Think smooth. Imagine a name with the gloss of honey and the flow of water. If it's an English name, chances are it's fashionable for American girls today. From the trim sweetness of "raindrop names"like Lily to the lyricism of "liquid names" like Aurelia, parents are drawn to the sleekest sounds around.
One of the beauties of the fluid sounds is that they travel well. To demonstrate, I've collected examples of smooth girls' names from all over the world. These names, from 33 different languages, show off an extraordinary range of styles. But not one has hard stops or rough edges; just silky-smooth flow.
|SMOOTH GIRL'S NAME||LANGUAGE||MEANING/ORIGIN|
|Naiara||Basque||Form of the place name Nájera|
|Emina||Bosnian||From Amin, "Trustworthy, truthful"|
|Raya||Bulgarian||"Paradise," also a diminutive of Rayna|
|Mireia||Catalan||Form of the Occitan name Mirèio, a literary invention meaning "admirable"|
|Lenna||Estonian||Short form of names such as Helena|
|Minea||Finnish||From a character in the famous Finnish novel "The Egyptian"|
|Malou||French||Contraction of Marie-Louise|
|Nele||German||A pet form of names such as Cornelia|
|Lilla||Hungarian||Originally a short form of names starting with Li|
|Orla||Irish||From Órfhlaith, "golden princess"|
|Airi||Japanese||Can be written with kanji of various meanings, frequently "love + jasmine"|
|Aiman||Kazakh||From Ai, meaning "moon"|
|Iria||Portuguese||Saint's name, possibly a form of Irene|
|Linnea||Swedish||The name of a flower, after the Swedish botanist Linnaeus|
For many parents, unisex baby names feel like a breath of fresh air. A name like Lennon or Landry steps outside the traditional name stream and can't be immediately labeled "boy" or "girl." That freedom from preconceptions is part of the name's appeal, both in style terms and in deeper dreams of a lifetime without limits. But an analysis of name stats over the past generation suggests that a balanced gender ratio is unlikely to last. Few unisex names stay unisex.
Image via Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock
I Identified all baby names in regular use 25 years ago that were "unguessably unisex." (My threshholds were at least 200 babies born in the year, and no greater than a 2:1 gender ratio in either direction). 33 names made the cut. A generation later, here's what has happened to the balanced names:
• 23 have shifted to single-sex dominated usage (11 male, 12 female).
• 10 have remained unisex.
So as a starting point, a unisex name had less than a 1 in 3 chance of remaining balanced. If you look closer, though, the numbers are even more dramatic.
Quite a few of the names that moved single-sex did so dramatically, becoming hit names for girls or boys. Every single name that remained unisex dropped in popularity. Some have essentially disappeared. Names like Loren and Codie, it turns out, weren't so much lasting unisex names as former sex-stamped hits fading out of use.
If we look just at the unisex names of 1990 that are still at least modestly popular, the stable unisex rate falls to 1 in 5. A parent who chose a unisex name in 1990 was essentially rolling the dice on the name's ultimate gender makeup. A single-sex name of either sex was a more likely outcome than an unguessably androgynous adult name.
The graph below shows the sex ratio of these names drifting over the 25-year period. The center 50% line represents names given to equal numbers of girls and boys:
Name styles are evolving fast, but this phenomenon doesn't seem to be fading. Looking at a more recent sample, almost half of the unisex names of just 10 years ago have already swung one way or the other.
The data suggest that unisex names as a group are a style in flux. They're a mix of new names that have yet to settle into an image or identity; older names slipping out of style; girlish respellings of passingly trendy boys' names; names in mid-transition from masculine to feminine; and a handful of lastingly unisex names.
From the point of view of the here and now, the future direction of an individual name is hard to predict. In 1990, Kirby and Avery were both uncommon androgynous names. Today Avery is a huge hit girl's name while Kirby is vanishing for both sexes. The fluid identity of unisex names also makes them particularly susceptible to celebrity influence. Ashton and Kendall were unisex in 1990, but thanks to Ashton Kutcher and Kendall Jenner, Ashton is now overwhelmingly male and Kendall overwhelmingly female. If fluidity is your goal, you'll find it a maddenly hard quality to bottle for the future.
Just to be clear, I am NOT saying everyone should choose a single-sex name. Each name choice is unique, and parents may be drawn to unisex names for many reasons. If Hollis is a family surname, if Emory is your alma mater, if Lennon is a personal hero, or if you just love the sound and meaning of Ever, those qualities are intrinsic and will never fade. Choose the name you love for all the reasons you love it. But if you're looking for androgyny for its own sake, go in with your eyes open.
A decade ago, this article couldn't have existed. Hot, fast-rising names inspired by scientists rather than movie heroes or sports stars? Not a chance. But parents are starting to look to new sources of baby name inspiration, especially sources that carry their own unique cultural energy. For some families, that means the high wattage of rock star names. For others, it's the heroes of science, technology and mathematics who light up the night.
At first glance, you might dismiss some of these trending names as mere coincidence. After all, Tesla is now an automobile brand as well as the name of inventor Nikola Tesla. Pascal is a French and German given name as well as mathematician Blaise Pascal. Carver means skateboards and short stories as well as a botanist George Washington Carver. But then there's Feynman. The 20 American boys named after physicist Richard Feynman last year make it clear that scientific names are for real.
Nikola Tesla. Image via commons.wikimedia.org
All of these scientist names have risen in popularity over the past decade, most doubling, tripling or more. If you like the idea of name inspired by the spirit of discovery, you should find plenty of ideas here—or perhaps you'll be emboldened to name after a scientific hero of your own.
FAST-RISING SCIENTIST BABY NAMES
Archimedes: The greatest mathematician of ancient Greece never even registered in American baby name statistics until this decade. Quirky, classical and unquestionably scientific, Archimedes is still a very rare name, but rising.
Carver: This name has many associations, but its links to George Washington Carver run deep. Before this generation, the name's historic peak was the year of the famous African-American botanist's death. For bonus scientist points, Carver Mead is a modern pioneer of microelectronics.
Edison: Inventor Thomas Alva Edison's surname fits in particularly well with contemporary name styles. It's the most popular name on this list, rising alongside other -son names from American history like Emerson and Jackson.
Feynman: This unlikely name trend is a tribute to the spirit of physicist Richard Feynman as well as to his scientific accomplishments. Feyman's popular memoirs show off an irreverent soul who lived life to the fullest.
Galileo: Astronomer/physicist Galileo Galilei's discoveries led to his conviction for heresy. Yet the baby name Galileo, with its lyrical sound and celestial associations, suggests the romantic, adventurous side of scientific discovery.
Joule: Physicist James Prescott Joule's name name made its first-ever appearance in the baby name stats last year. Pronounced like "jewel," it is given most often to girls.
Pascal: The most traditional given name on this list, the French name Pascal refers to Easter and was once a traditional choice for boys born on Good Friday. In English it's linked more strongly to mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Sagan: Astronomer Carl Sagan is best known for popularizing his discipline with exuberance and awe. The name (pronounced SAY-gin) is given to both sexes, but more often boys.
Tesla: Long underappreciated, electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla is much admired among a new generation of inventors and engineers. Tesla electric cars were named in his honor, as were 166 girls (and 5 boys) last year.
Tycho: Groundbreaking 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe was no cloistered academic. Hugely wealthy, Brahe was known for eccentric indulgences like keeping a pet elk, and wearing a fake brass nose after his own nose was harmed in a duel over a mathematical formula. The name is usually pronounced TIE-ko.