Modern Names for Your Flower Child

Dec 18th 2017

The 1970’s brought us word names like Heather, Crystal, and Dawn, lovely nature-inspired choices that embodied the hippie vibe of the previous decade. While bell-bottoms may have gone out of style, the desire for peace and love (and nonconformist names) certainly hasn’t! The legacy of the hippie movement continues today in popular names like Summer, Harmony, and even Paisley.

If you love the prettiness and positivity of this name style, check out these fifteen word names that haven’t yet cracked the top 500. Bohemian yet robust, these choices are sure to inspire and encourage your own little flower child.

Image: iStock/MeganKPhotos

Feather. This light and airy choice is only one letter off from Heather, but it feels like a bold twenty-first century pick. While a few fictional characters have been given this sweet name over the years, Feather was given to only seven baby girls in 2016. With names like Birdie and Aviana on the rise, why not Feather?

Bliss. Cheerful Bliss makes an excellent alternative to popular picks like Hope or Faith, matching their concise sounds and upbeat meanings. The name is related etymologically to Blythe as well, giving Bliss an added retro sound. Despite its connection to an unpleasant idiom, the word bliss is filled with merriment and would make a unique, happy option.

Season. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”: whether this quotation reminded you of a Bible verse or a Byrds’ song, global harmony is an appealing connection to the name Season. Though Autumn, Summer, and Winter rank in the top 1000, this serene choice has yet to make similar waves.

Unity. A virtue name with untapped potential, Unity first appeared in Puritan societies alongside Felicity and Chastity. It’s also a literary pick, with authors like Thomas Hardy and Neil Gaiman choosing this harmonious name. With an uncommon first initial and an inherent meaning of acceptance, Unity could join Serenity and Trinity on today’s playgrounds.

Henna. The beautiful reddish dye originating in the Arabian Peninsula has a feminine connection as well; traditionally, decorating the body and hair with henna was a practice specific to women. The gorgeous patterns and colors relate the name to Paisley or Ruby, but Henna has a few other etymologies - it’s also a Finnish form of Henrike and an Arabic form of John.

Love. Romantic yet straightforward, Love is a daring choice that works especially well as a middle name. The name briefly rose in popularity after 1967’s Summer of Love, but has only passed 100 babies per year in the past decade. Could this passionate choice be the next Grace?

Meadow. Bizarrely, it took a character on HBO’s The Sopranos to bring this pretty and peaceful name into the spotlight at the end of the millennium. Meadow is a graceful, natural choice that fits in with the likes of Willow or Harlow, but it has a definite “free spirit” vibe.

True. Simple and sanguine, True is an encouraging, modern choice in times of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Its sound has primarily been heard in vintage picks like Gertrude or Truman, making it particularly uncommon today. There is a plethora of adages and idioms praising this virtue - “to thine own self be true” - and True is sure to appeal to confident namers.

Promise. The word promise comes from Latin elements meaning “send forth;” to make a promise is to declare an intention to the world, and to follow through with words and actions. With such gravity in this word name, it’s no surprise that elegant and virtuous Promise currently ranks just outside the top 1000.

Haze. While English surname-turned-first-name Hayes has quite a few fans, hippie homophone Haze has yet to reach similar popularity. The song “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix (another rising H-surname), released in 1967, is a classic psychedelic rock song and often ranked as one of the best guitar tracks in history. If you’re looking for something a bit edgier than Hazel, try Haze!

Lotus. Now that Lily, Violet, and Rose rule the playground, other floral names with more unusual sounds are sure to impress. The lotus is an important flower in both Buddhism and Hinduism, symbolizing growth, purity, and beauty (being a lovely plant growing out of muddy water). Alluring Lotus also has connections in literature and music, lending it to all kinds of personalities.

Vesper. From Latin for “evening,” Vesper is a melodic and mysterious choice, adorning both a god in Roman mythology and a James Bond femme fatale. “Vespers” also refers to evening prayer services in some sects of Christianity, giving this dramatic choice some religious connotations.

Revel. One of the more exciting celebrity baby names of 2017, Matthew Morrison and his wife named their son Revel, a lively yet accessible choice. It softens the hard edges of Rebel but feels fresher than River or Raven. Whether you’re revelling in the birth of your little one or looking ahead to a life of revels together, this name may be the one for you.

Dream. Though whimsical Dream was first recorded in 1970, it didn’t begin appearing regularly on US name charts until the late 1990’s. It’s ethereal aura is tempered a bit by its uncomplicated sound, fitting in with Drew or Drake.

Poet. An occupational choice that works well for boys or girls, Poet feels both classic and contemporary (depending, of course, on the poetry that inspires you). A few celebrity parents have picked this bright choice in recent years - the fabulously named Soleil Moon Frye among them - and Poet would make an unexpected honorific for a familial writer or storyteller.

The 2017 Name of the Year is Harvey

Dec 13th 2017

I sometimes describe the Name of the Year as a time capsule in name form, and that's especially true of this year's choice. Unlike past selections, the 2017 NOTY Harvey points to two separate stories, both of which have sent shock waves through the year. The devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas and the torrent of accusations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein were each horrifying in themselves. Each then proved to be just the beginning of something even bigger and more sobering.

Harvey Weinstein & Hurricane Harvey. Images: Wikimedia Commons

The fact that two of the year's biggest headline makers shared the same distinctive name was simply coincidence. But the coincidence made the name itself a story, one that continued to reverberate as the dimensions of the events became apparent. What's more, the impact of that name story depended on the specific name.

First, a quick primer on the name Harvey. Harvey comes from an old Breton name that crossed over to England with William the Conqueror. It was a steady American choice for generations, but started to decline in the middle of the 20th century and kept on sinking. The name's image gradually shifted from elegant to plodding. In the 21st Century, the trend finally started to turn around. Harvey became a hit revival name in England, and was starting to come back in the U.S. as well. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of American boys named Harvey rose by more than 300%.

Over the course of 2017, though, the name's identity – its social meaning – was transformed. Today, Harvey unfortunately stands as an emblem of both environmental calamity and the prevalence of sexual harassment. Its unsettling associations could prove hard to shake. Not only were the two Harvey stories themselves part of broader issues that shaped the year, but the sense of problems being more far-reaching than we had realized was itself part of the zeitgeist. The queasy "what next?" anxiety of waiting for yet another awful shoe to drop became the year's defining emotion.

Harvey is hardly the first baby name to be buffeted by forces outside its control. Last year, I wrote about the historically steep decline of the name Isis. Celebrity-inspired names can also plummet in popularity when bad publicity hits the star who sparked the trend, as we've seen with names like Kobe and Miley.

There's even an established pattern for severe hurricanes. If the storm name is reasonably fashionable, it's likely to experience a single-year rise in popularity, from the combination of wall-to-wall news coverage and deliberate homages by evacuee parents. A decline then follows, as the name continues to be linked with the storm and the suffering it caused. The usage of the baby name Katrina in 2005 demonstrates the pattern:

Harvey's "time capsule" essence comes from a double whammy of these effects. But here's a question: if Harvey is a time capsule of 2017, why isn't Andrew a time capsule of 1992?

Hurricane Andrew, a massive category 5 storm, tore apart South Florida in the summer of '92. It was the costliest storm in U.S. history to that point, and left dozens of people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. But even before the hurricane, 1992 had been a rough year for the name Andrew. In March, Britain's Prince Andrew and his wife Sarah Ferguson announced their separation. Stories of their split and alleged misbehavior kept the names Andrew and Fergie in tabloid headlines all year long.

The combined lasting effect of the two stories on the name Andrew has been…well, not much. Take a look at the number of boys named Andrew in a 25-year-span surrounding 1992:

You can see that the name was a rising hit in the 1980s, peaking in 1987 and then starting to decline. That decline was temporarily slowed in 1992, the hurricane year, then continued apace until the popularity plateaued at roughly pre-surge levels. The historical curve is comparable to that of similar names like Matthew, and not notably "poisoned" by the events of '92. Today, Andrew still ranks #34 among all U.S. boys' names.

That would seem to bode well for the future of Harvey, except for one key difference. In the past decade, over three thousand American boys have been named Harvey. In the decade leading up to 1992, over three hundred thousand American boys were named Andrew. Andrew had so much history, so many cultural associations, that the year's news stories couldn't take control of it. It was too big to be poisoned.

2017's other devastating hurricanes, Irma and Maria, aren't likely to have much effect on baby names. Irma is too rare and out of fashion; it can essentially hibernate until the bad publicity blows over. Maria, the ultimate global classic name, is too firmly rooted for the news to budge it. Harvey, though, hits a vulnerable sweet spot. It's uncommon enough to be distinctive, yet fashionable enough to be sensitive to trends.

As it happens, that vulnerable position is precisely the spot that's most targeted by today's baby-naming parents. We don't want a name that's out of fashion, that people will wrinkle their noses at. Yet we also don't want anything so popular and familiar that our children will blend into the crowd. We want a name like the 2016 incarnation of Harvey: one that's considered appealing, but unusual enough for our kid to fully own.

As Harvey shows, a name you can own is, ironically, just the kind of name that's easiest for outside forces to steal. Storm and scandal are only two of the many possible culprits. A new celebrity could emerge and lay claim to the name, making your child sound like a namesake. Usage trends could flip the name's gender association. Such scenarios are most likely to hit emerging names at the cutting edge of style. The more fashion-forward a name it is, the more susceptible it is to the slings and arrows of naming fortune.



My thanks to BabyNameWizard readers for your thoughtful nominations, and best wishes for the year to come!




Not-Quite Surnames

Dec 7th 2017

The lure of surnames as baby names is that they can be fresh and familiar at the same time. A name like Harlow, Anderson or Landry comes with built-in roots and culture – and established spelling – even if you've never met anyone by that name. You couldn't just make up a new name in the surname style. Or could you?

In fact, we're seeing more and more new names that take their style cues straight from surnames. Take, for example, the -axton names. Paxton and Braxton are both well-known surnames with famous bearers (e.g. actor Bill Paxton and singer Toni Braxton), and both have become hit baby names. As they've risen, the names Jaxton and Daxton have followed in their wake. They're not well-known surnames, but are clearly built on the surname model. Both now rank among the top 500 names for boys.

Or consider Lakely. The surname Blakely has become an overnight hit for girls, encouraging parents to create this near neighbor. Then there are Brentley and Dentley, on the model of Bentley and Brantley. Treston, a la Preston. Kyson, a la Tyson. Brixley; Aceton; Rylan; Averley; Huckston; Kaylor.

Some of these names surely exist as last names, but they're very rare and have no prominent standard bearers. As baby names, they're not surname transfers. They're surname-inspired, names that couldn't exist if the surname style weren't so popular. We recognize that style in the names, even as we fail to recognize the names themselves.

Somehow, the style that's built off of familiarity still holds together when you strip the familiarity away. Could this work for other transfer name styles as well? Could we, say, invent new place names that aren't places? (Lennington?) Virtue names that aren't virtues? (Vality?)

It's just one more reminder that names are much more than their literal origins. Sometimes, style is meaning.