Most names have multiple spellings. That's just a fact of modern name life. It's true of traditional names as well as modern inventions -- Abigail has its Abigayles, Alexander its Alexzanders. In most cases, the variants don't have a major effect on the name's overall popularity. Cameron's rank as the #59 boy's name gives you a solid sense of that name, despite the many Kamerons and Camerens out there.
But what if there is no standard spelling? Occasionally, a name will divide its popularity so evenly among two or more spellings that it flies under the radar altogether. Take Audriana/Audrianna. Last year those names ranked #1252 and #1332 in America, a virtual dead heat. They're rising fast, but they divide the territory so neatly that you won't find either one in the NameVoyager.
For parents seeking the unusual, names like these are hidden traps on the popularity charts. They can be tricky to spot, too. Parents considering Kaylin might not think to look up Kaelyn and vice versa. And parents thinking about Jordan for a girl may have no idea that the "alternate" spelling Jordyn is now the more popular.
I've created a master list of all the stealth hit names, where the most common spelling ranks in the top 1500 for boys or girls and the second spelling is at least two-thirds as popular as the first. (If you value your sanity, do not try this at home.) You'll see some themes emerging. For instance, if you dream up a smooth, feminine name ending in -iya, count on the -iyah form being equally common.
If your favorite name isn't listed, you can feel confident that its ranking is a pretty fair indicator of its place in the name landscape. The girls' list is below, boys follow tomorrow.
No topic in names has been more thoroughly examined and debated than whether a woman should change her name at marriage. But that conversation never seems to extend beyond the surname.
I recently encountered a woman who changed her entire name on her wedding day. She decided to take her husband's surname for a unified family identity, but then crafted herself a new first name at the same time. She built it out of pieces of her original first and last name for personal continuity, but took care to make it funkier and more eye-catching than the source material. (I don't want to invade this real individual's privacy, so let's pretend she was born "Joanne Starkey" and after marriage became "Joy-Star Farrar.")
It set me to wondering: why isn't this more common? Not necessarily the Lego-style creative name building, but simply the change of given name at marriage.
Even in this age of creative naming, adults rarely change their first names. Most of us are just too attached to them. At the age of 12 we may bristle at the names our parents chose, but by 25 we've usually grown into the names, or they to us. Yet a surprising number of people spend their whole lives hating their own names. Whenever the Name Lady writes a column relating to "namer's remorse" or strange names, she gets a flood of letters from adults -- many in their 60's, 70's and beyond -- who have never forgiven their parents for their terrible taste in names. But few seem to have given any consideration to a formal change.
Granted, changing your name is a hassle. So much paperwork! Depending on local laws, you may even face costly legal proceedings to make it official. Resistance from friends and family, including the parents who chose your original name, can be a factor too. And never underestimate the power of inertia. Plenty of people dream about a new name but never work up the urgency to make it a reality.
The one exception is at a change in marital status. Every state has a cheap and easy process for newlyweds to switch to a married surname. (For newlywed women, at least. The ease for men varies from state to state.) So a great many brides and a smattering of grooms do swap out surnames, then dive into a stack of licenses, credit cards, subscriptions and contracts to make sure everybody is on the same page. When professional reputations are at stake, a little PR campaign for colleagues and clients might even be required. Some go through this process after a divorce as well.
In other words, these folks take on all of the trouble and inconvenience of a name change, just for the surname. Surely, some of them must rank among the chronic name sufferers. Why do so few take advantage of this prime opportunity to revisit their first names, too?
Did you consider it? Do you know anyone who did?
Countless names are borne by both boys and girls. You have your contemporary inventions (Daylin), your surnames (Kerry), your nickames (Alex). No problem, we can all play nicely together. But other names keep a "single sex" identity despite some opposite-sex usage. The existence of '70s tv actress Michael Learned, for instance, wasn't enough to keep Michael from sounding solidly masculine.
Recently, the androgyny floodgates have opened on male names ending in a vowel sound. There are now more female Rileys born than males, and the masculine biblical name Micah is a fixture on the girls' top 1000 list. As an impartial name observer, you have to call both of those names androgynous today. (Moms of male Rileys, please don't shoot the messenger.) But where do you draw the line and declare a name unisex in usage?
This isn't mere philosophical musing for me. I have practical decisions to make. In the past week, users have submitted the girls' names Ezra, Luca, Luka and Levi to Namipedia. I now have to decide which to let stay, if any.
You could say "Why not just let 'em all stay? What's the harm?" But Namipedia is selective for a reason. The goal is for every single page to be useful or informative for name searchers. Randomly tossing in boy names under the girl's heading or vice versa doesn't seem useful or informative. If anything, it's spreading disinformation: declaring a name that 99% of people consider single-sex to be unisex.
Here's some background on the four names in question. All four are masculine biblical classics. All four end in vowels. All four have been bestowed on dozens of American baby girls...but none come close to cracking the top 1000 girls' names.
The most common feminine choice of the four names, Ezra, ranks #2,207 on the girl's chart. That's in-between land, with some obscure variant names like Naomy and Jazzlynn and some familiar but out-of-fashion names like Michele and Jennie. The least common, Luka, ranks in the 6000s in a tie with hundreds of names like Serenitee, Zulay and Krislynn. (Keep in mind that the mere fact that some people somewhere bear a name isn't sufficient to earn a name a Namipedia page. If it were, the list of Madeline spellings alone would be endless.)
So how would you make the Namipedia decision? Percentages? Micah is only 9% female, but it has ranked among the top 1000 girls' names for 30 years straight. A raw number cutoff? One complicating factor is that a tiny fraction of babies always get checked off in the wrong sex column. That means that the more popular the boy's name is, the more mistakes will end up in the girl's column. (And an -a ending might make data entry mistakes more likely.)
So the criteria might have to be subtler than that. What would you do? I'm all ears.