A Name Divided: Spotting the Stealth Hits

Jul 1st 2010

Most names have multiple spellings. That's just a fact of modern name life. It's true of traditional names as well as modern inventions -- Abigail has its Abigayles, Alexander its Alexzanders. In most cases, the variants don't have a major effect on the name's overall popularity. Cameron's rank as the #59 boy's name gives you a solid sense of that name, despite the many Kamerons and Camerens out there.

But what if there is no standard spelling? Occasionally, a name will divide its popularity so evenly among two or more spellings that it flies under the radar altogether. Take Audriana/Audrianna. Last year those names ranked #1252 and #1332 in America, a virtual dead heat. They're rising fast, but they divide the territory so neatly that you won't find either one in the NameVoyager.

For parents seeking the unusual, names like these are hidden traps on the popularity charts. They can be tricky to spot, too. Parents considering Kaylin might not think to look up Kaelyn and vice versa. And parents thinking about Jordan for a girl may have no idea that the "alternate" spelling Jordyn is now the more popular.

I've created a master list of all the stealth hit names, where the most common spelling ranks in the top 1500 for boys or girls and the second spelling is at least two-thirds as popular as the first. (If you value your sanity, do not try this at home.) You'll see some themes emerging. For instance, if you dream up a smooth, feminine name ending in -iya, count on the -iyah form being equally common.

If your favorite name isn't listed, you can feel confident that its ranking is a pretty fair indicator of its place in the name landscape. The girls' list is below, boys follow tomorrow.



On to part 2, the boys >>



By Wiley (not verified)
July 1, 2010 8:34 AM

Wow is my response. That is both necessary and fantastic. Also an example of data mining that needs a human :-)

By Guest (not verified)
July 1, 2010 8:46 AM

Some of those a/ah variants (e.g. Samiyah and Samiya) are attributable to transliterating differently from Arabic, Hindi, etc.

July 1, 2010 9:04 AM

Definitely interesting data, Laura. Something to really consider if you care how popular or popular sounding your child's name is.

From the last thread, @ Pippi, re: Astrid/Azalea - Pippi, I don't know if this is really your name or just a username, but I immediately saw the Pippi/Astrid connection from the "Pippi Longstocking" books. Whether or not you like that connection is up to you, but I think that it speaks to the spunkiness of both names.

July 1, 2010 9:18 AM

Susana/Susanna...how about Susannah/Suzana/Suzanna/Suzannah?

July 1, 2010 9:19 AM

And no Madeleine? That's how I'd spell it.

July 1, 2010 9:31 AM

Wiley wrote: "Also an example of data mining that needs a human :-)"

Amen! Consider that Isabel is the same sound as Isabelle, but Rachel is different from Rachelle. Ayden=Aiden, but Aysha isn't Aisha. Etc., etc.

I have to say, I've combed through name data countless times in countless ways (or is that weighs, or wheys?) but this one nearly did me in. The combined demands on attention, working memory and creativity to figure out what other spellings to look for -- for hours on end -- was pretty mind-blowing.

July 1, 2010 9:35 AM

Keren, most of the names on the list have many more spellings. These are just the ones with 2/3 or more of the usage of the most common form. (There are 5 Madelyns born for every Madeleine!)

By Beth the original (not verified)
July 1, 2010 9:40 AM

I'm with Keren -- what happened to the standard spellings of Madeleine, Kendall, Adeline, Caitlin, and Susannah? Or are these just variants of alternative spellings? It's funny that the names as I wrote them all look lovely to me (not all are my style, but they all look dignified and pretty), whereas the alternate spellings ruin every single one for me. I'm all for ingenuity, but I guess since I teach students who think you can spell any word any way you want as long as *you* know what your intentions were, I'm a stickler for traditional spellings.

By Pippi (not verified)
July 1, 2010 9:58 AM

I'm looking forward to the boys' list tomorrow!

Rachel Diana -- my real name isn't Pippi :) My actual name is far to googleable to use on the internet without me being very uncomfortable. Astrid isn't out list anyway -- but Annika hasn't been entirely ruled out! :)

By Pippi (not verified)
July 1, 2010 9:59 AM

Whoops! Out = on.

July 1, 2010 10:05 AM

I've already run into a couple issues with Sylvia/Silvia for my daughter. Somehow, my husband spelled it wrong when he submitted it for her health insurance and even after the correction (we use the Y), we still get things once in a while for the wrong name.

There are quite a few names up there that I definitely prefer one spelling over the other by far.

By Abby@AppMtn (not verified)
July 1, 2010 10:21 AM

Fabulous list!

I think the concept of standard spellings is tricky. Take Katherine/Catherine or Isabelle/Isabel/Isobel. Plenty of names have multiple spellings, and perfectly valid roots.

By ClaireP (not verified)
July 1, 2010 10:30 AM

WRT: Annalee/Analeigh/Annaleigh/Analy/Anali

As someone who danced around the Anna/Anya/Hannah/Emma/Gemma tree 16 years ago, I can understand the appeal of Annalee. We wouldn't have used it, because it is a rhyme with the last name, and with it, the name would sound sing-song-y. (We rejected Valerie for the same reason). But it feels both traditional and fresh, and I can see why someone would pick it.

Now, I personally loathe "leigh" for "lee", not a reflection on those of you who have used it. Just like I hate Papyrus font - it's a taste sort of thing.

But I'd think, rather universally, why would someone name their girl Anali or especially, Analy? Off the top of my head, without the other two forerunners written here, I'd pronounce both of these like "anally". If this were my name, as soon as I learned the meaning of the words anal and anally, I'd be speeding off to use my middle name, and go by A. [middle name] [first name], and change the first name as soon as I was legally able. What are these parents thinking?

By Guest (not verified)
July 1, 2010 11:11 AM

We ran into the same issue with my daughter. I'm a teacher and have seen so many children have to spell their names out for everyone who asks. Keeping this in mind, we tried to determine the most common way to spell a name to save our kids the trouble. This was easy with Oliver, but less so with Annabel. From my research, it seemed Annabel was used as much as Annabelle, though it seems the opposite is true. However, Annabel was a pretty firm choice for us - it seems much more like one name than two smashed together. Further, it has solid literary roots - "Annabel Lee," and seems to be more of a descendent of Amabel, an older name meaning "amiable." We are still pleased with our choice and would do the same thing again, but this one definitely isn't a no-brainer!

July 1, 2010 11:14 AM

Pippi-Carrying over from the last thread, I can see why Annalise appeals to you. I didn't realize Astrid/Ingrid had different pronunciations in Norwegian. But then again I don't know that much about Norwegian! Marcus is nice but doesn't it also end in an S? You could do Marcel or Marco to get around that though. Good luck on ahving a girl however :)

Guest-The name change lesbian thing was cute. I agree that 2 major changes kind of cancel each other out.

On topic, Laura I give you kudos for doing this. I know when I did the combined spellings list for the top 1000 it was a lot of back and forth and saying things in my head. The interpretation of what most people were trying to accomplish as far as pronunciation was also a factor. It was a lot of work. I believe I still have the data if anyone wants numbers for a particular spelling. I can't wait to see the boys list of names.

By Natty (not verified)
July 1, 2010 11:18 AM

ClaireP, you beat me to it. Analy and Anali are so very, very wrong.

I'm surprised Rachel/Rachael didn't make the list, considering how often my daughter's name (the former) gets written as the latter.

July 1, 2010 11:33 AM

I am dying a little inside at Analy... that is all I can say to that.

But, it takes a lot of strength to set out to combine spellings like this... such a hard-to-manage task, and no, not even regular expressions can really do it for you. The pronunciation cutoffs are so hard to work out!

I am thinking about sibling names for Linnea, which to me is a bit botanical, a bit antique (because I think first of Linnaeus), and a bit Scandinavian in feel. I don't think it is botanical in a way that is screamingly obvious, at least not to people in the US, so I think Azalea as a sibling name would not be too themey on account of its botanicalness. Which pronunciation are you using for Linnea?

By Amy3
July 1, 2010 11:53 AM

Wow, Laura! Hats off to you for taking on this particular statistical challenge. I can't even imagine trying to think of every conceivable spelling of certain names. Well done!

From the last thread:
New baby born to someone in my office, Harriet Re1ling. Love that they chose Harriet! ETA: Even though I don't know the mom, I had to email her (which she probably won't see for months) to compliment her name choice.

All this talk of name change + coming out, girlfriends you sleep with rather than shop with, etc. is totally cracking me up. I love this blog!

