The View from Abroad: A Look Back at the Future

Feb 25th 2010

Not long ago, I wrote about hot names in Europe that might be up-and-coming in the United States.

Hold on a second...maybe it was long ago. Could it have been five years ago?

Yep, it's been five years since the first Baby Name Wizard book came out, and I've been writing this column ever since. Back in 2005, I wouldn't have believed I'd be able to come up with that much material on baby names. Now I know better -- that names are a limitless topic, reaching into every corner of our culture, our history and our world. And they're ever-changing, so it's time to take a fresh look at some of those old trends and predictions.

In the original "View from Abroad" post, I wrote:

Europe tends to be a few years ahead in the name curve...for a new angle on up-and-coming names, I've made a roundup of half a dozen international-styled countries: Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. My targets were names that rank in top 20 in at least two different countries, but haven't cracked the American top 100 in the past decade.

GIRLS
Amelia
Charlotte
Clara

BOYS
Hugo
Louis
Oliver
Philip
Simon


Five years later, the girls' predictions have proved to be spot-on. Here's the 5-year U.S. usage trend for Amelia, Charlotte and Clara:



All three girls' names have risen by at least a third, and Amelia and Charlotte now rank among America's top 100. But the boys are a different story:


To get the real picture, try to look past the Oliver explosion. Four of the five names are flat or declining (and even Oliver hasn't cracked the top 100).

Why did the boys' and girls' predictions perform so differently? Thoughts on this tomorrow.

Comments

1
February 25, 2010 12:39 PM

(this is from the last thread)

Re: Dominic, I also don't really associate it with a particular culture or ethnicity. I've met one before, he's a sibling of my son's classmate Stella. It seems kind of trendy but classic.

Here's a little name challenge for the NEs out there. I went to my good friend's baby shower today and she is not sharing her baby's name until he is born. This is her first child, a boy, and the family does not really associate with a particular religion/culture/country. Their last name is Jewish but they are not religious. She hadn't given out any info on the name until today at her shower, when someone gave her a stuffed giraffe and she said "that's so funny, the baby's name starts with the same sound that giraffe begins with". They are a very artsy family so I feel like the name will be eclectic. I thought it might be Gerard, but I'm not so sure. Anyone else want to guess?

2
February 25, 2010 12:42 PM

Hugo, Louis, and Philip don't have the trendy 'n' endings. Simon does, and it has a flat line. Oliver ends in 'r', which also seems to be a trendy ending sound for boys' names (Alexander, Hunter, Connor, Cooper, Carter, etc.). So my guess is that the popularity of American boys' names is closely linked to the ending sound.

For girls, it seems that vowels reign. My son goes to preschool with a girl named Anea, the perfect vowel-laden name for a hipster family.

4
By Lindsay S. (not verified)
February 25, 2010 1:00 PM

I don't think Philip has been out of favor long enough to be trendy again. It's popularity peak was in the 1940s and 1950s, so there are a lot of middle aged Phils around right now (my father included). Trendy names seem to have been popular last more in the 1920s or so (look at Oliver's NameVoyager compared to Philip's).

5
February 25, 2010 1:01 PM

I'll second Elizabeth T's theory about the endings of the boy names being significant. Also Amelia and Charlotte seem like natural followers of previous super-popular names like Emily and Samantha, whereas Hugo and Louis don't remind me much of Jacob or Aidan.

6
February 25, 2010 1:08 PM

I agree with the ending sound as well and therefore bet that Hugo might come around here eventually. Also Philip has the Phil Donahue problem.

7
By Amy3
February 25, 2010 2:54 PM

Congrats on five years, Laura!

I agree that the ending for the boys' names makes a big difference. I think, though, that /o/ and /s/ endings for boys' names are going to trend upward so I'd expect Louis and Hugo to get a possible boost in the *next* five years.

As for the girls' names, they combine the vowel-heavy trend (Amelia and Clara) and the old-fashioned trend (all three of them) that typify so many popular girls' names in the US today.

