Local color: the not-so-international names

Feb 19th 2005

In a recent post, I described an "international style" of smooth, classic names popular from Stockholm to Sydney. Yet this is just one style stream -- each country has its own currents that set it apart. From Manon in France to Femke in the Netherlands, local favorites still hold strong.

Even nations that share a common language have their own homegrown name styles. I've collected some of the uniquely trendy names of four English-speaking countries to show a little local color.

Scottish traditions run deep in Australia: you're more likely to meet an Angus in Sydney than Glasgow. For girls, T is a hot letter.



Cute names that harken back to P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie and Tuppy are soaring.



80 years ago, English names dominated the landscape. Today, the old Gaelic names are roaring back.



United States
U.S. parents have been makeover artists, converting place names, surnames and common words into first names at a furious pace.



Isabel, Isobel, Isabelle: Identifying a name species

Feb 18th 2005

Site visitors often suggest that I combine names in the NameVoyager. The rationale is straightforward: a parent who types in "Katelynn" should also be aware of the popularity of Katelyn, Katelin, Kaitlyn, Caitlin, et al. Combining variants of a name would give them a better overview.

All it takes is determining where one "species" of name ends and another begins. But that, as biologists can tell you, is no small matter.

A few weeks ago there was a news story that the fabled Preble's Meadow jumping mouse, which can jump a foot and a half into the air, was losing its "endangered species" status. Why? It turns out it wasn't a species. After a careful review, scientists concluded they couldn't really tell it apart from other garden-variety jumping mice. The decision, though, was not unanimous -- and they have DNA to work with.

I sympathize. Back when I was building my research tools for The Baby Name Wizard, I tried to assign a core name species to each name variant in my database. After one frustrating week, I abandoned the idea. Try it yourself: how many different names are in this list?

Emily Emilie Emilee Emely Emmalee Amelie Emilia Amelia Aemilia Amalia

Hmm...let's say we just combine variants that sound identical. So that's 4 core names: Emily, Amelie, Amelia, Amalia. Or maybe 5, with Emilia. 6 at the outside (Emma-Lee?)

But if we're going by sound, are Devin and Devon the same? Some Devons are DEV-in, yet some are de-VON. And how about Caitlin and Katelynn? One is an old Irish Gaelic form of Katherine, the other a modern American compound name...how can they be called the same species? Plus they may be pronounced the same in the U.S., but in Ireland they sound quite different.

Let's try nicknames instead. Lump all the Bills in with the Williams, who are probably called Bill anyway. Unless they're called Billy or Will. So add those in too...but wait a second. Try typing Will into the NameVoyager, then hitting return. Now try Billy. The curves are completely different. Billy is a lot more like Jimmy and Tommy than it is like Will. If you lump them together, you miss the whole trend.

And that, in the end, is the real problem with dividing up species of names. The variations matter. Just ask any parent who named her daughter Michaela whether Makayla is the same name. Or try calling one of today's little Williams "Billy." It's often the variation rather than the root which ties a name to its time and place. From the nickname explosion of the mid-century to today's kreative spellings, the trends are in the details. So for the NameVoyager, I'm taking them one by one.

What's up next: the view from abroad

Feb 13th 2005

I write from an American perspective, but name trends don't stop at the border. More than ever before, a cohesive international style is emerging, with a set of names you're equally likely to encounter in Berlin, Paris and New York.

The international style favors smooth classics with a faintly antique flavor and no clear ethnicity -- think Anna for girls, Alexander for boys. The style is especially popular in Central and Northern Europe and in affluent English-speaking areas. Jet-setting American parents will be glad to find that the names travel well. They may also be interested to hear that Europe tends to be a few years ahead in the name curve. Greek names like Chloe and Elias, for instance, spread through Europe before catching the ears of American parents.

So for a new angle on up-and-coming names, I've made a roundup of half a dozen international-styled countries: Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. My targets were names that rank in top 20 in at least two different countries, but haven't cracked the American top 100 in the past decade.



and some prospects that didn't quite make the cut:
Eloise, Georgia, Holly, Louisa, Mathilda
Elliot, Felix, Jasper, Marcus, Martin

(The fine print: I eliminated names that were close variants of American favorites, and combined spellings like Louis/Lewis.)

Many of these names are already climbing, especially in stylish urban neighborhoods...but the world clearly stands ready to welcome a few more Simons and Claras.