British Baby Names vs. American Baby Names, Part 2

Aug 10th 2011

Last time, I described how I compared baby name stats in the United States vs. England and Wales to look for stylistic differences. (Take a moment and read that part first!) The distinguishing characteristic of contemporary British naming turned out to be cuteness. The most-British list was packed with old-fashioned diminutives (Alfie, Ollie) and sweet li'l cuddly names (Poppy, Ellie-May).

The irony is that that nicknames, especially with hyphens attached, used to be stereotypically American names. Once upon a time, Americans were supposed to be Chuck, Steve, Nancy, Randy, and Hank...or Billy-Ray and Peggy-Sue. Clearly, those days are gone. What are the Americans up to now, then?

There turn out to be multiple answers, some which fit other American stereotypes, and some which might surprise you. Here's the top-10 list:

Most American Baby Names, 2010

RANK BOYS GIRLS
1 Landon Addison
2 Anthony Avery
3 Gavin Hailey
4 Angel Allison
5 Andrew Kaylee
6 Brayden Aubree
7 Jose Natalie
8 Elijah Brooklyn
9 Christian Ashley
10 Hunter Lillian

Compared to the most-British list, you'll notice a strong formality. In place of Alfie and Lily-Mae, we have Anthony and Lillian. Even when a name ends in the -ee sound typical of diminutives, as much of the girls' list does, it's a full, formal name.

That formality plays out in several overlapping themes. First off, we have surnames -- lots of surnames. Names like Addison, Landon, Hunter and Hailey have strong surname style, and several names with longer histories as given names, like Avery and Ashley, also have surname roots. (Note that the surname spelling Allison makes the most-American list, while the classic first-name spelling Alison doesn't come close.)

Surnames like these are a contemporary name style, but a relatively conservative and formal one. On the girl's side, you especially see surnames that had a tradition as male names -- yet a farther step from Lily-Mae and friends. It's as if America wants to dress up its little boys and girls alike in pinstripe suits.

Other themes: Jose and Angel represent the Spanish traditions of parts of the American population, the counterparts, you might say, to the Celtic names on the E& W list. Next come the modern inventions packed with long vowels (Kaylee, Brayden). These fit some American self-stereotypes about modern naming, that our nurseries are filled with newly created names that sound like teen idols.

And then we have the Western pioneer names. You see hints of the style in Elijah and Landon (picture actor Michael Landon in Bonanza), and it hits its stride just outside the top 10 with names like Wyatt, Jackson and Jeremiah. Yes, Americans really do choose cowboy names! Yee-haw!

In the remainder of the list, the formality resumes...and our American stereotypes abruptly cease. Gavin and Christian are old, traditional names that Americans consider to have a certain formal elegance (and maybe even a British edge). And how about Anthony? Andrew? And lurking just beyond the top 10 you'll find names like Christopher and Jonathan. As in Anthony Trollope, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Christopher Wren, and Jonathan Swift. All impeccably tradional names, all with plenty of British tradition, and all now overwhelmingly American.

It's an interesting group. They're all classic men's names without the slightest whiff of the exotic about them. Even the most conservative namer would approve. Yet none of them are part of the traditional core of English-language names, the kingly names like John, James, William, George, Edward and Robert that reigned for centuries. One hundred years ago, none of the four "all-American standards" ranked among America's top 30 boys' names. Today, they all do. That makes for a neat little balancing act: classic, traditional and formal, but not old. While Americans may not share the British love of child-like names, they're on the lookout for the new and fresh. Americans want to sound youthful, but not young.

Comments

101
By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
August 17, 2011 8:40 PM

@izzy - That's fascinating. I would have a very hard time trying to match my name to a colour or substance. I think it would be easier to label names that I have no association with. As soon as it was a name of someone I knew in real life, I would be wanting to describe them, and not the name.

What kind of class is this for? Sounds a lot more interesting than most of my college assignments!

102
August 17, 2011 9:48 PM

I know that someone with a certain form of synesthesia will have a colour for every name based on the letter the name starts with.

Synesthesia is a very cool condition in which senses are neurally connected so that the stimulation of one sense automatically stimulates another - so some people see sound, others smell colours - but the most common form seems to be the association of each letter and number (or day of the week or month) with a distinct colour. So you'll have someone who says that "Wednesday is blue" or "the letter P is green", or "April is grey with brown stripes".

103
By NJ
August 18, 2011 6:40 AM

I have found these posts fascinating. To add to the class divide discussion about Alfie, a friend had a son last year and called him Alfred but he is only ever called Alfie. They both studies classics (and then law) at Cambridge and are upper middle class so even though they wanted the name Alfie they did not use it on the birth certificate.

