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 Eo (not verified)
July 28, 2007 8:47 PM

Hey, it was such fun to come home on a Saturday and find some feedback on my question! Like a treat waiting! Thank you very much, all.

Penn-- It's a bit discouraging to hear other people had to succumb to "Ben" unwillingly. There's a long boring story as to why we've not used it, that has to do with his adoption. Will spare you. But secondarily, we find it too generic. And, remember, he is used to Baines and DOES like it!

Beth-- "Chillington" gave me a laugh! Forcedly preppy-- horrors! I do agree it's a drag for a little guy to have to explain he's not a --- fill in the blank. But if he's fending off an unwanted nickname, he's probably up to it.

RobynT-- Good point about the unspoken "spelling rules in your head"! I agree. Aren't you an English professor? You seem to have a natural, organic feel for language...

Suzanne-- You must have telepathy? One of his two other nicknames is "Boz" which is a combo of Benjamin and a middle name "Osborne"! But people seem even more freaked by that one...

By Eo (not verified)
July 28, 2007 9:08 PM

"Baines" saga, continued--

And not only do people have a hard time with "Boz" (can't remember it, etc), Baines is more used to the "nnn" sound (there's that popular final "n" again) and it's more consistent with the SOUND of Benjamin, I would think.

Anyway, thanks for your help. You're pushing me even more to the "-aines" spelling with your feedback. Isn't it great that names have all these dimensions-- sound, visuals, (including colors), personal meaning, historical significance, etc. etc. It's so great to discuss them with people who GET it!!

By the way Nell, I really like "Gowan" and also the Welsh name "Gower" (rhymes with power) which means "pure". It's slightly, but only slightly colored by my liking for the fabulous choreographer of the Fifties and Sixties, Gower Champion...

By Jessica (not verified)
July 28, 2007 10:48 PM

I cant figure out something... I really like Genevieve better than Julianne but I like Parker better than Morgan. O well, I think I would go with the G.M.

Allira - wtg!! :)

I like the Baines spelling. There seemingly is not question how to pronounce it and if he is used to it... :) (I agree with RobynT about the "rules" )

By J&H's mom (not verified)
July 28, 2007 10:54 PM

Eo-I think Banks is totally adorable-are you sure about giving that one up? At some point, any name can be made to rhyme with or sound-like something unpleasant. To your actual question, I'd vote for Baines. It seems like the most obvious in terms of spelling and pronounciation. I don't like the versions with y's because they remind me of too many names that are in style now that I have an irrational dislike of (Jayden et.al).
Quick story-Years ago I was teaching 7th graders, and I had a student named Philip. Pretty quickly, the other kids were calling him Phil, and soon his teachers were too. He wrote Phil on his papers, told subs. to call him Phil, and so on...
At open house his mother was completely flabbergasted-said he'd never gone by Phil in his whole life.
Having said that, if it's important to you and him that he not be called Ben, I think you can just explain that politely but firmly to his teachers; they should certainly respect your wishes.

By RobynT (not verified)
July 29, 2007 12:23 AM

Eo: haha! thanks! i teach writing, yes, but not a professor yet. give me a few more years... hopefully...

By melanie (not verified)
July 29, 2007 12:32 AM

My husband hasonly gone by Jim once in his whole life and that was a year in elementary with a new teacher that he thought he'd try it out. He pretty soon decided he didn't like it and asked his parents to have the teacher stop calling him that. The teacher thought it was kids wishes against parents wishes and kept calling him that for awhile until a neighbor told her he never went by Jim. What really irritates me is when he's told a saleperson his name is James and they then proceed to call him Jim the whole time. I've also known a few David's that hated being called Dave. It's hard to escape the common nicknames, but at least your friends should learn your preferences.

By MD (not verified)
July 29, 2007 12:51 AM

Yeah I'm a young mother - i get stupid jokes about me being a "child mother".

My mother tells me it should be "Julianne Rose" but that's a bit too womanly isn't it?

At least Julianne Parker and Genevieve Morgan are "balanced"

By elise (not verified)
July 29, 2007 1:34 AM


I think you've got great taste in names! I'd go with either Julianne Parker (my preference) or Genevieve Morgan. They're both beautiful. And Julianne Rose does sound strongly feminine to me, too.

The other potential drawback to Rose is that it seems to be a very popular middle name right now. Either of your other choices are unique and strong, both in sound and in personality.

By Rebekah (not verified)
July 29, 2007 3:12 AM

re: Julianne Rose-What is wrong with sounding feminine or womanly. Isn't that what she is (or going to be)?

By a.c. (not verified)
July 29, 2007 3:12 AM

Yeah, I like the contrast between the first and middle names too...but, if YOU prefer Julianne Rose, don't shy away fromit because you think it's too girly. Honestly, with the possible exceptions of Latrina et. al., the person makes the name, not the other way around.

