Some names slowly rise into popularity, others appear overnight like fashion cloudbursts. One of the biggest cloudbursts of recent years is the girl's name Nevaeh. Unknown as recently as the '90s, Neveah suddenly appeared as the 268th most popular name for American girls in 2001, and has been rising ever since. It's especially popular with African Americans and evangelical Christians, and as a character name in fantasy fiction.
Where did it come from? The simple answer is that Nevaeh is an anagram: Heaven backwards. Consider it kin to the many angelic names of the moment, like Angel, Miracle, and Heaven itself. The anagramming is unusual, but not unprecedented...the 1900s hit Reva was a remix of Vera.
But as always, linguistic origins only tell part of the story. A hit this big and sudden usually has a birthplace in popular culture. The name Camryn appeared in 1997, when Camryn Manheim hit tv on "The Practice." The name Lyric was born via Jada Pinkett Smith, star of the 1994 film Jason's Lyric. A name as unlikely as Nevaeh should be traceable to such a launching pad. Yet the Internet Movie Database lists no people or characters named Nevaeh. No Nevaeh has recorded an album. As for celebrity children, the earliest Nevaeh I've dug up is the daughter of singer Sonny Sandoval of the rock group P.O.D., born in 2000.
It's an unlikely launching pad. Of the thousands of parents choosing the name, how many do you suppose have even heard of Sonny Sandoval? Perhaps just a few...but a well-networked few. As a Christian rock group, P.O.D. taps into a strong, geographically distributed community where news travels fast. On every Christian parenting bulletin board (and there are plenty) , you'll find parents suggesting the name Nevaeh. The rock connection isn't mentioned--it was simply the name's point of entry into a rich social network, and the idea grew virally from there. Nevaeh may be the first baby name phenomenon created by the Internet.
A look ahead, part two. 10 names poised for a breakthrough or revival in 2005, with honorable mention candidates.
Ainsley -- An heir apparent to both Kaitlyn and Ashley, Ainsley is a Celtic import with a girlish sound yet a whiff of androgyny. (Runner up: Emlyn)
Annalise: A revival of something that never was -- Annalise sounds old-fashioned, but was never actually common. Thus nobody has images of a frumpy Great-Aunt Annalise to get past. (Runner up: Arabella)
Willow: A meaning name that sounds creative and contemporary, but not forced. (Runners up: Piper, Sienna)
Susannah: A comfortable biblical classic, soft and lyrical, yet extremely rare. Parents are finally noticing. (Runner up: Camilla)
Estella: Starting to catch on again with women, but men aren't yet convinced. They'll come around soon. (Runner up: Josephine, Violet)
Asher: A biblical classic, but it sounds like a modern blend of Ashton and Tyler. (Runner up: Jude)
Declan: With Aidan and Liam now American standards, the more Irish the better. (Runner up: Seamus)
Emmett: Old-fashioned but not heavy, a rarity for boys. (Runners up: Jasper, Everett)
Hudson: The hunt is on for surnames that won't turn androgynous! Hard to picture a little girl called Hud, but time will tell. (Runner up: Maddox)
Otto: The biggest stretch on the list. Otto will never be a top-10 hit, but this year I heard several stylish parents considering the name then shying away. In 2005, they start to pull the trigger. (Runner up: Reuben)
A look ahead at the coming year in names. First stop: endangered species.
2005 should see some old standbys drop off the style horizon altogether. The names on the brink today are the familiar favorites of the '30s and '40s -- your parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors. These names that are so simple, so well known, that it's hard to think of them as rare birds. Yet that very familiarity has already pushed names like Joan and Betty into fashion oblivion. Parents want names that sound creative, not comfortable.
For contrarian parents, here's a selection of endangered standards showing comeback potential: