Be a baby name detective!

Dec 3rd 2009

I have a file where I jot down little name questions, curiosities and mysteries for future investigation. Some of those questions eventually grow into full-fledged columns. Others just languish on the list, sadly neglected.

Here are two of the orphans. Care to play name detective and help me solve them?

Ansley in Georgia. Ansley is an uncommon girl's name, currently ranking #719 in America. It wouldn't make the national charts at all, though, if it weren't for Georgia, where Ansley has been a top-hundred name every year since 1994. Why? Yes, there is an Ansley, GA with a golf course, but there are plenty of attractively named towns and golf courses in Georgia that don't get the baby name treatment.

The Stephanie Rebound. In some ways, baby names seem to obey the same laws as the physical world. For instance, one of the hardest things in the name world is to reverse momentum. Once a popular name starts to decline, the sense that it's getting stale grows and it keeps on falling. In the rare case that you spot a name reversing its decline, you can draw the same conclusion you could with a ball that turns around and rolls uphill: it was acted upon by an outside force.

Stephanie was such a name in the 1970s, declining for three years than surging back bigger than ever. The question is, what was the outside force?

babies named stephanie




By Ellen (not verified)
December 3, 2009 1:34 PM

A child character named Stephanie Mills was added to "All in the Family" in 1978.

Coincidentally, Stephanie Mills, an R&B and soul singer hit the bigtime in disco music in 1979.

December 3, 2009 2:32 PM

There is also a teeny town in Nebraska named Ansley and one in England as well. The Nebraska one only had 520 ppl in 2000 though according to Wikipedia.

Also, maybe its a variation on Ainsley or Ashley. Maybe Stephanie had an upswing because of Steffi Graf?

By Anne Johnson (not verified)
December 3, 2009 2:54 PM

Well, as you mentioned, there is an Ansley golf course in Atlanta. It is in Ansley Park, a very upscale part of midtown Atlanta with million dollar + homes, etc. I think that might actually be the reason. That being said, I do not know any Ansleys and I live in Atlanta.

Stephanie - My guess is it possibly stemmed from some tv or movie: There was a Dallas character named Stephanie. (78 or so?) Everyone watched Dallas.
And the actress Stephanie Powers on the tv show Hart to Hart. That's what came to mind for me. It ran from '79 to '84.

By Jennifer P. (not verified)
December 3, 2009 3:02 PM

I live in the Atlanta area and have also wondered about the name Ansley. I've never met one, but it strikes me as a very Junior-League-y kind of name, and I think that's part of the answer. Ansley Park is a well-known historic neighborhood of Atlanta, so that puts the name on people's radars when they're looking for a name that is/has:
* a surname (it's popular here to use the mother's maiden name as the child's given name, but what to do when that name doesn't sound WASPy/upscale enough?)
* starts with A (seems like all girls' names do here nowadays)
* ends in Y
* isn't as overdone and dated as Ashley

December 3, 2009 3:04 PM

Wow I'm becoming a lurker, I didn't comment at all last post! Can't let that happen:)

Like zoerhenne I also thought of Ainsley/Ashley for Ansley. Laura, this could be one of those times where your point that it's the sound of a name that makes it take off (as opposed to what celebrity picked it). Ashley still does quite well and I think we're seeing lots of creative spellings to make it seem more original. Ainsley has been bopping around the 400s since 2001 or so and I think it has a good contemporary sound but also feels like it has some weight. So maybe by relation Ansley just sounds right?

Stephanie, I have no idea! But it does make me want to share an anecdote... I told my parents in 1988 before my sister was born that the new baby would be a girl and that her name would be Stephanie. I lucked out and got a sister but when my dad called to tell me her name he was afraid I was going to throw a 4-year-old tantrum because they'd gone with the name Julia. In the end, I was so happy not to have a brother I didn't complain about the name change:). I've always wondered what I loved about Stephanie so much as a 4 year old...:)

December 3, 2009 3:29 PM

Maybe what was aberrational about Stephanie was the decline, rather than the rebound?

Was there a tv character or movie character named Stephanie in 1973 or 1974 that people would've hated?

Sorry, before my time. :)

December 3, 2009 3:39 PM

Jenny L3igh- LOL that story is funny and reminds me of when we were naming our dd. She was very nearly a Samantha and when we told our ds of her "actual" name he was a bit confused. We just said someone had already picked it. At 4yo he bought it and 5 years later probably doesn't even remember it. I however, still wonder about the other many possibilites we had especially Kimberley. (We ended up with a N@talie for those of you wondering).

