How Do Baby Names Score at Scrabble? (Special 10th Anniversary Edition!)

Sep 24th 2014

Ten years ago this week, I published my first Baby Name Wizard blog post. Back then I couldn't imagine that I'd still be filling a weekly column with name talk a decade later. Names have proved to be a far richer topic than even I expected: a reflection of our past, our future and our dreams. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to discuss names with me during these past ten years, and here's to ten more!

I thought I'd celebrate this milestone by revisiting the first subject I wrote about back in 2004, the rising Scrabble value of American baby names. At the time, I pointed out a national love affair with "high value" letters, as measured by a timeless board game:

"The hot letters today sound quirky and exotic, the kind of letters that beg for individual attention. But how do parents know which letters are most exotic? No problem. That question was answered generations ago by an unemployed architect named Alfred Butts, who invented the game of Scrabble. Butts chose point values for letters based on popular usage of the time, with the workhorse letters (vowels, l, n, r, s, t) worth one point, and the rare birds far more."

Ten years later, the Scrabble value baby name fever has broken...mostly. Today's average name scores an average of 10.56 points, closer to the baby boom era than the '90s highs.

Scrabble values are falling victim to shrinking name lengths and a smooth, vowel-dominated naming age. Styles like "liquid names" and "raindrop names" score high for fashion, but low on a Scrabble board. This year we saw a ceremonial changing of the guard as long-time #1 name Jacob (Scrabble value: 16) yielded the title to Noah (Scrabble value: 7).

Yet parents do still love the quirky letters that help make a name look more interesting. Among the very few consonants rising in this age of vowels: the three rarest name letters, Q, X and Z.

Bonus Scrabble Name Facts:

Highest Scrabble Value Among Top-1000 Names: Jacqueline (28)

Lowest Scrabble Value Today Among Top-1000 Names: 3 (a 14-way tie, with 9 boys' names and 5 girls: Eli, Ian, Leo, Ali, Ari, Asa, Noe, Lee, Ean; Ana, Lia, Nia, Lea, Ann.)

Highest Scrabble Value Today in Extended Data: Jazzmyne (38)

And the All-Time Champ: Zzyzx (42). This five-letter wonder is based on a California place name, which itself was invented 70 years ago with the intention of being the last word in any dictionary.

20 Names Perfect for Autumn Babies

Sep 22nd 2014

 baby name roundups by theme
Quick—what’s your favorite season? Chances are you’ll say Fall, and we wholeheartedly agree. Even though we miss our summer vacations and picnics, we’re pretty happy right now to trade in our flip flops for a pair of boots and to grab a jacket on our way out the door. And it’s not just our wardrobe that’s changing with the seasons. As the air gets crisper and the coffee in our mugs gets warmer, we’re turning to these lovely names to welcome the season, and especially any babies due this fall.

Many parents consider the time of year when it comes time to make the ever-important list of name options for their little one. Beyond the classic fall favorite, Autumn, are names inspired by their meanings, colors, and connections to Fall foods and activities. Some are surprising, some are spot-on, and a few are, well, just a little bit of a stretch. After all, a little imagination could be just what you need to find that perfect name this season.

So cozy up to these names while you sip some cider and ponder your favorites. We hope you thoroughly enjoy this freshly-picked list of our top 20 favorite names related to all things Autumn.

Archer: This name, meaning "bowman" is a nod to the bow-and-arrow season that is just beginning to kick off across the country. Archer is becoming more popular with each year, though it’s far from over-used.

Arista: An energetic Greek name meaning "harvest", Arista hits the mark perfectly for a unique but stylish Fall name.

Arlet: We love anything that’s apple-inspired this season, including baby names like Arlet, which is a variety of apple related to Golden Delicious. The name has French roots and it’s more commonly spelled Arlette.

Aspen: Aspens are mountain-loving poplar trees with dazzling fall foliage in shades of yellow and gold. This nature name is starting to take off and just recently broke into the top 500.

Aurelia: If you love the colors of fall, this Latin name meaning “golden” could be perfect for your little one. Choose Aurelia now if you want to be ahead of the curve—it’s recently broken the top 1,000 names and is showing lots of potential.

Autumn: Altogether apropos, Autumn is pretty and especially meaningful for a baby with Fall-loving parents. This top-100 name is taking off and has yet to hit its peak.

Brock: Another irresistible apple variety, Brock is an Old English name meaning "badger". And—don’t laugh—it even shares its sound with our favorite brand of candy corns and pumpkins, Brach’s. We try.

Clove: A fragrant spice that will be garnishing our hot drinks, desserts, and holiday hams this fall, Clove is both a pretty and frill-free baby name. (Sorry, Cinnamon!)

Demi, Demetria: The Greek goddess of the harvest comes with a Hollywood-inspired variation. The name Demi is showing signs of life with the help of singing starlet Lovato.

