The winner of this year's Baby Name Pool can claim a unique distinction. Jennifer Nicholas is the Pool's first ever repeat champion, reclaiming the crown she won two years ago. Please join me in a round of applause for the Ken Jennings of baby names!
Impressively, Jennifer earned this year's highest scores for both rising and falling name predictions. Her ballot correctly predicted both the #1 fastest-rising boy's name, Gael, and the #1 fastest-falling boy's name, Jaden -- plus the #4 falling name Ashton for good measure. (The complete winning ballot: Gael, Aldo, Danna to rise, Jaden, Ashton, Karla to fall.)
Jennifer is a literacy instructor and doctoral candidate in Workforce Education and Development at Penn State. Her own impeccably named children are Arlo (6) and Levi (4). She offered some insights on how she made some of her Pool choices:
"Gael was inspired by Gael Garcia Bernal. I love the unique blend of Celtic on a Mexican actor and director...not only is Gael an acclaimed actor and director, he's collaborated with Amnesty International and he's not bad looking! It's easy to picture him as a modern-day namesake.
"My first two 'fallers' were inspired by names and associations that I felt had lost their freshness. Ashton Kutcher has experienced skyrocketing success and he's currently attached to another name-inspiring phenomenon (Mila Kunis), but his name is all too familiar after an abundance of press over the years. The same could be said of another popular namesake, Jaden Smith. Jaden is young and incredibly successful, but there is nothing new about him or his name and I think his naming influence has peaked."
And some wise words on names in general, which should resonate with readers of this blog:
"I am preaching to the choir here, but I encourage everyone to think more about naming practices as a prism through which we can better understand each other. Sometimes we have 'tunnel vision' when it come to names, with a hyper-focus on the ones we see and hear frequently in our own circles, but that ignores the diversity in the SSA database. There is so much out there and it's all interconnected! Naming draws from my favorite disciplines-- history, sociology, psychology, and linguistics, and it even touches on religion and politics. Rapid risers and fallers are one small but fascinating aspect of naming and they capitalize almost exclusively on trends in popular culture. Knowing the risers and fallers is like knowing the buzz!"
Amen! I'd also like to offer congratulations to Pool entrant Lara, who was the only one to predcit the fastest-falling girl's name, Alexis. (Nobody picked up on the hottest girl's name, Cataleya.)
On a final note, this marks our third year in a row with a champion named Jennifer. Could it be that women who grew up with a name that has become a symbol of popularity cast an especially careful eye on name trends?
For the past decade, America has had an unprecedented love affair with the letter N. Over a third of American boys receive a name ending in that stylish letter. The N-thusiasm continues in the most recent name popularity stats, with -n names accounting for 36% of newborn boys. But the wave may be cresting. Take a look at the fastest-falling boys names of 2012:
Each name has its own story. Jaden, for instance, has given way as parents have standardized on the spelling Jayden. Justin is finally feeling its age after a 40+ year run as our national cute-boy name. (And in more bad news for incumbent cute-boy Justin Bieber, the names of all five members of the new cute-boy band One Direction rose in popularity). But as a group, this falling list gives a first hint that the age of N may have reached its limits.
On the girls' side, the fastest-falling names:
Dulce, Audrina and Danna are all coming back to earth after sharp popularity spikes associated with celebrities (Dulce María, Audrina Partridge, and Danna Paola). Alexis and Alyssa, though, show bigger changes afoot. Both names are part of a new style category I added to the just-released edition the Baby Name Wizard book: the "Turn of the 21st Century" names. Alexis, Alyssa and cohorts are still very popular, but...
"Just as Shawn, Kristie, and Chad spell '1970s' now, these names will be the sound of the turn of the 21st century to coming generations."
Outside the top-1,000 name lists, names can rise and fall fast without making much of an impression in America's nurseries. A dozen babies might move a name a thousand slots in the rankings. But the biggest movers and shakers outside the top 1,000 can still tell stories. And this year, the story they tell is a familiar one from the top chart: Cataleya. Cataleya, Cataleya, CATALEYA!
I've already identified Cataleya, the beautiful assassin from the movie Colombiana, as the fastest-rising name of the year, by a mile. But if you look at the deeper data pool, the name's utter dominance becomes more apparent. Here are the fastest rising names of the year if you include all popularity levels and both sexes:
#2: Cattleya (this is the botanical spelling for a genus of Orchids)
Yes, the deadly Cataleya is all three of the fastest-rising names of the year. And if that's not enough for you...
You get the picture. This Cataleya wave comes close to the Miley/Mylee/Mylie phenomenon of five years ago, despite the name not receiving anything like the publicity Miley Cyrus got as "Hannah Montana."
Don't expect Cataleya's publicity to rise now, either, because of a bizarre quirk in the way the Social Security Administration reports its own name data. You won't find the name at all in the SSA's press release trumpeting the fastest-rising names of the year. For some reason, they ignore any names that started outside the top 1000, thus systematically missing the big stories that come out of nowhere. Instead, they reported on names like Major which made smaller leaps by any measure.
More notes from outside the top 1000:
Trayvon. I've written before about the trend of memorializing young female murder victims with baby names. The rise of Travyon Martin's name to just outside of the top 1000 feels a bit different, a blend of memorial and defiant political statement. I would be very curious to know the racial and ethnic mix that the new young Trayvons represent.
Demani, Damoni, Domani, Demoni. None of these boys' names quite cracked the top 1000, but all were among the 30 fastest risers. That points to a name sound on the verge. (Note to parents: the spelling "Demoni" is Italian for "demons.")
Emrys, Theseus, Korra, Karliah, Dragon. There's a distinct sense of the fantastical among the rare-but-rising names. Emrys is a name for Merlin (used prominently in a BBC tv series); Theseus is the mythical hero-king who slew the minotaur; Korra is the protagonist of the animated fantasy series "The Legend of Korra"; Karliah is a character in the video game "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim"; and Dragon is...umm, a dragon.