Last year, a British blogger scored global headlines with the claim that the familiar baby name Gary was on the verge of extinction in the U.K. Gary's fate was supposed to be an emblem of how new name inventions are taking over at the expense of traditional classics. The irony is that Gary is anything but a traditional classic. It's a trendy, made-up celebrity name – just one of a past generation.
When a name has been around for our whole lives, it's easy to take its bona fides for granted. We don't question its roots or ask whether it's a "real" name (as if modern names were "fake"!) In fact, the names of our parents' and grandparents' generations were a mix of the classic and the then-trendy.
All of the names below will sound familiar, or even old. But it wasn't so very long ago that they were the oh-so-modern choices standing out among the classics.
Brenda. In the late 1930s debutante Brenda Frazier was a popular sensation, regularly referred to just by her distinctive first name. 1n 1940, the comic strip "Brenda Starr, Reporter" adopted Frazier's name as the height of glamorous modernity. Together these real and fictional Brendas launched a decades-long name trend.
Brenda Frazier's Debutante Ball on the Cover of Life Magazine
Cheryl. Think of Cheryl as the Gracelyn or Audriana of the 1940s. It started as a mashup of fashionable pieces and parts, but grew into a life of its own.
Gary. Once upon a time, Gary was just a surname occasionally used as boy's given name, like Lacy or Manley. But in 1925, Hollywood agent Nan Collins suggested that young actor Frank Cooper take the name of her hometown: Gary, Indiana. Gary Cooper became a screen legend, and a "traditional favorite" name was born.
A Newly Minted Cary Cooper in 1926
Sharon. Sharon goes back to the Bible as place name, but it's not nearly so traditional as a baby name. The name got a boost in the 1920s thanks to the silent film "The Skyrocket," then blasted off in the '30s-'50s alongside similar trendy names like Cheryl and Karen.
Gloria. The Latin word for glory seems like a baby name natural, but Social Security Administration records record a total of only 6 Glorias born in the period 1885-1890. Skip ahead 60 years to the period of 1945-50 and the Gloria tally soars to 69,925. Literary uses of the name first got it started around the turn of the century, then silent film star Gloria Swanson made it a hit in the 1920s.
Gloria Swanson in the 1920 Film Why Change Your Wife?
Darren. If I had to list a country of origin for this name, it would be Hollywood. Actor Darren McGavin, singer Bobby Darin and sitcom husband Darrin Stevens all helped make the name a 1960s hit. That's two adopted stage names and a fictional name – a name built of dreams.
It's not just Grace and Lily any more. Words like Serenity and Genesis now rank among America's top 100 baby names, and options from Willow and Winter to Maverick and King are rising fast. Are there still attractive, inspiring meaning names that haven't been discovered?
I've gone hunting and come up with 41 prospects, with styles ranging from antique to ultra-modern. To make my list, a word/name had to be:
Meaningful, in the right way. I focused on popular realms of word crossovers, like nature names and positive concepts.
In step with name style. No matter how uplifting a word's meaning is, it needs the right sound to work as a name. You'll never meet a little girl named Pulchritude.
All about the word. Word names are the one baby name category where meaning is style. A word that's too familiar as a name, like Constance, or a name that's too arcane as a word, like Ataraxia, loses that meaning/style fusion.
Rare. No name on this list was given to more than a hundred boys or girls last year.
CREATIVE WORD NAMES:
Read more: Baby Names Are Getting Ready to Rule
The substitute teachers who mangle the pronunciation. The oh-so-obvious bit of wordplay you hear over and over. The last initial that seems glued to your too-popular first name. Do any of these name indignities sound familiar? Thanks to a trending Twitter tag, we now know they're part of growing up with a name -- any name.
The topic #growingupwithmyname has brought out a flood of reminiscences, most of them painful. Anyone with a super-popular name can relate to childhood experiences like these:
Everyday in class someone would say Jennifer and 4 of us would answer. #GrowingUpWithMyName
— RoseyJen (@6CentsRose) July 19, 2015
My name is so popular that i knew another girl with my first AND last name #GrowingUpWithMyName
— ✧☽ emily ☾✧ (@insomnicatt) July 20, 2015
And anyone with a super-unusual name knows feelings like these:
#growingupwithmyname never EVER finding a souvenir with your name on it from anywhere
— ❁Maryn (@MarynNason) January 24, 2016
Knowing you're next on roll call because the teacher stops & hesitates to say your name #growingupwithmyname
— Asj (@PRVFranchise) January 25, 2016
But those are just the tip of the iceberg. Dumb jokes, teasing rhymes, awkward initials, gender mixups…the list of potential problems is as long as the list of potential names:
when your name is mostly considered as a male name- so you can't even get a keychain without a football on it #growingupwithmyname
— taylor (@imactuallytay) January 24, 2016
#growingupwithmyname Gary without the r spells gay. Thank you childhood and thank you for pointing out the obvious. Idiots.
— Gizzy (@gizzy14gazza) January 24, 2016
#GrowingUpWithMyName YES I'M AWARE MY NAME IS SPELLED THE SAME FORWARDS AND BACKWARDS
— Hannah (@thats_groovy321) December 1, 2015
Teacher: Jemima Me: it's Jemma Teacher: Sorry Jenna Me: iT'S JEMMA Teacher: Oh sorry Emma lol Me: *cries* #growingupwithmyname
— jemma (@sippycupcaylen) January 24, 2016
#GrowingUpWithMyName "Hey, I'm Ryan." "Wait, really? I mean, that sounds awfully... white. Are you sure?"
— Obi-Huang Kenobi (@HuangAsian) July 20, 2015
I don't know where Toto is, and I will NEVER know where Toto is. #growingupwithmyname
— Dorothy S (@PicassoBlue) January 24, 2016
In other words, we're all part of the great fellowship of the frustrated. Name-based aggravation is just a part of life. Yet when we're choosing baby names, we like to think otherwise. Parents scrutinize names from every angle, hoping to weed out the slightest teasing potential.
The most common impulse is to shield our kids from the slings and arrows we suffered ourselves. "I don't want my kid to have to use her last initial to set her apart," says a Sarah. "I don't want my kid to have to constantly have her name misspelled and mispronounced," says an Aoibheann. They push their name choices in opposite directions and just end up swapping problems.
No name is tease-proof. No name is uncommon AND universally attractive AND easy to spell and pronounce AND free of awkward associations. (Or if it is, don't expect it to stay uncommon for long!) That's ok. It's just one more reason to focus on what you love about the baby names you're considering, rather than prodding them for flaws. Substitute teachers and name-alike classmates come and go, but a name's essential strength and beauty is forever.