By Birgitte (not verified)
December 3, 2009 4:08 PM

It could be Princess Stephanie of Monaco who was involved in the car accident where her mom, Grace Kelly died.

October 1982, according to Wikipedia.

December 3, 2009 4:09 PM

I'd guess that Stephanie lumped pretty well with the three-syllable name, first syllable accent trend of the 80s. (Jennifer, Jessica, Kimberly, Stephanie: fits right in!) And it doesn't look like its popularity dipped enough in the 70s to make it too unfashionable to use in the 80s. That dip doesn't even register on the Name Voyager chart.

By Kristen R. (not verified)
December 3, 2009 4:10 PM

I love Anne with an E's theory about the decline of Stephanie being the weird part. Look at what a straight shot the incline would have been without that little dip.

December 3, 2009 4:18 PM

I'm with those who wonder if the Stephanie phenom is really a phenom. The dip looks small relative to the overall variability in the graph you posted. I bet a statistical analysis of these data would show that that drop wasn't anything more than a normal fluctuation.

By Stacy Leigh (not verified)
December 3, 2009 4:30 PM

I have a college-aged friend named Ansley (pronounced Ainsley) from Georgia's neighboring state of Alabama. She says that Ansley is her grandmother's maiden name.

Perhaps Ansley is a more common last name in Georgia than in other states (like Kowalski and other Polish names are in Illinois, names ending in -eaux are in Louisiana, and certain German and Scandinavian names are in Minnesota and North Dakota).

Or perhaps there's an influential figure in Georgia politics or the local music scene with the last name Ansley?

December 3, 2009 4:36 PM

zoerhenne- interesting question you posed there (last thread). Isabel is already going to have to spell her first name, what with alternative spellings (Isabelle, Isabella, Isobel, etc). I think people will ask for spelling, or misspell regardless. My maiden name was extremely simple (Noble) and yet I had people misspell it all the time as Nobel. I think even typically spelled names have alternates- Micheal for Michael, Kimberley/Kimberleigh, for Kimberly. If those can be spelled differently, then why not something else- as long as it's not "made up". All that being said, I do think Eliot is too simply spelled and needs at least one extra l or t. Elliot, Eliott. I think Elliot looks better.

By AnotherAidan (not verified)
December 3, 2009 4:53 PM

Thanks for the suggestions regarding Lydia on the last post. I had also thought that I needed something like Marie since we have a one syllable last name....but I'm not crazy about Marie. I had also thought about Lydia Noelle but while discussing this with someone they said it sounded like Lydia (with) No 'L'. I'm leaning towards Elise because my mother is Lisa but I worry about ending the first name and beginning the middle with an 'a' sound.

Lydia Belle King
Lydia Claire King
Lydia Giselle King
Lydia Camille King
Lydia Elise King
Lydia Jane King

December 3, 2009 4:58 PM

It appears that Ansley as a surname is indeed more common in Georgia than elsewhere:

Ansley in the USA, 1990

(It's a fun tool, BTW)

I wouldn't worry about Mateo seeming "too ethnic" at all. In fact, I and my brother use our Spanish middle names in conjunction with our English last name professionally without any issues. It only serves to make the name more interesting and memorable, that's all.

By hyz
December 3, 2009 5:12 PM

Linnaeus, that IS a fun tool--thanks for posting it!!

December 3, 2009 5:15 PM

Cabybake(kim)-Not that I am the naming police or anything, but was just wondering what your thoughts were. Yes most names these days do have to be spelled out regardless of how easy they may seem upfront. I love the name Elliott as an underused and imo very simple yet studious masculine name. I put it in with the ranks of Simon. I think the Elliot version is okay, still prefer the Elliott spelling though. Eliott looks odd to me. What about Douglas, Richard, or Kyle?

AnotherAidan-I don't hear that combo with Lydia Noelle but understand your concern. Of the updated combos you posted above I prefer Lydia Giselle or Lydia Claire.

