Oprah's Name Club

Sep 30th 2009

What do these names have in common?

Arminda, Delvan, Marolyn, Tabbetha

Stumped? I'll throw in a more famous example: Oprah.

Perhaps you've heard the story of how Oprah Winfrey got her famous name. Her mother intended the biblical name Orpah, but along the way a typo transposed the r and p and the mistake stuck. Today, that "mistake" is a one-named global media franchise.

The names in my first list may not be as recognizeable as Oprah, but their origins are strikingly similar. Here are their stories, in the words of the people who submitted the names to Namipedia:

Arminda: "was supposed to be armanda but was was missspelled by nurse filling out paperwork. Just left it that way."

Delvan: "I was named after my biological father, who was also a Delvan. He was named after his father, also a Delvan. His father was supposed to be named after the town or lake (story varies between family members) Delavan, in Wisconsin. However, the hospital misspelled the name on the birth certificate, but his parents liked it, and kept it, and so I ended up with it."

Marolyn: "This variation of Marilyn was unintentional, the nurse filling out my sister's birth certificate in 1950 spelled it wrong, based on my mother's odd accent in pronouncing it."

Tabbetha: "My name was supposed to be spelled Tabitha, but when my birth certificate returned, it was spelled Tabbetha. My mom liked it and keep it."

Individually, each of these is just a quirky name story. Together, they're an interesting challenge to the notion of a baby name as something near-sacred, a parent's inviolable choice. Each of these families accepted a chance accident as their child's lifelong identity. Is that bowing down too easily? Or is it a charming embrace of serendipity, accepting the unexpected twists and turns that color our lives?

The top baby names of 2019?

Sep 23rd 2009

Parents magazine recently gave me a challenge: predict the top 10 names for boys and girls in 2019. That kind of prediction requires weighing a lot of factors. It's part statistical analysis, part fashion sense, and part good old fashioned crystal ball. A tricky business, really.

Then I decided to make it harder.

Realistically, many of the top names of 2019 will be awfully familiar. If you look at the top 10 boys of 2008, every one of them ranked in the top 40 a decade earlier. Yawn. Who wants to read a list of bold predictions like "Alexander will still be around"? I decided to limit my choices to names currently outside of the top 40. The result isn't a literal top-10 prediction, but a forecast of the names I expect to have the greatest fashion momentum over the coming decade.

To make my list, a name had to both show signs of accelerating growth and tie into broader fashion trends. For instance, I see the long "I" and to a lesser extent "oo" as hot up-and-coming name sounds, so they're well-represented on the list. Names like Jude and Eli also feed the constant appetite for fresh-sounding biblical names. I also looked for names with broad cross-stylistic appeal. Harper, for instance, is a contemporary androgynous surname, but it also lures in traditionalists because of author Harper Lee.

Here's the list I came up with, which also appears in Parents. Do you think I hit any bullseyes? Can you do better?

GIRLS
1. Lila
2. Peyton
3. Lucy
4. Violet
5. Aubrey
6. Amelia
7. Piper
8. Ruby
9. Juliet
10. Harper

BOYS
1. Miles
2. Rowan
3. Lincoln
4. Eli
5. Jude
6. Cooper
7. Wyatt
8. Ryder
9. Lucas
10. Henry

The Name of the Future

Sep 16th 2009

New names are submitted to Namipedia every day. I'm used to all kinds, from medieval martyrs to video-game villains. But one name just about bowled me over. It's a glimpse ahead to a brave new world of naming:

Ily.

Pronounce it like Riley minus the R. It may look unassuming at first glance, but read the submitter's description...

Her mother is very young and first had the idea for the name when a friend ended a text or email with the acronym ILY, meaning I Love You. This acronym is extremely popular with teens, and most of them sign off of chat or end an email with it.

A name that's an acronym! And not just any acronym, but an emblem of the modern communication age. What could be more natural for the the text and Twitter generation, the generation that talks with its thumbs, then an "acroname"?

The point of textspeak -- sorry, txtspk -- is to economize on typing. A cumbersome stock phrase like "for what it's worth" turns into a brisk FWIW, letting you respond to a text or insert your opinion in a chat much more quickly. But as these forms of communication have become ubiquitous, the abbreviations have taken on lives of their own. Schoolyards now ring out with cries of "OMG!!", even though "Oh-my-God!!" is just as easy to say.

Realistically, an immediate flood of txtspk baby names isn't likely. ("Meet my daughter L8r and my son Roflmao.") Some names may actually suffer from the connection. The Hebrew name Orly, for instance, has started to get responses of "oh really?" Yet if Ily takes off, it could open a new realm of possibilities in many parents' minds. It's one more step away from the idea of names as a predetermined set, and toward names as a creative reflection of personal reality.

Name traditionalists will doubtless cringe. To which the kre8ives reply, NOYB.

I think Ily has a real chance. Beyond its sweet sentiment and easy spelling, Ily has the sound of the moment. It's a mashup of two of the fastest rising names in America, Miley and Isla. If nothing else, Ily finally gives us the perfect answer to the question, what's a good sister name for Nevaeh? It's the same kind of loving secret message, wrapped up in a contemporary girlish name. Or, if you prefer, the same kind of craziness.

Ily. You heard it here first.