Kayli, meet Jerrold

Apr 12th 2006

When you're trying to make sense of name trends, names with multiple spellings are a constant challenge. I generally treat each variant independently -- you can read my rationale here. But there are times when it is handy to merge all the Kayleighs, Kaylees, and Kaylis into one name.

The spelling issue recently came up here in response to a column on conformity in names. Reader "Jennifer" suggested that the seeming decline of name conformity could really just be a rise in different spellings of the same old conformist names:

"In the 1940's, there was only one way to spell Shirley. You didn't have hundreds and hundreds of parents blessing their little darling with Shirleigh, Chirly, Shirlie, and 12 other spellings, like you see now."

If you've recently met a young Madalyn or Bayleigh it's natural to see this as a generation of "kreative" spellers. Right now, there are six different spellings of Madeline among the top 1000 girls' names: Madeline, Madelyn, Madeleine, Madaline, Madalyn, and Madlyn.

Oops, sorry...I was looking at the wrong list. Those six Madelines were actually from the top 1000 names of 1915.

In fact, multiple variants have been more the rule than the exception for the hot names of each generation. Some highlights of a century of kreativity:

1900: Catherine, Katherine, Kathryn, Catharine, Katharine, Katheryn, Cathrine, Cathryn, Kathrine, Kathryne

1920: Eleanor, Elinor, Eleanore, Eleanora, Elenora, Elenor

1940: Gerald, Jerald, Jerold, Jerrold, Gerold, Garold, Jerrell, Jerrel

1960: Cheri, Cherie, Cherry, Cherri, Cherrie, Shari, Sherry, Sherri, Sheri, Sherrie, Sheree, Sherie

1980: Kristin, Kristen, Kristine, Kristyn, Kristan, Christin, Christen

2000: Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Kaitlin, Katelynn, Katlyn, Kaitlynn, Katelin, Katlynn, Caitlin, Caitlyn, Caitlynn

But is the trend accelerating? Does the typical popular name today have more -- or more popular -- variations than in the past? That turns out to be a tricky question to answer, as I'll talk about next time.

On to part 2!

The name of the game

Mar 31st 2006

It's been a tough offseason so far for New England Patriots football fans. Some long-time favorite players have moved on to other teams, and it can be hard to say goodbye.

Especially if you just shelled out a hundred bucks for a replica jersey.

Across New England, fans are staring glumly at shirts that say #4 Vinatieri, knowing that kicker Adam Vinatieri is now a member of the hated rival Colts. As a wardrobe problem it's just a nuisance. But what if you'd named your child after him?

Consider the most visible Patriot, quarterback Tom Brady. Brady is the 122nd most popular boys' name in America -- but #53 in Massachusetts, home of the Patriots. (It firstcracked the top 100 in the state in 2002, the year Brady led the team to its first Superbowl victory.) Brady is signed to a long-term contract, but who knows what the future may bring?

Naming a child after a living person is risky business. By and large, today's parents are wise to this. There's now a time lag in naming babies after presidents -- parents wait to see how the term in office works out. Yet sports stars are inspiring more namesakes than ever. Not only are athletes, like any young celebrities, subject to unpredictable slumps and scandals, but they change teams. Look at another New England star, former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, who's now...gulp...a Yankee. How do you explain to little Damon that he was named for a guy in pinstripes?

If you want a sure thing, name for a sports star whose career is already safely in the record books -- or better yet the history books. Jackie Robinson and Johnny Unitas jerseys never go out of style.

The Naming Map of the United States

Mar 17th 2006

A confession: I have never personally met a girl named Madison.

I know they're out there, tens of thousands of them. And having daughters in preschool and kindergarten, I meet plenty of little girls. But where I live the fad for androgynous surnames is just a distant rumor. Around here we're ensconced in another naming era altogether, surrounded by Amelias and Julians, Charlies and Sophies.

Every region follows its own threads of fashion. To get a handle on American naming style, perhaps what you need isn't a list but a map.

As it happens, I have such a map. Readers with long memories may even recall that I promised it to share it with you last year. But this is one big country, and its naming map just didn't fit the cozy confines of my blog. After wrestling with it for a time, I've given up and and granted the map its own page.

First, some background. To identify a state's characteristic naming style, I looked for names that were significantly more popular in that state than in the nation overall. That means the most characteristic names of state might not be the most popular names. For instance, Emma is the #1 girl's name in Mississippi, Mary is #11. But Mary is more characteristic of Mississippi's distinctive style because that #11 ranking is unusually high.

You'll also see that certain states fall into two different style streams. Maine, for instance, combines the New England neotraditional sound with the "frontier" style of other sparsely-populated states from West Virginia to Wyoming.

And now, visit the map at http://www.babynamewizard.com/map.html. Then come back here and, as always, give me an earful.