By adrienne from Baby Toolkit (not verified)
December 3, 2009 6:04 PM

1982- Preppy character Stephanie Vanderkellen appears on sitcom Newhart (and stays for 7 seasons)

1982- 87 Stephanie Zimbalist played on hit series Remington Steele (her tv career appears to have taken flight in 1979 with the Centennial mini-series)

1987- 95 Full House television show with cute daughter Stephanie Tanner might explain the 1988-

By adrienne from Baby Toolkit (not verified)
December 3, 2009 6:16 PM

Ansley- two random thoughts

1. Edith Warton's "Roman Fever"

2. Ansley Park neighborhood is upscale, and it was cutting edge in its vision (one of the first cities designed for automobiles). This carries a strong allusion (regionally) among the "Keeping up with the Joneses" crowd (a phrase coined by Warton, coincidentally) and after the first wave of Ansleys becomes a great "family name"

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
December 3, 2009 7:11 PM

I'm becoming a bit of a lurker too, but I'm still here! Unfortunately, I don't have anything constructive to add to this conversation either.

My first instinct was to mention Stephie from Full House too but I think that's just because I remember the show fondly from my childhood. But it's too late to be our cause. But when the upswing happened in the late 70s I wasn't even alive yet so I'm thinking I won't be a lot of help.

December 3, 2009 7:51 PM

I also agree that the Stephanie dip might be the weird part, not the upswing. I agree with jayel40 that it goes with Jennifer, Kimberly, etc.

Ansley: No clue. That does seem odd. I think it sounds sort of odd pronunciation-wise (unless I'm pronouncing it wrong. Ann-zlee... kind of)

@ AnotherAidan: Of your new list, I like all of the names!
Lydia Claire
Lydia Camille
Lydia Jane
Lydia Elise
Lydia Giselle
Lydia Belle

I like them in that order. I agree that Lydia Belle might sound like one name.

@ cabybake/Kim: I like the Elliott spelling best, then Elliot. I think one 'l' is off. I really like that name though! I agree that Elinor/Eleanor/Elenore (this spelling drives me nuts, I think it was just The Turtles not knowing how to spell the name, but in my head it's a semi-legitimate spelling)

@ daisy_kay: I think you should go with Louisa Bess! It won't cause that much trouble as a mn and I think the meaning is more important.

I also have some newborns from my synagogue to announce.

The0d0re (brother to S@m)
S@ge Ell@
Gr@cie (sister to Al3x@nder)

S@ge Ell@ surprises me a bit, although both popular names, they seem to be different styles.

I have a friend at school who has a friend named Socrates! I think that's so cool!

December 3, 2009 8:04 PM

Forgot: New York City's top baby names of '08 are out! Sophia and Jayden win, beating Isabella and Daniel! (Funny, I know an Isabella with a little sister Sophia, ages 14 and 11, so it's funny that Sophia is what takes out Isabella.)


By Jennifer Nicholas (not verified)
December 3, 2009 8:19 PM

Looks like there was a 1975 TV series entitled "That's My Mama: Stephanie's Boyfriend."

By Jennifer Nicholas (not verified)
December 3, 2009 8:22 PM

Looks like there's an Ansley Road and an Ansley Park in Georgia. So perhaps it's a trendy "location name" in that state.

By Stephanie P (not verified)
December 3, 2009 9:45 PM

Well, I'm from the dip of '79, and my parents named me after a character on a TV show. They were planning to change the spelling to Stefanie, but my mom decided to keep it the traditional spelling. Looking at the data, could it be that people were choosing alternate spellings late '70 early '80 for Stephanie?

And, I live in Georgia, and my son is 2. In his class at school, there are two Ansleys (spelled differently).

December 3, 2009 11:48 PM

So is Ansley a boy or girl name (I have no idea as I had never heard of it before)? I assumed girl though?

@ anotheraiden - with the surname 'King' I like Lydia Giselle best, then Lydia Elise. I like the 2 syallable names better for flow, but do quite like Lydia Claire too!

@kim (cabybake), all this talk of Elliott is funny as I know 2 different Kim Elliott's!! FWIW, I love Elliott as a name and think it goes nicely with Isabel.

keep meaning to post some new babies born to friends in the last couple of weeks (siblings in brackets):
El@n@ K@te (Benjamin)
Tess M@rie (My@, Alex@nder, P@trick)

By Philippa The First (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:04 AM

I wager that people's guessing about the surname/place name Ansley appearing more in Georgia makes it show up more as a first name. But is it a boy or a girl? (I always picture Ainsley Harriot with the name "Ainsley" so, I'm thinking boy.)

In my neighborhood we had a boy L@and0n born this week, a brother to L0G@n. Very matching!

By Saya (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:05 AM

I see Stephanie on Full House as more being a result of the popularity of the name than contributing to it really (I mean thats really when it leveled off really) - BUT what I think is interesting is that Stephanie DOES really seem like an 80s name to me, and thats part of what I love when I watch occasional reruns...