I agree with Lindsay S., Philip hasn't been out of circulation long enough to seem fresh to American ears. I'm in my 40s and know plenty of Phils/Philips who are my age or older.

8
By Amy3
February 25, 2010 1:15 PM

@Becky, what about George, Geoffrey, Giacomo, Giuseppe (and any number of other Italian /Gi/ names), or Giles?

9
February 25, 2010 1:45 PM

Becky --

Love the name game! I like your assessment of Gerard. If your friend follows the Ashkenazi (cultural) tradition of naming for a recently dearly departed family member, perhaps baby boy will be named for a Grandpa Jerome. Gerard would pay homage but with a modern twist.

Keep us posted!

10
February 25, 2010 2:27 PM

Becky-I thought of J names since she said "sounds like" not spelt like. I immediately thought of Jeffrey (being a Toys-R-Us kid of course) and then thought maybe Jason or James. However, she probably means more than just the first letter so the others most likely have better guesses. As long as it's not Jerk! LOL!

Laura-Congrats on 5 years and another great topic. I agree that the boys names rely on sound and the girls are vowel-laden. Expanding on Anne with an E's comment above, do we think the actual names matter? She stated that Amelia was a perfect follower to Samantha. I agree and wonder about the sibsets. If you've got a little Emily or Olivia at home, does that match so well with Phillip/Oliver and Hugo or would Edward/Jacob or Simon match better? Conversely, if you have an Aidan, Michael, or Dylan don't Charlotte, Amelia, and Clara go pretty well?

11
February 25, 2010 2:41 PM

Wow, Laura, 5 years, that's great! I don't know about the other names, but I feel like Hugo is prime for a move up the list, sounds like Milo? I actually would consider it if the likely last name didn't start with an 'o'. I think Simon has the right ending but maybe not enough vowels to have moved up the list? Philip is very vowel heavy and I don't know it just doesn't appeal to me, neither does Louis but that's not quite as vowel heavy so maybe that could change? Hugo, Philip and Louis are all French right?

From last post:
Bue- Definitely agree, Tessa Virtue is just a great name and she's just so adorable and lovely!

Anne with an E- There's a wikipedia post about naming the Civil War which (while maybe not totally accurate, never can tell) is interesting!

12
By sjohn (not verified)
February 25, 2010 2:56 PM

Isn't five years ago about when American Idol became big, too? Americans associate Simon so much with Simon Cowell, I can't imagine it becoming very popular in the near future!

13
February 25, 2010 2:59 PM

hmm. for what it's worth, i don't know who simon cowell is. but, i don't watch american idol either, so that is probably why. love the name simon though.

14
By AmberSim (not verified)
February 25, 2010 3:56 PM

I think the problem with Hugo and Louis is the U.
I think Laura has written about the dreaded U before. I don't see American's distaste for names with that letter going away any time soon.

Oliver- I'm not surprised this was the most successful of the set. To me, it has a distinctly British feel, and I'd be willing to bet the parents that wound up choosing this were not adventerous enough to pick Nigel, but felt Liam and Aiden were overdone.

Simon- I love this name, but I think the American Idol effect has been a detriment. If you look at the graph, it was on a pretty steep upswing until it peaked in 2003. American Idol debuted in June 2002.

Philip- I think it's not old enough to be due for a revival- it was in the top 150 as recently as 1993. Seems like it's been falling out of favor since in mid 80's (Maybe backlash from Phillip Morris association?).

15
February 25, 2010 4:11 PM

I'm hoping that the "u" in Jude will prevent it from becoming one of the top boys names in 2019 like Laura predicted.

16
By Amy3
February 25, 2010 4:41 PM

Ah, the U, I wasn't thinking about that, which is funny because my husband really hates the U sound so you'd like I would have caught it.

17
February 25, 2010 10:32 PM

I agree with what a lot of people said about Philip, but I could see it being used today. I'd totally forgotten about Simon Cowell (I don't watch American Idol, but I can't avoid these things because most of my friends watch it) but I guess that could be a reason why it didn't rise.

