"I've always loved that name, if only it weren't so popular."
It's a familiar baby namer's lament. You fell in love with Olivia at age 10 when it felt classic but fresh; now that you're 30 it's still lovely, but the freshness is gone.
Olivia, though, has been in that style holding pattern for years. A new crop of names is now on the cusp of widespread popularity. The new refrain for name-aware parents is "I've always loved Lila...."
Have no fear, a list is here. Below are some less common alternatives to the up-and-coming hit names. The goal is to reflect both the sound and style of the popular name in a separate, independent name -- not just a watered-down version of the original. In each case, the suggestions are listed in declining order by current U.S. popularity, from the moderately uncommon to the genuinely rare.
Amelia: Helena, Celia, Beatrice, Adela, Aurelia
Arianna: Arabella, Alessandra, Iliana, Ariella, Allegra
Lila: Luna, Isla, Lana, Mira, Calla
Marley: Presley, Laney, Ellery, Everly, Marlowe
Peyton: Teagan, Leighton, Madigan, Paxton, Larsen
Piper: Ivy, Sawyer, Juniper, Wren, Briar
Carter: Porter, Archer, Ramsey, Calder, Seaver
Levi: Tobias, Cyrus, Jericho, Boaz, Wiley
Liam: Finn, Callum, Cian, Ewan, Teague
Maddox: Paxton, Hendrix, Lennox, Saxon, Hawkins
Oliver: Edgar, Julius, Everett, Alistair, Benedict
Wyatt: Sawyer, Walker, Abbott, Winslow, Crockett
Yesterday I introduced the "stealth hit" baby names: names with no dominant spelling, so that their overall popularity is obscured in statistical rankings. Take a look at that post first for more explanation and the list of girls' names. Today, we conclude with the stealth boys' names.
You'll see that the boys' list is half the length of the girls', which isn't a big surprise. Boys' names are still more conservative and concentrated. What's more, the wide-open creativity on the girls' side can have the effect of making parents of boys less free with spellings. Think of how often you've seen parents of girls use variations like Ryleigh or Ashtyn to "feminize" names. Since those spellings are used to signal girl, parents of boys are more inclined to stick to the most standard male versions.
A few notables:
- Elliot/Elliott is the only name that appears on both lists.
- Blaze/Blaise fulfills all of the criteria for the list, but it's hard to think of those two as just alternate spellings of the same name. The have separate meanings and origins and appeal to very different families.
- Kaden is the stealthiest name in America, with nothing close to a standard spelling. Four versions met my two-thirds threshhold, and five more rank in the boys' top 1000.
Most names have multiple spellings. That's just a fact of modern name life. It's true of traditional names as well as modern inventions -- Abigail has its Abigayles, Alexander its Alexzanders. In most cases, the variants don't have a major effect on the name's overall popularity. Cameron's rank as the #59 boy's name gives you a solid sense of that name, despite the many Kamerons and Camerens out there.
But what if there is no standard spelling? Occasionally, a name will divide its popularity so evenly among two or more spellings that it flies under the radar altogether. Take Audriana/Audrianna. Last year those names ranked #1252 and #1332 in America, a virtual dead heat. They're rising fast, but they divide the territory so neatly that you won't find either one in the NameVoyager.
For parents seeking the unusual, names like these are hidden traps on the popularity charts. They can be tricky to spot, too. Parents considering Kaylin might not think to look up Kaelyn and vice versa. And parents thinking about Jordan for a girl may have no idea that the "alternate" spelling Jordyn is now the more popular.
I've created a master list of all the stealth hit names, where the most common spelling ranks in the top 1500 for boys or girls and the second spelling is at least two-thirds as popular as the first. (If you value your sanity, do not try this at home.) You'll see some themes emerging. For instance, if you dream up a smooth, feminine name ending in -iya, count on the -iyah form being equally common.
If your favorite name isn't listed, you can feel confident that its ranking is a pretty fair indicator of its place in the name landscape. The girls' list is below, boys follow tomorrow.