Baby Names! Now With a Long Vowel in Every Syllable!

Sep 15th 2011

What do the names Naomi, Rhys, Milo and Kaylee have in common? Stylistically, not much. Yet all four names have risen significantly in the past decade, and they have a shared pattern to thank: all of their vowel sounds are long.

English long vowel sounds are pronounced like the names of the vowels themselves. A as in Kayla, e as in Gene, i as in Lila, o as in Owen, u as in Hubert. In this vowel-centric naming age, they reign supreme. Long vowels have fueled recent hit names from Aidan to Zoe. They're among the reasons why James sounds more current than George, and why Grace has come back stronger than Pearl.

What happens if you concentrate their style power? What if all the vowel sounds in a name are long? I looked at all of the names ranked in the top 500 for boys and girls and found 103 that fit that description: 47 one-syllable names, 52 two-syllable, and 2 three-syllable.* A handful of the names, like Amy and Mary, were hits of past generations. As a group, though, the long-vowel all-stars capture the sound of the times across a wide range of styles:

Ainsley Hope Kylie Rose
Amy Ivy Lucy Ruby
Bailey Jade Maci Ruth
Baylee Jamie Macie Rylee
Chloe Jane Macy Ryleigh
Claire Julie Mary Rylie
Daisy Kailey Miley Sadie
Faith Kaylee Naomi Sage
Grace Kayleigh Paige Skye
Hailey Khloe Paisley Sophie
Haley Kiley Phoebe Zoe
Haylee Kylee Reese Zoey
Heidi Kyleigh Riley  
Beau Dean Jude Pierce
Blake Drake Kade Reece
Brady Drew Kai Reed
Brody Eli Keith Reese
Bryce Gage Kobe Reid
Cade Grady Lane Rhys
Casey Hugo Leo Riley
Cody Jace Levi Romeo
Colby Jake Luke Shane
Cole James Miles Tate
Colt Jay Milo Trey
Corey Jayce Myles Ty
Dane Joel Noel Zane

Can the vowels point us to potential new hit names? Here are some less-common choices with vowel power behind them:

Blake Blaise
Brylie Bodhi
Cleo Bruno
Eve Case
Halo Clay
Jewel Crew
June Grey
Laney Hayes
Mae Hugh
Maeve Kane
Maisie Leif
Oakley Nico
Raylee Ray
Rayne Rio
Rory Stone
Shea Theo
Sloane Trace
Soleil Tyce

* In identifying long-vowel names I skipped over nicknames, as well as Spanish and Arabic names because they have different sound patterns. I also counted an "oo" sound as a long u.


September 15, 2011 12:08 PM

It's interesting, because I've found my personal tastes veering toward short/broad vowel sounds quite specifically because of this trend!

Is this a superset of the "Bell Tone" trend?

By Mary Beth (not verified)
September 15, 2011 12:19 PM


By Dorcas (not verified)
September 15, 2011 12:25 PM

I wonder whether this trend will put the Eu- names back on the table for stylish namers: Eugene, Eulalie, Euphemia, Eunice, Eugenia, etc.

September 15, 2011 12:33 PM

ah, i was just commenting to a friend how i had noticed that i was drawn to long vowels, especially I, O, and U. i should have guessed that it was a "thing." examples of names i like with long vowels would be things like ivy, iris, lucia, luna, rose, eve, june and julian, linus, noel, silas, hugo...there are probably more.

however, i do not at all prefer the bell tone names, so if there is merit to linnaeus's theory, it doesn't apply to me personally.

p.s. linnaeus, loved the gax story!

By Stephanie (not Stefany/Stefanie/Steffie) (not verified)
September 15, 2011 12:35 PM

I rebelled against that one. My oldest is Aviana (Ah-Vee-Ah-Nah) and Ilyra (Ih-Lee-Rah). Only one long vowel sound in each. But you do see a lot of names with the long vowel sound getting a lot of interest.

September 15, 2011 12:39 PM

just to clarify, laura, you say you skipped over nicknames, but doesn't jake fall into that category? or am i misunderstanding?

By Sarada (not verified)
September 15, 2011 12:39 PM

Not all of the vowels in Naomi are long. At least, I've only heard it pronounced Nay-oh-me and not Nay-ohm-eye.

September 15, 2011 12:43 PM

Naomi still fits the trend because although the terminal -i isn't a long i, it is a long e.

September 15, 2011 12:56 PM

@Sarada - the I is pronounced as a long E. Nay-oh-mEE.