From the last thread:
@ RobynT (and others): I live in NYC and we totally distinguish between ethnicities within 'white'. I'll give some examples. Aside from Dominic, Nicole, Nicholas, Angela, and Anthony are all name I would only expect on Italian Americans. Connor and Aidan (like zoerhenne said) would be expected to be Irish Americans. David, Rachel, Rebecca, and Jacob are names I expect on Jews. Not that this is hard-and-fast, but these are just what I think when I hear certain names. I think it's kind of cool that in some parts of the country these stereotypes don't exist and I wish they didn't here.

Also, here are some interesting names of people some friends of mine know:
M@rk M@rkov
G@ry G@rry (not sure of spellings)
Br@in (I don't know ln, but he was asked if this was supposed to be Brian, no, it's Br@in)
Ann@ L3e Th3od0r@ and a really long hyphenated Italian ln (seven total syllables, making the full name fourteen)

18
By Melly C (not verified)
February 25, 2010 5:31 PM

I think Philip, Louis, Hugo haven't rose because of there nicknames... Phil, Louie & Hugh sound like middle aged baldy men to my ears.

Simon.. too strongly connected to Simon Cowell.. or possibly the chipmunks.

Oliver.. I think its the liver part...

19
February 25, 2010 5:40 PM

Simon may also not have risen b/c of a lack of good nicknames - seems like nicknames are pretty important. Also a few weeks back when I suggested the name Simon to my dh he responded with "Simon says..." and "simple Simon." Not a great reaction. He's not aware of Simon from American Idol and don't tell him b/c it will be yet another strike against the name =)

20
February 25, 2010 6:26 PM

another Laura-I won't tell. I actually like Simon despite the associations. It's in the Oliver category but as said in a previous post Oliver has weird connotations for me so I would pick Simon from the two of them.

A Rose-Those are some interesting names. I didn't mean to imply that all Dominics (or whatever) would be Italian (or associated ethnicity) just that I wouldn't be surprised to found out they were as opposed to NOT. *Hope that was somewhat clear*

MellyC-I agree with the nn's being middle aged men.
What do you all think of Mitchell? First impressions/associations? What group would it be in?

21
February 25, 2010 6:45 PM

I'm with zoerhenne in that I'd prefer Simon to Oliver. Actually Simon is my favorite of the 5 names with Philip a fairly decent second choice. Followed by Louis, then Oliver, and finally Hugo (probably last because of my association with Hugo in Lost who is huge). So how would the rest of you rank order the five boys names?

I like Mitchell a lot. If might even be a contender if it wasn't so closely related to Michael which given my last name is a terrible option.

22
February 25, 2010 6:45 PM

Becky - I know a Dominic and Stella sibset, too. I guess they both appeal to the same type of people.

Laura, I guess boys names in general don't come and go out of fashion so quickly.

23
February 25, 2010 6:52 PM

A Rose: Well, we have other ethnic stereotypes, just not those. And here, whites as a group are seen through a singular stereotype. No better, no worse, just different.

24
February 25, 2010 7:07 PM

another laura,
ranking the boys' names:

oliver
simon
hugo
philip
louis

oliver and simon are actually in my top three or four boys' names.

25
By Amy3
February 25, 2010 7:26 PM

Ranking the boys' names:

Hugo
Philip
Oliver
Simon
Louis

26
By saree (not verified)
February 25, 2010 8:06 PM

Oliver
Hugo
Simon
Philip
Louis

27
February 25, 2010 8:34 PM

In the UK we pronounce Louis the French way (Lou-ee) so I would say it is definitely vowel-heavy! Funny...

By the way, a propos of this, why in the musical do they sing "Meet me in Saint Lou-ee, Lou-ee" if the city is known as Saint Louis (Lewis)? That's always puzzled me.

