Instant name: just add N

Aug 7th 2008

Here's a rare name I expect to hear more of in the future: Graden.

Certainly, it has a fashionable sound -- another in the vast rhyming family that includes Aidan, Hayden, Caden and Braeden.  But there's more to it than that.  Graden sounds like a formal version of a popular formal name that sounds like a nickname.  Hmm, was that gibberish?  Let me give it another shot.

Classic multisyllabic men's names -- Thomas, Edward -- generally come with two standard nickname options.  There's a one-syllable basic (Tom, Ed) and a two-syllable diminutive (Tommy, Eddie).  That's sensible enough.  After all, the two main functions of nicknames are to shorten and to soften.

Today, though, the standard nicknames are decidedly out of fashion.  So far out of fashion that some parents are getting skittish about names that even resemble the form of a traditional nickname.  So more and more, you see parents tacking extra endings onto short boys' names, creating a new "formal" version for something that was never a nickname to begin with.

It's not a totally new phenomenon; Rexford is one example from past generations.  But the practice is growing.  And forget old add-ons like -ford, -burn and -wood.  Today there's just one way to extend a name: with the all-powerful letter -n.

For a case study, consider Colton.  Colton is a popular contemporary name, currently ranked #117 among American boys' names.  It was a surname before it became a baby name, but that doesn't tell the real story.  As a surname Colton isn't common at all, ranking behind the likes of Stumpf and Fortenberry in frequency.  Nor are there prominent Coltons to raise the name's profile.  The key to understanding the name Colton is that it made its debut as a popular baby name in 1982.  That's the same debut year as Colt -- which is to say, the first full season of "The Fall Guy," a tv series starring Lee Majors as stuntman/bounty hunter Colt Seavers.  At first, Colton was just a quiet shadow of the hardy young cowboy Colt.  But by the '90s, the more "formal" Colton was the clear leader of the pack.

Some more popular -n extensions:


All of them, notably, also have rhyming names in the top 1000.  Which brings us back to Graden.  So you like Grady, but perhaps find it a little boyish?  A mere flick of the -n gives you Graden.  You can still call him Grady if you like, and the full name blends right in with the current name landscape.  It's a nifty long as "blending in" is what you're after.  If you're customizing the name to make in more distinctive, though, keep in mind that uncommon and distinctive aren't always the same thing.  In an age where a third of all boys born get an -n name, Colt and Grady may end up standing out a lot more than Colton and Graden.


By Karyn (not verified)
August 13, 2008 2:51 PM

Come to think of it, if someone has, say, a deep-South accent and doesn't say much of anything the way I do, it doesn't bother me much for them to say my name differently. I guess it's about on par with someone whose native language is not English. It's mostly when *most* of the speech is the same as mine but then my name is wrong that it irks me.

When my name is mispronounced it just doesn't feel like me. It isn't just that I'm being picky. Think of it as though someone is calling you by a nickname that you don't go by... say, a Christopher who goes by Topher and *never* Chris, yet someone insists on calling him "Chris" anyway.

Rationally I know that a nickname can be changed much more easily than an accent, but my name is very much a part of my identity and I take it very personally, I guess.

By Artemis (not verified)
August 13, 2008 2:54 PM

I think I see what's going on with the a + r. For my midwestern accent, an r there means the a vowel changes. So Karyn means Kar + yn; and it sounds, Karyn, like you conceptualize it as Ka + ryn...which isn't how the a+r works this region.

Same with Marius. It can't be Ma + rius (for me), with a bright /a/-as-in-apple sound; I would never think to pronounce it that way. The r inflects the a to rhyme either with bear or bar.

Interestingly, my name has the latter /ar/ sound (bar), and my dad's has the former (bear), and they are names that *can't* isolate the a; their a's must go with the r. Maybe that has something to do with why I have this a+r phenomenon so ingrained.

Fun stuff!

By Karyn (not verified)
August 13, 2008 3:08 PM

Artemis, that's a great point. I don't separate the "A" and "R" in your name and the beginning sounds like "art" when I say it. In all the other examples (eg. Aaron, Barry, etc), I separate the syllables as "Aa-ron" and "Ba-rry", not "Aar-on" or "Barr-y".

I do know, however, that there are some people in Maritime Canada (and possibly prairie Canada and other places, too,) who would say the name Artemis as... I guess the closest immitation of the vowel I can convey in type is the sound a pirate makes: Arrrrr.

Oh! Like the accents in Fargo, if that helps at all.

By Kristin (not verified)
August 13, 2008 3:15 PM

Rjoy - my two orange tabbies are named Alistair and Henry. Somehow their names suit them so perfectly!

By Cathy (not verified)
August 13, 2008 3:59 PM

Thanks to everyone for trying to explain this to me. It IS hard when typed, to figure this all out. I wish I could actually hear what you were all saying, like that one youtube video that was mentioned.

I got a case of the giggles imagining you all working your mouth muscles so hard trying to differentiate between the names Carrie & Kerry (all in good fun, I promise :-)).

