An Ava Olivia on the rocks, please

Mar 22nd 2007

This past Sunday's NY Times style section featured a bar's-eye view of changing name trends. Jonathan Miles wrote:

Like baby names, cocktail names are steered by trends: the smuttily named drinks of the '70s and '80s -- "two Buttery Nipples, please" -- led to the "-tini" phase, which spiraled out of control in the late '90s and hit bottom with the Apple Pie-tini.

The hot trend today? Old fashioned. No, not the Old Fashioned cocktail (whiskey, syrup, bitters, ice, twist). Not even old-fashioned standards like a gin fizz, highball or Tom Collins. Nope, the new thing is old-fashioned-sounding names for new-fangled drinks. The example in the article was a "Poona Club cocktail," a supposed fixture on the menu of a long-gone club in British India. It's a total forgery, and it's not alone. A cocktail expert explained that menu-makers "are trying to sneak their drinks into the canon by coming up with names that sound a hundred years old."

Ring any bells? Some months ago I wrote about the "forged antiques" of the baby name world, the names that evoke images of our great-grandparents' day but don't have the history to back it up. (Here's part 1 and part 2 on that topic.) It seems that stylish parents and stylish bartenders are surfing the same zeitgeist.

If your barstool style is traditional, though, why not just order that gin fizz? Why conjure up forgeries? For the same reason that parents look past real great-grandparent names like Floyd and Myrtle. Even the retro-minded among us live in the 21st century, and our tastes follow accordingly. The faux-retro drink profiled in the Times article features lime-ginger-bay-leaf gin and blood-orange juice. No mere fizz will hit that 21st-century mark. So toast the birth of Ava and Olivia with a Poona Club cocktail, and leave the Tom Collins for Floyd and Myrtle.

Jolie-Pitt name tracker, March 2007 edition

Mar 16th 2007

I usually have a rule of thumb about baby names of the rich and famous. Celebrity names have a big impact on national baby name trends. What celebrities name their own kids matters not a whit. If the likes of, say, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner name their daughter Violet, that name may indeed become popular. But that doesn't necessarily mean the celebrities are responsible for the trend. Most often, it just means that they're part of a demographic that was already starting to turn to the name. Violet, for instance, hits the sought-after style sweet spot: familiar but uncommon, surprising but widely liked, and just a small step out from current favorites (Lily, Ivy, etc.) It's also the name of the daughter in The Incredibles. In the years to come you'll doubtless hear the Afflecks cited as the reason for the trend, but they're just a blip on the name horizon.

So that's the rule of thumb. And then there's Angelina Jolie.

Ms. Jolie is an unprecedented force in the world of baby names: a genuine style maker. Part of it is the extraordinary fame she and her partner Mr. Pitt share. A bigger part is her genuine style savvy, which I discussed in the 2006 Name of the Year post. But equally important is the speed with which the Jolie-Pitt family has expanded. Three children have joined them in the past two years, allowing Jolie-Pitt namespotting to become a reliable pastime.

This week, the world was introduced to Pax Thien Jolie, age 3, a native of Vietnam. Pax is the Latin word for peace. In the U.S. it may be best known for the Pax TV network (now known as ION) which featured gentle, family-oriented programming. It has been used as a given name only occasionally, with a flurry around the end of WWI. It's also a nickname for the rising name Paxton. Stylistically, Pax fits the rise of subtle meaning-based names (e.g. Nevaeh) as well as the national obsession with the letter X:

Pax's middle name Thien is Vietnamese (though not the boy's birth name). It is a name and word of deep spiritual resonance, with a meaning akin to "heavens." Similarly, Jolie's oldest son Maddox bears a middle name from his country of origin, Cambodia. The middle name Chivan is often translated as "life" and is born by a member of the Cambodian royal family, Prince Sisowath Chivan Monirak. In a few recent news stories Chivan has been described rather unfortunately as a made-up name with no origin...a misreading of both the name and the family. All the Jolie-Pitt clan's names come from somewhere, loudly and proudly.

That name is SO five minutes ago

Mar 9th 2007

My, how styles are changing! More than 600 name-loving people entered this year's Baby Name Pool, guessing the fastest rising and falling names of 2006. The results won't be in until the Social Security Administration sings, but the votes themselves say a lot about name fashion.

The top prediction for a name falling out of favor: by a landslide, Madison.

The top prediction for a name soaring into style: by a landslide, Addison.

Some change, eh?

In fact, they're both canny choices. Last year the girl's name Madison began to decline in popularity after a 2-decade dizzying climb. Names that rise that fast often drop fast too, and as a top-5 name Madison still has a long way to fall. Addison, meanwhile, was a finalist for the 2006 Name of the Year award right here. It's a freshened up take on a favorite, bolstered by television (a character on "Grey's Anatomy").

Yet you could hardly blame anyone who looked at the two names and said, "what's the difference"? It's like the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where the fashion neophyte snickers that two similar belts are called so different. The style is in the details. But when it comes to names, we're all the fashion mavens. We respond to the subtleties. Hundreds of web users tabbed Addison as hot, Madison not. Count it as one more reminder why I don't combine variants of names in my popularity listings. (For those of you who tried to sneak in entries like "Isabel/Isabella" in the Pool, I just counted the first name listed!")

But in the end, beauty is still in the eye of the beholder. Madison ranked #6 in the rising name predictions, too.

For a further look into the fashion crystal ball, here are the rest of the top vote getters from this year's Pool:

1. Addison
2. Ava
3. Emma
4. Aiden
5. Ella
6. Madison
7. Isabella
8. Violet
9. Olivia
10. Aidan

1. Madison
2. Emily
3. Emma
4. Ashley
5. Jacob
6. Jennifer
7. Michael
8. Britney
9. Jessica
10. Hannah