(But then most Stephanies I've known are either right around my age (born 1982) or older (by up to a decade) or younger (by just a couple of years) so I would have anticipated the downward slope occuring earlier than it is - maybe it did in the places I've lived...)

By Petertemplar1 (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:19 AM

Ansley Park is an upmarket neighborhood in Atlanta.

Plenty of girls named Ansley in Atlanta these days.

December 4, 2009 12:23 AM

Everyone is posting newborns so here are the local births for the last few days.
Axten (b)
Kamryn (not sure of gender)

By Eo (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:36 AM

By A Rose-- The NYC list is fun, thanks. I was mildly surprised that both Mia and David were in the top ten. David is such a perennially (sp?) nice name-- I thought new parents would see it as slightly faded, but am glad that New Yorkers are still showing interest in it...

The full "David" is my preference, not Dave. If one must nickname, I like something unexpected like "Dai" or "Duddy" or "Diz"!

Legal correspondent Megyn Kelly returned from maternity leave to Fox News today, and showed pictures of her adorable baby:

Edward Yeats Brunt

She was calling him by his second name, "Yeats"...

By Eo (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:39 AM

Or maybe she's NOT going for the poetic allusion, and it's spelled "Yates"?

By busydiva (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:51 AM

I have an Ansley, and I live in Seattle! I had never heard of it before, but I liked the meaning and it's listed as being of English origin (which is part of my melting pot heritage).

New baby names recently used in my friend group in Seattle:

Chesterton (goes by Chester)

Elias (goes by Eli)


Olivia Nicole


Liesl Emmery








By Rjoy (not verified)
December 4, 2009 12:57 AM

busydiva- wow! Seattle does have quite a divers selection there. I think we have talked about it here in the past. I'd like to take note of Liesl, Gilead and Elias. Very neat. :)

By AndiK (not verified)
December 4, 2009 1:48 AM


I like the spelling doesn't look incomplete or unfinished to me. But I also like the Elinor spelling best too. :)

By Anonymous (not verified)
December 4, 2009 7:51 AM

Is the decline definitely statistically significant? Even with large data sets, it's possible to get a lot of noise.

By knp (not verified)
December 4, 2009 9:56 AM

I agree that finding out if the decline in Stephanie is statistically significant. But, Laura looks at these things a lot, so if she said it is an anomaly, I trust her.
I'd be curious in how the name's popularity changed curing that time by LOCATION. Was it popular in one area and then took time to catch on in others, and then took off? Just brainstorming here.

By Beth the original (not verified)
December 4, 2009 10:32 AM

AnotherAidan, I like Lydia Giselle, much to my surprise! I think it's because I prefer the 2-syllable middle name with your last name, and because the "L" sound in Giselle mirrors the liquid "L" sound in Lydia, but at the end and not the beginning, and because both have the short "i" sound in the middle. Whereas the hard "d" in Lydia and the soft "g" in Giselle provide contrast, as does the shift from 3 syllables in Lydia to 2 in Giselle to 1 in the last name. So the two names have tiny little "reflectors" without being awkwardly different or matchy-matchily alike. That must be what makes names flow for me...

By PunkPrincessPhd (NLI) (not verified)
December 4, 2009 10:46 AM

@Phillipa the First:

Weird: here in St. John's (Newfoundland) there was an announcement for Land0n Jam3s David, brother to L0gan! Seems like a popular combo. (unless you happen to be in Newfoundland too?)

Also a He1d1 Stefanie (apropos this post), sister for Hannah, and an Emma, sister for Ethan - where were these for our matchy sibset discussion?

On the other end of the spectrum, we have sisters Nev@eh, St@cy, and Sara. Hmm.

And a few unusuals:
Marrin (g)
Dryden (b)
Avarie (g) - I'm assuming this is "Avery"?
And the lovely Welsh-inspired Gwyn Ann1e Tallulah, sister for Rhys

Finally, I have to mention this one simply for the fabulous hyphenated surname: J@ck R1chard R0bert F@hey-Tr@hey. Yes, it rhymes.

As to the Stephanie debate, I have little to add to the insightful "detectiving" already mentioned, except that, with the maiden name Graff, I spent years of my life correcting people who - seemingly unintentionally - called me Steffi. Uh, a) that's 2 "f's", and b) it's "Rebecca".

