The Rise of Liquid Names

Jul 12th 2012

A new class of girls' names has taken hold in the past generation. I call them the Liquid Names: they flow smoothly, like water down a glass streambed with no rocks or branches to impede its path. You can speak names like Anaya, Aliya, and Eliana with every sound drawn out long, and without visibly moving your mouth. Pure flow.

A generation ago, such names were rare. Today they seem to be everywhere, the boldest weapons in our generation's "war on consonants."

I wanted to quantify this trend I've been seeing, so I had to define criteria for a liquid name. First, I decided to require three or more syllables. A name like Anna or Ella is perfectly smooth, but too compact to suggest a fluid flow. Next I restricted the number of consonants. There should be fewer consonant sounds than syllables, allowing the vowels to set the mood. (Note that's consonant sounds, not letters; in Arianna, for instance, the two n's make a single sound.)

Finally, I restricted the specific consonants permitted. L and R were obvious choices, since they belong to the linguistic category called "liquid consonants." I also allowed N, Y and H, since they can be made with an open mouth (unlike m or sh), without involvement of lips or teeth (unlike f or s), and without hard throat sounds (unlike g or kh).

Here are the liquid names that ranked in the top 500 for American girls 50 years ago:

471. Leona
487. Elena

And today:

46. Aaliyah
52. Arianna
84. Ariana
115. Liliana
133. Aliyah
155. Alaina
156. Eliana
157. Aria
160. Elena
183. Aurora
186. Alana
197. Aniyah
220. Ariel
223. Alayna
266. Alina
311. Lilliana
334. Elliana
359. Elaina
391. Aleah
414. Aniya
463. Liana
471. Lilyana
475. Anaya

Here's that story again, in graph form via the Expert NameVoyager:

When was the last time you saw water flow uphill like that?

Comments

1
July 12, 2012 12:25 PM

I know a little girl (9 mo) named for her great-grandmother: Aurelia (AW-ree-lee-a)

2
July 12, 2012 3:15 PM

Totally off topic:
I have some comments and observations about the forum, but there doesn't seem to be a logical place to post (or discuss) such things? Is it possible to contact a moderator, and if so; how? 
Thanks!
PS: Love the forum. 

3
July 12, 2012 6:28 PM

Anna-X Top Right next to NameCandy, the tab named Forums. 

 

I think Lydia has a nice fluid flow.

4
July 12, 2012 6:56 PM

Anna-X, when I've had comments about the forum, I've sent messages via the contact link on the very bottom right of the screen. It takes you to a form where you submit an email, not to a place for discussions, but they take note of your comments and suggestions.

5
July 12, 2012 8:11 PM

I must be the only person who doesn't really like the liquid girls names. I don't dislike them, they just seem overly frilly to me.  Of the list Laura posted I the only name I really like is Aria. Looking over my list  of preferred names I have a thing for consonant clusters. The clunkier the better it seems!

6
July 12, 2012 8:30 PM

Chimu, I'm with you.  For the most part, they seem too frilly and insubstantial to me.  I like Leona, and that's about it.  I'd alter a few of them to make them more "my taste"- like Lillian instead of Liliana, or Lena instead of Elena.

7
By 2ndtimemommy (not verified)
July 12, 2012 8:31 PM

Are there any Liquid Names for boys? My daughter's name is on your list, and you pretty much nailed it when it comes to why we picked it: It glides. My husband's last name is a clunky Slavic name with a million consonant sounds in it. I feel like the name we chose for our daughter flows smoothly over this last name and somehow makes it significantly less akward. We are now trying to name a boy, and I'm struggling to find a name that has this same characteristic. it seems like people must equate consonant sounds for boys with being "manly" because I feel like that's all I'm finding. Interestingly, our current front runner, Landon, has 3 liquid consonants.  We may be on to something! =)

8
July 12, 2012 9:24 PM

@MelissaG, at least I'm not the only one. I also prefer Lillian to Lilliana etc. 

 

9
By Poppy528 (not verified)
July 12, 2012 10:11 PM

I was about to bash this trend (which I've noticed too) until I realized my favorite names, Tallulah and Augustus, pretty much fit in. Oh well ;) I do strongly prefer names with a little heft, like Matilda, but see that's still fairly "liquid" I guess. 

