Counting down to the 2011 Name of the Year: Runner Up #1
A name can reflect a year in many ways, from politics, to commerce, to the arts, to the more familiar arena of pure name style. This year's first honoree -- the name most nominated by readers -- is a style phenomenon:
The name Pippa captured the year through the unlikely avenue of a maid of honor.
In April, RAF Lieutenant William Wales wed Catherine Middleton. Perhaps you heard? The royal wedding was viewed by millions around the globe. Wedding gown designers in particular watched raptly, poised to knock out quick replicas of Kate's sure-to-be-influential gown. Before their eyes, their work was doubled. The white, silken maid of honor dress worn by the bride's younger sister turned out to be the talk of the town, with replicas in high demand.
Similarly, that sister's name, Pippa (short for Philippa), sent out bigger style shock waves than Kate or Catherine. You'd be hard pressed to find an English speaker who wasn't already familiar with the name Kate. It's a core English classic, and in the U.K. it's ubiqutious among women Ms. Middleton's age. In the U.S. Kate surged in the mid-'80s and again in the mid-2000s. But Pippa? Pippa was pure freshness, especially outside of England.
An American girl was more likely to be named, say, Cherokee or Zykeria than Pippa or Philippa. Philippa was cherished by name enthusiasts for its pairing of dignified formal name and kicky nickname, but it was totally off the radar of the general American public. If you said your daughter's name was Pippa, you were more likely to hear "Oh, like Pippi Longstocking?" than "Oh, short for Philippa?"
Not anymore. Pippa Middleton has officially introduced the name to the world. (Or at least to its female inhabitants. It's worth noting the male voice or two in the nomination process that responded to the votes for Pippa with a resounding "huh?") This year, Pippa entered into the naming discussion of many parents who had barely heard of the name a year ago. Pippa also took steps toward emancipating itself from dignified Philippa and standing alone, in all its cuteness.
As cute as Pippa is, it's not overly cutesy -- even to cute-averse Americans. That makes it a perfect ambassador for British name style, a point of mutual understanding halfway between the British favorite Poppy and the American smash Piper. We Yanks may never go for Alfie, but Pippa is the kind of Brit-cute we can get on board with.