Say these names aloud: Susanna, Billie Jean, Roxanne. Were you tempted to break into song?
A catchy tune can weld itself to a name in our memories. Any Susanna or Roxanne -- or Rhonda, or sweet Caroline -- will tell you that she's serenaded wherever she goes. Yet when I wrote about "Names That Make You Sing," I was only able to find two similarly songified boys' names: (Hey) Jude and (Louie) Louie. Readers came up with more names I'd missed, but their suggestions were female-dominated as well.
Why? The rhythm of girls' names, which are more likely to end in vowels or have a stressed last syllable, could be one factor. A tradition of male singers serenading lady loves could be another. But a gender imbalance persists even when you factor out vowels and love songs.
Looking back over the song-inducing names, I've realized that there's a second hidden trend. Below are the names that BabyNameWizard.com readers and I identified as irresistibly singable, with the sex of the name and of the singer. (A "-" indicates both male and female singers, e.g. folk tunes like "O, Susanna" and names that summon multiple songs, like Gloria.)
The name list is overwhelmingly female, with 29 girls' names and just 5 boys . But the singers list is even more overwhelmingly male, by a count of 26-1. The only name on the list that plays a female voice in our mental jukebox is also the most recent: Alejandro, a 2010 Lady Gaga song. It remains to be seen whether that song will prove memorable enough to stay on the long-term playlist.
In part, this reflects the predominance of male voices in popular music. Depending on how you measure, male singers represent 60-75% of the pop charts, and even higher percentages in rock, hip-hop and country. 26-1, though, still looks like a mighty extreme ratio.
For some reason, women haven't been singing names. With most name songs addressed to the opposite sex, more tunes by women might help even out the list and get some boys' names stuck on mental replay.
The finale of a series of reports based on exclusive user ratings of names.
Imagine a person who looks super-smart. A picture should come easily to mind. While intelligence is a mental trait, our culture has some set shorthand for translating it to the physical realm. Glasses, for instance, are a standard signal of braininess. But do we have a similar vocabulary for sounding smart? Are there names that project intelligence?
We analyzed name ratings from tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors to answer that question. The answer turns out to be yes and no...and that Hollywood may be underestimating the public.
The names rated smartest, and least smart:
What do those names tell us? Let's start with the names ratest least smart, which paint clear but different pictures for boys and girls.
The lowest rated boys' names could be called "blunt objects." They're short and simple, mostly nicknames but not the cuddly diminutives we saw on the friendliest names list. These names are more curt and tough, suggesting a lingering brains-vs.-brawn divide.
The girls' names do follow the form of diminutives, but most of them aren't short for anything. The collective impression the convey is a lack of seriousness; names that never grew up. The names of former teen pop stars who had troubled transitions to adulthood (Britney and Miley) reinforce that image. One special case is Neveah. Note the spelling; the name Nevaeh was created by spelling "heaven" backwards.
At the high end, here are ingredients that help a boy's name sound smart:
* Good role models. Names like Atticus, Solomon and Edison are historically linked to wisdom and genius.
* Last names first. Surnames like Preston, Sullivan and Truman project a gravitas that suggests intelligence.
* All the British Isles. British and Celtic names dominate, including Scottish classics like Graham and Alistair.
Notably, our thousands of raters didn't follow the anti-intellectual stereotype of smart guys being hopeless dweebs. Hollywood likes to signal genius with social and sartorial cluelessness, and names that are generations behind fashion. ("The Big Bang Theory's" Leonard, Sheldon and Howard are classic examples.) Our survey, in contrast, suggests that intelligence goes hand-in-hand with sophistication in the public imagination -- and it's decidedly in style.
And then there are the smartest-rated girls.
Athena and arguably Emerson follow the Solomon-Atticus path of intellectual roots. But beyond that, there's simply no pattern. Feminine classics (Katherine) sit beside androgynous surnames (Holland). The old-fashioned (Jeanne) and new-fangled (Emerson) get equal time. Welsh (Gwyneth), Arabic (Zainab), French (Jeanne), Spanish (Maritza); anything goes.
In short, the ratings suggest that we have no cultural model for an intellectual girl. For once, a lack of pattern in the data speaks volumes.
Methodology Notes: Ratings were submitted by tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors over the couse of five years, rating names they chose to visit on a scale of 1-100. Rankings are based on names rated by a minimum of 150 users. Alternate spellings may be dropped from lists to avoid repetition. Rare names (outside the current top 1,500 for boys and girls and no apperances in the top 500 in the past century) are excluded as they are easily dominated by a particular character, e.g. Sherlock or Bellatrix.
You may be seeing a blanket of snow and ice out your window, but Spring is less than two weeks away. To celebrate, we're looking for colorful, fragrant flower names that are off the beaten path. They move beyond today's much beloved favorites like Violet, Rose, and Lily to florals that are a bit less expected. Some feel old-fashioned, others modern, but all are charming, evocative, and perfect for this Spring and beyond.
Amaryllis: A beautiful genus of flowers, with origins in South Africa. The red blooms make a stunning alternative to poinsettias during the holidays, and since they received their name in part from the Greek amarysso, meaning "to sparkle," they are especially festive and bright. As a name, Amaryllis is elegant and charming, with loads of options for creative nicknames (Amy, Marie, even Rylie or Mary).
