Little Names are Getting Bigger

Oct 18th 2017

When it comes to baby name style, little is getting bigger every day. We're drawn to miniatures like Eli, Leo, Ava and Zoe that pack all their style into a tiny form. In fact, the percentage of American babies receiving a three-letter name has more than doubled over the past two decades. Take a look:

That's a major shift, but historically it's a return to form. Over the past 20 years, miniature names have been rebounding from a historic drought. In fact, from a zoomed-out graph it looks like our 20-year climb is just a return to the mini-name rates of the early 1960s:

That graph, though, conceals a major shift in style. Rather than returning to a previous style of short names, we're moving in a new direction.

The last time three-letter names were as popular as they are now was in 1963. Compare the top 10 mini-names of that year with today's:

1963 Boys   1963 Girls               2016 Boys   2016 Girls  
Joe Kim   Eli Ava
Tim Amy   Leo Mia
Jon Ann   Ian Zoe
Jay Sue   Max Eva
Roy Pam   Kai Ivy
Jim Joy   Jax Mya
Tom Kay   Ali Amy
Lee Jan   Ace Ana
Dan Lee   Jay Lia
Ray Eva   Ari Ada


The 1963 names shared a remarkably consistent style. 90% of them were a single syllable, and most were also common as nicknames for longer popular names of the time. They're the result of paring names down to their simplest, most direct, and most cheerfully informal cores.

Today's list looks and sounds very different. Every name on the girls' list is multisyllabic, along with half of the boys. The names are diverse in origin and style. High-impact leters like V, X and Z are plentiful. Nicknames are scarce.

In short, the new miniatures look a lot like a cross-section of today's naming trends. They're just...little. The miniature size itself is luring in parents from across the style spectrum.




October 18, 2017 1:46 PM

I was going to wonder about what would happen if you added in all the kids with long-form "formal" names that are rarely used, but upon reflection I doubt that it would be different than in the 1960s when nicknames abounded.

October 18, 2017 4:45 PM

Remember that a lot of "nickname names" on the mid-century or so lists are likely artifacts, as I've described here.

October 18, 2017 8:24 PM

I'd be curious to see the mini-names that were so popular in the early 1900s.

October 19, 2017 1:54 PM

I didn't look at every year, zippy1, but the top 10 3 letter name lists in 1900 and 1910 combinded leaves:

Ida, Eva, Mae, Ann, Ada, May, Iva, Ora, Ola, Amy, and Fay


Joe, Roy, Sam, Lee, Leo, Tom, Ray, Ben, Jim, Max, and Ed


More like the recent girls names in the two syllable sound.

October 20, 2017 3:27 PM

It's interesting that Jay has hung in there stronger than Joe or Tim or Tom or Dan, all of which feel much more common to me still. I assume it's because Jay doesn't obviously have a "long form", whereas parents who might want to use one of the other names may decide they want the full Joseph/Timothy/Thomas/Daniel on the birth certificate.

I'm guessing Amy has survived Ann for a similar reason--today's parents prefer Annabel or Anneliese or Ryanne etc. (or at least Anna or Anne-with-an-E).

October 21, 2017 3:45 PM

Alp, Bay, Guz, Jon, Rey, Rua, Val, Zeo these are my favorite three letter names