10
By J&H's mom (not verified)
July 12, 2012 10:22 PM

I don't dislike them either, but many of them seem like variants on the same names.

I'm sure many of the Lillianas and Ellianas werre designed to be called Lily and Ellie.

 

11
By TamaraR (not verified)
July 13, 2012 1:17 AM

I liked reading about how you made the restriction choices.

There are some things I have to comment on, though.  Personally, I think S should be allowed. It may involve some use of teeth, but to me it sounds much more flowing than N. To my ear, Alyssa & Celia sound more liquid than Elena and Leona.    Likewise, if you say Selena or Serena, IMHO the N seems more of the aural bump than the S.

The other thing is, how 'hard' of a consonant sound does it take to be ruled out?  I assume Helena is not in this list because H, L, and N don't outnumber the syllables, but this H is so easy and open-mouthed that it doesn't feel quite right to say Elena is liquid but not Helena (under the assumption they rhyme with -ayna rather than -enna).

Last,  is there a greater proportion of 3+ syllable names now than 50 yrs ago, or is that not at all a factor in this comparison?

Anyway, I appreciate that the post got me thinking about it all!

12
By Stef (not verified)
July 13, 2012 4:28 AM

I met someone recently with a toddler named Alina, which I'd never heard before, but I thought the name was pretty. Sure enough, it's on this list. I'm surprised Leilani isn't, since I know of several, and the name fits the criteria. I agree with the commenter above who thinks names like Alyssa and Serena seem to fit.

Overall, I think the names are pretty; they remind me of some names I would have liked 15 years ago as a high-schooler. But hearing them back to back in a list like that really makes them glide and flow right into each other, and they seem sort of undistinguished in their frilly liquidity.

13
By Stef (not verified)
July 13, 2012 4:31 AM

I met someone recently with a toddler named Alina, which I'd never heard before, but I thought the name was pretty. Sure enough, it's on this list.  I agree with the commenter above who thinks names like Alyssa and Serena seem to fit.

Overall, I think the names are pretty; they remind me of some names I would have liked 15 years ago as a high-schooler. But hearing them back to back in a list like that really makes them glide and flow right into each other, and they seem sort of undistinguished in their frilly liquidity.

14
July 13, 2012 6:17 AM

@2ndtimemommy, you've got me wondering about boys' names now.  I'm finding it difficult to come up with names with 3 or more syllables that only contain the consonant sounds above.  I've broken the rules a bit in this list, but these are a few more-or-less-liquid male names that sprang to mind.

Ariel, Arlo, Daniel, Elijah, Elias, Ellery, Errol, Harry, Hilary, Iolo, Josiah, Julian, Leo, Leon, Lorenzo, Milo, Neil, Niall, Noah, Noel, Oliver, Orlando, Orlon, Orrin, Owen, Roland, Rollo, Rory, Wayland, Wiley, William

15
By Amy3
July 13, 2012 12:00 PM

@Chimu and MelissaG, count me as another huge fan of girls' names with loads of consonants. As Chimu said, "the clunkier, the better." I couldn't agree more!

I'm sure it's no surprise that I know many girls with names like this - Aliya, Aaliyah, Elena, Liana, Lilliana. I also agree with J&H's mom in seeing a lot of this as a way to Ellie, Ella, or Lily. 

For me, while pretty, these names lack substance. They feel so light and airy, as if they could just float away.

16
July 13, 2012 12:22 PM

Two other names spring to mind: Anea (pronounced A-nay-uh), the daughter of someone I know, and Elliania, the name of a character in Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy. As far as I can tell, Elliania has never appeared on the SSA lists, but I think it's overdue as it fits right in with existing trends.

17
July 13, 2012 12:22 PM

Two other names spring to mind: Anea (pronounced A-nay-uh), the daughter of someone I know, and Elliania, the name of a character in Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy. As far as I can tell, Elliania has never appeared on the SSA lists, but I think it's overdue as it fits right in with existing trends.

18
July 13, 2012 3:56 PM

They are just not my style at all--they sound like good names for lingerie companies or a bit too much like Sci Fi characters but not quite. There is just something about them that rubs me the wrong way.