Maybe that long E is why I keep thinking Enid sounds so fresh and usable.

Also: Tycho, Caine, July, Eisley, Evie, Eileen (Update Eiley)
Close: Adrian, Adaline,

Mom of Owen, lots of decent ideas for siblings here!

September 15, 2011 2:00 PM

It's funny because I instinctively like a lot of names on that list (like emilyrae said, I should've realized it was a 'thing') -- but my own daughter is Eleanor, which is a name chock-full of short vowels!

But I'm especially drawn to the boys list, perhaps because my hubby's name is there? And my favorite boys' name right now-- Rhys!

September 15, 2011 2:58 PM

very cool. i think i may tend toward shorter vowel sounds too. i wonder if that alone makes my choices unpopular with, say, grandparents, for example.

ok wait, maybe we need three categories: names with long vowels, short vowels, and both? i wonder if the "feel" of those with both would elicit a reaction somewhere between the other two. or does one long vowel "freshen" it up? or one short vowel frumpy it up?

September 15, 2011 3:14 PM

I'll just point out that having short vowel sounds doesn't necessarily reduce popularity: Christopher, Alexander, and William, Isabella, Emma, Ella, and Madison should be solid proof.

September 15, 2011 3:27 PM

yes, i was going to say that short vowels aren't exactly "out," but i see linnaeus beat me to it (*great* examples to back it up, by the way). i got the impression that long vowels are just kind of...i don't know...snappy and ear-catching right now. maybe because they are less common than short vowels? well, maybe A and E are common, but i feel like the I, O, and U are faaairly uncommon.

September 15, 2011 4:52 PM

I think there should be an addendum set or something (similar to what RobynT alluded to). All of the names that have emphasis on the first syllable which is long and then are followed by a short sound. Aren't these names pretty popular right now?

My own name follows this pattern so maybe I am biased.

By mk (not verified)
September 15, 2011 4:53 PM

It makes sense that these names are increasing in popularity since parents today were born in the 70s and 80s, where short vowel names like Jennifer, Jessica, Andrew, and Daniel ruled. Long vowel names may sound new and "fresh" (calling a name that irritates me for some reason) to those parents looking something "different".

By alr as guest (not verified)
September 15, 2011 5:23 PM

Wow - I had never connected the dots on this one, but I, also, am a fan of the long vowel. To add to Zoerhenne's list (with only the first syllable being long) would be my daughter, a niece and a nephew:


By alr as guest (not verified)
September 15, 2011 5:35 PM

This thought process is helping me sort through the middle name choices for Naomi in a new light. Someone noted previously that Delia felt mealy - and I'm seeing now that it's those darn long vowels that I love just getting all chewed up together. Interesting.

And speaking of middle names for Naomi, I can't shake my love of Daphne. I ruled it out immediately when we were matched with Naomi because of the "ee" endings. But would I be crazy for putting it back on the list?

By Sarada (not verified)
September 15, 2011 6:26 PM

@TKB, thanks, I feel silly now for not noticing that earlier!

By EVie nli (not verified)
September 15, 2011 8:19 PM

I think I might be missing something, but--how does Claire have a long vowel? Is it another accent thing? Same with Mary--I get the long E at the end, but the first syllable? (since it was an example of an all-long-vowels name). Do people say it MAY-ree?

September 15, 2011 8:51 PM

adding Orson to Zoerhenne's list of long vowel followed by short. (i guess the second "o" is actually a schwa right? in any case, not long.)

as for Claire and Mary, i was unsure about whether those were long A's too. hrm... how many different sounds does each vowel make in American English? long, short, and schwa? seems like there are more...

By Jemma (not verified)
September 15, 2011 9:31 PM

The comparison between George and James caught my eye. The way in which I pronounce George approaches the long 0 sound (c.f., Owen) more than the mid-American schwa sound. Perhaps this is why I do love the name.

I do like a lot of long-vowel names--Blythe, Pierce, Jane, Jude--but the names that I like also tend to be mono-syllabic.

By the way, did anyone else think Claire a mismatch? I don't pronounce that name with a long vowel at all.

