Goodbye "J"? The Great Smoothing of American Baby Names
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:
- The top 1000 names of 2014, with last year's rankings for comparison
- The fastest-rising boys' names of 2014
- The fastest-rising girls' names of 2014