Hundreds of you put your best (and worst) names forward in the annual Baby Name Pool, guessing the fastest rising and falling names of the year. I'm always fascinated to see the patterns in the voting. Right or wrong about 2008, they're a great glimpse at the name-culture zeitgeist.
This year's Pool entries give us an Obama landslide even bigger than the one last November. But this time, the winner isn't Barack...it's his daughter. The name Malia was your overwhelming favorite for a fast-rising name of 2008.
Malia sat at the intersection of two hot themes in your voting, the Obamas (Barack and Sasha were also heavy vote-getters) and famous kids (Vivienne, Honor, Violet). The other dominant theme was Twilight (Cullen, Edward, Bella), with tween rockers close behind (Miley, Jonas).
On the other side of the fashion equation, you all seem confident that the name Madison has run its course. That name absolutely dominated the falling predictions...as it has in the past. Other popular predictions: the end is nigh for the phenom Nevaeh, Britney is so over, and old favorites like Jennifer, Jessica and Ashley will continue to fade.
Many of you banked on the "what goes up must come down" principle and wrote in last year's fastest rising names like Miley and Jaslene. Finally, we saw a reverse Obama phenomenon. Plenty of you decided that a year when both parties seemed to be running against incumbent George Bush had to be tough on the name George.
And now, as promised, I'll try my hand at the prediction game. Here's my own ballot. When you trounce me with Malia and Madison, be kind.
This was a tough choice due to sheer abundance. The fastest-rising names are often inspired by celebrities, and 2008 looks like a Hollywood bumper crop.
Last year's rising champ Miley kept up her cultural momentum, and fellow tween-dreamers the Jonas Brothers should give a boost to the already hot name Jonas. Twilight and Gossip Girl also stand to cut a broad swath through the 2008 name charts, with their bevy of well-named beauties: Cullen, Bella, Jasper, Esme, Leighton, Serena, Chace. And it never pays to look past reality tv, where Kenley and Audrina made their marks -- or telenovelas, home of Marely, Camila, Hugo and Lola. Of course, style didn't stand still off the screen, either. Finn, Harper and Cruz are strong competitors in the fashion arena.
But pick I must, so the rising slate is: Marely (F), Chace (M), Kenley (F). That's a mighty risky group. Marely already got a big bump in 2007, and neither Chace nor Kenley has ever hit the top 1000. If the latter two don't break through, I'm in for a whippin'. But bold guesswork's the name of the game on the rising side!
Falling picks are always harder, because breakout stars are a lot more common than breakout obscurities. Reality TV can be an exception with its 15 minutes of fame, but last year's name-making reality stars (Jaslene, Jordin) have shown some staying power. So here, I play it safer.
Dakota (M): This '90s favorite has hit its downside, accelerated by a pair of young actresses who have tilted the name toward the feminine side. Look for parents of boys to scurry away.
Ashlee (F): When a name starts to decline in popularity, alternate spellings often take the hit the fastest.
Ciara (F): For an R&B star, a year without a new radio hit usually means a year without namesakes.
If you haven't entered the Baby Name Pool yet, there's still time! Just come up with three names you think rose in popularity in 2008, and three you think fell. Then bask in the glory if you beat out all of your fellow name enthusiasts.
In fact, this year I'll even let you beat out a Baby Name Wizard. Later this week I'll offer my own ballot, giving you a chance at a full year of smug superiority when you top my score. But to take advantage of this fabulous offer, you have to enter by the end of day on Wednesday, April 15!
Now, to the ballot.
Last time I talked about (dubious) claims that the recession is turning baby names back toward the traditional, in a parental "flight to quality." Today, I look at the historical precedent: naming during the Great Depression.
My points of comparison were baby names in 1928 before the crash vs. 1932 at the depth of the crisis. A quick eyeballing shows that the traditional classics fell along with the stock market. John, James, William, George, Mary, Katherine, Elizabeth and Margaret all dropped in popularity as the Depression took hold. Now let's zoom in closer.
Applying the standard Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula, the fastest falling boy's name, by a mile, was...Herbert. That's a clear reaction to the economy, but not in a stylistic way. Parents of the '30s simply decided that Herbert Hoover wasn't a president they'd care to remember. (Let's keep an eye on George in the years ahead.) As a group, the 10 fastest-falling boys' names fell into two categories: namesakes of public figures, and traditional classic names.
And the fastest rising boys of the Depression? They were the boyish ones. Check it out:
That's a whole lotta nicknames, with a late smattering of movie stars (Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman). Even as James was falling, Jimmy was soaring. This could suggest a twist on the "flight to quality" idea: a "flight to comfort." Perhaps in a scary world, we just want to curl up under a cozy blanket with our dear little babies. It makes some sense.
Except those are just the boys' names.
Over on the girls' list, the hottest rising names list brimmed with glamourous sophistication. Top-10 gainers included Marlene (as in Dietrich), Carole (Lombard), Joan (Crawford), and Barbara (Stanwyck) -- a veritable honor roll of strong, stylish modern women. Sandra and Sondra both made the list too, their continental panache a contrast to fast-falling names like Helen and Ruth.
If you want a theory of naming for tough times, then, you'll have to account for cuddly, down-home boys and glamorous, urbane girls. I'll take a stab. To me, the key thing to remember is that names aren't simply reflections of our current reality; they're reflections of our dreams.
Amid the job losses and bread lines of the Great Depression, one industry soared: the movies. And sure enough, reports are already piling up that this recession era is following suit with huge box office tallies, especially for comedies, adventures, and rip-roaring spectacles.
Maybe, then, everybody predicting serious, conservative baby naming today has it exactly backwards. In grim times, we don't want solemnity. We want fun and glamour and excitement, and glimpses of a world far removed from layoffs and foreclosures. We certainly want to envision that kind of sunny future for our children. So bring on the creative, carefree names! Why not? They're free.