By Penn (not verified)
July 29, 2007 3:56 AM

I agree with J&H's mom--Banks may rhyme with some unattractive slang, but doesn't Baines rhyme with "stains"? Shouldn't take little boys long to figure that one out... one week at summer camp should do it! No name is foolproof.

As long as a kid is happy and comfortable with the name (or names) he uses, that's all I'd worry about.

By MD (not verified)
July 29, 2007 1:09 PM

I'm all but settled on Julianne Parker but i understand what you're saying a.c.

By Jessica (not verified)
July 29, 2007 1:38 PM

MD: If you dislike the "womanly: aspect, dont do it. Either way is beautiful. The fun part is that YOU get to choose. My mom is dying to know what I am going to name this baby. She also keeps reminding me - and herself mostly - that we all get to nameour kids what we want. :)

By MD (not verified)
July 29, 2007 1:54 PM

i don't mind feminine - i dislike the "pants = power" sexism - i just don't want to over-do it - i want a balanced first and middle name.

By Marjorie (not verified)
July 29, 2007 4:10 PM

Many years ago I met a young man who was known to his friends as 'Ben". It was a nn... his given name was Andrew but his surname was "Downey" :-)

As mentioned, nicknames are applied in strange ways, perhaps not what the parents intend!

By Beth (not verified)
July 29, 2007 4:21 PM

Well, OK, I'm gonna backtrack a bit on Baines, especially because Eo was kind enough to laugh at Chillington... if he is already called Baines, go for it. Nothing about my name has ever irritated me more than people assuming they can call me whatever nickname they like for Elizabeth. I don't mind being called Elizabeth by people who can't remember, but I do mind being called Liz, Lisa, Lizzy, Eliza, etc. by people who feel entitled to an intimacy they haven't earned by actually remembering my name!

My father in law is William, called "Bob" from his middle name, so go figure.

Julianne Parker is lovely and elegant. Perhaps little Leonidas and little Julianne will meet one day and thank their lucky stars they aren't Jayden and Jenna!

By Eo (not verified)
July 29, 2007 10:22 PM

Thanks, Jessica, J&H's mom, Melanie, Penn, Marjorie and Beth for your further input on the nickname question.

I feel your husband's pain, Melanie! And yours, Beth. It's indeed disconcerting to be called by a name other than one's own. When it's intentionally done by strangers, it can be a subtle form of disrespect...

If you can stand one more "Benjamin" incident, this happened just this evening: My husband took him to be registered for Vacation Bible School. The girl putting his name on his name sticker apparently didn't have room for "Benjamin", so hubby said, "Oh, just write his nickname-- Baines". This confused the registrar, who proceeded to inquire the spelling, and then had to scribble over what she wrote, rendering the name almost illegible! A harbinger of things to come? Will people even have trouble with the standard "-aines" spelling? Maybe "Banks" is looking better to me too, J&H's mom!

By Penn (not verified)
July 29, 2007 11:50 PM

LOL! Am I the only one who finds it ironic that a Vacation BIBLE School wouldn't be able to fit a common biblical name like "Benjamin" on their nametags? What about longer common names like Elizabeth, Katherine, Jacqueline, Nathaniel... Sheesh, they need to spring for bigger tags, or a fine-point Sharpie, I say!

By MD (not verified)
July 30, 2007 12:01 AM

Thanks Beth.

One last question - can anybody reccomend any good/safe pregnancy and baby boards?

By a.c. (not verified)
July 30, 2007 12:41 AM

Irrelevent, but why hasn't there been a new entry in the last ten days? I thought they were usually a week apart. Does this mean something really great is coming up, Laura...? ;)

By CS (not verified)
July 30, 2007 3:01 PM

Looking for some name advice:
We're expecting our first. My husband recently developed a deep love for the name Sophie. While I think it's OK, I can't quite get on board with it. I suggested Charlotte & Lucia (other names already on our list that have a similar feel to Sophie to me) and he said what he really likes about Sophie is the way it sounds. I just can't think of other names that have a similar sound - though I'm not sure if he means that he likes the number of syllables, or that it starts with S, or ends with e, or what.

Anybody have any thoughts on names that "sound" like Sophie?


Oh, and MD, I love the name Julianne Parker!

By Hillary (not verified)
July 30, 2007 3:29 PM

You are thinking Sophie for a nn right? I think it feels a little young as a "real name".....Tell your husband to think about Sophie as a CEO of a major corporation.....I am not feeling it. I do like Sophie though.

