Enter the 2009 Baby Name Pool!

Mar 4th 2010

Do you have some Baby Name Wizardry in you?

The 5th Annual Baby Name Pool is your chance to show off your keen sense of name style. Match wits with hundreds of other name enthusiasts, predicting the top rising and falling names of 2009. If you win, I'll extoll your brilliance and grant you a year's worth of worldwide bragging rights! And if your predictions are total clunkers, nobody ever has to know that you entered at all. Good deal, huh?

The rules are simple. List three names that you think rose the fastest in the United States in 2009, and three you think fell. When the U.S. government releases its official name stats in May, I'll tally the results using the official Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula. The top total scorer gets the glory.

So it's simple...but not easy. Top entrants spot trends everywhere from neighborhood playgrounds to reality tv shows. And despite all of our best efforts, last year nobody tabbed the year's #1 hottest rising name, Aaden.

If you haven't played before, you can read more details and check out the fastest rising and falling names of the previous year to get a sense of how name fashions operate. Then convince your friends and coworkers to enter and compete against you. This is an equal-opportunity contest, by the way; we've had male and female winners.

All entries must be received by April 15. Think of it as a fun antidote to tax filing.

Ready to go? Fill out your ballot now!

The View from Abroad: A Look Back at the Future Part 2

Feb 26th 2010

Yesterday I talked about old-fashioned "lady and gentleman" names that were hot in Europe five years ago, and looked at whether U.S. parents had followed in those fashion footsteps. The result was yes and no -- yes for girls, no for boys.

Why the divide? As usual, each name has its own story. Phil is fighting against a middle-aged vibe in the U.S. and doesn't fit the dominant sound patterns of the moment: lots of vowels, -r and -n endings, and high Scrabble-value letters. Yet the European favorites that do fit those patterns fare little better here. Leon, Felix, Simon, Theo and Victor are all much hotter across Europe than in the States.

I think there's a broader pattern underlying the boy-girl difference. Here's the question that leaps out at me: If American parents aren't choosing "international gentleman" names like their European counterparts, what are they naming boys?

I believe the role played by the "gentleman" names in Europe is largely filled by Old Testament names over here. So instead of Leon, Felix and Theo, we have Caleb, Eli and Jonah.

The recent surge in OT names has been much stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere. 17 of the top 50 U.S. boys' names are now from the Old Testament. (That doesn't even count OT/NT crossovers like Michael and Joseph.) There seems almost no limit to the style here, with names like Ezekiel, Nehemiah and three different spellings of Isaiah in the U.S. top 500. And names like Jacob and Ethan, which are runaway hits here, are merely popular in the UK. Where we have a flood of Jakes, they have Jacks.

In the United States, Old Testament boys' names carry special cultural signals. They have a rustic pioneer style, owing to their 18th-19th century American history: Ethan Allen, Eli Whitney, Levi Strauss. That trailblazing aura appeals to a lot of American parents. As a nation, our style leans rugged rather than urbane; no fancy-pants boys' names, thank you very much. In fact, many of the Old Testament names are most popular in the rural, rugged parts of the country that also favor names like Colt and Maverick (two names that are virtually unheard of in Europe).

The Minuteman and Conestoga Wagon imagery doesn't play the same role in the European cultural imagination. Nor do the names play the same role in history -- just try to think of an Englishman named Eli. To European ears, then, Old Testament names tend to sound more esoteric, or more strictly biblical...or more Jewish. More than one American parent of an Old-Testament baby has told me of European friends being confused, or even concerned, that they chose such a Jewish-sounding name.

It's not a hard and fast rule, though. The Old Testament classic Reuben is a hot name across Europe but has gone nowhere in the U.S., despite its fashionable vowels and -n ending. That's a humbling reminder for those of us who seek order in the swirling chaos of name styles. You can have history, sociology and phonology on your side, and still be felled by a simple sandwich.

The View from Abroad: A Look Back at the Future

Feb 25th 2010

Not long ago, I wrote about hot names in Europe that might be up-and-coming in the United States.

Hold on a second...maybe it was long ago. Could it have been five years ago?

Yep, it's been five years since the first Baby Name Wizard book came out, and I've been writing this column ever since. Back in 2005, I wouldn't have believed I'd be able to come up with that much material on baby names. Now I know better -- that names are a limitless topic, reaching into every corner of our culture, our history and our world. And they're ever-changing, so it's time to take a fresh look at some of those old trends and predictions.

In the original "View from Abroad" post, I wrote:

Europe tends to be a few years ahead in the name curve...for a new angle on up-and-coming names, I've made a roundup of half a dozen international-styled countries: Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. My targets were names that rank in top 20 in at least two different countries, but haven't cracked the American top 100 in the past decade.



Five years later, the girls' predictions have proved to be spot-on. Here's the 5-year U.S. usage trend for Amelia, Charlotte and Clara:

All three girls' names have risen by at least a third, and Amelia and Charlotte now rank among America's top 100. But the boys are a different story:

To get the real picture, try to look past the Oliver explosion. Four of the five names are flat or declining (and even Oliver hasn't cracked the top 100).

Why did the boys' and girls' predictions perform so differently? Thoughts on this tomorrow.