To me, the heart of the Baby Name Wizard book is the suggestions of similar "sibling" names. I put a lot of time into each set of matches, using custom tools and some wily creativity to assemble a diverse list of ideas that reflect the spirit of the original name. Sometimes it's hard to narrow down the terrific options. Other times it's tough to come up with enough good ideas. And once in a long while, I'm truly stumped.
Want to try your hand at it? Here are three names that are bedeviling me as we speak. I have to come up with five "brothers" and five "sisters" for each:
Barack. It's a Swahili name used primarily in Kenya and Tanzania; it's a political name whose story is still unfolding; it's an homage name in an age when homage names are endangered species. I don't really believe there is a match for Barack, but what's the closest thing?
Kingston. Place name; surname; reggae beat; fun, cocky nickname. It's tough but doable to match boys' names, but girls are a serious challenge.
Sylvie. This is the French form of Sylvia, a big hit in 1960s France that's little known in the U.S. I think it has potential here as a cute, traditional name just a step to the side of Sophie. Once again, opposite-sex matches are giving me fits.
If you can suggest good matches for all three, consider yourself dubbed an Honorory Baby Name Wizard!
Ah, you want to name your new daughter after Grandpa Chuck (Charles). No problem, options abound! The French versions Charlotte and Caroline are the current favorites, but you can suit almost any taste with variations like Carla, Carly, Carol, Carolina, Carolyn, Carrie, Charla, Charlene, Charlize and Charlie.
Don't get too comfortable, though -- that one was just a warmup. Suppose Grandpa is named Tom? Or Jim? Or Fred, or Ben, or...you get the picture. Not every classic male name is blessed with a smorgasbord of feminine equivalents. Once upon a time, though, the answer for all those namesake challenges would have been easy: just take a diminutive form of the male name and you're good to go. In the early decades of the 20th Century, girls' names like Tommie, Jimmie, Freddie and Bennie abounded.
Today, though, parents are less eager for their little girls to sound like little boys. (Today's androgynous girls' names sound more like grown men.) So the typical response to cross-gender namesake troubles is to trim the honoree's name down to an initial. Grandpa Tom gives rise to little Tatum, and we say "close enough." But what if you want to get even closer? Here's my starter list of creative choices for tough cross-gender namesake challenges. All derive from the same name root as the original. Can you think of more?
David: Davina (Scottish derivative of David, familiar throughout the U.K.)
Gregory: Greer (Surname derived from Gregor, the Scottish form of Gregory)
Matthew: Matea/Mattea (Occasional Spanish/Italian feminine form)
Philip: Pippa (English nickname for Philippa)
Thomas: Tamsin (An old nickname for Thomasina that's been revived in the U.K. in the past 20 years)
...and one the other way:
Jennifer: Wynn (Form of the Welsh root Gwyn, as in Guinevere. Jennifer is the Cornish form of Guinevere.)
Last February I talked about the emerging style of updating trendy names by lopping off their initial consonants. Madison-->Addison is the queen of the genre, and this past year has brought Addison a new little sister. Twin sisters, really. Meet Adalyn and Adelyn, both of whom debuted in the top-1000 list in 2007.
You could argue that Adelyn is a variant of Adeline, but I don't think that name has reached spinoff-level popularity. I see Adelyn as a headless remix of Madalyn, Madeline, Madelyn and the five other spellings of that name in the top 1000 -- with a splash of inspiration from Addison.
Another name in the original "Off with their heads" post also deserves an update. I mentioned Aylin as a fast-rising girl's name modeled on the likes of Kaylin and pronounced with a long A, "AY-lin." Dr. Cleveland Kent Evans wrote in with an alternate interpretation of the name:
I don't think that most of the babies now being named Aylin are being pronounced to rhyme with Kaylin. Instead I believe the great majority of them are Hispanic and the name is just a Hispanic respelling of Eileen.
And reader Leila chimed in with yet a third version:
Aylin is a Turkish name that is relatively popular in Turkey. It's pronounced Eye-lin.
One spelling, three suggested pronunciations and ethnic identities. And they're all right.
Aylin (EYE-lin) is a familiar woman's name in Turkey. Turkish name statistics are hard to come by, but there seem to be Aylins of all ages with a slight peak at ages 25-40.
Aylin (eye-LEEN) is a Latina name that was rare in the U.S. until about 1995, when actress Aylín Mujica first appeared in telenovelas. That wave of Latina Aylins peaked around 1997-98 and has leveled off since.
And Aylin (AY-lin) is a contemporary American creation. It's a slimmed-down Kaitlyn, a feminized Aidan, and a rhyming sensation. 16 names rhyming with AY-lin made the girls' top 1000 last year, with 8 more on the boys' list.
Today, Aylin has surpassed its original '90s U.S. popularity peak. A modest, steady base of Latina Aylins (and a handful of Turkish Aylins) has been joined by an exploding population of Anglo Aylins. So if you have to guess at a pronunciation, you could try basing it on age: call a toddler AY-lin, a 10-year-old eye-LEEN, and a 30-year-old EYE-lin? Nah, it's safest just to ask.