September 15, 2011 9:33 PM

alr-not my fav if it makes a difference. Let's see, based on the vowel sounds only if we can come up with something. You have nA-O-mE (with the vowels being uppercase to represent a long sound and the other sounds are lower case). So,
A-O-E af-E
A-O-E El-ya
A-O-E ahl-ya
A-O-E I-lit
A-O-E U-th

these are some on your list that I remember. Imo,it needs to be a long sound with maybe one of those fluid letters like an L in it as well. If you substitute other names in (like from Laura's list above) you will see that certain things sound better than others. How about Lucille, Paige, Andrea(an-DRAY-uh)? You might also want to do that football thing too. Grace better than Alice, Alice better than Layla, etc
So just say the sounds how I listed them and see what sound you need for YOU!

By ez mom (not verified)
September 15, 2011 9:33 PM

Yep, this must be my style with a Zoe and an Ethan, although I think the latter was missing from the list.

September 15, 2011 9:50 PM

RobynT-and EVie: A when it is R controlled and also followed by W and L acts a bit differently than long or short. Miriam is going crazy right now I'm guessing because she doesn't prefer to use the terms long and short. She studied language and knows the proper terms but I haven't. I just know from teaching my children that this is what is being used in the schools for them. Claire is close to long because the R changes the A sound. In dictionaries, you have:
Long A=say
Short a=sat
a with an umlat(2 dots over it)=car (which can also be said with different accents yes); calm
It comes out almost more of a short o sound a bit. Then also the Air sound.
The schwa sound is only in an unaccented syllable and is an /uh/ sound.

Btw, Claire comes out a bit like Clay-er ;)

September 15, 2011 9:47 PM

Folks, Modern English (Present-Day English) does not have long and short vowels. It has tense and lax vowels. Yes, I know long and short were used in school, but I don't know why since these terms are not accurate. Old English did have long and short vowels, but that was then. Long and short vowels differ quantitatively--that is the sound is the same, but long vowels are held for a longer duration of time than short. Our current tense and lax vowels differ qualitatively; that is, they are entirely different sounds. Just so, the (tense) vowel in 'hope' is not just a more drawn out version of the (lax) vowel in 'hop,' but rather they are two entirely different sounds. There are just a few pairs of words in Modern English which are distinguished by vowel length. One such minimal pair is 'balm' (long and the 'l' is not pronounced) and 'bomb' (short), and another is 'palm' (long) and 'pom' as in 'pom-pon' (short). Even going by the definition given in the post, not all the names contain all "long" vowels. For example, the first vowel in Rory is the vowel in 'raw', not the vowel in 'row' (which would be long according to the definition given, although in fact it is tense).

If anyone is interested, any intro to linguistics or history of the English language textbook will explain the various English vowel and consonant sounds and give the proper descriptive terminology.

September 15, 2011 10:04 PM

Ah, Zoerhenne, you know me too well. I do not know why schools go to the effort to teach errors when they could just as easily teach the correct information. The improper use of 'long' and 'short' to describe Modern English vowels only leads to confusion when children (or adults) go on to learn languages which do have vowels distinguished by quantity.

It's the same thing with verbs. English, like all Germanic languages, has strong and weak verbs. For some reason unknown to me, the school texts call these verbs irregular and regular. In fact, the so-called irregular verbs (that is, the strong verbs) belong to seven different classes and are regular within their classes--although the regularity is obscured by sound changes which have occurred over the centuries. The so-called regular verbs (that is, the weak verbs with the dental preterite) do not always look regular (e.g., bring, brought, brought). It's the d or t in the past tense which marks these verbs as weak--they are not all "regular." English does have a few genuinely irregular verbs, for example, the verb 'to be' which is actually cobbled together from three different verbs.

Publishers of school textbooks: it's just as easy to get things right as to present things incorrectly, causing me to spend my entire working life trying to straighten it all out.

By ez mom (not verified)
September 15, 2011 10:36 PM

Ahhhh, just reread the post and it's ALL the vowel I get it! And I'm enjoying the English lessons too ;)

By Stef (not verified)
September 16, 2011 12:33 AM

I also thought Mary seemed odd, although maybe some accents do say "MAY-ree." I know my very Southern grandparents pronounced my sister Sara's name as "SAY-ra," prompting my parents to start calling her by her middle name instead. Also, I don't pronounce Joel (my husband's name) and Noel as "Jole" and "Nole". I pronounce them with two syllables, and the second syllable is not long.

By Elaine (not verified)
September 16, 2011 1:16 AM

I wonder if this means my name is going to come back into fashion. I'm 38, and I've only ever met ONE Elaine younger than ten years older than I am!

September 16, 2011 2:29 AM

Elaine, my daughter-in-law Elaine is about five years younger than you are.