By Penn (not verified)
July 30, 2007 4:29 PM

Sophie has some very distinguished precedents:

Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) was a young heroine of the German resistance movement during World War II (she was executed for distributing pamphlets criticizing the Third Reich)

Sophie Willock Bryant (1850-1922) was an Irish suffragist, writer, athlete, and math teacher

Sophie Germain (1776-1831) was a French mathematician

Sophie Kerr (1880-1965) was an American novelist and college benefactor

Elisabeth-Sophie Cheron (1648-1711) was a French musician, artist, and poet

So, I see Sophie as a perfectly fine "real" name for a distinguished woman! But if it's not working for you, maybe Sidonie, Lydia, Sonia, Stephanie, or Claudia?

By Wendy (not verified)
July 30, 2007 4:31 PM

Names that sound something like Sophie:

Josephine (Josie)

By kristi (not verified)
July 30, 2007 4:43 PM

More names that sound a little like Sophie. (Some have already been mentioned above.)


By Jill C. (not verified)
July 30, 2007 8:15 PM

Re: combining spellings and Lily

Yes, I toss all the names into excel, then sort and add for hours on end. I have all of the data for the top 1000 back through 2002 (I told you I was a nerd).

Lilly/Lily/Lillie was #30 in 2006. Uncombined, just Lily is #33. This was due to a few names jumping up before it in the rankings when multiple spellings are combined (Kaitlyn and Kaylee, for example, each have 9 different spellings in the top 1000, which jumps them up to #7 and #20 respectively)

Lila is definitely picking up steam – combining Lila, Lyla, Leila, and Lilah gets a rank of #128, up from #176 the year before.

By Hannah (not verified)
July 30, 2007 8:38 PM

Re: Sophie.

My first thought was not "Sophia" but the protagonist of Roald Dahl's The BFG, who was, it is believed, named his granddaughter, the model Sophie Dahl.

I in no way recommend looking to Roald Dahl for parenting advice, but there might be something to be found in what he named some of his children:

Tessa (Sophie Dahl's mother)
Ophelia (a risky choice, granted, but it has the "oaf" sound)
Olivia (which is more popular than Sophia)
Lucy (as you probably know, it means "light," which can connote wisdom)

By Lara (not verified)
July 30, 2007 10:44 PM

I adore the name Ophelia!

And Hermione is a name well-known to us Shakespeare buffs from his depressing (LOL) play A Winter's Tale.

By RobynT (not verified)
July 31, 2007 12:27 AM

CS: Hrm... Joanie? Sofie, Sofia, Safiya, Safira, Sapphira? I know a Sophie with sibs named Abby (Abigail) and Maddy (Madeline).

By Alecia (not verified)
July 31, 2007 12:50 AM

I was leafing through a poetry anthology today when I saw this and immediately thought of your blog:

Boys' Names

What splendid names for boys there are!
There's Carol like a rolling car,
And Martin like a flying bird,
And Adam like the Lord's First Word,
And Raymond like the harvest Moon,
And Peter like the piper's tune,
And Alan like the flowing on
Of water. And there's John, like John.

- Eleanor Farjeon

By Julianne (not verified)
July 31, 2007 2:53 PM

For the record... my name is Julianne Parker, though it's my last name and not my middle name, and I've been complemented on it all my life.

By Cheryl (not verified)
August 1, 2007 12:28 AM

Re--names similar To Sophie:

Sylvie! (I love that name!)

By Cindy (not verified)
August 1, 2007 9:25 AM

Regarding Sophie, I guess it depends what about the name it is that your husband finds so appealing? Is it the -ie ending? The S sound at the beginning? Does he seem to be picking all S-names?
I would maybe say try:
Sadie <--love this name!
Lucy - has a same feel to it and would be a good nickname to Lucia?

By cc (not verified)
August 1, 2007 9:32 AM

Sophie has that very friendly sound to it. Other names that have a similar friendly "feel" to them:
Some of those names could be nicknames of a more 'formal' name.

By Rachel G. (not verified)
August 5, 2007 1:28 PM

Well, Roald Dahl might have been a Nazi sympathizer, but he had great taste in names!

How do y'all pronounce Genevieve? I've heard it both "Jhahn-vee-EV" (which IMO is correct as it is faithful to the French), and "JENN-i-veev" (which seems to be more popular).

By TW (not verified)
August 8, 2007 12:02 AM

I need help naming my baby boy. Here is what we are thinking: Julian Washington Farian or Julian Macneil Farian. Any thoughts would be great.

By Julia (not verified)
August 11, 2007 2:30 AM

Eo, this nickname thing is going to be the "Beinn" of your son's existence. How about Jamin?

By Helen (not verified)
August 11, 2007 4:33 AM

Or Jeeves?

