Yesterday I started the countdown to the Name of the Year with the second runner up. Today we continue....
First runner up: Taylor
Whether you listen to the radio, read gossip magazines or just follow the world on Twitter, I suspect you'll agree: this was Taylor Swift's year. The young singer/songwriter was everywhere. From a name perspective, though, her real breakthrough came in the romance department. As rumors flew that Swift was dating "Twilight" star Taylor Lautner, a delighted fan and media corps labeled the pair "Tay Tay."
Consider Tay Tay the official clarion call that the androgynous surname generation has come of age. Taylor Swift was born in 1989, the very year that the name Taylor first cracked the top 100 for girls. Jordan broke through that same year, then Madison, Bailey and Mackenzie a few years later, then...well, you get the picture. Meanwhile Taylor held on as a male name. When Taylor Lautner was born in 1992 his name was a solid hit, ranking #52 for boys.
Up until now, these names sounded like kids. If you heard about a Taylor or Madison or Mackenzie, you could assume they were still playground-aged. But this is one case where gossip columns don't lie. From here on out, when you come across one of these names you shouldn't assume anything, including their sex. As one nominator wrote about the Taylors, "I think it is noteworthy that both can carry the name equally well. Nobody has criticized Lautner's masculinity or Swift's femininity because they happen to share a name with their significant other. To me, that seems very current."
You can paint a portrait of a year in names. That truth came through loud and clear in the hundreds of thoughtful reader nominations for the Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year. From Bernie and Neda to Jackson and Octomom, you all made compelling cases for the names that shaped, and were shaped by, 2009.
To do the names justice, I'm splitting this year's announcement into three parts. The two runners up and the Name of the Year made the grade through their timeliness, resonance, and "naminess" -- how essential the name itself was to the cultural story. And as always, I was guided by reader nominations, seconds and comments. Thanks, everybody.
Second runner up: Falcon
On October 15, 2009, officials in Colorado scrambled to respond to a bizarre emergency. A Fort Collins family had accidentally released a homemade weather balloon, and their six-year-old son Falcon was believed to be inside. After frantic hours in which National Guard helicopters tracked the balloon and the Denver International Airport was shut down, young Falcon Heene was found safe at home. Eventually, the entire episode was revealed to be a hoax. Falcon's parents had met in acting school, had appeared on a reality tv series, and were eagerly shopping their own reality tv concept without success. They dreamed up the balloon stunt in hopes that the publicity would help get their family back on the air.
This story brought together two powerful trends, highlighting an underlying theme they have in common. 2009 was the year that, in the words of one BabyNameWizard.com reader, "exploded the myth of reality TV." As reality shows pushed the limits of celebrity-seeking and self-revelation, viewers began to squirm. In particular, stories like the "balloon boy" and the divorce of Jon and Kate Gosselin raised questions about putting children's lives in front of the camera.
Meanwhile, American parents were working harder and harder to choose eye-catching names to make their children stand out. The traditional classics were plummeting in popularity, while names like Cannon, Messiah and Phoenix were soaring. Surely it's no coincidence that parents so desperate for attention that they'd coach their six-year-old to carry out a media hoax were also parents who chose to name him Falcon? As another reader wrote, "We have such an obsession with fame and the actions of one family have us thinking about at what cost."
I have a file where I jot down little name questions, curiosities and mysteries for future investigation. Some of those questions eventually grow into full-fledged columns. Others just languish on the list, sadly neglected.
Here are two of the orphans. Care to play name detective and help me solve them?
Ansley in Georgia. Ansley is an uncommon girl's name, currently ranking #719 in America. It wouldn't make the national charts at all, though, if it weren't for Georgia, where Ansley has been a top-hundred name every year since 1994. Why? Yes, there is an Ansley, GA with a golf course, but there are plenty of attractively named towns and golf courses in Georgia that don't get the baby name treatment.
The Stephanie Rebound. In some ways, baby names seem to obey the same laws as the physical world. For instance, one of the hardest things in the name world is to reverse momentum. Once a popular name starts to decline, the sense that it's getting stale grows and it keeps on falling. In the rare case that you spot a name reversing its decline, you can draw the same conclusion you could with a ball that turns around and rolls uphill: it was acted upon by an outside force.
Stephanie was such a name in the 1970s, declining for three years than surging back bigger than ever. The question is, what was the outside force?