My son listens to a music CD sometimes that drives me insane, but there's one song about the sounds short vowels make, and now I'm really going to laugh every time I hear them singing the short a (as in Carrie) and the short e (as in Kerry), at least the way I say it.

I understand Karyn's plight with her name. My friend Erin does the same thing "say elephant, say elbow, say enemy, now say Erin..." It still doesn't work for her, and like you, it makes her crazy, haha.

And I appreciated the term illogical with regard to the difference between Callie & Kelly, but not the similar Carrie & Kerry. I just carry the same vowel sounds in each respective name (the a-names get one sound; the e-names get another).

Definitely regional, I guess, and what our mouths get used to doing :-)

Thanks again for the input; it's been an enjoyable read for me, even if I still don't quite get it!

By Laura (not verified)
August 13, 2008 4:43 PM

I'm a former English/ESL teacher, so this dicussion of "ar" variations is really interesting. FYI, as a previous poster mentioned, vowels after the letter "R" can be "controlled" by the "r" and thus make different sounds. They're then called "r-controlled" or "r-colored" vowels. Add to that the regional variations, and there can be all sorts of differences going on. I just had never thought about this in terms of names at all, even though my name has one!

By Miriam (not verified)
August 13, 2008 4:46 PM


There is nothing illogical about the fact that you pronounce Carrie and Kerry with the same vowel and Callie and Kelly with different vowels. When sounds are combined to form words, adjacent sounds influence each other. So in your dialect, a following 'r' colors the vowel differently than a following 'l'.

I grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, and my parents went to great lengths to be sure that I have a cultivated Mid-Atlantic pronunciation, not a Pennsylvania Dutch one. (They failed when it comes to intonation--in that regard I speak English as if it were German, rising at the end of a declarative sentence.) I do distinguish very clearly among Mary/merry/marry/Murray and cot/caught and weather/whether. I do not distinguish between horse and hoarse (that's a feature of New England). My mother-in-law OTOH, from a working-class neighborhood in SW Philly, always wished people a Murray Christmas....

I am a philologist, not a linguist, and certainly not a dialect geographer, but I am fairly good at placing people by their speech. For those here who are interested in dialects and sound changes and other aspects of the history of the English language, let me recommend Baugh and Cable's textbook and workbook (the workbook contains lots of relevant information in addition to exercises). It is readable and not overly technical.

BTW a candidate for name of the day--Royal Cola, a suspect in a home invasion/murder in Texas. I am dying to know if his siblings are named Pepsi and Coca.

By Rhanda (not verified)
August 13, 2008 7:23 PM

I'm Southern, and my pronunciations of Carrie and Kerry would sound very similar to "carry," but to my ear they are slightly different.

The CA is Carrie is more pronounced, while the full KER syllable is emphasized in the other.

And, like the previous posters, I sound like I'm saying Cawwy if I try to say Callie with the "a" from hat.

Laura is law-ra, (although some Lauras here are Loras, if you get my drift, Lora is lore-uh and Lara is lair-uh.

After a while, it does all get a bit like that Nunni, no, it's Nunni SNL sketch, though, doesn't it?

By Cathy (not verified)
August 13, 2008 10:18 PM

LOL about the SNL skit - indeed!

When I said illogical, I meant illogical in the sense that the entire English language is illogical. It's a wonder kids ever learn to speak & read English, really.

For instance, I had neighbors with the surname Knight (pronounced night - silent K), and an instructor in grad school with the surname Knarr (pronounced Kuh-nar).

Sure, there are general rules, and things that make sense at a basic level, but then there are exceptions to rules, and accents, and regional dialects, etc. It's quite interesting!

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
August 14, 2008 11:16 AM

Ditto on the interesting turn this discussion has taken! I have been trying to teach my child (who has a reading disability) to also learn how to spell. All of this is very difficult for him especially the R controlled vowels which to us all sound the same Except AR. The AR has the pirate sound of Arrrr. The ER, IR, OR, and UR sound way too similar think Fern, Fir, For, Fur. OK maybe the OR is distinguishable too!

The names Callie v Kelly are very different to me but Carrie and Kerry is the same. Think of it by breaking down each letter sound C-A-RR-IE v. K-E-RR-Y
So C=K;A=E;RR=RR;IE=Y only in this way do the letters sound different. A=ahh as in hat but E=Ehh as in get and thats how Callie/Kelly sound when I say them but the R makes Carrie/Kerry vowel sound like Air. Does that help anyone who is still confused and still reading??

By Nicole (not verified)
August 20, 2008 4:24 PM

I agree with others on this board that Calvin is an up and coming name. I love it and am considering it. It's a strong classic name that happens to fit in with the "n" ending trend. I've been hearing it more lately in the NYC area. It reminds me of the name Gavin (which is steadily climbing the charts).

By Enid (not verified)
August 20, 2008 4:45 PM

This morning I was listening to the radio and heard the first name "Strobe." It made me think of "Stroben." I could see that catching on.

By Guest (not verified)
August 21, 2008 10:37 PM

so the name Graydon is at the top of our list...i came across the name from looking up more about the name Grady and like Graydon more....i liked it cause it wasn't so popular...i hope it doesn't become the next aiden!

