A friend of mine named her son William, called Will. Why? She explained to me: "we said the whole name out loud and thought, 'that sounds like a guy you'd really like.'"
Friendly, likeable, nice. Sounds like an obvious goal, doesn't it? After all, studies show that women and men alike rate niceness as a most-sought-after quality in a mate. But I talk to a lot of parents about names, and the most common concern is finding a name that's distinctive. That's followed by questions about whether names sound sufficiently global or sophisticated or tough or creative or masculine or educated or Christian or Jewish or...you name it. But "likeability" seldom comes up.
It's not just Baby Name Wizard readers. Type "popular baby names" into Google and you get 268,000 results. Type in "likeable baby names" (or likable) and you get absolutely zip, zero. Ditto for "kind-sounding names." We don't seem to be looking for niceness in names as much as we do in people.
Yet likeability is a powerful quality. Imagine for a moment that your son will grow up to pursue a career in sales, or in politics. A name that casts a sunny glow and makes people want to like him and talk to him could be an invaluable asset. And don't most of us, at one time or another, need the skills of a salesman or politician?
Think about a name that makes you smile and feel comfortable with a person. One that makes you want to talk to a new kid at school -- or read an email from a stranger. (In fact, this whole topic struck me after seeing a message from one Sam Apple in my email inbox. I had to click on it immediately.) We all have our own name comfort zones, shaped by our own experiences and the people we've loved and loathed. But most of us share the instinct that, say, a Charlie sounds more approachable than a Sterling.
So why aren't we out hunting for niceness? The trick is that names with broad likeability generally don't sound creative or sophisticated. Most are thoroughly familiar, their rough edges worn smooth by generations of use. And most are casual, including lots of cuddly nicknames. That's not always a fashionable combination. So many parents accept a style tradeoff, sacrificing friendliness for uniqueness or savoir faire. But if sheer likeability is what you're after, here's a starter list of names that elicited warm smiles in a poll of the people in my immediate vicinity. See if you agree...and tell me your own choices:
Postscript: after compiling this list I realized that some namers do indeed place a premium on friendliness and likeability. More on that in a blog to come...
Most unexpected name on the top-1000 charts: Even with the recent popularity of exalted names, both earthly (Princess, Diamond) and divine (Heaven, Miracle), this one stands out. #903 for boys: Messiah.
Most unexpected name off the top-1000 charts: With gentle elegance, cute nicknames, and a prime-time tv star in its corner, Evangeline seemed like a shoo-in for a breakthrough year. Instead, it joins old standbys like Lavinia and Gemma on the list of the unaccountably unpopular.
Best series of names when the top-1000 charts are listed in alphabetical order: Precious Presley Princess Priscilla.
Back in December, I invited the nation's name lovers to predict the hottest and coldest names of 2005 in a Baby Name Pool. Almost 500 of you took up the challenge, and the results were excellent. The #1 hot-name choice, Ava, was indeed one of the fastest rising names of the year. And the #1 falling choice, Madison, did fall...though not as dramatically as many expected. (Madison for boys, however, slid right off the charts.)
Scoring was based on the "hotness formula" I described last week, plus a 25% bonus added to any rising prediction that didn't appear in the 2004 top 1000 lists. Scores for the six predictions were summed for the final score.
And now, your winner!
Michelle B. of San Diego, California claimed the crown thanks to the one-two punch of miniature powerhouses Ava and Mia. Her full winning slate:
Rising: Ava, Mia, Claire
Falling: Lauren, Elizabeth, Samantha
Michelle is an investment banker and mother to Paige (2 years) and Georgia (2 months). She credits her sense of name trends to friends and family, and immersion in the toddler whirl -- play groups, music classes, Gymboree. A hearty round of applause for Michelle, please!
Runner-up Suzanne J. of San Jose had the distinction of choosing a hot boy's name. Her top two scoring choice were Ava and Maddox. She too has "field experience" thanks to Eleanor (6), Henry (4) and Susannah (1). She says her interest in names "swings between being a hobby and an obsession."
And some final notes:
- For a tiebreaker question, I asked you all to predict the popularity rank of Britney. Congratulations to Anita B. of Vancouver who somehow intuited that Britney would rank precisely 429th among all American girls' names in 2005.
- Proof that you all are independent-minded: not one ballot included the pair of names I suggested in my pop-culture name prediction column, Ciara and Danica. (In case you were wondering, the contest-winning score was 69. Ciara + Danica = 90.)
- Proof that we all need a better crystal ball: not one person--me included--tabbed the #1 hot name of the year, Talan.
So, see you all next year?