28
By namedaftermygrandmother (not verified)
February 25, 2010 9:11 PM

I think girls' names are more easily international than boys'names; this could be a factor. Perhaps parents are looking for a name with cosmopolitan vibe? Who knows.

When I was in seventh grade (1990) I made a taxonomy of names (biblical, floral, Shakespearean, etc) and thought that if I had twin girls, I would name them Clara and Sophia, for light and knowledge. Well, we all know where sophia is--totally unpopular then and skyrocketing now! Clara, I thought, might be safe (my husband still thinks it is an old-lady name) but lo,it's on the rise. I sure wish I could find that taxonomy now! (All I remember was Lily and Miranda.)

I like all those names except Louis. I love Philip, but dislike Phil.

29
February 25, 2010 9:21 PM

valerie,
i don't know for sure, but i always assumed that that "saint lou-ee" was sort of a nickname for the city in the way that we call philadelphia "philly," though admittedly it isn't actually shorter.

30
By Amy3
February 25, 2010 10:14 PM

@Valerie, I'd be willing to bet they used Lou-ee rather than Lou-iss in the song just because it sounds better. It doesn't have quite the same cache when you sing, "Meet me in St Lou-iss, Lou-iss ... " :)

31
February 25, 2010 10:26 PM

@ zoerhenne: Totally clear, sorry if I caused any miscommunication.

Ranking the boys' names:
Oliver
Hugo
Simon
Philip
Louis

@ Valerie: I agree with what emilyrae said about St. Louis, also, for the song, it's possible that the 'lou-ee' pronunciation rhymed/worked better, I don't know the song so I'm not sure. I think that, while it's like 'Philly' for Philadelphia, it also has to do with the fact that someone named Louis might have the nn Louie.

32
February 25, 2010 10:28 PM

I know a 2 year old American Simon, but haven't seen any of the other boy names in use.

I love Oliver and our 2 year old son was almost Oliver. It does have the British feel to me - I knew it was in the top 5 there - but in a more classic / positive way than Nigel does. Nigel is more of a balding middle aged British man. :P (I like Liam too though.)

My husband didn't like Oliver because of the 'fat O' (and a childhood association) so I doubt he'd go for huge Hugo. ;)

33
February 25, 2010 10:55 PM

another Laura-Fun idea. I would rank them much the same way as you have. I really like Oliver it's just that I wouldn't use it IRL. So barring DH veto it would be..
Simon
Phillip
Oliver
Louis
Hugo

Valerie-I agree that the song was probably sung that way because of the sound. However, I think it is regional accent too. I know people who say St. Lew-iss and others who say it like St. Lou-ee. It's a bit like I've heard New Orleans (either New Or-lins or New Or-Leens).

34
February 25, 2010 11:50 PM

Five years already?! Congratulations, Laura!

Regarding the difference in outcomes between the boys and the girls, it seems like there is quite a lot at play.

First, are Americans more conservative in naming their sons than their international counterparts? That alone could explain quite a bit, but comparing relative levels of conservatism would take a *bit* of work. Another factor could be the perception of such European-flavoured names- a positive attribute in naming girls in america, but could that quality take on a negative side when applied to american boys? My housemate's initial reaction to that list of boys' names is that they're all really "gay" (which she hastily adds that she doesn't mean that in a negative way).

Second, is there a language thing at work here? I noticed that your list of "predictor" countries didn't include spain, and since Spanish is the US's second language and experiencing such a huge growth, it would make sense that their perception in that language would have a more direct effect on their popularity in America. How do Hugo, Luis, Felipe and Simon work in the hispanic diaspora?

35
February 26, 2010 12:09 AM

Blythe: Ooh, I like your theory. So it's like Euro names for girls are exotic, but for boys are effeminate? Or maybe, dorky, overeducated? I think this is a definite possibility. As Eddie Izzard says, Europe is "where the culture comes from." And working class identity seems to be more valued for males, like they need to be tough and down-to-earth. I want to connect this with girls currently doing better in school too; it seems like doing well in school is seen as feminine or dorky or something, not manly. Some kind of Euro=cultured=educated=dorky=feminine thing.

