Sponsored Post: Sienna

Jun 3rd 2010

Many thanks to Toyota for sponsoring BabyNameWizard.com today. That kind of support is invaluable for somone trying to run a world-class website out of her kitchen. And as it happens, the product that Toyota is promoting is an interesting baby name story in itself.

Here's what I had to say about Sienna in the Baby Name Wizard book:

Sienna is a clay used in pigments. Treated with fire it becomes burnt sienna, a lush reddish-brown tint familiar to every child with a 64-pack of Crayolas. Coincidence or not, it started to be heard as a name right after the introduction of the Toyota Sienna minivan. Actress Sienna Miller has been attracting enough attention to tone down those automotive associations.

Unlike Royce, which became a popular name on the strength of the Rolls Royce image, Sienna is a "chicken-or-the-egg" tale. Which came first, the baby or the minivan? The baby name Sienna first hit the U.S. top 1000 in 1995. Toyota introduced its automotive Sienna in late 1997. So round one goes to the babies. But take a closer look:

The number of baby Siennas jumped with the burst of publicity when the minivan was introduced. Then once the vehicle became an established hit, the baby name started to slide -- even though the similar name Sierra was still rising. Apparently, a lot of parents decided Toyota had taken full hold of the name. One thing's for sure: the name Sienna's decline wasn't cause by lack of appeal. Because the instant that actress Sienna Miller tilted the name a smidgen back toward the human side in the mid-'00s, parents flocked to it.

What fascinates me about this interplay is that there really is no "which came first." The namers of both cars and babies came to Sienna at the same time -- and, I suspect, for the same reasons. They chose Sienna to evoke a particular image, with a sound that comfortably straddles the fresh and familiar.

A final sponsor note: Toyota has produced a new suburban-rap video about their minivans. Yes, really. We offer a brief promo video here, and hope you'll give a look in appreciation for Toyota's support for this website (or for the struggling genre of minivan rap). Watch the "Swagger Wagon" promo.

A Local Dream of a Name

May 26th 2010

Have you ever met a woman named Dreama?

If you answered "no," no worries, neither have I. But if you answered, "sure, I know a few Dreamas -- and a Drema, too," then I'm going to use my psychic baby name powers: you are from West Virginia. OK, at least near West Virginia?

For all of the power of the global media, local name trends still flower. Utah is full of Brinleys and Brynlees, and Rhode Island boasts a remarkable number of 20-something Michaelas. I love coming across these pockets of local flavor, micro-culture in a mass-culture world.

The wonderful example of Dreama comes to us via reader Amy, who moved to West Virginia to attend college in the '80s. She writes, "It was a name I had never heard but many of my native-WV classmates had mothers, aunts, and older sisters named Dreama. When I asked them about the name, they all acted like I was strange for never having heard it before."

Local stats from the mid-20th Century are piecemeal, but everything I can find supports Amy's finding. Dreamas concentrate powerfully in West Virginia, with side populations in neighboring Kentucky and Virginia (Southern and Western only). The name's popularity timeline seems to follow the same curve as kindred spirit Darlene. Both Dreama and Darlene are sweet sentiments ("dream," "darling") rendered in mid-century girl form. But no, West Virginia was never a particular hotbed of Darlenes.

Can any West Virginians helps us out? Any insight on why Dreama took off in your neck of the woods? And for the rest of us, any suggestions of Dreama and Darlene-style names that could take off today?

The 2009 Baby Name Pool: The Winners

May 20th 2010

Dear 2009 Baby Name Pool Participants,

Dang, you guys are good.

Hundreds of name enthusiasts joined our annual contest to predict the year's fastest rising and falling names. This year's entries were a powerful and competitive bunch, fueled by canny picks of hot-rising names like Vivienne and Bristol. Almost 90% of ballots yielded a positive score -- an impressive achievement in a subtle domain where Aiden and Isabella shoot up while Aidan and Isabelle sink.

The top-scoring ballot, submitted by reader Jill:

Rising: Bentley, Bristol, Bradyn
Falling: Joseph, Jessica, Diego

Bentley and Bristol were a powerhouse combination, and not an obvious one. Of all of the cultural memes shaping name trends, "pregnant teenagers" hardly springs to mind. Yet the sudden rise of Bentley was spurred by a baby featured on the MTV reality shows "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom." Bristol Palin, meanwhile, emerged as a naming force not in the year that her mother ran for vice president, but in the year that she became a single teenage mom.

Applause to Jill...but since she has declined to tell more about her choices, the full force of Baby Name Pool fame and plaudits goes to the close second place finisher, Kendra O. Her ballot:

Rising: Bristol, Henry, Kourtney
Falling: John, Sarah, Jennifer

Kendra is a nurse from Madison, Wisconsin. She first honed her baby-name trend predicting prowess by naming her cats Charlotte and Oliver, and has a taste for old-fashioned baby names.

Kendra weighed various factors in her choices: Bristol was inspired by increasing mention of that name on baby-related messageboards. Kourtney was inspired by Kourtney Kardashian, after seeing the rise of sister name Khloe. (Kendra notes, "I almost entered Mason, Kourtney's son's name, because I know of 2 Masons born in 2009.") And Henry is simply a name she's always loved. "I almost wish it wasn't so popular," Kendra writes, "since it's a favorite of mine and in my husband's family."

Congratulations to Kendra and to all of you impressively savvy name spotters.

Finally, I always offer a "tiebreaker" question, predicting the rank of a specific name. This year, an unusual number of you guess the rank of the girl's name Taylor right on the dot. Because Taylor, obliging, stayed exactly where it was: #22 in 2008, #22 in 2009.

See you next year!