19
By Beth the original (not verified)
July 13, 2012 9:14 PM

Me too, ElleOK.  They're like ululations, not names.  I like Eleanor, but that's not on the list because of the "r."  In general I don't like names ending in "a."

20
By TamaraR (not verified)
July 14, 2012 1:34 AM

OK, it's been nagging at me, so I just have to post again..

If the point is less on the flow or liquidity of the name and more just that the vowel sounds really dominate the name, then I can see about usually omitting S, as it does tend often to draw attention to itself.  However, I don't think it always dominates  --- for example, the name Isaiah has a single consonant sound of 's', but otherwise seems like a great example of Laura's 'liquid' vowel-laden names, and one of the few for boys.   Agree too with Clarebeorhte's Elias mention.

I like Alejandro too as a flowy vowel-y name for a boy, but yeah, the 'ndr' would knock it off the list of liqud names by the given standards.

 

 

 

21
July 14, 2012 4:48 AM

@Amy3, hardly surprising we agree on this issue!! Our name lists are very similar and we both have Astrid's :)  

I also seem to like boys names that have a bit more substance. Most of the ones I have on my list are also consonant heavy and have consonant clusters.

22
By Poppy528 (not verified)
July 14, 2012 10:30 PM

Boys names to fit: Elijah, Isaiah, Josiah, Javier & Olivier (pr. French), Nehemiah, Ismael, Eliyahu, Elias, Leonel, Uriah, Ulysses

23
July 15, 2012 10:02 AM

i'm with you Chimu, except i like Ariana and Ariel, but didn't notice that one there.

24
July 15, 2012 10:08 AM

i used to know an Alina, who pronounced it  uh-Lynn-ah, but i think the prn. uh-LEEN-uh is more dominant now.

25
July 15, 2012 10:44 AM

I'm also a hard consonant lover and find these names insubstantial and indistinguishable.  All those Alliannas and Anayas, I counter with Thistle and   Astrid and Benedict Cumberbatch!

26
By 2ndtimemommy (not verified)
July 16, 2012 1:37 PM

Thank you for the suggestions! Interestingly, several of them are already on our longer potential-middle-name-list. It's helpful, though, to see the others grouped this way. it sheds new lights on some names that I hadn't previously considered. thank you!

27
By 2ndtimemommy (not verified)
July 16, 2012 1:40 PM

@Clarebeorhte and Poppy528: thank you for the suggestions. It's helpful to see these names in one place.  it helps shed new light on some names I hadn't previously considered!  thank you!

28
By KristinW (not verified)
July 16, 2012 10:43 PM

Count me in as one who's not a big fan of this trend. I've encountered a lot of babies and babies-to-be with these names, and as someone else mentioned, they're so liquid they all seem to run together. They're "pretty," which seems to be their appeal, but they sound too princessy to me. I like names with a bit more spunk.

29
By Allison Margaret (not verified)
July 17, 2012 1:19 PM

I'm over the liquid names. Yes, they sound nice, but to me, these are akin to the Aidan rhymers. In both trends there are some I like and others I don't like, but I'm tired of hearing them regardless.

30
By Kasey (not verified)
July 17, 2012 11:42 PM

I, too, dislike them and feel they all kind of sound the same and echo what others have said...  indistinguishable, princessy, frilly, prissy, etc.  Not my style.  I think some of that stems from the sheer numbers of kids given these names.

31
By Tirzah NLI (not verified)
July 17, 2012 11:48 PM

I would call these names "melodious" rather than "liquid."  When you sing, you hold out the vowels and only lightly hit the consonants.

32
July 18, 2012 8:53 PM

Many of these names (Liliana, Elena, etc. in all their variations) are very common in the Hispanic community. That might account for part of their rise of popularity. 

33
By m. (not verified)
July 20, 2012 11:15 AM

Lilyana (Лиляна) is a traditional Bulgarian name, comes from the flower lilac. I'm amazed to find it in the american top 500 O_o. 

34
By Lilllie (not verified)
July 28, 2012 2:30 AM

This has to be the first time I've ever disagreed with Laura, but I don't understand why n counts in this category but m does not. They are the exact same sound except that the air comes out of your nose for m and out of your mouth for n.

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