A fan of the tv series Brothers & Sisters pointed me to some familiar-looking baby name books in this week's episode. Very familiar. Yet perhaps not? Here's a detail of the scene:
Those blue, green and pink bubbles of text...the whole color and shape...haven't I seen that somewhere before? Nah, must be my imagination....
Unless a mysterious ripoff book has suddenly hit bookstores ("The Baby Name Lizard"?), I'm guessing that the show's producers whipped up this little homage themselves. Apparently it's considered easier to create a fake book that resembles a real one rather than to secure permissions from the real book's publisher. That surely says something about both the tv and publishing industries.
It's pretty funny regardless, and I'd like to think that they were inspired by a genuine copy of The Baby Name Wizard lying around their offices. Because Brothers & Sisters is a show that generally does get names right. Look at the adult siblings at the heart of the show, born over a 14-year span. The eldest are named Sarah and Katherine, the youngest Kevin and Justin. And how about these two pairs of young siblings: Paige & Cooper, Elizabeth & William. If the writers have been using that "Baby Name Lizard" book, it's pretty darned good.
Your taste in baby names is shaped by many factors. If I had to point to just one, though -- one force that drives your opinions, that's impossible to escape -- it would be your generation.
That's obvious on the face of it. We all know that name styles change dramatically over time. When it comes to our own personal taste, though, it's hard to feel the generational influence. Here's how I usually describe it: the names of your own generation sound too ordinary, your parents' too boring, your grandparents' too old. But by the time you make it back to your great-grandparents' names, things start to perk up. You've never known a young Vivian or Julius, so those names sound fresh to you.
That places a style "sweet spot" at naming generations roughly 60-90 years older than you. But it also points to a second sweet spot at names 20-40 years younger than you. Those are the names that you and your friends name your children. Meanwhile you're turned off by names in middle, particularly your own age and 10-20 years older. So if you were born in the 1970s, you probably didn't consider '60s names like Sheila or Kent for your kids.
Now here's the kicker. That same generation of names that marks your style nadir is your parents' sweet spot. And those charming antiques you love? They're your parents' stodgy grandma names. Let's overlay some hypothetical curves:
Call the areas in green "argument zones."
Parents, this explains why your mother-in-law keeps suggesting names like Karen and Steve. Grandparents, this explains how your daughter could possibly consider a name like Julius (or Genesis) for a little baby. And to our youngest readers, prepare for your parents to totally miss the appeal of Conrad and Joyce. They don't have bad taste, honest. They're just products of their generation.
The votes are in for the annual Baby Name Pool. Hundreds of name enthusiasts trained their eagle eyes on the naming horizon to predict the top rising and falling names of 2009. As always, your votes are almost as interesting as the official name data itself -- a leading indicator of name trends to come.
What did your votes say this year? Well, let's get the big theme out of the way right now: vampires. I've written plenty about the Twilight series as a powerful up-and-coming force in American names. Clearly, many of you agree. Alice, Bella, Isabella, Edward and Esme all ranked among the top 10 most-predicted rising names.
Alice took first place overall, with an added boost from the Alice in Wonderland movie (and perhaps from this past blog post.) The non-Twilight half of the top 10 was filled by Violet, Henry, Lila, Jackson and Oliver. That's an intriguingly traditional list for our non-traditional naming era.
On the declining side, most of you went with the "bigger they are, harder they fall" theory. The top choices were popular powerhouses Emma, Aiden, Emily and Jacob. Other recurring themes were top names of the '70s-'90s (Ashley, Jennifer, Brittany) and recent out-of-nowhere naming phenoms (Miley, Nevaeh).
The most intriguing group, though, may be the names that make both lists. Five names ranked among the top 20 predictions for both rising and falling. To me, that's the ultimate sign of a name of this moment, one that will help define our naming era long into the future. Whether you think these names are still rising or have already crested, you sensed that in 2009, they were everywhere: