The Age of Flexible Names

Feb 23rd 2017

My father recently passed away. At a small service in his memory I mentioned that my father's father, who died long before I was born, was apparently known as both Isidore and Irving. After the service a friend approached me and said that her grandfather was also sometimes called Isidore, sometimes Irving. Then yet another friend said, "I was just about to say that my grandfather was also named Isidore, but sometimes went by Steve!"

Out of a small group of people, three grandpas who were sometimes-but-not-always named Isidore? It's a strange coincidence, especially since Isidore was never an especially common name. But the fact that the name in question is Isidore does make sense. That name is an emblem of an age of name self-invention.

Grandpa Isidore/Irving/Yitzhak


Isidore was a common choice for immigrants named Yitzhak (Isaac) or Israel who renamed themselves upon coming to America. For them it was a name of choice, adopted to represent a new identity and new possibilities. Change and flexibility were intrinsically part of that.

Even American-born Isidores, though, entered a world where names were far more mutable than today. The vast majority of Isidores were born in the 40-year period from 1885-1925. Nicknames were routine back then, and often went far beyond mere trimmings of given names. For instance, a great uncle of mine who was born in that period was named Richard but called Irwin by his family and Yi by his friends. None of my relatives seemed to find that unusual.

Compare that attitude to today's naming climate. We're more creative than ever before in our baby name choices, but much less flexible. Nicknames have become endangered species as parents insist that their kids be called Thomas and Catherine rather than Tommy and Cathy, let alone Buzz or Sissy. As for whole alternate names like Isidore/Steve or Richard/Irwin, they seem to have vanished. In my teenage daughters' cohort, name fluctuations only come up in cases of a shift in gender identification.

In short, while our baby-naming options are becoming ever more open, we're closing the door on self-naming options. We're treating our given names as, well, "givens." They're immutable objects, frozen in place as our parents imagined them before they ever met us. We don't adapt them to fit different situations or life stages, or let friends bestow new names on us to reflect the experiences we accrue through our lives. We don't reinvent our identities as my grandpa Isidore/Irving/Yitzhak did – or at least, not without a lot of soul-searching and ceremony.

Perhaps we could take some pressure off of ourselves in the naming process if we welcomed back a little of that old-time flexibility. By all means, keep searching for the perfect baby name. I'm the last person who would downplay the significance of name choices. But if we give our children, and ourselves, the space to play and experiment with nicknames, we may find that perfection doesn't come in a one-size-fits-all package. We all have many selves in many settings, and there's something to be said for a name that morphs along with us.

Luxurious Names

Feb 20th 2017

With names like Royal, Messiah and Destiny in the top 500, modern parents appear to be fans of inspirational choices. Why not choose an extraordinary name for an extraordinary child?

These fourteen swanky and sumptuous names embody that sense of wealth and power. Some work for boys, girls, or both, but all offer the promise of success. If you’re looking for an auspicious choice to bring fortune and fame to your little one, look no further!

Image via

Lux. Though the origins of this Latin name relate to “light,” its unique sound is closer to “luxury” or “deluxe.” Lux is prominent in pop culture - from League of Legends to the Virgin Suicides - and would work especially well as a stylish middle choice.

Chanel. The iconic designer’s surname jumped onto the top 1000 after her death in the early 1970’s, as fans paid homage to Coco. While her nickname is also slowly rising for girls, Chanel is a posh pick, both fashionable and formidable.

Prosper. This verb name exudes bountifulness, determination, and success. The name comes from the Latin for “fortune,” but English ears will hear it as a synonym for “achieve.” Prosper has found favor in France, as well as in a few literary sources.

Royce. A kingly choice, Royce has begun to rise again (as part of the Generational Sweet Spot trend, perhaps). Of course, its vintage vibe isn’t the only draw - the Rolls-Royce company has been promoting their luxury image since 1904, inspiring parents to go the brand-name route.

Glimmer. While this shimmering choice has yet to be recorded, The Hunger Games series has ignited the interest of many in Glimmer. It’s not too far off from beachy Summer, and it feels akin to shining Crystal, though more understated.

Dior. Another fashion-forward French surname, Dior is glamorous and glittering. It has an unusual sound - not unlike up-and-coming Noor - but remains recognizable to many. Rapper and entrepreneur Diddy named his son Justin Dior, putting a unisex spin on the name.

Titan. It has both pop culture credibility and an aural connection to current trends - it’s no wonder Titan has begun to rise up the top 1000. This powerful choice could shorten to the friendly nickname Ty, but its mythological and cinematic links keep Titan strong.

Laurent. Of course, there’s designer Yves Saint Laurent, but the name also has fortunate origins. Laurent comes from the same Latin root as “laurel,” a plant and a symbol of victory. If Lawrence is too prominent and Larry too mid-century, Laurent might hit a more dapper note.

Copper. Though it’s best known as the name of a character in The Fox and the Hound, Copper could work as a radiant alternative to Carter or Cooper. It’s likeable and pleasant, but not used too often as a noun - making it a perfect “word name” pick.

Everest. Monumental but not unconquerable, Everest fits in with rising stars McKinley and Denali while preserving a sense of awe. It’s also close in sound to Evan, Everett, and Emmett, all currently in the top 150. Unlike its popular brethren, however, Everest is rare and illustrious.

Armani. Both Italian and Persian in origin, Armani is a sleek, cross-cultural choice for the sophisticated. It’s also a thoroughly modern name, having only been recorded in the United States since 1986. Another related choice is Giorgio, debonair and dashing.

Jewel. It may sound like a twenty-first century name, but Jewel has long been bestowed upon precious baby girls, reaching the top 200 in 1904. Now that Ruby and Pearl have come back into fashion, sparkling Jewel won’t be far behind.

Valor. A worthy successor to Victor and Vincent, Valor maintains a winning spirit and an uncommon but familiar sound. It’s short and chic, but masculine and compelling. Valor is slowly growing for boys, too, making it more accessible.

Mercedes. Once associated with the Virgin Mary, the name Mercedes today is more likely to be associated with the eponymous auto corporation. Both aspects help this name balance between a classic, religious image and a contemporary, secular sound, fantastic for all types of little girls. 

More Names Like Harper: The Search for Alternatives

Feb 15th 2017

Once in a while, a baby name hits the bullseye. It clicks with parents in a unique way and sends them hunting for more name ideas that can fill that same space in their hearts. Harper for girls is one such name. 

Don't just take my word for it, ask the whole internet.

I turned to Google to find top completions for search phrases like "baby names like..." The result is a collection of unique baby name fashion flashpoints, including Harper. I recognize many of them as names that users look up at a tremendous rate, much higher than the names' actual usage would suggest. Most importantly, each of them is the epitome of a particular hot style with a character that's hard to match.

I'm taking up the challenge of finding alternatives for these names, starting today with Harper. Let's break down the elements of Harper's special appeal.

Harper Lee: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Name Harper Is:

Unconventionally feminine. Harper is not a traditional girl's name, either in usage or sound. But because the most prominent Harper, author Harper Lee, was a woman, it doesn't come across as a boy's name being "repurposed." It's confidently if non-traditionally feminine.

Fresh for this generation. Have you ever personally met an adult woman named Harper? Mostly likely not, so it has no negative associations and nobody's gotten tired of it.

An action surname that doesn't get its hands dirty. Harper is one of a new generation of -er names that keep the "doer" energy of the suffix but lose the workaday connections of a Cooper or Tannner.

An artistic homage. Again thanks to Harper Lee, the name has a literary style that broadens its appeal and deepens its sophistication.

No other name will be a perfect match for all of those qualities, but each of the names below captures parts of Harper's allure.