Goodbye "J"? The Great Smoothing of American Baby Names

May 11th 2015

The biggest trend in baby names doesn't come from Hollywood, or the Bible, or anywhere on a map. It's not about meanings or origins or aspirations. It's about pure sound. Take a look at which initial letters rose and fell this past year in American baby name choices:

The initials that rose the fastest were E, L, O, A, H, R, W. The fastest fallers: Z, S, D, B, K, T, J. Try pronouncing those two lists like words and you'll see how different they sound and feel.

In the past I've identified specific smooth name styles on the rise, like "raindrop names," but this trend is looking bigger. It's a literal sound of the times, a smoothing out of a whole generation of names. Just look at the plummeting letter J on the far right of the chart above. From John to James to Jeffrey to Jason to Jayden (not to mention Joan, Janet, Jennifer and Jessica), J has been a perennial staple of American name style. This year it fell to an all-time historic low, as you see in this graph from the NameVoyager.

J is hardly alone. All of rough-edged initials (stops, fricatives, etc.) are declining year by year:

While names starting with vowels soar:

That's just initials. Looking to the ends of names, smooth letters like A, N and R dominate as well. The parents who do buck that tide seem to be looking for a "exclamation point": a quick, crisp close like TT or X, nothing too heavy. When was the last time you met a baby whose name ended in D?

(These graphs of end letters and letter combinations were created with the Expert NameVoyager. You can sign up for free to use our expert tools!)

My guess is that there's still more smoothing ahead for American baby names. The tide won't turn until we're saturated in silky-smooth names, so that chunkier sounds start to sound fresh to the next naming generation. For a glimpse of that future, I recently heard some middle-school girls discussing name they thought was really pretty: Bernadette.

 

More on the new name trends:

 

Comments

1
May 12, 2015 1:05 PM

Interesting. I would be curious to see the letters' change as percentage. J has the furthest to fall in raw numbers simply because it's so popular to start with, after all. 

As for sweet Bernadette, all I hear is more "Big Bang Theory" influence, a #1 show with few female characters. First Penny, so are Bernadette, Amy, and maybe even Farrah next to get a BBT bump? Amy, for example. is a name that people born after 1990 have not heard much (unlike those born in the 70s) with a nice meaning and literary characters like one of the "Little Women" (the pretty blonde one, even, albeit one lacking magical powers). In the next couple decades, it could become a tribute to Grandma Amy.

Actually, there have been more Farrahs born in the past few years than there in the 1970s, Ms, Fawcett's heyday.

2
May 12, 2015 6:34 PM

Fascinating!  This is exactly the meaty, thought-provoking sort of analysis that keeps me coming back to this blog.

3
May 13, 2015 11:27 PM

I went school with so many J names that the initial itself felt so overdone that I didn't even want to consider it for my own kid. Jennifer, Jessica, Jonathan, Justin, Jason, Jeremy, Jacqueline, Jillian, Jeffrey, Joshua, Jared, Joel, Jamie... and that's just off the top of my head. 8/63 kids - that's 8% - of my elementary school grade was named Jonathan. When I was in college, there were times when I'd be sitting at a table with friends and I was the only one whose name didn't start with J. All that to say that I'm not surprised that the letter is falling. It was so popular for so long that people need a change. 

4
November 25, 2015 10:46 AM

Interesting. I would be curious to see the letters' change as percentage. J has the furthest to fall in raw numbers simply because it's so popular to start with, after all. 

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As for sweet Bernadette, all I hear is more "Big Bang Theory" influence, a #1 show with few female characters. First Penny, so are Bernadette, Amy, and maybe even Farrah next to get a BBT bump? Amy, for example. is a name that people born after 1990 have not heard much (unlike those born in the 70s) with a nice meaning and literary characters like one of the "Little Women" (the pretty blonde one, even, albeit one lacking magical powers). In the next couple decades, it could become a tribute to Grandma Amy.

5
November 26, 2015 2:44 PM

 

Interesting. I would be curious to see the letters' change as percentage. J has the furthest to fall in raw numbers simply because i شراءا لاثاث المستعمل بالرياض  ارقام الاثاث المستعمل بالرياض As for sweet Bernadette, all I hear is more "Big Bang Theory" influence, a #1 show with few female characters. First Penny, so are Bernadette, Amy, and maybe even Farrah next to get a BBT bump? Amy, for example. is a name that people born after 1990 have not heard much (unlike those born in the 70s) with a nice meaning and literary characters like one of the "Little Women" (the pretty blonde one, even, albeit one lacking magical powers). In the next couple decades, it could become a tribute to Grandma Amy.  

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6
June 15, 2016 2:19 AM

I went school with so many J names that the initial itself felt so overdone that I didn't even want to consider it for my own kid. Jennifer,  نقل اثاث بالرياض , Jonathan, Justin, Jason, Jeremy, Jacqueline, Jillian, Jeffrey, Joshua, Jared, Joel, Jamie... and that's just off the top of my head. 8/63 kids - that's 8% - of my elementary school grade was named Jonathan. نقل عفش بالرياض When I was in college, there were times when I'd be sitting at a table with friends and I was the only one whose name didn't start with  شركة مكافحة حشرات بالرياض All that to say that I'm not surprised that the letter is falling It was so popular for so long that people need a change.