of time,that IMO, something fresher might be better. If you like classic, feminine names that start with "J" how about: Juliet, Julianne or even Jennie? Jessica is another I might have suggested but it has been extremely popular, as well.Or do you have a baby picture in your room with Jennifer written under it?:)

By RobynT (not verified)
July 25, 2007 4:00 AM

MD: I have so many friends and classmates named Jennifer that I could never use the name!

By Tips Of All Sorts (not verified)
July 25, 2007 5:47 AM

Never had realized that names ending with 'n' are that popular and that many!

By MD (not verified)
July 25, 2007 8:06 AM

Tess and Robyn - what should i do then - i want a classic feminine sort of name after what they told me at the doctors as i said.

Thank you for being so nice.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
July 25, 2007 11:13 AM

Hi MD,
Check out Laura's site Nymbler (you can link to it from one of her earlier posts). It will give you all sorts of different suggestions. And in my opinion, a baby Jennifer born today is not likely to experience what the Jennifers born in the 70s and 80s did.

By Eo (not verified)
July 25, 2007 11:55 AM

MD-- I think Elizabeth T. is right-- the great demographic bulge of Jennifers is now in the recent past. A new baby named Jennifer might be almost a novelty!

If you simply take it at face value (which we name nerds rarely do!) as a charming Welsh-Cornish name, then perhaps it has some viability. But personally I'd search for something less recently popular...

With any VERY popular name, I'd be determined to come up with a jaunty, unusual nickname-- i.e., "Jinx" for Jennifer, NEVER "Jen"...

By MD (not verified)
July 25, 2007 12:03 PM

I hope you can help me out. I feel so overwhelmed.

By tess (not verified)
July 25, 2007 12:54 PM

MD- I echo Elizabeth in saying go to Nymbler and input Jennifer as your inspiration name and revel in the many other options. Are there any other girl names you like? If so, add them to the inspirations. Good luck and let us know what names call to you. When is your baby due?