36
February 26, 2010 12:11 AM

blythe,

"My housemate's initial reaction to that list of boys' names is that they're all really "gay" (which she hastily adds that she doesn't mean that in a negative way)."

your phrasing of this seriously cracked me up.

i think i've kind of come to the conclusion that almost any name can be cool, depending on the person. if your roommate met a confident, attractive, and friendly louis, she might quickly change her mind. at least this is how i am. i've changed my mind many times about various names because i've met a charming adult or an adorable child with that name.

37
February 26, 2010 12:24 AM

Blythe-the only one on the list that seems in the least bit "effeminate" to me is Phillip (like a gay hairdresser). Or maybe its all the Phillippa talk on this board. However, when it shortens to the nn Phil I have the total opposite picture (like a middle aged balding plumber). I agree with emilyrae though, those pictures are definately subject to change upon meeting someone. * Actually I used to have a
Phillip in the daycare where I worked. We never were allowed to call him anything but Phillip. He was a cute little towhead-suited him well. Funny also, his brother's name was Simon. Phillip was older and this was back in the 90's when these names were NOT popular.

38
February 26, 2010 12:39 AM

Thanks for all the guesses! I'll let you know when the baby is born and the name is announced.

A Rose: I also live in New York City but I don't really see as much cultural connection with names amongst my sons' friends and my friends who have children. Maybe it's a newer trend or the area of the city we live in. For example, in my sons hebrew school class there are two Aidans, an Isabella, a Mackenzie and a Campbell. My son Judah, along with one Jacob and a Hannah are really the only children with Jewish names. I was pretty amazed when I saw that class list. But in general I think parents in my area are very open to cross cultural naming. Our neighbors have a Gianna and Theodore (nns Gigi and Teddy), the mother is Japanese and the father is American (last name is British/Scottish sounding). So whenever I hear of a child with a name associated with a particular culture I try not to associate them with that culture because chances are they're not.

39
February 26, 2010 12:51 AM

blythe, zoerhenne,
oh, yes, i meant to say, i do strongly disagree that any of the names are effeminate. none of them strike me that way at all, but to each her own, i suppose.

40
By Kristin W. (not verified)
February 26, 2010 1:42 AM

Before we found out we're having a girl, we talked about all these names (well, Lewis rather than Louis), except Hugo, which is a little too dramatic for me, and I also associate it with Hurley on Lost.

I can definitely see why Simon didn't escalate - it was an uncommon name that became very quickly associated with one person, Simon Cowell. Like Madonna, there's one person a good chunk of Americans would immediately associate with the name. I could picture nearly every person the parent of a little Simon encounters getting annoying "Heh heh, like Simon Cowell?" comments. I know that turned us off of the name, even though we liked it in theory.

Maybe it will just take a little longer than five years for these names to take hold here? I could see Hugo and Louis getting more popular, and even Simon, if Simon Cowell ever blessedly fades from view.

41
By Kristin W. (not verified)
February 26, 2010 2:01 AM

"And working class identity seems to be more valued for males, like they need to be tough and down-to-earth. ... Some kind of Euro=cultured=educated=dorky=feminine thing."

RobynT, I think you've hit the nail on the head there! It seems Americans - particularly American fathers - are very fussy about the "not getting picked on on the playground" factor," and if these names come across as "sissy" to them, that explains a lot. Also, a lot of American men I've known (and keep in mind, I live in the mostly conservative Republican South) appear threatened by the Euro-cultured male thing. Most men around here are willfully uncultured and identify more with the frontiersman/cowboy/football player type guy and hope that's how their son turns out, too. While I'd be thrilled if a son of mine spoke three languages and appreciated art museums and fine wine, my husband would probably prefer if his son went hunting and played football.