September 16, 2011 4:15 AM

Just to go on record, I definitely say Mary as MAY-ree. That's why Mary ≠ merry for me. It's a... short tense vowel? Is that a thing? I don't linger on the "AY" but it's distinctly there.

As for Claire, I've been sitting here repeating the word to myself and it seems like my pronunciation depends upon chance. Sometimes it comes out as Clay+r and other times as Cl+err. (Same thing with the word "air", it seems.)

What other comments were there?
- I say the "l" in both balm and palm
- I concur that Joel and Noel have two syllables
- I kinda like Naomi Daphne, but I like Violet and Dahlia more.

- OH! And the way I say "Rory", it is most definitely Roe, not Raw.

That's one reason why selecting a name for a child in the future will be difficult for me. There are so many subtle ways that even simple names can be pronounced and I can get very particular about pronunciation. Maybe it's because most people cannot say my name the way I want them to (Kæryn, with the "a" from ash, sack, hat, and the aaahhhhh of fright).

Lastly, if I had a child tomorrow, a daughter's first name would begin with a long/tense vowel and end with a lax/short one, while a son's would not have any long/tense vowels. (Actually, he would possibly have six syllables in his given names, none of which contain tense vowels. But I've always been one to gravitate away from popular things...)

September 16, 2011 8:54 AM

Pronunciation is such a fascinating subject here because there are so many different individual nuances. Karyn, I would say your name a bit like Care-in but a little more smooshed. The way you describe it sounds too drawn out for my ears. Elaine, I know that there is a difference and this name can be pronounced with either kind of vowel, like Caro-lynn or Caro-line, but I mostly say it Eh-lane. It's more like Ell-len than EE-lane.

Miriam-I don't even begin to understand verb usage. Btw, how do they explain spelling rules in your studies? I believe this is the whole reason for using the terms short vs. long. So that the little 5 yo have an easier term to work with.

By Coll
September 16, 2011 9:23 AM

Naomi Dahlia! I love it. The sounds work better than Naomi Delia.

September 16, 2011 9:30 AM

Miriam: I thought that tense-lax pairs didn't correspond with orthography. Furthermore, since IPA isn't taught in grammar school (probably for the best; we'd all be scrambling to set each of our particular accents as the "standard") phonics wouldn't help. Do you have any insight into this?

By I don't remember my name (not verified)
September 16, 2011 10:53 AM

I hate to be the sole person in disagreement, but 103 in 1000 names with nothing but all-long/tense-vowels doesn't really seem like a lot to me. Or maybe it does, since those 1000 names accounts for most babies born, which means at least 1 baby in 10 follows that trend. But so many of those on the girl's side are pronounced exactly the same way. Maybe that doesn't matter, since it's the number of babies born with the vowels that we are looking at.

If this really is a trend, what about a couple of decades ago? In 1950, were only 10 out of the top 500 each gender getting names with only long/tense vowels? In 1880?

I want to be proven wrong ^_^

September 16, 2011 11:04 AM

i say Joel=like jole. it is my brother's name. noel= i say like no-EL. Clair- i say like cl+air, my inlaws say Clay-are, which irks me. sometimes, i say, it is not two syllables!

By hyz
September 16, 2011 11:36 AM

I was also perplexed by Joel, Noel, Rory, Colby, Cole, and Colt on this list.

Joel, Noel, and Cole are exact rhymes for me, and also rhyme with the likes of coal and bowl and roll. Colby and Colt have that same sound, which I'm not quite sure how to describe, but I guess it is between the short (lax?) O in doll and the long (tense?) O in Joe. Adding the L changes the quality of the O. And Rory is slightly different, but it rhymes with or/for/door/lore--I can't imagine anyone says the first syllable as Roe, to rhyme with Joe (unless they say Joe very differently than I do, too).

September 16, 2011 12:24 PM

This is a bit off-topic, but I've been reading the blog archives and I came across the post about alternatives to popular names. I made a list of style alternatives for the top 20 girl's names for fun. Some of the names repeat because they have similar styles. Maybe it will be useful to someone :)

