The Hot Names of 2098?

May 2nd 2018

The names of our great-grandparents' time have a special appeal. Throwbacks like Clara and Hazel were gone for long enough that they've started to sound fresh again, and their past popularity gives them roots and warmth. Based on the standard retro name curve, many of today's popular names should be hitting their stride again around the end of the century.

But there's a catch. Today's popular names aren't all that popular. The names at the top of today's baby name hit list are only a fraction as common as the top names of past generations. The average American baby now receives a fairly uncommon name.

If we're not oversaturated with a specific name today, will it even acquire a generational date-stamp that sends it into hibernation? Or will the great-grandparent rule start to break down, and name comeback cycles become unpredictable, or non-existent?

My prediction is that the future retro cycle will be ruled by the same force that dominates today's naming choices: sound. In the past generation we've largely abandoned the core names of English tradition, and even stopped naming after our own relatives. That has left sound-based style ruling the roost. As sound families sweep in and out of fashion, the "freshness" of an individual name will increasingly be determined by the history of dozens of its near stylistic neighbors.

Sound-based styles aren't an entirely new phenomenon. I once identified name suffixes specific to every decade, from the -TTIE babies of the 1880s (Hattie, Lottie) to the -TNEY babies of the 1990s (Courtney, Whitney). But in the past, those sound clusters sat in the shadows of individual mega-hit names, and were themselves largely comprised of a handful of hits. For example, the total popularity of boys' names ending in the sound -ALD in the 1930s was even greater than that of boys' names ending in -the sound -AYDEN in the late 2000s. But take a look at the makeup of those two trends:

Each stripe in the graphs represents a single name. The 1930s trend was dominated by four hit names, Donald, Gerald, Harold and Ronald. The sound of the 2000s was spread out among dozens of variations on a theme. That makes the theme itself the trend, one we instinctively recognize even when an individual name may be unfamiliar. The style is an emergent property of a whole naming wave, represented equally by common names like Jayden and Aiden and rarities like Tayden and Graeden.

This raises a paradoxical option for future generations: authentic, newly invented antique names. Our great-grandchildren may be able to hark back to the turn of the millennium by custom-tailoring their own examplars of our style. Perhaps they'll give them a uniquely 2090s spin by incorporating hot name elements of their own time. Today's parents are already dabbling in this, creating "new antiques" by cobbling together stylish parts (e.g. Elizabella) or creating bible-inspired spellings (Lilah). In the future, some new sound we can't yet imagine will likely merge with endings like -ayden to summon up images of our era.


Special thanks to @nedibes for suggesting this topic




May 8, 2018 12:24 PM

Thanks Laura for interesting post about future name. I am not sure that I may live until 2098...if so, I will be came Gran..Gran Granmama for sure.