Overheard in Nameland

Sep 8th 2011

Each name page in Namipedia collects all sorts of information, including personal experiences. Some of the name stories that visitors have shared are informative and revealing. Others are deeply moving. Some, though, are pure entertainment. You just can't beat a candid glimpse into the naming id.

I've collected some Namipedia commentary that has made me smile. Anybody have other favorites to share?

(Cheyanne) "By changing the second 'e' to an 'a' I was able to partially name her after my mother without my husband catching on."

"My name is Olivia and it's funny because above it says 'intelligent' and I was very intelligent through elementary school."

(Anakin) "I have had a lot of people tell me that it is a pretty sounding name, even if it had not come from Star Wars. I almost always hear children ask their parents why they didnt name them after a character."

(Nadalyne) My friend Holly emailed me one day when I was eight and the email said:
I`m gonna have a BABY SISTER!!!
I can`t believe it. It`s gonna be so cool! I haven`t replied because of it, for the past 6 months, sorry! SO SORRY! REALLY!! But it`s REAL cool! A GIRL!"
I replied:
"Awesome, Holly!
Tell me, what`s her name?"
I waited a long time, and the reply came.
My parent`s named them Nadalou and Nadalyne! AWESOME!!!"

(Kinzie)  "This is my name. I don't know why my parents decided to name me this. Maybe it was a sick joke or something? I recently found out there is a famous sex expert guy with the same name, except it is spelled differently. Life has now become quite awkward. Now I can only hang out with stupid people who haven't heard of this famous sex guy in order to avoid awkward moments." 

(Sabrina) "I looked up the meaning of the name several years ago, and it meant 'Seenymphe.' I like that meaning way more than what I'm finding it means now. Someone should change it back!!"

The Least Controversial Names in America

Sep 1st 2011


I often tell parents not to get too panicky about a name becoming popular, since popular just means "well-liked." But in fact, the rate of usage of a name doesn't tell you everything about how much people like or dislike it. Popular sentiment is a dynamic brew of the positive and negative. For instance, over the past decade about the same number of American boys have been named Ellis, Elmer and Adonis, but I guarantee you that Ellis will generate the fewest negative reactions of the three.

Some uncommon names seem to be lightning rods for criticism and wrinkled noses (e.g. Bertha). Other names can be equally rare, yet nobody has a bad word to say about them (Blythe). At the opposite end of the spectrum, the most popular names are unquestionably well-liked, yet some of them also generate a lot of negative sentiment. Most often that's just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt. They're victims of their own success: "THAT name again?" But other names are divisive because they're stylistically potent, the naming equivalent of a habanero chili. That makes them catnip for people who happen to like the style, anathema for those who don't. (Nevaeh is one example.)

Some months ago I set out to gauge negative name sentiment. I looked at conversations on internet messageboards where people were discussing names that rubbed them the wrong way. These were spontaneous suggestions, names that triggered strong enough negative sentiment to leap to people's minds as annoying or unattractive. Scanning the web, I tallied thousands of these negative "votes." It was definitely not a scientific study, but I took care to include a broad range of online forums, avoiding name-enthusiast dens and aiming for social, ethnic and age diversity. 

Similar themes were echoed everywhere, and the results painted a clear picture of lightning-rod names. Androgynous names, virtue names and names that travel in rhyming packs were among the most mentioned. Unfortunately, I didn't think to call them "lightning-rod names" at the time. When I wrote about the top results, I rather fliply referred to them as the "most hated names." That loaded term led the discussion off track. (I even got hate mail, and complaints that I was pushing an "agenda" against certain names. For the record, my only agenda is pro-name.)

I'd like to circle back now to the core idea, because the push and pull of name sentiment can be fascinating and revealing. I hope that fact will shine through in today's list, which is the very opposite of the lightning-rods. Meet America's least divisive names: the names that generate the most positive sentiment, as measured by popularity stats, with little to no negative sentiment, as measured by internet grousing. Think of them as the "sure thing" names that satisfy everyone. In food terms, they're pizza rather than 5-alarm chili.