I'm always interested by names like Gavin, Anthony, Andrew and Colin on American lists, I have never heard these names on children and in fact these are the names of my brothers, brothers in law, husband and cousins, born in the late 70s and early 80s. I assume that for some of the names on this list above (Avery, Brooklyn, Brayden) it is the fact that Americans use them more than we do, but for many of the traditional boys names, in the UK these names are almost nonexistent for babies.

104
By Amy3
August 18, 2011 7:52 AM

My husband has synesthesia and sees colors for sounds. The spelling impacts the coloration as the same name (in terms of sound) looks different to him depending on the spelling. It definitely played a role when we were choosing names as there are some sounds or combinations of sounds he really dislikes (e.g., the /u/ sound in names like Julie) because of the associated colors.

105
By CarlyM (not verified)
August 18, 2011 7:56 AM

Just got a positive pregnancy test this morning! Yay! Now I get to start *really* thinking about a name for baby #3!

Anyone have any suggestions to go with my two boys? I've got Joel Benjamin and Owen Jeremy. Our style is sort of classic. Definitely not any invented name or new name. We prefer something that doesn't shout what year the child was born (like Madison, Debbie, Martha, etc). We prefer well known names but not 'too' common. Joel fit the bill perfectly for us. Owen was more common than we would have liked, but my husband and I loved the name, we loved that it was classic and we couldn't agree on anything else. So extra points for something a bit less common, but it's not a dealbreaker if it's common.

Can't wait to see what you guys come up with!

106
August 18, 2011 10:49 AM

CarlyM-Is it also extra points for the same # of letters? LOL your style sounds similar to mine so I'd recommend Eric Matthew. Eric is hardly (its my son's name) ever heard around us. However, it is classic and well known. Matthew goes with so many first names and was meaningful to us. But I think it would be cool for all the boys to have a 4 letter name :) Other ideas:
Simon Oliver
Alex Michael
Grant William
Neil James
Travis Elijah
Lucas Xavier
Patrick Thomas

107
August 18, 2011 10:57 AM

izzy-Neat assignment. I know some of the posters on here do have a bit of synesthesia. You may want to search through the threads to find where we've talked about certain names before (last yr or so). I would think my name (in my profile) is a cherry red color but I do not have this condition. Laura did a thread also a while back, on what would your name be if you were the opposite gender so that may be worth searching on too. I picked Gregory. As far as substance goes, I guess I would be Cobalt. It is a beautiful shade of blue and since blue is my favorite color it makes sense. I certainly do not feel as shiny as gold or silver yet not as dull as zinc or tin. Copper is just not right either though its the closest metal in color to the red I picked.

108
By hyz nli (not verified)
August 18, 2011 1:05 PM

CarlyM, congratulations!!! So fun and exciting. Gotta run now, back with name thoughts later, but couldn't see the announcement without commenting. :)

109
By Alli (not verified)
August 18, 2011 2:55 PM

Congrats CarlyM!
Some ideas:
Brian
Aaron
Isaac
Caleb
Nathan
Elijah

Shauna
Erin
Allison
Anna
Clare
Leah
Lydia

110
August 19, 2011 7:57 PM

On the radio this afternoon there was a quiz something along the lines of "Parents spend on average 55 hours doing this". People were calling in and guessing things like carpool and bathing, but the answer was selecting a name.

That works out to approximately 0.2 hours a day for 40 weeks, without accounting for the time spent thinking about it before the child is conceived. I think that I've already made a big dent in that chunk of time and I've never been pregnant!

Don't know where the data came from, but it amused me and I wanted to share with someone who might be amused as well.

111
By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
August 18, 2011 8:28 PM

I wish I only spent 55 hours fretting about this baby's name!

@CarlyM Congratulations! My number 3 is due in a month and I'm finding naming this one so much more difficult than the first two. I hope your road is easier!

Based on your criteria, here's what popped in my head (some which have already been mentioned). I am curious to where the line is for you for what is too popular. For some it's top 100, others top 500.
James
Simon
Paul
Mark
Eric
Brian
Nathan
Steven
Aaron

Amy
Julie
Charlotte
Megan
Ivy
Clara
Eliza
Violet

112
By CarlyM (not verified)
August 18, 2011 9:57 PM

There's not really a line for too popular. Owen is top 10ish I believe. I have a hard time finding names I love, so if it happens to be less popular it's a bonus, but if a name my husband and I both love (like Owen) is near the top than it doesn't stop us from using it. If there was a name we liked equally as much as Owen that was less popular than we would have gone with that.

