Likeability revisited

Jun 29th 2006

A few weeks ago I asked for opinions on "likeable" names -- friendly, approachable names that make you want to like someone. 93 comments later, it seems like a good time to tally the responses and see if we can map out an anatomy of friendliness.

I counted nominees from blog posters, added in my original poll, and subtracted negative votes.
Here's the final list of 21 broadly likeable names:

Laura (now that sounds likeable, smart, and good-looking!)


The common threads on this list seem to validate the idea that there is such a thing as a "likeable name." Granted, many readers noted that personal experience with a name can overrule its intrinsic qualities. One creepy ex-boyfriend named Tom can ruin Tom for you forever. But on neutral ground, most of us do respond to a predictable set of niceness triggers.

Nicknames clearly have a leg up. 15 of the 21 on the list are traditional nicknames, though some (Molly, Jack) have evolved into given names. The girls' nicknames all end in an -ee sound, while single-syllable nicknames rule for boys -- Tom and Sam rate over Tommy and Sammy. The few male nicknames on the list that end in -ee are those without single-syllable variants. That might explain Charlie's status as the #1 most likeable boy's name; it has the friendly sound of a diminutive without being cutesy.

Beyond nicknames, short is in. Only Charlie is over 5 letters, only Emily over 2 syllables. I also see hints of an Old-Testament trend: In addition to the Adams, Sarahs and Bens on the list, a bevy of Noahs, Leahs, and Seths just missed the cutoff.

What of popularity? My usual graphs have to be taken with a grain of salt when we're talking about nicknames. A graph of Annie doesn't tell you how many Anns, Annas and Annettes go by that name, and a graph of William doesn't distinguish between Will and Bill. Nonetheless, I can tell you that the names on the likeable list are generally common, but not overwhelmingly so. Most of all, the likeable names are timeless. As a group they span generations, with a dip in the '40s and '50s. Individually almost all of them reliably make the top 1000 decade after decade.

So there's your reciple for friendly likeability. Think of it like picnic food: relaxed, easy, traditional and familiar. That lemonade, those sandwiches would have looked just as natural in a wicker picnic basket in your grandparents' time as they do in your cooler today. And just thinking of them, don't you feel the sun shining?

In memoriam: the departed names of 2005

Jun 20th 2006

99 baby names that made the U.S. top-1000 lists in 2004 vanished from the charts in 2005. Most of them lived their whole lives on the popularity fringes -- variant spellings (Jazmyne, Jakobe) or fleeting pop-culture phenomena (Gwyneth, Koda). But some were old friends. A dozen familiar, once-common names left the charts for the first time this year after decades of steady use.

I'll present them in order, based on the decade when each hit its peak:

1880s Guy
1910s Arnold
1920s Dorothy
1930s Benny
1950s Barry    Dwight    Anita   Diane
1960s Robin   Sheila
1970s Christa   Tracy

Some of the departed are unsurprising. Arnold, for instance, had been hanging on by a thread, sustained largely by family namesakes. In contrast, Robin's decline has been shockingly swift. It's a clear victim of the rush toward the new and different -- if the name Robin hadn't already had its day, parents would be inventing it right now.

The biggest surprise to me, though, is Dorothy. With so many parents looking for sweet old-fashioned girls' names, I've been expecting Dorothy (or Dorothea) to start an upswing. Instead, the name is disappearing altogether. So here's an opportunity for all of you who say you want to avoid popular trends: follow the yellow brick road.

NameVoyager '06

Jun 15th 2006

We've freshened up the Baby Name Wizard NameVoyager with the latest name popularity data. Take it for a spin! (If you haven't visited the NameVoyager, plan on spending a's a name-lover's playground.)

The stats now run decade by decade from 1880 through 2005, with one new wrinkle. The past three years are included fully and independently to give a detailed look at the most current trends. Some names to look at to take advantage of this new view:

- See the sudden rise and almost-as-sudden fall of Kanye.

- Jacob is still the #1 name, but notice that it's not standing still.

- Two of the hottest girls' names of the decade, Olivia and Isabella, seem to have reached their peaks. Two other names stepping up in that genre: Amelia and Angelina.

- Watch Nevaeh soar, then soar some more, then even more...

In other news, I've heard the many requests for a forum and I'll look into the feasibility of it. Also, forgive me if I'm a little slow on the draw the next couple of weeks. The kindergarten year is drawing to a close, and vacation beckons!