Do you any of these boys' names appeal to you?
Emmett, Wyatt, Beckett, Elliott, Garrett, Bennett, Everett
I'll take a wager that at least one of them strikes your fancy. And even if the name Scarlett isn't quite your style for girls, you can understand its allure, too.
Multisyllable names ending in -tt are one of the hottest trends in America. The names I listed above are all in the top 1000 and rising, along with Barrett, Emmitt and Jarrett. And take a look at the total trend in -tt names, common and uncommon, since the year 2000:
This is a notable development in an era when strong consonant sounds are generally out of fashion. It's particularly intriguing since names ending in a single -t have been in the doldrums for a generation, and don't seem likely to wake up soon. The same is true of most names ending in -tte (Annette, Bernadette, etc). That would seem to pinpoint the double-t craze as a purely visual trend: a spelling phenomenon that separates written vs. spoken names. But if you look deeper, sound and spelling turn out to be more in sync than they appear.
First, conisder that a double-t ending is almost always preceded by a vowel. (Compare to single-t names like Herbert, Ernest, Robert, etc.) Then consider that the French ending -tte is typically stressed. If you look for names ending in an unstressed vowel +t sound, they turn out to be hot in any spelling. Take a look at the past decade's popularity of the classic names Charlotte, Juliet, Elliot and Violet:
If you're drawn to the sound of these names but fear that your favorites are becoming too popular, here are some rarities to consider:
...or, if you're feeling more adventurous:
Last time, we looked at the "most British" baby names -- the names that are far more popular in England and Wales than in the United States. Today we'll turn that around and identify the names with that are most characteristically American.
The Most American Names of the Year are:
A full half of the names on the boys' list share something huge in common. If it doesn't leap out at you, that's a sign of how pervasive this "something in common" has become in the current generation of American boys' names:
Landon, Gavin, Brayden, Christian, Colton and Jackson are all two-syllable names ending in -n.
A third of U.S. boys now receive a name ending in -n, a historically unprecedented concentration of sound and style. In Britain, the -n rate is just one in five, and the combo of -e and -y (as in Alfie and Harry) outpaces it.
The key cultural cues on the most-American boys' list are Spanish and Wild West. Just as Muslim names (e.g. Mohammed) and Celtic names (Niamh) reflected the British population, names like Jose and Angel, and even the non-Spanish Latino favorite Anthony, represent the contrasting ethnic makeup of the U.S. Names like Wyatt, Colton and Jackson, meanwhile, show off the distinctive cowboy strain of American style.
The Most-American Girls list shows off two seemingly contradictory styles. It's full of androgyny, and of girlishness. Half of the names are converted surnames or place names, and/or have a history as male names: Avery, Aubrey, Addison, Hailey, Brooklyn, Harper. Yet half of the names also end in the sound -ee, associated with girlish diminutives.
Put the two together and the list gives off a definite "Andro-Girly" vibe. That fast-rising American style is a kind of gender collage, building a girly sound out of boyish materials. Female names ending in -son are the classic examples, so it's fitting to find the name that launched that sub-style, Allison, on the most-American list.
"That is such a British name!" "That is such an American name!"
Depending on your nationality, one of those statements will probably be much more evocative than the other. We tend to have more neatly defined mental images of other cultures than of our own.
For instance, to the British**, hearty nicknames like Bill, Chuck, Peggy and Brad have been a big part of the American stereotype, but that impression is slowly giving way to an image of America filled with androgynous surnames. Meanwhile Americans still tend to cling to an imaginary England populated by Nigels, Felicitys, and Benedict Cumberbatches.
Two years ago, I first laid out the reality of British vs. American name style. I compared usage rates of baby names in England and Wales vs. the United States, and found the names that skewed most strongly toward one nationality. Clear trends distinguished the two name cultures. British names ran cute, full of cuddly diminutive nicknames for both boys and girls. American names were far more formal, with an abundance of Old Testament bible names and, yes, androgynous surnames.
I've just updated those calculations to see if styles have changed in the past two years. Overall, the same trends distinguish the two name lists. But modest shifts point to fracturing styles within each country, while a couple of intriguing outliers show what it takes for a name to swim against the fashion tides.
The Most British Names of the Year are:
Cute old-fashioned nicknames take the top four spots on the boys' list, marking Britain as the land of cuddly boys. Two spellings of Mohammed rank six and seven, both significant leaps from two years prior, reflecting the much higher Muslim population of Britain vs. the U.S.
For girls, the cutely factor seems to be declining. Double names like Ellie-May and Lily-Mae no longer make the chart, and sweet nicknames like Rosie and Millie are increasingly balanced by statelier old-fashioned choices like Florence and Harriet. Both sexes also reflect the naming influences of Scotland and Ireland in regional choices like Finley and Niamh.
And then there's the fifth most British boy's name: Jenson. What on earth is a semi-androgynous surname doing on the Most British list? Isn't that the kind of name that British parents call "so American" -- and not always politely? I suspect my British readers know the answer, while American readers are probably mystified. Two words: Formula One.
English race car driver Jenson Button was the 2009 Formula One World Champion. F1 racing is enormously popular in many countries, but in the U.S. it's a distant third behind NASCAR and IndyCar. So Jenson Button is unknown to many Americans, even as he propels his oh-so-American-sounding name to #54 on the British charts. For perspective, the biggest one-man sports name in the U.S. in recent years was Kobe, which peaked at #222.
To be continued, with the Most American Names next time...
** A note to my U.K. readers: I do recognize the distinctions among England, England + Wales, Great Britain, and the U.K. I do not, alas, know how to reflect these distinctions in readable prose. So for the purposes of this column, I will be talking about England + Wales name stats while loosely throwing about terms like "British." Sorry, Scotland.