July 1, 2010 11:59 AM

A friend of mine contacted me today seeking baby name help for another friend of hers. Her friend has twins - a boy and a girl. Their boy's name is P0rter Kent0n, and they're girl's name is PIper KaYlyn. Their surname begins with a P. They are expecting again and just found out they're having a boy, and they want his name to be the same initials - P.K.P. I thought you all may enjoy this project, too. Can you help me to think of some names with those initials and fit in with their style? Thanks in advance for your help!

By Guest Araminta (not verified)
July 1, 2010 11:59 AM

Sorry to move off-topic so quickly, but I was having a little fun thinking of hypothetical sibling sets... I thought it would be great to have boys named Barnaby and Ferdinand. (I'd never name kids this in real life -- way too pretentious for me, but in fantasy land, why not?!) I'm having a hard time coming up with a sister match for Barnaby and Ferdinand. What do you think of these? I thought it had to be something somewhat dramatic.


July 1, 2010 12:06 PM

How do you pronounce Maite/Mayte?
Is it like ahoy Matey, or something else? Does it rhyme with Kate, ie Mate?

July 1, 2010 12:18 PM

@Emplathy -- the first thing that came to mind was Parker or Preston. Maybe Parker Keegan or Preston Keith?

By Kristen R. (not verified)
July 1, 2010 12:23 PM

I love this so much.

And I feel like I need to go out and evangelize against the name Analy.

July 1, 2010 12:24 PM

Empathy, for first names, how about:


For middle names:


And if they're okay with spelling names traditionally spelled with Cs with Ks:


Here are a few combinations that I think might work nicely:

Parker Knox
Preston Kody
Peyton Keane
Pierce Karter
Prescott Kipling

July 1, 2010 12:35 PM

Araminta-To go with Barnaby and Ferdinand I think Octavia is great!

Empathy-What a fun game! It seems their style is more modern than for me to suggest something like Peter Keith so here are some other choices:
Phillip Kevin
Pierce Kolton
Preston Kai*
Percival Kyle
Pierre Kassius

Wow that was hard!
Btw, if the boy turns out to be a girl:
Phoebe Kate
Penelope Korrine
Philippa Kristina

EDIT: I like many of the other suggestions! I will second Preston Knox.

July 1, 2010 12:47 PM

I must say, I was surprised by the absence of Shoshana/Shoshanna/Shoshanah/Shoshannah. The data supporting this name has always confused me. I know (or know of) a respectable number of Shoshannahs in their mid-30s or younger, but the name has never cracked the top 1000.

Compare to Hadassah, another not-so-common, chiefly Jewish, 3-syllable, ending-in-a girl's name. I feel as though I know fewer Hadassahs than Shoshannahs (of course that's just my personal experience/intuition), and yet Hadassah has appeared in the 900's for the past two years.

When I started reading this post, I thought, "Aha! THAT'S why Shoshannah's rankings don't rival Hadassah's: spelling variants!" But no, Shoshannah was left off this list as well . . .

This name remains a mystery to me; are all my Shoshannah friends and colleagues actually figments of my imagination? The only explanation I can think of is that Shoshannah/Shoshana/Shoshanna/Shoshanah's variants are so equally fragmented as to make no single version popular enough for visibility. hm.

July 1, 2010 12:51 PM

I'm with all of you who fear tough times ahead for the girls named Analy. It's all too easy to picture years of teachers calling out that name wrong on the first day of school.

As for "what were the parents thinking," my guess is that many of them are native speakers of Spanish, so the long-A pronunciation wouldn't come to mind. You might recall that Analía, the name of a telenovela heroine, was the #1 fastest rising baby name of 2009:


By hyz
July 1, 2010 1:06 PM

BrookeNYC, I'm guessing you might just live in a major Shoshanna pocket. In middle school and high school and to a lesser extent college and law school, I think at least 50% of my friends/classmates were Jewish (though I am not), and I knew or knew of a few Shoshannas, but not many. I'm guessing from your location/experience that the number of Jewish people you know is greatly out of proportion to the general population of Jews in the US. So, your perception about how many Shoshannas there are running around out there might be more than a bit skewed, and then of course the fragmented spellings don't help its standings on the popularity list either.

By Sharalyn (not verified)
July 1, 2010 1:58 PM

I'm anxious for the Boys' list!

July 1, 2010 2:20 PM

I think Maite is sometimes short for Maria Teresa, in which case it would be pronounced MY-tay (more or less).

I actually know a Maria Teresa who goes by Mate (MAH-tay), but whenever I see her name written down, I always want to say "G'day, mate!"

Beth and lucubratrix- so enjoying your postings on the last thread (I'm a bit behind...)!

July 1, 2010 2:44 PM

Hey everybody -- I'm still finalizing the boys' list and I could use some opinions. Should I count Bode as a sound-alike for Bodhi and Bodie?

By Amy3
July 1, 2010 3:14 PM

Re: Bode, I would include it. I'd bet most people who use it are pronouncing it with an /ee/ ending.

By Katsy (not verified)
July 1, 2010 3:18 PM

Laura- yes.

What about Katherine? That's my name, and though it's not as popular as the others, let me give you a list of the spelling variants I have seen at least twice, on all ages.

Katherine (my spellin....by far the best :p)
Kathwren (actually only saw this once, just thought it was worth a mention!)

This may be irrelivent, due to the many simple variations. But it's something to consider. With so many different options, it's doubtful a parent would consider all these! Same thing goes for Kaitlyn.

July 1, 2010 3:22 PM

Wow, nice job coming up with that list! As I was reading your post, I started thinking "Gee, someone should make a list of all of these popular names with multiple spellings." And then boom, in the next paragraph, there you had it.
Right on the money as always :) This is why your site is so popular and well-loved by so many of us.

By hyz
July 1, 2010 3:29 PM

I vote yes on Bode.

By Daffy Castilian (not verified)
July 1, 2010 3:29 PM

I might add the minor point that stealth popularity isn't the only issue these names pose. For many parents (for me, anyway) the proper spelling of a name should be, if not readily obvious, at least likely to be correctly guessed.

Parents selecting names like Charlie, Erica, Juliet, Jordan, Carissa, Robin, Susanna, Winter and Yvette may not realize that their kids will have to spell their names all the time.

This was the concern that ultimately condemned Elliot when we named our boy.

By Jane, Mother of Five (not verified)
July 1, 2010 3:55 PM

I have to say regarding Juliet (my daughter's name), I am always surprised by how many people spell it Juliette on the first try. I understand that they are both legitimate spellings, it is just that I always think, surely your first association with Juliet is going to be Romeo and Juliet, right? So why do so many people go with the non-famous spelling? I will never understand this.

July 1, 2010 8:18 PM

I agree about Bode.

The first PK name that popped into my head was Preston Karl.

"Anal" is spelled the same in English and Spanish. In Spanish, it is pronounced with an emphasis on the final syllable. The names Analí and Analy, however, are pronounced with the emphasis on the final syllable. They're not so close to "anal" that one would automatically associate them. My suspicion is that as people get more acculturated, they'll switch to a different spelling! (Of course, by that time the telenovela that inspired Analía will be a distant memory since Latin American novelas are typically short lived.)

By Guest (not verified)
July 1, 2010 4:26 PM

100% yes on Bode if it meets your other 2/3 criterion, considering the most famous namesake "Bo-dee" spells his name that way, as well as the fact that many of these girls names differ in ways that would tend to denote differing pronunciations. Take the popular -ana/-anna ending e.g. of "Ahn-uh" vs. "An-uh" which really amounts to 2 different names. Same with "Mar-cell-uh" vs. "Mar-say-la" and "Mare-in" vs. "Mar-en"...


By Guest (not verified)
July 1, 2010 4:29 PM

The "Bo-dee" pronouncing Bode I was referring too was of course Bode Miller. Sorry, I'd meant to include his LN.

Also, for Porter and Piper's new bro, Perry would be original yet classic.

July 1, 2010 5:06 PM

Continuing from the last post...

Rayne, that's pretty darn pathetic that the people in your small midwestern town are less likely to give you an interview if they think you are not white based on your name. It's horrible that such illegal practices continue today.

July 1, 2010 6:44 PM

It's funny how at first glance I would have considered names with various spellings a modern phenomenon, there are so many traditional names where this is the case.
My mum was an Ann in a world full of Annes. She rarely got it spelt correctly. She then wanted to call me Kathryn but her and dad came up with alternative spellings and elected for a more standard-spelt name.

Some of my favourites appeared on the list:

- Susanna. I think I'd pick this over Susannah but it changes!
- Juliet. (Jane, I'm surprised you get Juliette as well, a few Juliette actresses have done this probably!)

I'm guessing my number one boys' name will be there tomorrow - Alistair/Alastair/Alasdair/Allister/Alister. If we have a boy, the name itself won't be the issue, but which spelling will be a toughie.