Garner: Garner is an unusual choice that means "to harvest grain" in Latin. It’s ripe with potential, and two celeb babies have Garner for a middle name—Samuel Garner, son of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, and Haven Garner, daughter of Jessica Alba and Cash Warren.

Hunter: Fall rings in the hunting season, and whether or not you are a fan of wild game, this top-ranking name is sure to please.

Jack: A fitting name for your little jack-o-lantern, Jack is an unexpected reference to both Halloween and to Jack Frost, who begins to visit us this time of year and is said to color the leaves in the fall.

Jora: This rare name is Hebrew for "autumn rain" and comes with sweet variations Jorah, Jorie, and Jory.

November: November is another spot-on choice with stunning nicknames Nova and Ember. Not far away in popularity are fitting Fall names September and October.

Oakley: An English surname meaning "oak clearing", oak trees are a hallmark of the season between their colorful leaves and festive acorns. Oakley is another lovely choice that is just beginning to catch on with parents.

Raven: Edgar Allen Poe’s famous gothic poem The Raven gives this name a little bit of spook factor. Raven was most popular as a girls’ name in 1993, though it’s still got plenty of life left.

Sage: A fall-inspired color as well as a savory spice, Sage is a quintessential part of the Thanksgiving meal. The name Sage is starting to make a splash among parents, including celebs like Pink and Toni Collette.

Scarlett: A bold red that reminds us of the color of maple leaves, Scarlett is a red-hot favorite that hasn’t looked back since Ms. Johansson hit the silver screen.

Sienna: This Italian earthy orange-red pigment is the perfect fall shade and baby name. It’s also familiar to us as the more fiery burnt sienna, a brown-red that has been used by painters and little Crayola coloring artists for ages. Actress Sienna Miller has made this name even more appealing.

Teresa and Tessa: The classic Greek-turned-Italian name Teresa has a lovely Autumn connection in its meaning, "harvest". While Teresa has been falling in popularity, one of its charming short forms, Tessa, has lots of staying power.

For more Autumn baby names, check out Three Sources of Baby Name Ideas You Haven’t Thought Of featuring more apple variety names, and Surprising Names of the Mayflower Pilgrims. There are plenty of names that remind us of Fall—share your favorites with us, whether they are "on the list" or not!

8 Ways to Name a Baby After Someone…Even if You Hate Their Name

Sep 18th 2014

It's a funny thing about our ancestors: they're all older than us. Worse yet, they were born in the real past. That's the past where babies had names like Bernice, Mervin, Gladys and Wilfred, not the rose-tinted baby name past populated by names like Oliver, Julia, Gracie and Max.

What do you do when you want to honor a beloved relative's memory but her name doesn't fit your contemporary taste? Here are 8 strategies for naming after the name-fashion challenged:

1. The International Variant. If your relative had a traditional name, try looking to other languages for attractive translations. Ellen and Johnny could become Helena and Gianni, or Eleni and Ian. Past eras of English naming can help too; an uncle Peter could be honored with the medieval equivalent Piers.

2. The Nicknamesake. Great-Grandpa Wilfred's name may be a no go, but how about his nickname Will? Your little Will can still be a namesake, even if his full name is William or Wilson. Get creative with name roots and you'll find a surprising number of problem names can yield attractive "nicknamesakes."

3. The Middle Name. This is the most popular approach for today's parents, and the easiest. Just move the name down to the middle slot and choose a more stylish first name. The middle name solution preserves the honoree's name in its original form, and gives you an opening to tell your child stories of the wonderful individual they were named after. The downside is that you'll probably never use the middle name, so it won't conjure up memories the way a first-name namesake will.

4. The Surname. Don't forget that your loved ones had more than one name. A surname honor can come across as less specific, honoring a branch of the family rather than an individual. But if that family heritage meant a lot to your honoree, it may be a fitting tribute.

5. The Monogram. When more direct namesakes aren't an option, fall back on initials. Sharing initials with a special person is a subtle homage, but you can think of it as a secret message -- an unseen but powerful link between generations.

6. The Meaning. Most names have a literal derivation you can delve into for ideas. Leonard, for instance, comes from Germanic roots meaning "brave lion." You might honor a beloved Leonard with the name Ari, which is Hebrew for lion. WARNING: If you find yourself turning to this option, it probably means you've gotten desperate in your search for some kind of literal namesake. Before you make such an abstract connection, take some time to consider the next option.

7. The Non-Name "Namesake." Naming in honor of a person doesn't necessarily mean naming after him. Did your honoree have a personal hero? Was there a place that was special to him throughout his life? Did he have a passion that he passed on to you, that you hope to share with your child? Connecting to something a person loved can be a beautiful way to honor the life he lived.

8. The Original. Okay, you've run through all of your options for Grandma Martha. The international options stop at Marta. Grandma's unpronounceable surname is out of the question. An initial M won't sound like an homage to Martha, because your name is Melanie! And Martha is from the Aramaic for "lady," which is no help at all. Well, about naming your daughter Martha? Give the original name a chance, it just might grow on you.