But then again, I have a daughter who can't stand pizza.






















Since we're looking at highly popular names, the boys' list inevitably skews traditional. Even given that slant, though, some striking patterns emerge. Old Testament biblical names are huge, representing 11 of the 20 choices. The front of the alphabet dominates too. And the more contemporary choices are ALL two syllables ending in -n. One notable name: Evan  was also named in an earlier survey on the friendliest/most likeable names (a rare full name in a sea of friendly nicknames). That's one likeable name, all right.

















I was surprised to see that the most popular girls' names in America were largely shut out of this list. While 6 of the current top 20 boys' names made the grade, Sophia is the only top 20 girl's name listed. In fact, I had to cut the girls' list short, because it was getting to the point where the names were so much less common than the names on the boys' list that it wasn't fair to use the same criteria.

As a group, the girls' names show remarkable stylistic consistency. With a few exceptions (e.g. Michelle, Lillian), I could imagine this being the baby name "short list" of a real expectant couple. Most of the names are neither young nor old, neither cutesy nor stuffy. Uncontroversial turns out to be a style in its own right.


The Wide World of Real Names

Aug 23rd 2011

A baby name "expert" recently appeared on a national television program and talked about kids with wacky names...including twins named Lemonjello and Orangejello.

You might have heard of these twins before. They've been exclaimed over for decades, and reported on in such high-profile outlets as the book Freakonomics. In the world of names, they are legend! Literally. As in urban legends. They don't exist; they've never existed. Esteemed name researcher Cleveland Kent Evans has long offered a reward for anybody who could prove their existence, with no takers. But the story continues to spread.


Oh, I understand that the names are funny. What I don't get is why people keep recycling the same old fake names when real names are such rich territory. It's like marveling over a plastic flower when there's a huge garden blooming outside.

Last year alone, over 30,000 different names were given to five or more American boys or girls. Not chosen by a single unconventional family, mind you, but by a bunch of families in the span of just 12 months. Look within other years and you'll find tens of thousands more names. Some of them are variations on familiar names, like Naethan. Others are international names like Kenechukwu, or inventions and "mashups" like Dawnisha. And still others take their inspiration, like the alleged 'Jello boys, from the vocabulary of our wide world.

A small sampling of these meaning names is below. Some may make you laugh, but if so I hope it's in a good-spirited way. Think of them as a fabulous bouquet from America's naming garden. Remember that each of these names has been chosen, with love, by multiple American familes -- most of them dozens of times, some of them hundreds or even thousands of times. And amongst them you might just find names with so much verve they tempt you to name on the wild side.

The Superlatives:

Boys: Perfecto, Majestic, Supreme, Awesome
Girls: Marvelous, Gorgeous, Amazing, Delight

The High Life:

Boys: Chic, Money, Damoney
Girls: Wealthy, Ritzy, Classy, Luxe, Fashionette

The Dark Side:

Boys: Notorious, Danger, Demon, Lucifer
Girls: Satanya, Demonica, Diabolique

The Fan-Boy Dark Side:
Boys: Alucard, Draco, Darth, Lex, Kraven
Girls: Morticia, Harleyquinn, Mystique, Bellatrix

The Intoxicating:

Girls: Tequila, Chardonnay, Sangria, Marijuana, Martini

The Otherworldly:
Boys: Stellar, Dream, Seraphim
Girls: Nirvana, Fantasy, Fairy, Cinderella, Rapunzel

The Household Names:
Girls: Charmin, Aquanette, Velveeta

The Garage:
Boys: Ferrari, Lexus, Audi
Girls: Porsche, Infiniti, Acura, Corvette, Chevette

The Gang:
Boys: Dillinger, Gotti, Capone

The Less than Flattering:
Boys: Chubby, Buzzy, Dizzy, Gross
Girls: Rotunda, Jinx

The Scrabble Champion:
Boys: Zzyzx