In Memoriam: The Departed Names of 2009

Jun 4th 2010

Each year, we pause to remember the familiar names that slipped out of America's top 1000 list for the first time after generations of steady use. This year of rapid fashion change left us with a record 16 departed names to honor. I'll take them in stylistic groups:

The Gentle Gentlemen

Bernard, Clarence, Gordon, Leroy, Milton, Sheldon
Did you even notice them leaving? These mild-mannered gents, with their abundance of soft consonants, don't even enter parents' awareness today. They slipped off the charts calmly, with a minimum of fuss.

The Mid-Century Standards

Glenn, Kathy
There's a purity about these names, the very essence of our imagined suburban America. They are disappearing in our national flight from the "ordinary."

The Swinging Sixties

I'm actually a little surprised Gina lasted this long. Most of the sudden hits of the '60s have already had their swan songs. Gina now joins Tina and Dina -- and Brad, Jodi, and friends -- in hibernation.

The Individualist
Can a name fall out of fashion if it was never in fashion to begin with? Laurel may sound a lot like Laura and Lauren, but it didn't follow either name's fashion curve. It was never too high or (until now) too low, and its botanical roots still shine through. Laurel is the least date-stamped name on the departed list, and still very usable.

The Ancients

Cornelius, Thaddeus
This pair surprises me a bit, since classical -s names for boys have some momentum. Perhaps the nickname Con could lure back parents who find Cornelius a little too corny?

The Too Close for Comfort

Justine, Krista, Kristin, Monique
Each of these names peaked in the 1980s, with 3 of the 4 making the top 100. Now they're gone. Feeling old yet?

Sponsored Post: Sienna

Jun 3rd 2010

Many thanks to Toyota for sponsoring 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?