PS-Analy. Seriously?

July 1, 2010 7:44 PM

Laura-I say yes to Bode also mostly because of Bode Miller.

As far as the Analy/Anali/Analia/etc. names I'm not sure what the big deal is. I don't see these names as Ay-nal-ee. I see them as
Ah(uh)-nah-lee. Atleast that's the best way I can represent it. So if it were to be respelled so the pronunciation were more to people's liking, it would change the whole name! Anole or Anolle reminds me of a lizard/salamander thing and would not get the pronunciation across adequately. Ahnolle or Anolley looks extremely odd. Analie, Analee, or Analeigh would have more stress on the 2nd A and thus seem more of a smashup name but they look the prettiest to me. I guess Anahley, Anahlie, or Anahleigh or even
Annahley, Annahlee, etc. are possibilities. Ugg!

July 1, 2010 8:00 PM

Very intersting list.

@ Jane M05 - I am also surprised you get Juliette more than Juliet. I actually only like the Juliet spelling. If I use the name it will be Juliet, so thanks for pointing out the confusion. I agree with NJ that there are a few famous hollywood Juliette's, so that probably has something to do with it.

Re Susannah - I like the Susannah and Suzannah versions equally but am surprised how many other spellings pop up.

@ Amy3 - Oh I love Harriet! I've been seeing it on quite a few names lists which makes me concerned it's set for a rise.

July 1, 2010 8:38 PM

Agree about Bode being an alternate spelling of Bodhi at least some of the time.

I think Analía has the virtue of having the accent over the i indicating exactly where the emphasis is. Also, the accent is a tipoff to Spanish name, which puts me more firmly into "AH-na" rather than "AY-na" mode for Ana. The Ana I know is very much an AY-na, and if you added "ly" to that you would totally have a description of how a police search was performed, at least with my accent.

Though I know i-containing female Spanish names having y as long-established variant spellings, somehow it makes a big difference to me with this one. With an Anali I might hit on the right pronunciation if I was reading a roster I hadn't reviewed before class, but with an Analy I would be grateful for the fact that I always look through names before the first day because of being an NE.

When a name is such that I am afraid to do a google search on it, that is a bad sign! I did that search though and discovered it's also the name of a high school (http://www.analy.org/),
pronounced /ˈænəli/ according to wikipedia, which I bet doesn't result in any crude humor whatsoever.

Edited to add: If you want a very clear Analía pronunciation, check 2:54 at this promo... though interestingly, her business card doesn't have the accent over the i!
I see how this would inspire a wave of homage names - it looks seriously fun!

Also edited to add: I had been pronouncing Maite as MY-teh but I think if it's the Basque name it's my-TEH. I'm assuming because it means beloved that the first part of this pronunciation of "I love you" in Basque would be accurate for the name as well. http://www.forvo.com/word/maite_zaitut/

By Neal Whitman (not verified)
July 1, 2010 8:32 PM

Would using the Soundex system used by LDS genealogists for searching censuses help here?

July 1, 2010 8:41 PM

Also wanted to share this interesting article about name restrictions in different countries!


July 1, 2010 9:06 PM

Neal-That's an interesting idea for Laura to pursue if she cares to create yet another database. Here is a link to a page regarding the algorithm of the soundex system should anyone care.
This code works well for many names (either first or surnames though it was created for surnames) because substitutions are fairly standard and congruous in America. People in the past have routinely used i for y such as in Smith/Smyth. I'm not sure it covers all the forms that people are now using for swaps but it is a helpful genealogical tool.

July 1, 2010 9:41 PM

lucubratrix-Interesting article. The comments below it are pretty funny too. There's a fair share of legends that we've covered here and many with their own versions of "Da Rules". I would love to see the US institute a "do no harm" rule, but other than that no big deal to me. Respellings and surnames as first names are a bit annoying if you are a teacher or trying to guess the gender simply by the name, but I don't think Madison or Kayleigh will suffer as many long term effects as will Viper or Volvo.

July 1, 2010 10:18 PM

Neal wrote: "Would using the Soundex system used by LDS genealogists for searching censuses help here?"

Unfortunately, I don't think systems like Soundex are quite up to this challenge. The purpose of Soundex is to help you find individuals/families with names spelled different ways in different sources. So it groups names that are similar, rather than making fine distinctions. If I recall correctly, the basic Soundex system doesn't distinguish among vowels at all.