42
By Guest (not verified)
February 26, 2010 2:03 AM

I think Hugo is a tough sell in the US because it is considered a Hispanic name, and Hispanic names are not considered aspirational. (Is it in Freakonomics that it's suggested that people gravitate toward names popular in the wealthier, more educated part of town?) On the other hand, Oliver has a British vibe, and that makes it seem aspirational to the average American.

Louis=Lou=old bald guy
Philip=Phil=old bald guy

I don't know about Simon. Personally, I like the sound of it, but didn't have it on my short list because it is too biblical for my taste.

43
By Dittalitta (not verified)
February 26, 2010 10:05 AM

Well, I have a Philip who's 3 years old and I love the name ;) However, we never call him Phil *shudder* we call him Philip or Pip. And Simon was on our boy list too ;) I've never met another little boy Philip, and adore the name. I don't like Hugo (don't know why, it sounds pretentious to me... Bight be Hugo Boss,) I'm bored with Oliver (UK resident here,) and I know a Louis who is the same age as my Philip. :)
So my ranking would be:

Philip
Simon
Louis
Oliver
Hugo

44
February 26, 2010 11:10 AM

My ranking:

Simon (my fave boys' name actually, but can't use it due to complicated family reasons)

Oliver (dh says it sounds girly)

Hugo (I like it a lot in theory, in practice worried about the Lost connection)

Louis (this would actually be super funny if we used it--old family acquaintance named Louis, and everyone would think it was some sort of weird tribute)

Philip (can't get past the Philip who had a huge crush on me in 5th grade and left love notes all over my desk, much to my dismay)

45
By roundabout (not verified)
February 26, 2010 11:21 AM

There are many boys' names where I like the full name but not the nickname. I like Philip so much better than Phil, David better than Dave, Michael better than Mike, Timothy better than Tim, and on and on. But, realistically, if I chose any of those names, I have to expect that someone (likely his peers) would call my son by the nickname rather than the full name. So, my rule for choosing a name is that I have to like, or at least tolerate, the likely nickname.

I find it so funny that so many associate Simon with Simon Cowell. I don't think would be as true here in Canada (although many watch American Idol here too). Simon is my favourite name on that list. Oliver is nice too, but also a bit overdone in my area.

How do people feel about the name Fraser? Is it still too closely related in your mind to Kelsey Grammer's Frasier? (Personally I pronounce the two slightly differently: Fray-zer vs. Fray-zher).

46
February 26, 2010 11:38 AM

roundabout-I don't care for it personally. Fraser/Frasier is too surnamey for me. It makes me think of Frasier the TV show but also of the tree the Fraser fir.

47
By Melly C (not verified)
February 26, 2010 12:14 PM

Zoerhenne:

Mitchell is much different to my ears then Simon, Oliver, Philip, Louis, Hugo.

Mitchell to me is timeless with a bit of an 80's vibe... grew up with quite a few Mitchell's. No bad associations though. The nickname Mitch always sounds very youthful to me much like Corey. I think Mitchell fits well with today's trends without being trendy.. by being a last name for a first name. I think it ages quite well.

48
February 26, 2010 3:21 PM

BBC news: "Most unfortunate names revealed"
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7909561.stm

No real surprises, but it's still amusing...

49
By hyz
February 26, 2010 4:38 PM

I'm late to this thread, but I had to add my rankings:

Oliver
Simon
Phillip
Louis
Hugo

*Love* Oliver, really like Simon, Philip is pretty good (agree Phil is a downside, but the whole name is pretty sharp, love the meaning, and Pip or Flip are cute nns). Louis sounds kind of milquetoast to me, and I really don't get the appeal of Hugo. It reminds me of "huge", or hunchbacks, or Yugos, and has that "ewww" sound which isn't so great. The "o" ending is the only upside for me, but I'd go for Leo or Milo instead, if I was looking for that.

50
February 26, 2010 7:51 PM

Guest at 42: I agree with you about Hugo being seen as Hispanic and thus not aspirational. I'm not sure I agree about people preferring names from wealthy parts of town though. To a certain degree I guess... but it seems like people name for "coolness" as much as economic success.