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!

What's not to like?

Jun 9th 2006

A friend of mine named her son William, called Will. Why? She explained to me: "we said the whole name out loud and thought, 'that sounds like a guy you'd really like.'"

Friendly, likeable, nice. Sounds like an obvious goal, doesn't it? After all, studies show that women and men alike rate niceness as a most-sought-after quality in a mate. But I talk to a lot of parents about names, and the most common concern is finding a name that's distinctive. That's followed by questions about whether names sound sufficiently global or sophisticated or tough or creative or masculine or educated or Christian or Jewish name it. But "likeability" seldom comes up.

It's not just Baby Name Wizard readers. Type "popular baby names" into Google and you get 268,000 results. Type in "likeable baby names" (or likable) and you get absolutely zip, zero. Ditto for "kind-sounding names." We don't seem to be looking for niceness in names as much as we do in people.

Yet likeability is a powerful quality. Imagine for a moment that your son will grow up to pursue a career in sales, or in politics. A name that casts a sunny glow and makes people want to like him and talk to him could be an invaluable asset. And don't most of us, at one time or another, need the skills of a salesman or politician?

Think about a name that makes you smile and feel comfortable with a person. One that makes you want to talk to a new kid at school -- or read an email from a stranger. (In fact, this whole topic struck me after seeing a message from one Sam Apple in my email inbox. I had to click on it immediately.) We all have our own name comfort zones, shaped by our own experiences and the people we've loved and loathed. But most of us share the instinct that, say, a Charlie sounds more approachable than a Sterling.

So why aren't we out hunting for niceness? The trick is that names with broad likeability generally don't sound creative or sophisticated. Most are thoroughly familiar, their rough edges worn smooth by generations of use. And most are casual, including lots of cuddly nicknames. That's not always a fashionable combination. So many parents accept a style tradeoff, sacrificing friendliness for uniqueness or savoir faire. But if sheer likeability is what you're after, here's a starter list of names that elicited warm smiles in a poll of the people in my immediate vicinity. See if you agree...and tell me your own choices:



Postscript: after compiling this list I realized that some namers do indeed place a premium on friendliness and likeability. More on that in a blog to come...