Thanks for the suggestions! A lot of the names you've suggested are on the short list (James, Nathan, Paul, Claire, Leah, Anna)

113
August 18, 2011 10:03 PM

CarlyM-For some reason I thought you said you only needed boy names. I reread the post and I'm not sure you know that yet. Others posted girl names for you but here are my suggestions:
Astrid Nicole (we have Astrid on the brain on this board -why not 4 of them)
Erin Margaret
Zoe Renee (lol)
Shannon Claire
Theresa Michelle
Deirdre Colleen (don't know why I keep wanting to go towards the Irish sound)
Georgia Louise
Victoria Ruth
Alice Pearl
Bethany Ann

114
By AndiK (not verified)
August 18, 2011 10:40 PM

CarlyM--

Two boy names that popped in my head that I don't see on other lists:

Wesley
Ezra

Some other girl names:

Rose
Nora
Iris
Isla

115
By Anon (not verified)
August 18, 2011 10:49 PM

Coll
What about "Nella"? Never particularly popular, but it was my great grandmother's full name (b 1908). I think it fits well with the Ellas and Bellas out there.

Strangely my mother had grandmothers called Nella and Nell (not a nn), but is grateful she wasn't named for either of them - she is very traditional and my father's surname begins with "Nel".

I would love to use "Nella" as a nod to my family (both sides), if only my SO would agree.

116
August 19, 2011 5:42 AM

@CarlyM - congratulations!

Lots of great suggestions I think my favourites for what I see as your style are:

Boys: Grant, Patrick, Eric, James
Girls: Anna, Alice, Rose, Claire

@zoerhenne, I had to laugh at your suggestion for CarlyM of Astrid Nicole as my name is Nicole and now I have an Astrid :)

117
By Amy3
August 19, 2011 7:29 AM

@CarlyM, congrats! I'd like to second the names Chimu listed above. Those are also my faves of the suggestions that seem to match your style. I love your sons' names. Joel has always seemed like such a friendly name and I adore Owen.

118
By hyz
August 19, 2011 11:46 AM

CarlyM, I'm back with some thoughts:

G (some already suggested, but I like them too, so I'll add my vote):
Anna
Rose
Iris
Fiona
Eleanor
Adele
June
Laurel
Clara
Lena
Willa
Louisa
Sylvia

B (ditto):
Graham
Grant
Simon
Timothy
Asa
Noah
Jonah
Reed
Silas
Andrew (nn Drew?)

To me your name style seems to be pleasantly traditional, leaning toward short and sweet names, and names that sound more gentle and refined than bold or macho. I really like it (Owen's always been on my list, too, despite the popularity). So, these are what came to mind for me. I think Paul would be a really nice fit for you guys, but to me it might be a bit too similar to Joel.

119
By TKB
August 19, 2011 1:50 PM

Congratulations Carly!

A few other short and sweet classics I haven't seen yet:

Theo
Liam
Aaron
John
Evan
Eli
Zack/Zach
Joshua
Ryan
Martin
Noel ...wait,you already have a Joel. Strike that!

Sarah
Julia
Laura or Lauren
Megan
Beth
Teresa
Nicole
Pearl
I also love Clara and Alice for your style, but mentioned above.

120
By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
August 19, 2011 2:40 PM

Does anyone know any boy names that mean 'North'? We had decided that if we have a boy, his mn would be North to honour a dear friend (North was her middle name), but my husband really likes a fn that is one syllable and it's just too choppy with North, esp. with our last names. Any suggestions?

121
By hyz
August 19, 2011 2:57 PM

YAG, the best I came up with are Norris ("From an English surname which meant 'northerner' in Old French"), Norton ("From a surname which was originally derived from a place name meaning 'north town' in Old English."), and Norman ("From an old Germanic byname meaning "northman", referring to a Viking.") (source: behindthename.com)

My other thought was to use the word for north in another language that has some meaning to you. French is no help, still one syllable, just Nord, but the German Norden or Spanish Norte might work. Or for that matter, what about Northern? An adjective can be a little odd as a name, but Northern has a nice namey sound to it, I think.

122
By TKB
August 19, 2011 3:38 PM

@YAG

Norwood - Northern Woods
Norbert - bright/famous northern man

You could invent Northley, in the sense of Westley?

Ipar is a basque name that means North, according to the not-100% reliable 20000-Names site.

And in "things I pulled off google", Thuaidh is North in Irish (perhaps our celtic experts could shed more light on that one.)

Aquilo is north wind in Latin, or Boreas in Greek. http://www.theoi.com/Titan/AnemosBoreas.html

More ideas: William/Gilbert - theorized the Magnetic North Pole
Robert Peary - arguably first explorer to reach the geographic north pole (or his more interestingly named guides, Ootah, Seeglo, Egingwah, and Ooqueah)
Claus - ...as in Santa. Short form of Nicholas. See also Rudolph?

