The new #1 names in England and Wales are Amelia for girls, and Oliver for boys. The biggest stories, though, aren't found at the top of the charts. The fastest-rising names of the year show us where the action is. They capture the hottest trends, the freshest sounds, and above all the the mindset of our times — for better and worse. That time-capsule aspect of names is on view this year, as England's hottest rising name of 2013 is:
Previously obscure in England, the name Reeva leapt onto the top 1,000 list after Reeva Steenkamp, a South African model, was shot and killed by her Olympic sprinter boyfriend Oscar Pistorius. (Mr. Pistorius claims that he believed he was shooting at a home intruder, and that Ms. Steenkamp's death was a tragic accident. His trial recently concluded, and he awaits a verdict.)
This is not an isolated name trend. When the death of an attractive young woman or girl becomes a media phenomenon, her name reliably soars in popularity. We've seen this after the death or disappearance of of Americans such as Laci Peterson, Nicole Brown Simpson, Caylee Anthony, and Natalee Holloway. The rise of Reeva in the U.K. shows the phenomenon is not unique to our shores.
The victim name phenomenon is different from typical celebrity-inspired naming. No matter how much exposure celebrities get, their names only catch on if they have the fresh sound and style parents are looking for. My usual refrain: "It's not about the fame, it's about the name." Not with victim names. They're relatively immune to fashion, and can even reverse a fading name's downward trend.
We seem to name after women like Reeva Steenkamp the way we'd name after a personal friend: as an act of affection and remembrance. That says something about the intense media focus on these unfortunate women, and something about the way we consume it. It's particularly striking in an age when we've stopped naming babies after leaders and heroes.
This particular victim name trend, Reeva, comes with a unique twist. The name of the killer also soared. The boy's name Oscar leapt all the way from #62 in England the previous year to #7 today.
The complete fastest-rising names in England:
11. Khaleesi (the amazing Game of Thrones name)
The 21st Century is the Age of the Search Engine. Whatever we want to know about, our first instinct is to Google it. In the world of baby names, that's a perilous temptation. The warped funhouse mirror of search results can scare you away from a name you truly love — or obscure the name's real place in our culture.
Before you start typing your favorite names into Google, keep in mind:
1: A search hit doesn't mean the name is "taken."
Baby names aren't usernames. They don't have to be unique in the global network. Most of us share our name with others around the world and it just doesn't matter to us.
Think of it this way: if you have a common surname, then demanding a unique full name means restricting your choices to names that thousands of other parents have already rejected. Day to day, having an appealing name matters more than being the world's one and only.
2: Tear your eyes away from image results.
Photo search results seem like they're worth a thousand text links. The messages they send are likely to be garbled, though, especially when it comes to girls' names.
To be blunt: scantily clad women dominate image results. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often referred to as the most powerful woman in the world, but if you type the name Angela into an uncensored image search, she's an afterthought. Instead, you'll see a parade of unknown and seriously underdressed young women.
Image searches tend to be quirky, too, and each search engine has its own personality. That can leave you with very, very different impressions of a name. I typed Heidi into Bing Images and got a full screen of fashion model Heidi Klum. Then I tried the same search on Google Images and found myself with a screenful of the 1970s anime series "Heidi, Girl of the Alps."
If you can't resist the lure of image results, make sure you at least turn on safe search. Filtering out explicit results gives you a more balanced picture.
3: Don't Hit "Submit"
Some of the most revealing search results appear before you ever hit your "enter" key. Start typing a name into a Google search box and you'll see a drop-down list of suggestions to complete your phrase. These auto-completions reflect what other web users are asking about — not just who looks good in skimpy clothes.
If you type "Heidi," chances are Google will suggest completing the name with Klum, Montag and Fleiss, plus a blank completion for the one-word title of Johanna Spyri's classic tale. Try the same technique in Bing or even Wikipedia and your results should be similar. There's your pocket-sized guide to the name's place in the world.
This is an extraordinary day for me, as BabyNameWizard.com and NameCandy.com join the CafeMom website family. It's a little like watching a child graduate from high school: proud of what they've grown to be, and excited at the potential of how much more they can now become.
The first huge example of this potential is already reality. Our Expert Tool Suite is now freely available to the public! I'm incredibly excited to be able to introduce tools like the Expert version of the NameVoyager and the mind-reading Name MatchMaker to a wider audience.
Amidst this excitement, I hope you'll indulge me in a little nostalgia about my "baby's" growth. For years, BabyNameWizard.com has served tens of thousands of pages of information to a community of millions of users. Up until now, though, the company behind it has consisted of two women working out of their homes.
My partner Jennie Baird and I — with the assistance of a wonderful group of freelance writers and programmers — have been the entire staff. That means designing tools, writing articles, choosing server platforms, balancing the books, answering support email, you name it. The two of us set out to create the very best name-choosing resource that had ever been, and I like to think that we succeeded.
Now imagine what we could do with a full team behind us.
I've joined forces with CafeMom for the chance to build something even greater. Their team understands BNW and appreciates what makes this site and this community special. And with their resources and talents on board, I'll have the chance to focus on what I do best, and love best: names.
There's good stuff ahead.