Names on the Verge: Alice

Feb 5th 2010

In the most recent edition of The Baby Name Wizard book, I wrote of the name Alice:

This plain and simple classic has been neglected for years. Right now, opinions on it are divided. To some, the model Alice is long-suffering housewife Alice Kramden of the “Honeymooners. “ To others, it’s the girlish enchantment of Alice in Wonderland. Expect to see the name come back first in the tony urban neighborhoods where Lucy and Henry are hits.

Signs are now mounting that Alice's comeback time may be sooner rather than later.

The first sign: vampires. I've written before about the stylish names of Twilight's undead Cullen clan. Eye-catching names like Jasper and Esme got the most dramatic boost, but Alice has quietly benefited from the connection too.

Sign two: top billing. What could tilt Alice toward the "Alice in Wonderland" side better than Alice in Wonderland itself? Tim Burton's phantasmagoric take on that classic story hits theaters next month. The media coverage should make more parents think of the name, and all the blond curls and pinafores should help push images of diner waitresses into the background.
But no amount of publicity can boost a name that parents aren't ready for. So the most important sign that Alice is a "name on the verge" may be one from a much less glamorous source: the Swedish Bureau of Statistics. A week ago, the Swedish number-crunchers announced that Alice was their #1 girl's name of 2009. That's a dramatic rise from #6 the year before.

Sweden is often a step ahead of the United States in reviving old-fashioned names. Emma, for instance, became the #1 name in Sweden in 2002, 6 years earlier than in the U.S. Alice will surely rise here too. But how far? Do parents who like Alice for its sweet quirkiness have to brace for an Emma-like onslaught?

My crystal ball says that Alice will never reach those heights in the United States. The name's appeal is deep, but not broad enough.

Alice doesn't end in a vowel, like Emily and Ava. It isn't multisyllabic with strong nicknames, like Elizabeth and Abigail. And it isn't lilting and romantic, like Isabella and Olivia. Culturally, Alice is closer to boys' names like Henry and Charlie. Those names walk a fine style line. They have a slight whiff of old country bumpkin about them, which scares off some parents -- but not the most affluent and educated ones. The farther you are from a country bumpkin, after all, the less you risk being mistaken for one. That has made Henry and co. favorites of Ivy League and Hollywood parents, and Alice seems destined to follow.

To tell or not to tell?

Jan 29th 2010

As expectant parents, you have two big naming decisions. The first is the choice of name. The second is when to reveal it.

At one extreme you have parents who start referring to the fetus by name from the moment they see an ultrasound. Let's call them the "broadcasters." At the other, you have the parents who guard the name as a state secret, refusing to give their nearest and dearest so much as a clue: the "keepers."

Both of these extremes are on the rise. The broadcasters have gained momentum from early sex detection and the self-revelatory culture of the internet. As reader Jen wrote to me, "Facebook seems to be the main vehicle for this reveal: 'We had our 20 week ultrasound today, and Olivia Kate is on the way...,' 'We are on our way to the hospital to meet Matthew!'"

The keepers, meanwhile, have more and more to hide. Our modern culture of creative, distinctive names leads to a lot more wrinkled noses and outraged grandparents at name announcement time. The way keepers see it, if you know they'll complain and you know you won't change your mind, why have the argument? Just present them with an adorable newborn baby, the name a fait accompli.

As usual, extremes carry risks. For the keepers, if you suspect that your friends and family will all hate your child's name, shouldn't that set off alarm bells? Bouncing ideas off people can also help you avoid unwelcome surprises. I've heard from "keeper" parents who learned too late that, say, Amelia was the name of Grandpa's first wife whom nobody ever talks about.

Broadcasters risk locking themselves into premature decisions. Their public pre-announcements can also seem like tempting fate. The sad truth is that things can go wrong with pregnancies, and an early name broadcast to 1,000 Facebook friends can add an extra layer of complication to an already painful time. Even if all goes well, you've stolen the thunder from your birth announcement. If everybody already knows the ultrasound sex reading, the date of your scheduled c-section, and the name, what's left to announce?

Luckily, there's plenty of middle ground. For instance, you can choose a trusted circle to bounce your ideas off of. Ideally the group should include at least one parent of young kids who knows the name landscape, and one person who knows your family well enough to help you navigate around the "Grandma Amelia" problems. If you keep the circle small, you preserve some secrecy and get the extra bonus of flattering the people you've taken into your confidence.

If you're a broadcaster at heart, you can hold back a bit by sharing a list of finalists rather than a champion. (You may have already chosen the winner, but nobody has to know that.) Presenting a candidate list can also generate excitement about the name choice. After all, you can't root for a team without knowing who's playing.

Personally, I like the idea of combining both approaches. If you share a small group of names with a small group of confidantes you gather feedback, retain some air of mystery, and get the full oomph of the birth announcement.

How about you?

Get your red-hot Baby Name News -- in your inbox

Jan 27th 2010

In the past week, new celebrity babies have been named Shane, Ean and Cavan. The Name Lady has weighed in on choosing nicknames. I've delved into American Girl Doll names. 78 new names have been accepted into Namipedia. (78! And that's a slow week!) And that doesn't even count the many hundreds of user comments left on blog posts and Namipedia pages.

I don't imagine you've kept up with all of these regular developments at and Frankly, I can't even keep up myself. So over the next few days I'm introducing an email newsletter that gives you a wrapup of the week in names. It even includes a user comment of the week, highlighting some of the insights that make this community such a great one.

If you're a registered user, look for email from "Baby Name News" in your inbox. I hope you'll enjoy the weekly dose of all things names. (If not, my apologies -- you'll find a link in the message to unsubscribe instantly.) If you're not a registered user, just click that little "sign up button" at the upper right of this page to get started.