Too bad you're not expecting a girl, I'd suggest Dakota or Carolina (...as in North...)

123
By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
August 19, 2011 5:20 PM

These are great suggestions! Thank you so much.

We don't know if we're having a girl or boy yet, but have decided if she's a girl then will go with our friend's first name and another name was my Nana's fn and the mn for my mom and sister.

124
By Smiley (not verified)
August 20, 2011 7:09 AM

Congrats ! CarlyM!

Some ideas :
Adam
Blake
Devon
Derek
Daniel
Logan
Neil
Nolan
Seth
Shane
Keith
Conrad

Clara
Cleo
Sabrina
Alison
Eve
Natalie
Jane
Arden
April
Noelle

To the forum at large (that sounds so ominous):
I'm trying to make a list of make and female names that have positive associations or professions - by professions, I mine positive statements. For example:
Hope
Belle
etc

It can be a career,word,colour, but must be something positive. I've also been looking for names that are uncommon that fulfill the criteria. E.g. it could be an association, e.g. Radley - "rad" is slang for cool.

Names can be of any popularity or style. I'd really appreciate help in compiling a list.I'm looking for male and female names. The names just can't sound negative.e.g. Diana as in "Die Anna'.

Thank you!

125
By Also ZR (not verified)
August 20, 2011 10:53 AM

Smiley-
The first name that comes to mind is Rose because of the flower. It's all sweet and pretty and all that (unless of course you are allergic to them). This leads me to the thought that all of this is rather subjective. I love the name Diana and don't at all think of "Die Anna" but rather think of it's mythological meaning of being associated with the moon.

126
By Smiley (not verified)
August 20, 2011 3:45 PM

Thank you, ZR.

I hope that I didn't offend you or anyone else. There are many names that I like the sound of, but the association or "profession" is something that I dislike.....rather,unfortunately.

To the lady looking for NORTH names :
Search text: north
KUZEY m Turkish
NORBERT m German, English, Dutch, French, Hungarian, Polish, Ancient Germanic
NORMAN m English, Ancient Germanic
NORRIS m English
NORTON m English
NORWOOD m English
Search text: northern
ACHAICUS m Biblical, Biblical Latin
ALBORZ m Iranian
ANSELM m German, English (Rare), Ancient Germanic
CARLISLE m English
COLWYN m Welsh
DAKOTA m & f English (Modern)
DRACO m Ancient Greek (Latinized)
HADRIAN m History
HARSHA m Indian
HOSEA m Biblical
JACENTY m Polish
NORRIS m English
PEGASUS m Greek Mythology (Latinized)
PETER m English, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Slovene, Slovak, Biblical
SIB m Indian
TYRONE m English
YORK m English
http://www.behindthename.com/php/search.php?nmd=mdu&terms=northest

127
By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
August 20, 2011 4:07 PM

@Smiley - Still not sure what you are asking for. Do you mean virtue names? (Prudence, Mercy, Courage, etc.) If it is simply the sound of names, I'd have to echo ZR that it would be very subjective.

Also, thank you for the behind the name links. Unfortunately, the search function isn't very accurate when it comes to meanings. It picks up descriptions of place, too. So York shows up, but doesn't mean Northern. It's described as:
"From a surname, which was derived from York, the name of a city in northern England. The city name was originally Eburacon, meaning "yew" in British, but it was altered by association with Old English Eoforwic, meaning "pig farm"."

128
August 20, 2011 4:13 PM

I checked behindthename,under "meaning" and then "north," and I got a list similar to what Smiley copied. But for the most part the names that come up under "meaning: north" having nothing to do with "north," the word not even being mentioned in the meaning explanation.

Here is behindthenames full list:

ACHAICUS m Biblical, Biblical Latin
AFRICA (1) f English (African American, Rare)
ALBORZ m Iranian
ALFRED m English, French, Scandinavian, German, Polish, Dutch
ANDROMEDA f Greek Mythology
ANSELM m German, English (Rare), Ancient Germanic
ARAGORN m Literature
AUGUSTINE (1) m English
BETHEL f Biblical
BRENDAN m Irish, English
BRITTANY f English
CARLISLE m English
CAROLINA f Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Swedish
CASSIOPEIA f Greek Mythology (Latinized)
CHEROKEE f & m English (Rare)
CLARK m English
COLWYN m Welsh
CYRANO m Literature
DAKOTA m & f English (Modern)
DRACO m Ancient Greek (Latinized)
EADBERHT m Anglo-Saxon
EDWIN m English, Dutch
FRISO m Frisian
GENNADIUS m Ancient Greek (Latinized)
GLOOSCAP m New World Mythology
GYPSY f English (Rare)
HADRIAN m History
HARSHA m Indian
HOSEA m Biblical
JACENTY m Polish
JAPHETH m Biblical
KENDALL m & f English, Welsh
KUZEY m Turkish
LEIF m Scandinavian
LOUHI f Finnish Mythology
LYRA f Astronomy
MERIWETHER m English (Rare)
MONICA f English, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Late Roman
NANOOK m Native American
NORBERT m German, English, Dutch, French, Hungarian, Polish, Ancient Germanic
NORMAN m English, Ancient Germanic
NORRIS m English
NORTON m English
NORWOOD m English
ODESSA f Various
OSWALD m English, German, Anglo-Saxon
OSWIN m English (Rare)
PEGASUS m Greek Mythology (Latinized)
PETER m English, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Slovene, Slovak, Biblical
SABLE f English (Modern)
SHEREE f English
SIB m Indian
TIRZAH f Biblical
TYRONE m English
ULTAN m Irish
VICTORIA (1) f English, Spanish, Romanian, Late Roman
WENDEL m German, Dutch
YORK m English

Almost at random: Alfred means elf counsel, Clark means clerk, Edwin means rich friend, Peter means stone, and so on. Some of the names are on the list because they were borne by famous North Africans (e.g., Augustine and his mother Monica) or because they are Norman French. Alfred is listed because Alfred the Great fought against the Danes in northeast England and because the name survived the Norman conquest. In my book, only a handful of these names mean 'north' in any way, shape or form. No matter how sophisticated the algorithms, search engines do not have much by way of discernment.

129
By Smiley (not verified)
August 20, 2011 4:21 PM

Yet Another Guest

I meant based on sound , in addition virtue names. I think I'll have to do a bit more of research, as it does seem to be very subjective.I've been doing name research based on meaning and association recently, and this was one of the topics .

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

130
August 21, 2011 12:10 AM

Hey CarlyM-has anyone mentioned these ideas:
Ian; Travis; Brent or Brett
Miranda

131
August 21, 2011 9:57 PM

@YAG: Japanese: Hoku or Hokuo; also, the ancient Greek northwind was Boreas (like in aurora borealis--you might remember his brother Zephyr[us], the gentlest of the winds)

132
By Andre (not verified)
August 22, 2011 7:52 PM

Let's just clarify one thing, on the girls list, Brooklyn and Aubrey are mostly used on boys in the UK.

Also the comment regarding Brayden/Jayden and Bailey being distinctively american sounding, Jayden and Kayden are both in the top100 in the UK, only Brayden seems less popular. Also Bailey is very popular in the UK, but for boys - its been in the top100 for many years.

133
August 22, 2011 8:25 PM

Andre-I'm pretty sure what Laura meant was something like this: If someone comes to an American and starts talking about names and says they want to name the kid Jayden(b) or Brooklyn(g) 90% of Americans are going to think "Yea that's the kid next door's name". But with the other list its the reverse. 90% of Brits think Alfie and Archie are the kid next door.

134
By Allison (not verified)
August 23, 2011 11:38 AM

I have a dear friend who is called Nell, but her name is Ellen. (backwards it's Nelle)

135
September 1, 2011 9:04 PM

i know someone named Danell, but agree Nell is fine on it's own.

136
September 1, 2011 9:13 PM

i have a query. My daughter goes by Clair. i love the name Clair, but decided to have Clairissa on her birth cert. because my mom's name is rissa. However, i have called her Clair for her 3 years on this earth. her middle name is joyce after my mother in law. my question is in finding a sibling name for clair. focusing on girls names now. i am not pregnant yet. would you determine a sibling name by seeing how it sounds with clair or clairissa? because when i try to make lists, not everything gels well with both names. also, part of me likes Elise for a next baby, or i have thought of sticking with a C pattern, like Carys. my husband has a completely different style of names he likes, so that is another issue. i like the name Maeve, he had never heard it before and was less enthusiastic. Any advice?

137
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138
July 5, 2018 4:03 AM

I want to have a boy called kafka and a girl named silli hilmi and have a house with lots of rooms for my son with additional window blinds on every window to be opened in the morning and closed at night as well as to increase the luxury of the house.

140
November 28, 2018 1:19 PM

I am a woman working in headhunter Indonesia company as a recruiter in getting the best person for the client and wanting to have a cute and adorable child. I also have a favorite name for boys and girls that will be used after having a child. For a boy named Harris and a girl named Lia Capita.