By Guest (not verified)
August 22, 2008 4:59 PM

I have a couple of friends that named their baby Atticus. Shortly after he was born, some of his uncles started calling him Gus. I think that's a really cute nickname!

By Guest (not verified)
August 22, 2008 5:41 PM

SDH: I also would say that in the Boston area, any Hazel born in recent years is probably due to the NESN (Red Sox) reporter Hazel Mae.

By Les & Lisa (not verified)
August 28, 2008 11:15 PM

Hey J&H,
My wife and I have actually decided to use the name Graden for our little boy due in January. We are not sure yet about how we will spell it...Graden or Grayden. My wife's great grandfather's name which was born in 1891 was named Gradon so we decided to name our first born son after him. Not really liking the "don" part at the end of his name we are opting to add the "e" to it instead and are debating about putting a "y" in so people don't mispronounce it as they sometimes will. I think it's funny reading some of these comments about people making up names because of a craze in names ending in "n". We took the advice we read on one webpage and went to our family trees to find our baby boys first and middle name. So, despite what some negative people on here are saying, there will be a baby boy born in January named Graden "or Grayden" Lee...a little southern gentleman named after his great grandfather, carrying on a long southern tradition of keeping the family name alive. Hope that anyone out there who is debating about using the name does not let any of the negative comments persuade them differently. Be an individual and give your baby a new name that everyone else doesn't have. Kind of tired of all the John,Matthew,Seth,Joshua, and Cody names that are circulating lately...this coming from a school teacher. Have fun naming your babies.

By Todd Chrisman (not verified)
September 14, 2008 4:58 PM

The suffix chen and el make the word diminutive in German. If you like Gretchen but fear it will become popular, try Gretel, or go with Gretta.

By Confused Guest (not verified)
September 19, 2008 4:12 PM

HI all,

I must have just spent an hour reading over all of your comments and I am blown away by all naming debates. I am six months pregnant with a little girl and my husband and I are completely drawing blanks on names we should be considering. I want to honor a family obligation and used the letter "C" after my grandmother, Claire, who recenlty passed away. Contenders that I love seem so common and I could really use any of your input since you all seem to be so on top of science of naming. Here's some of my potential names:


Does anyone have any input or suggestions? I would really LOVE some feedback. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.


By Lian (not verified)
September 21, 2008 8:04 PM

I'm from the UK and have to say I'm very happy that the Caden, Jaden thing isn't happening over here (yet?)! I just can't understand the appeal of those types of names at all.

Names like Gavin, Brian and Colin are considered quite dated and even geeky in the UK but judging by some of the posts here, don't have the same problem in the US. Apologies to the Gavins, Brians and Colins reading this!

I think Holden is pretty cool and I don't think it's a Caden, Jaden kinda name.

On another note, I'm 9 months pregnant and we're considering Felix for a boy and Perdita for a girl.

On the orange (ginger) tabby front - mine's called Horace.

By Wanderer (not verified)
September 22, 2008 3:02 PM

Hi Confused Guest-

I think many of the names you wrote down are nice, but trendy. Even if they aren't in the top 100, and even if the neighborhood isn't chock-a-block with little Caseys or Cayleys, they're going to fade into a general "sea of names."

It seems like you want a bright, happy girl's name beginning with C that wouldn't strike people as strange or fusty, but still be distinctive, am I right?

I'd suggest

Cyrah (which looks very trendy but is an old name!)

Additionally there are LOTS of variations and derivatives of Claire (which is lovely-- have you considered using it?), including


By Confused Guest (not verified)
October 3, 2008 3:08 PM

Hi Wanderer,

Thanks so much for your reply. I too love Claire but my husband won't quite meet me on that one. He prefers a name that is different but still 'cute' and can be taken seriously professionally (as do I). We do appreciate your suggestions as we continue on the name game.

Thanks again for your help!

Some of the other's that have made our list:

By Kaitlyn (not verified)
December 28, 2008 10:38 PM

Hey all...sorry I haven't posted in FOREVER! I have been sooo busy with my full house. My mother is with the kids tonight and I am blissfully catching up on the blog. My lovlies are name Gladys, Mildred, Prudence, and Cecil. They are wonderful. DH is still talking about more...I think I'm done.

Also, a wee surprised and delighted that I was a topic of conversation!

By Kristi (not verified)
March 3, 2009 1:03 PM

another "n" name...

I love the name Bryan. It is like Ryan & Brian combined, which were my 2 favorite names. It is spelled with the "n" ending & has a lot of nicknames that we've heard: Bry, Bryce, Ry, B... all cute. We know about 3 baby boys named Bryan & it suits them well.
I also like Dylan, but since Desperate Housewives had "dylan" as the girl, I have seen a lot of baby girls as well as boys with that name.

By Complete Portal (not verified)
July 18, 2009 2:48 PM
April 21, 2011 4:53 PM

I do like this name... especially in the context you mention. However, one extra FYI... It IS the last name of the infamous vampire clan on the hugely popular Twilight Movie Series. Could get very big. You never know ;]

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