December 4, 2009 11:57 AM

@PPPhd--ha, well as a Jessica I get a mix of Jennifer and Rebecca, if that makes you feel better! :)

@cabybake--I also agree that Eliot looks a little off, I much prefer Elliott. I think with the -iot ending it looks kinda french, and makes me want to pronounce it Elle-ee-oh, or something silly like that!

By L la M (not verified)
December 4, 2009 1:02 PM

I bet Ansley's similarity to Ann(e) is helping it on its way too. We've established that it's a prominent place and family name in Georgia, but maybe what's also giving it a boost on top of that is that it can be nicknamed to Annie or used to honour a grandma Ann. I seem to remember on another naming site, somebody was asking for advice on "Annesley", which could imply that people are thinking of it as a sort of "Ann(e) + Lee/Ley/Leigh" compound.

December 4, 2009 1:05 PM

PPP- I like Gwyn Ann1e Tallulah, but traditionally Gwyn is a boy's name. If I saw Rhys and Gwyn, I would assume two boys. I wonder if that's going to be confusing.

December 4, 2009 3:20 PM

Busydiva, I'm curious about Ryle. Is that a boy or a girl? Is it pronounced "rile" or "riley"? I assume the latter, but read "rile" when I first saw it.

By Philippa The First (not verified)
December 4, 2009 3:26 PM

PPPHD: Ha ha- no, not in Newfoundland! I suspect L@ndon and L0gan seem natural in a way that other parents are drawn to Jacob and Joshua. Personally I have not been a fan of matchy names since my childhood friends, sisters called T@nia and T@ra (with my Aussie accent that's TAN-ya and TAH-ra: not TAHN-ya and TEAR-a) and twins at my primary school called Gina and Tina! Really! Although of course, I still manage to love the people holding the names... :)

By Guest (not verified)
December 4, 2009 3:43 PM

I just did a quick search of the SSA death index and it looks like Georgia might be where most people with the Ansley surname settled. So, there might be more people in Georgia than in the rest of the US who can claim an ancester with that surname and who can use it as a child's name without looking foolish. Add to that the effect of people who don't have an Ansley in the family tree, but who see little Ansleys about, and use Ansley as an aspirational name.

Ansley isn't much of a stretch from the overused Ashley, so it makes sense that people might drift that way. Georgia might have more catalysts than other areas. (Places called Ansley, plus Ansleys in family trees)

By mommaC (not verified)
December 4, 2009 3:45 PM

I am a part of a morning mom's group... here are the names of the kids that attend (they are 0-4 years old)

Boys:Luke, Noah, Wyatt, Eric, Marshall, Evan, Caleb, Dakota, Matthew, Tyson, Aidan, Russell, Nolan,Camden, Wyatt, Calvin, Brandon,Grayer Ethan, Kaelan, Hayden

Girls: Aurora, Zara, Daphne, Jonie, Chelsea,Kara,Neviah, Claire, Brooklyn, Jacqueline,Mateya,Amelia,Emily, Anna,Ellowin, Payton, Elora, Jayla

By Lillie (not verified)
December 4, 2009 4:18 PM

Maybe Ansley's edge in Georgia is due to the long southern tradition of surnames-from-the-British-Isles-as-first-names, in addition to the geographic boost from the town that Laura mentioned.

That of course combined with its sound as a twist on Ashley, and the fact that anyone with an Ann(e) or Anna in the family history could say that the baby was "named after" that relative!

I really would not discount the influence of the town, though. I lived in Alaska for a while and lots of babies had geographic names that I never heard or hear back home on the east coast. (Sarah Palin gave prominence to this trend!) I can't help but assume that happens in other states as well, probably mostly in those with strong senses of regional identity like Alaska has, and locales whose names happen to coincide with trendy baby name sounds.

By Philippa The First (not verified)
December 4, 2009 4:45 PM

Isn't "mother's maiden name as baby boy's first name" a really Southern tradition? If there are just more Ansley last names, that'd be it. It's a tradition I actually like. Makes me think of Quinn Bradlee (son of Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, the journalists).

December 4, 2009 5:01 PM

I had thought that Tiger Woods' wife's name (Elin) was an alt spelling of Ellen, but in recent reports, I've heard it pronounced Ee-lin.

On Colbert Report, the host reported a staff baby: Sean Hennessey James Julien, if I remember correctly.

By Anna S (not verified)
December 4, 2009 5:01 PM

Stephanie: The figure shows actual numbers, right? I'm wondering how it compares to the total numbers of births.

Did the US birth rate drop after the 1973 oil crisis?

P.S.: I'm the usual Swedish Anna, but someone has taken my name!