Azalea: This gorgeous floral name is no longer a well-kept secret. Azalea took an intense leap in popularity recently, ranking at 631 after its second year in the top 1,000. The vividly colored flowering bush is native to several countries, but it's a true southern favorite in the U.S. Between the beautiful image this name evokes, its southern charm, on-trend sound, and the irresistible nicknames it inspires (Zalee, Zalea), Azalea is sure to please.
Calla: Botanist Carl Linnaeus may have mistakenly named the gorgeous calla lily, but we're glad the name stuck. Coming from the Greek word for beauty, Calla is a natural for a girls' name. Its sound has similarities to Callie, Kayla, and even Isla or Bella. The elegant white flower with deep green leaves is a favorite for weddings and often plays a role in Easter celebrations, not to mention religious works of art. In Victorian times the Calla Lily represented faith and purity, or wedded bliss for a newly married couple. It was used a bit as a given name in the 1800s, and we think now is the perfect time for a Calla revival.
Chrysanthemum: This flower may not be an easy sell because of its spelling, but it has a charming sound and is the star of a beloved children's book about a mouse who overcomes teasing despite her perfect name. Though we have Spring on the mind, mums are a beautiful fall favorite and make a fitting namesake for an autumn baby too. Possible nicknames could include Chrys, Annie, and more.
Dahlia: This sweet floral often blooms in a dazzling geometric that resembles honeycomb. It's another southern favorite, and the national flower of Mexico. Its sound is gorgeous. Unfortunately, "Black Dahlia" is the nickname given to a murder victim in the 1940s (the nickname was based on the film noir Blue Dahlia.) But that dark association isn't hand-in-hand with the flower, and ranked at 431, Dahlia is the most popular of the unique florals we're featuring.
Gardenia: There isn't a more lush, floral name that declares "garden" quite like Gardenia does. The flowers have a boldly sweet scent and are most often a brilliant white color. It may seem like a mouthful, but it's a nice mouthful, and shortening it to Denia is a possibility that makes our hearts swoon.
Lavender: Lavender is a lovely flowering shrub that wears a famed soft blue-purple hue. It's incredibly versatile, prized for its use as an herb, a fragrance, an essential oil, and an ornamental in the garden. But as a name, Lavender has yet to catch on. It's too bad, because aside from its very positive floral and color associations, and a Harry Potter character to boot, it has a wonderful sound. Forty-seven baby girls were given this name in 2013.
Lilac: We hope it's only a matter of time before Lilac catches on. With similarities to Lyla and Lyric, Lilac is a natural contender for the top 1,000 and is just waiting to be discovered. Its sound is truly trend-worthy, and it's a floral star, known for its pale violet color.
Magnolia: Add two simple vowels to the end of botanist Pierre Magnol's name, and you have a very good thing. This gorgeous name is inspired by a flowering plant species known for its snow-white petals. The flowers hold a special place in the heart of the South, especially since the debut of the play and movie Steel Magnolias. We've seen it on a character in Hart of Dixie and as the home design company of Fixer Upper fame. This name recently appeared in the top 1,000 and we expect it to climb quickly.
Marigold: These flowers have qualities any girl would like to share, with their bright, cheerful, and sunny blooms. The two simple words that inspired its common name come from early Christians who would offer the flowers at the feet of statues of the Virgin Mary. These sweet flowers, together with their history and religious namesake, make for a familiar floral that's anything but ordinary.
Poppy: The vivid color of poppy blooms, their tasty seeds, and their medicinal properties are just some of the reasons we love these flowers. They are also a symbol of remembrance for soldiers who have died during wartime. As a name, Poppy can be given in reference to the flower, but it's also a tried-and-true nickname for Penelope and Calliope. It's darling and contemporary, a bit unusual but definitely not unheard of, which makes it a perfect pick for many. Poppy was chosen by chef Jamie Oliver and his wife for one of their daughters (sister to Daisy, Petal, and Buddy), while the most recent Poppy in bloom is the daughter of Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent.
Posy: In Victorian times, "posy" was used much more often than it is today to describe a small flower or a small bouquet of flowers. Meanwhile, the name Josephine gives us the darling nicknames Posey and Posy. Posy is a sweet "little" name with floral overtones and a sense of vintage whimsy.
Primrose: It's one of the earliest flowers of the season, making the pale yellow primrose a perfect way to welcome Spring. In fact, that's how it was named, from prima rosa, meaning "first rose." Shakespeare referenced the flower in Hamlet with the (already established) phrase "primrose path," or an easy, pleasurable life that may end badly. It's also a Scottish surname, and now it's known for a character in The Hunger Games trilogy. All of these facts point to one sure thing: primrose is a flower that's seen as pure, innocent, and cheerful, which are great qualities for a name.
Rue: Another name of The Hunger Games fame, Rue is a flowering herb that has a simple, sweet sound. It's also a word that means "bitter regret," though in French it translates to "street." We think this name is lovely, but for some it lives in the shadow of the book and movie series. Twenty-seven girls were named Rue in 2013.
Zinnia: This energetic floral name is ready to hit the playground with friends like Sienna or Savannah. It starts with an ever-desired z, and moves on to repeating consonants and a splash of femininity with its ending. Add the attraction of this bold-colored blossom, and there's no reason why Zinnia shouldn't make your list of favorites.
There's a world full of flower inspiration when it comes to baby names, so share your favorites with us! If you loved these unusual floral names, take a look at 50 Colorful Baby Names for Every Style and 20 Forgotten Victorian Names To Put On Your List.