The Most-Hated Baby Names in America
[Note (05/03/11): Since I wrote this blog post, it has been picked up by a variety of media outlets -- often without context or explanation of the methodology. Much of the reporting has been guided by the post's unfortunately extreme title. To clarify, this column discusses the results of an informal survey of internet discussions, to gauge which names generated the most negative mentions. The names listed aren't "bad" or necessarily even unpopular. In fact, many of them are highly popular, well-loved names that some people are simply getting tired of. In other cases, the negative reactions reflect different cultural perspectives on a single name. Bentley, for instance, is generally seen negatively by people who hear it as a stuffy surname or a luxury car brand. It's seen positively by people who hear it as an easygoing neo-Southern name, via country singer Dierks Bentley. I believe that the existence of strongly divided opinions like these is a meaningful variable in understanding a name's impact and place in our culture.]
Which baby names do people like the most? You can answer that with a glance at the top of the baby names popularity chart. Which names do people loathe most? That's a trickier question. There's no such thing as the "least popular name." (Dogbreath? Margitudinal? Sxsddhwwwb? It's a many-way tie.)
What's more, the most-hated name might well be a popular one. Some names just provoke strong reactions, whether retching or swooning. In fact, popularity itself can be held against a name.
To capture negative name feelings, I scoured the web for conversations about baby names people can't stand. I skipped the "what's the worst name you've ever heard" freak shows (Felanie, Ima Hogg, La-a). My target was everyday baby-name negativity: the "normal" baby names that, for whatever reason, set your teeth on edge.
I ended up tallying the viewpoints of hundreds of U.S. messageboard participants, comprising almost 1,500 name mentions. Many of the discussions were on parenting forums, but a good number were simply chatter on forums of diverse kinds. The results are below. Spellings are combined in the count, listing the name under its most-mentioned form. I've also included comments on what people objected to about each name, which often point to themes that resonate beyond the individual name.
My goal in this is NOT to bash anyone's name. It's simply to track and describe the negative sentiment out there, as one more piece of information for parents weighing name choices.
1. Nevaeh (47 mentions). A landslide winner, no surprise. In the most recent edition of my book, I wrote "Nevaeh may be the most stylistically divisive name in America." Grounds for objection included look, sound and origin, the whole package.
2 (tie). Destiny (16). This name seemed to run afoul of two groups: people annoyed by "virtue names," and people who grouped it with other dreamy choices like Heaven and Candy as "stripperish."
2 (tie). Madison (16). The negative reactions to this name were particularly strong, especially in non-standard spellings. Reasons were seldom given; it just seemed to grate on people.
4. Mackenzie (13). Often presented in a group with other Mc- names, which several posters described as "low class."
5. McKenna (9). See Mackenzie above.
6 (tie). Addison (8). Sometimes grouped with Madison, and sometimes held as an example of the #1 most-cited loathing category: "boys' names used for girls."
6 (tie). Gertrude (8). When the conversation focused on "ugly" names, old-fashioned Germanic names like Gertrude, Bertha and Helga ruled.
6 (tie). Kaitlyn (8). The poster child for the #2 most common objection: "made-up spellings." Some people specifically exempted the classic spelling Caitlin from their wrath.
6 (tie). Makayla (8). See Mackenzie above.
10 (tie). Bertha (7). See Gertrude above.
10 (tie). Hope (7). To my surprise, the objection to virtue names extended to traditional choices like Hope, Faith and Grace.
1. Jayden (23). The overwhelming theme for boys' names was a backlash against the rhyming -ayden family. Many felt there were just too many of these names, and "it's getting really old." Others said the names sounded too childish or feminine. The names were often mentioned as a group, but Jayden was frequently singled out.
2. Brayden (16).
3 (tie). Aiden (15).
4 (tie). Kaden (15). See Jayden above.
5. Hunter (9). Objections included "should only be a last name" and "too violent."
6. Hayden (8). Part of the -ayden family but mentioned much less often than the others. It seems to be considered a little more mature and established-sounding than the rest of the clan.
7 (tie). Bentley (7). A lot of contempt was shown in mentions of this name, as people considered the luxury-car association "trashy."
7 (tie). Tristan (7). Described as "fakey" and "unlikeable."
9. Michael (6). The whipping boy for people who scorned "common" names. Names like Matthew, Sarah and Emily also came up several times. (Notably, they were the most likely names to be defended by others in the conversation.)
10. Jackson (5). No consistency to the reasons. Some grouped it with Peyton as "way too trendy," others with Jack as "old-fashioned and worn out." This was the one name where I didn't collapse spellings, since the several people who mentioned Jaxon objected to it solely on basis of spelling.
- At least three mentions apiece were tallied for Kayla, Kaylin, Kyle, Kyler and Kylie along with the high scores for Kaitlyn and Makayla, suggesting negativity toward that general sound category.
- Two statistically unlikely names ranked just outside the top 10. Star is a very rare name, so the fact that it occurred to so many people suggests particularly active negativity. Tiffany peaked back in the 1980s. That it's still mentioned so often as a disliked baby name leads to me suspect it may have been the "Nevaeh" of its generation.
P.S. If Your Favorite Name is Listed Above...
Sorry to freak you out! Don't go tearing up your name list yet.
First off, remember that "loved" and "loathed" are often two sides of the same coin. Anything that scales the heights of fashion attracts attention and becomes a target for contrarians. Many of the names listed are simply victims of their own success. In fact, almost every name in the top 10 for boys or girls received at least one "hate it" vote. Realistically, your little Aiden and Addison will be comfortably in the fashion mainstream, and any currents of negativity will flow right by them.
As for rarer names like Bentley that set off disproportionate levels of bad vibes, in the end you have to choose the name YOU think is best. Just consider this list a heads-up that some folks may respond badly to your beloved name. Forewarned is forearmed.