Isabella – Arabella, Eliana/Iliana, Anastasia, Esmeralda
Sophia – Delia, Sylvia/Sylvie, Francesca, Fiona
Emma – Anna, Gemma, Janna, Tessa
Olivia – Cecilia, Lavinia, Bianca, Vienna
Ava – Eva, Ana, Nina, Lena, Eve
Emily – Amelie, Aurelie, Cecily, Emery
Abigail- Julianne, Susannah, Rosalie
Madison – Waverley, Cassidy, Delaney, Emerson
Chloe – Claudia, Clarissa, Clio, Phoebe, Noelle
Mia – Nia, Lena, Celia, Gia
Addison – Jameson, Lavery, Logan, Imogen
Elizabeth – Julianne, Evangeline, Felicity, Vivian
Ella – Elle, Bella, Elsa, Alina
Natalie – Nicola, Emmaline, Aurelie
Samantha – Virginia, Bianca, Genevieve, Christiana
Alexis – Alexia, Alaina, Lacey
Lily – Layla, Lila, Laney, Nina
Grace – Jane, Claire, Hope, Felice
Hailey – Lesley, Lucy, Ansley
Alyssa – Elise, Alice, Alana

September 16, 2011 1:13 PM

Elisabeth Rae-Bianca was the name I was trying to think of for like the last month. Thank you. Now who was it back a thread or two that was just playing around with names and liked Natalie and other "frenchy yet simple" names. Would Bianca work for you?

September 16, 2011 2:28 PM

Miriam - Thank you. I do so enjoy your posts.

By 4boyzmdmom (not verified)
September 16, 2011 3:27 PM

I quickly thought through my boys' names and they all have short vowels, with the exception of one middle name. Hmmmm.... My new little niece, however, is Ivory June. She fits the "trend" better!

By EVie
September 16, 2011 4:15 PM

Karyn - Hmm, I don't say Mary and Merry the same either. Mary is somewhere in between Merry and MAY-ree, and it's the same vowel as in Claire and Air (and Bear). Also, I do say your name the way you prefer :)

I say Joel and Noel with two syllables, but the second is a barely-there schwa.

Miriam, thanks for the reminder about the tense & lax vowels. I think this is a very difficult topic to discuss without the proper terminology and linguistic background (which I don't have much of, either).

On a related note—what is the role of diphthongs in this theory? It occurred to me that many of what we're (incorrectly) calling "long vowels" are actually diphthongs—the "long A" vowel in May, for example is "eh" + "ee," the "long O" vowel in Joe is "oh" + "oo," the "long I" vowel in Kai is "ah" + "ee." The only pure vowels up there are "long E" ("ee," e.g. Reese) and "long U" ("oo," e.g. Luke).

By ErinsFoodFiles (not verified)
September 16, 2011 4:33 PM

Interesting! I have a friend who's three children are named Avery (girl), Oakley (boy), and Lakelyn (girl). ALL those names follow that theme. As do another friend's kids: Chloe, Peyton (girl), and Jake.

By Andre (not verified)
September 16, 2011 4:48 PM

I'd seriously hope Oakley, Rory and Shea dont chart for girls again. To me they are boy names.

By Andre (not verified)
September 16, 2011 4:51 PM

I few names I see missing from the boys list are: Rylee, Sage, Gage, Gauge, Wade, Wesley, Ryder, Leo, Theo, Rudy, etc...

September 16, 2011 5:40 PM

Andre-did you really mean to include Wesley? Isn't the proper pronunciation of this Wes-lee (like west w/o the t ending)? The phenomena we are talking about includes the "long" sound at the beginning first syllable like the rest of your list.

By alr as guest (not verified)
September 16, 2011 6:10 PM

New one on my list, following this post (and my personal taste) nicely with a tense vowel followed by a lax: Lilah.

For those keeping track of my crazy, that brings the current list to Violet, Dahlia, Vivienne, Lilah and two that have been erased and rewritten a few times, Delia and Daphne. First name Naomi, last name sounds a little like Rah-no-sin.

By Amy3
September 16, 2011 10:27 PM

@alr, while Lilah is a nice name, somehow it feels too similar to Naomi to me for the pair to work. I enjoy the juxtaposition of Naomi and Violet or Dahlia much more.

By Beth the original (not verified)
September 16, 2011 11:00 PM

It is these simple but elegant patterns -- revealed -- that keep me coming back to Baby Name Wizard Blog. Of course this explains why Caroline Jane seemed gorgeous as a name for my daughter, whereas Keralyn Jenn makes me cringe.

And why I always laugh about the 70s-ness of my own name lying in that one-syllable, short "e." Seth, Jeff, Beth, Ben. Seven-ties. A short-vowel decade.

We had the NYE-neties, the Ohs, and now the TEEns, so of course long vowels are in! But when we get to the Twenty-Twenties, watch out. Names like Pam, Heather, Kim, Roger, and Doug will be all the rage again.