I'm so glad I asked!

Mar 17th 2008

Thank you, thank you to everyone who took the time to offer suggestions for the 2nd edition of The Baby Name Wizard!  When I wrote the original book I was inventing the format as I went along, trying to create the kind of reference I wanted for naming my own children.  It's amazing now to have it out in the world and to hear what works -- and better yet, have a chance to improve on it for a second round.

The overwhelming message in your comments is PRONUNCIATIONS, so I've put that at the top of my work list.  The Literary/Artistic style category is a go, too, and I've noted down some of the specific name suggestions.  I'm happy to say that many of the requests (including new entries for names like Miley, Cohen, Harper and more) were already in the works.  And quite a few of the requested items, including a Scandinavian name section, are already in the current edition!

One major suggestion won't make it in though, and I'd like to explain why. A few readers asked for name meanings and origins; several more said not to bother.  As for me, I could bore you for hours with my thoughts on "meanings and origins," the stuff of traditional name dictionaries.  For instance, I think it's a mistake to consider a name's linguistic origin to be its "meaning" at all.  But delving into the history of names can be absolutely fascinating, so I'm not surprised that some readers miss that information in my book.  I don't routinely include it for a couple of reasons.

First off, that material is already covered thoroughly and expertly in many other books.  I've recommended the The Oxford Dictionary of First Names here before, and I'll add Cleveland Evans' Great Big Book of Baby Names as another excellent reference.  Quality books like these devote a full paragraph to explaining the derivation and history of each name.  Which brings me to point #2...

...it would mean adding the equivalent of a whole extra book!  And BNW is already two books to start with.  Never noticed that?  Open the book some time and check out how teensy-weensy the print is in the name snapshots.  Or how the name lists in the style sections are printed in five single-spaced columns, compared to the typical two double-spaced.  Basically, each half of BNW is a book in itself.  It took a heroic effort on the book designer's part to squeeze my mega-manuscript into an affordable-sized volume.  (And now they have to find room for pronunciations!)

My approach to name origins has always been to describe them when they're particularly noteworthy or when they're relevant to a name's appeal.  I'll expand on that somewhat for the 2nd edition, but etymology buffs will still want a good dictionary at hand, too.

And a final note to the readers who found the book's binding to be its weakest feature, literally.  Yep, at least one early print run had glue that didn't bear up well under the constant flip-flip-flipping that The Baby Name Wizard endures.  My apologies.  From what I've heard later printings upgraded the glue, so with any luck the 2nd edition will be a book you can love without loving it to death.

Give me an earful

Mar 13th 2008
I'm currently up to my elbows in edits for the second edition of The Baby Name Wizard.  I'm reviewing every single entry, updating, expanding, and adding names.  Many names have shifted in style and meaning in the past few years, some subtly (Riley), some dramatically (Katrina).  And Shiloh, which was a last-minute cut from the first edition (drat) is now a must-have.  Plus the sibling suggestions for Tatum are off-mark, and Xander is not a vampire, and...well, I have plenty of work ahead.  Now please give me more!

What new names would you like to see added for BNW 2?  What styles would you like to see expanded?  Are there gaps in the style categories -- for instance, would a "Literary/Artistic" category be worthwhile?  Should I incude more pronunciation guidance?  Etc.

If you've ever found yourself talking back to the book, here's your chance to talk back to the author instead.  Post suggestions here!  I'm all ears, and I really want to make the next edition as useful as it can possibly be.


If you don't mind me saying so...

Mar 5th 2008

In college, I worked as a summer research assistant in a psychology lab.  There were three of us undergrads in the lab: Laura, Laura and Laura.  I often think of those days when I'm chatting with my current group of Lauras, all mothers of kids in the same second-grade class.  Yep, I have a typical name of my generation (born 1969, if you must know).  Yet somehow, I don't feel like my name is dated.  In fact, I call it timeless.

Pathetic denial?  "Yes," nod all the Michelles, Christines, Amys and Heathers lining up at school beside me.  "Embrace your generational identity, it's nothing to be ashamed of!"  Indeed, I'm not ashamed a bit.  Laura-hood suits me, and I'm not about to run out and rename myself Nevaeh to fit in with the new generation.  I just think MY name happens to be different.  And being a Baby Name Wizard, I'm prepared to prove it.

Laura was a hit name back in Victorian times, then declined in the 20th century.  It takes a while for a name to come back after that kind of dip.  Most names follow what I call the "great-grandma rule" of generational appeal.   As a parent, the names of your own generation feel too ordinary, the names of your parents' generation too stale, your grandparents' too old.  When you go back to your great-grandparents, though, things start to perk up.  Like so many cultural artifacts, they've made the transition from second-hand to vintage.

It generally takes a good 120+ years to see a name pass through two full cycles.  On the NameVoyager, which only tracks back to 1880, the classic revival curve is simply a U, like Amelia:

(Keep in mind that the past few years are expanded in these graphs, to emphasis recent trends.  Amelia's big resurgence has come mostly in the past 5 years.)

And then there's Laura.  Check it out:

At Laura's peak in 1882, it was the 17th most popular girl's name in America. Immediately above it on the charts were two names of today's generation, Ella and Grace; immediately after were Bessie, Nellie and Maude.  Laura is the generational anomaly, the only major hit name of its age to launch a big comeback so early.  The Laura wave of the '60s and '70s was decades ahead of its time.  And if the name hadn't come back then, dollars to doughnuts parents would be loving it right now -- it sounds natural with old 1880s pals like Julia.

See?  I knew I was special.