By Eo (not verified)
August 11, 2007 2:53 PM

Ha, Julia and Helen, no fair teasing me this far down from my original comments-- I almost missed your witty posts!

"Jamin" I HAVE heard used for Benjamin. But it's the "B" sound we like and have used in his nicknames from the beginning...

I adore all those "butler" names, Helen! The best butlers were all my kind of guy-- polished, formal in manner, conservatively dressed, unshakeably courteous, scrupulous upholders of tradition, tolerant or at least indulgent of their employers' flaky ways...

By Eo (not verified)
August 11, 2007 3:02 PM

TW-- Distinguished, memorable names. I might tilt slightly toward Julian Washington Farian, just because I love George Washington. Some name purists might not like the idea of all three names having three syllables each. But that doesn't bother me at all, and besides, as often as not "Julian" is pronounced as a two syllable name-- Jool-yan.

By Julia (not verified)
August 12, 2007 3:28 PM

I like you, Eo. Have you read "The Remains of the Day"?

By Eo (not verified)
August 13, 2007 12:19 AM

Thanks, Julia. I didn't read "The Remains of the Day", although I saw the Anthony Hopkins/Emma Thomson movie. Was it quite faithful to the novel? Anthony Hopkins gave such a lovely, delicate performance. That character did seem to embody some of the best "butler" qualities described above. But he almost succeeds in giving restraint a bad name, doesn't he?

One of my favorite butlers from literature is "Bunter", manservant to Lord Peter Wimsey in the wonderful Dorothy Sayers detective series...

By Eo (not verified)
August 13, 2007 12:22 AM

On second thought I guess Bunter wasn't technically a butler, (Lord Peter didn't really lead that kind of life) but he seemed to fulfill all the functions of one...

By K. Lare (not verified)
August 24, 2007 9:23 PM

Am trying desperately to think of a name that honors my grandmother (Helen) without actually calling a little girl Helen (outdated).

Add to the mix that my husband's grandmother is Lillian and he would love to see her name (or a variation of it) as a middle name.

The order doesn't matter to me, but the combo of the 2 names Helen & Lillian is hard to figure out...please help!

By kristin dawn (not verified)
August 28, 2007 2:52 AM

A little late here, but the book The Remains of the Day is virtually identical to the movie. In fact, the movie is actually more affecting. Amazing performances.

As for a combo of Helen and Lillian, how about Hellion? Just an idea...

By Eo (not verified)
August 29, 2007 5:51 PM

K. Lare: I think in some quarters, "Helen" is quite fashionable and a bit ahead of the curve, as one of those timeless classics. But if it doesn't appeal, why not "Helena" (accent on first syllable) as in English actress Helena Bonham Carter? You could combine it with "Lilly"-- "Helena Lilly" DOES have quite a few "l's", but it's still pretty and distinguished.

Helen has many medieval variant spellings, including "Ellen", "Elyn", and "Ellyn", but, if you care about stylishness, none of these is currently trendy. Old fashioned nicknames for Helen include "Lena", "Leni" (German), and my all-time favorite, "Nell". Charming, spunky, and Nell can be a full name in its own right. "Lilly Nell"? It is a bit hard to combine your two core names since each has the strong "L" sound, but that may not matter to you as you are honoring two beloved family members. Good luck and let us know!

kristin dawn: You're so right-- I must see "The Remains of the Day" again...

By Arlene (not verified)
August 30, 2007 12:29 PM

K.Lare--I have a cousin, Hallie, who was named for her grandmother, Helen.

By Arlene (not verified)
August 30, 2007 12:37 PM

Re the pronunciation of Hermione: for you Harry Potter fans--in Goblet of Fire there's a scene where Hermione is teaching Viktor how to pronounce her name. Obviously, JKRowling wrote that scene because of all the people who didn't know how to pronounce Hermione. But I always thought that Viktor would know Hermione's name from hearing it pronounced, not seeing it written, so it doesn't quite make sense when you think about it. BTW, I knew a Hermione in high school (I'm a grandmother), so pronunciation was never an issue for me. But when I was discussing the books with my teenage niece and used the name, she stopped short and exclaimed, "Is THAT how it's pronounced?!"

By K. Lare (not verified)
September 20, 2007 7:39 PM

Arlene- what a coincidence...hubby's great grandma's name is Hallie and for the longest time I was thinking of naming a little girl Helena Hallie (with Helena pronounced huh-lay-nuh)

By Mum 2b (not verified)
September 26, 2007 10:05 PM

We've been tossing up Lily as our baby's name then I heard the name Genevieve the other day and immediately fell in love with it (shortened to Eve/Evie) perhaps? But not so sure on the Gen part/but then Jenevieve looks a bit odd too? The name sounds nice but looks wrong written down!!