Baby name popularity charts give us an illusion of consensus. OK, yes, pretty much all of America likes the name Liam. But once you get past the top handful of names local tastes take over, and they're as diverse as the country itself.
To reveal these local tastes, I've compared state-by-state name popularity to nationwide trends, looking for the places where each community veers farthest from the common path. My targets were the names that define the unique style of every state in the union. Not only are these names individually popular in their listed states, but they help paint a general portrait of local style. An area that's partial to the names Adrian and Sebastian, for instance, will lean toward other elegant global names like Damian and Julian as well. Meanwhile a hotbed of Braxtons and Bentleys will also have plenty of boys named Jaxon and Brantley.
Images: Shutterstock/Karpova, Shutterstock/Tetiana Kovbasovska, Pixabay/rmt
Most of the names below will be familiar, but some may be new to you. If so, chances are there's a local story behind them. Paxson and Hatcher, for example, are place names in Alaska as well as perfect fits for Alaskan name trends. And for a trivia challenge, look for at least two names below that honor their states' college football stadiums.
Browse through to get a real taste of the diversity of American baby name style – and a sense of where you might feel most at home.
|THE DEFINING BOYS' NAMES OF EVERY U.S. STATE|
As Harrison and Kennedy continue to receive acclaim, parents are on the lookout for similar names with more personality and pizzazz. Timeless surnames with roots in the British Isles provide some great options for fans of this elegant style.
Combining a masculine sound with a polished vibe, these fifteen names are sure to offer the best of both worlds. Best of all, none currently ranks on the top 1000, so they’re sure to feel unique to your little one.
Image via Pexels
Montgomery. Part old Hollywood, part Southern gentleman, Montgomery is a vintage pick that’s just right for the modern age. While actor Clift is the most notable wearer, Montgomery’s appearance in a few contemporary television shows helps it feel more familiar than fusty.
Howell. Poetic and refined, Howell is a classic surname that sounds bolder when used as a first. Though nickname Howie adds an element of cuteness, the full form has a distinguished quality that works well for all kinds of personalities.
Thompson. There is, of course, the namesake factor - from Emma to Hunter S., creative Thompsons have been inspiring audiences across the globe throughout history. Still, Thompson’s simple vibe suggests friendliness over flashiness, especially when shortened to Tom or Sonny.
Fraser. The original Scottish spelling distances it a bit from TV’s Frasier Crane, but over time, this handsome choice will feel more unique. It's derived from the French word for “strawberry,” making Fraser’s fresh sound clear and strong.
Bingham. If you like the vibes of Bennett and Graham but want something less common, bright Bingham might be the choice for you. While Kate Hudson brought this name to light for her youngest son, Bingham already seems more affable than A-List.
Humphrey. The cobwebs are finally getting swept off this dashing choice. Humphrey merges the coolness of Bogart with a distinct literary style - both Shakespeare and Joyce used the name with gusto. While it’s growing in popularity in the UK, it’s been recorded less than 40 times in the last decade in the US.
Macallister. With Alistair finally cracking the top 1000, could merry Macallister find its footing as a first name? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer thinks so - her son was given this playful surname in 2016, making it usable for the next generation of Millennial parents.
Griffith. An illustrious alternative to Griffin, Griffith is a well-loved Welsh choice with some Hollywood connections: actors Andy and Melanie have brought fame to the name, and Griffith Park and Observatory are notable spots in Los Angeles. Strong and substantial, Griffith is bound to stand the test of time.
Prescott. This dignified surname has been a favorite for generations of American leaders, from the revolutionary politicians to the Reagans and Bushes. Along with its remarkable history, Prescott could be a subtle honorific for a familial Scott these days.
Hughes. If Langston feels too specific, Hughes would be a dapper route to honoring the esteemed poet and luminary of the Harlem Renaissance. It ranks among the most popular surnames in the US and the UK, with namesakes and family connections aplenty.
Calloway. Darling and delightful, Calloway is a fabulous name with an excess of spirit. It fits in with other Irish favorites Kennedy and Sullivan, but stands out in its unparalleled personality. Calloway is a novel path to the nickname Cal, but the long form is simply melodious.
Sinclair. Mixing a high class sound with a scholarly pedigree, Sinclair is an uncommon choice that’s never ranked in the top 1000. It’s sophisticated and stylish but not too prim, with a religious etymology and pop culture associations to boot.
Guthrie. Folksy and fun, Guthrie combines a sweet twang with a Scottish background. It fits in well with more popular picks like August or Grady, but has its own warm unique quality that’s hard to find. While singers Arlo and Woody have gotten Guthrie some attention, this name feels more versatile.
Hamilton. The musical and worldwide phenomenon has brought the name Hamilton to everyone’s lips, and just at the right time - it harmonizes with Harrison and Hudson without their meteoric popularity rankings. Already on the rise over the past few decades, the show is sure to inspire many parents to name their sons after the Founding Father.
Campbell. Kind and accessible, Campbell has long flown just under the radar of the top 1000, occasionally jumping on for a year or two. It’s a gorgeous alternative to Cameron or Camden, but feels more historically grounded. Might Campbell’s “-bell” sound make it the boy’s answer to Isabelle?
Read More: 66 Fresh Masculine-Sounding Surnames
Noah has been America's #1 boy's name for four years straight. Elijah just cracked the top 10 for the first time, and Ethan and Jacob are long-time fixtures there. At first glance, it might seem that we're in the middle of a biblical baby name boom.
Don't believe it. In fact, the popularity of biblical names has hit an all-time low in the United States. I first found that result when I ran a tally four years ago, and despite the rise of Elijah and friends, the Bible name rate has continued to drop since then.
You can see the historical trend in the graph below. The bold red line at the top represents the total number of American babies receiving Bible names since 1880. The dotted lines break down the total into Old Testament names, New Testament names, and names appearing prominently in both texts.
At the left of the graph you can see the traditional dominance of New Testament names like John and Mary start to decline. In the mid-20th Century they were joined by a new group of biblical hits like Michael, Deborah and Daniel, creating a second peak. Then in the 1970s a new rush toward Old Testament names like Joshua and Rachel kept pace with a further decline of the New Testament classics. Since the 1990s, though, the total trend is simply down.
Why then, does the top of today's popularity chart look so biblical, even compared to decades past? The short answer is style. The popular Bible names of the past were so very popular that we stopped hearing their roots. If you walked into a room and met four men named Dave, Tom, Steve and Jim, would it even register that they're an all-biblical group? Today's names, in contrast, are chosen for the fresh, bible-first style that comes from not being popular in past generations. (Read more about the evolution of biblical name style.)
There's another huge difference between then and now. Yes, a biblical name still tops the boys' charts, just as one did 50 years ago and 100 years ago. But take a look at the usage of those three generations' favorite names, John, Michael and Noah:
Even as today's #1, Noah doesn't come close to the top biblical names of the past. And it wasn't just John and Michael back then. Each of the top eleven biblical boys' names from 50 years ago -- Michael, David, James, John, Mark, Thomas, Timothy, Steven, Joseph, Paul and Daniel – was more popular than Noah is today.
Traditional namers may now be flocking to strongly biblical-styled names, but those traditional namers make up an ever-shrinking portion of America's parents. For every Peter, Paul and Mary born today, there are two Kaydens, Brysons and Skylars. So despite what the top-10 lists may tell us, the golden age of biblical baby names is in the past.