My four-year-old daughter has decided to dress as Dorothy for Halloween. Does that call a picture to your mind? Perhaps blue gingham, sparkling slippers, and a pup in a basket? Hold on...when she told a preschool classmate about her plan to be Dorothy he said, "Oh, Dorothy from Elmo!" Indeed, Dorothy is the name of Elmo's pet goldfish on "Sesame Street."
In fact, the Oz image happens to be the correct one for my daughter's costume. (The kid is ready to start the preschool chapter of the L. Frank Baum fan club.) But her friend's reaction was a good reminder: when it comes to names, we grownups don't always know as much as we think we do. We're busy avoiding names that remind us of Rocky or "The Flintstones," while our kids' peers are more likely to relate to the "Backyardigans."
For first-time parents especially, the world of kiddie entertainment tends to be the great unknown. Luckily, many of the names are carefully selected to be out of fashion, especially the boys' names--Elmo and Oswald are typical. But below is a starter set of fashionable names that carry strong associations for the 8-and-under crowd. They're not necessarily negative associations, but it never hurts to know what you're getting into.
Angelina: A ballet-dancing mouse in a popular series of books (and now videos).
Ash: Young, world-traveling Pokémon trainer. Along with Ashton Kutcher, he's made the world safe for boys name Ash again.
Aurora: Sleeping Beauty.
Cleo and Theo: The lion librarians who guide their cubs through a world of literature on "Between the Lions."
Dashiell and Violet: Two of the Incredibles kids, Violet being the shrinking type (invisible) and Dash the dash-ing type (fast).
Jasmine: The princess from Disney's Aladdin, enshrined as part of the Disney Princess pantheon.
Kiara: A little lion, daughter of Simba and star of the direct-to-video "Lion King II."
Maisy: A sweet mouse featured in books and a tv series for pre-schoolers. (Not Daisy-Head Mayzie, who scarcely makes a cultural dent.)
Olivia: Ian Falconer's books about a young pig who is creative and appealing, but "very good at wearing people out."
Zoe: A muppet who joined "Sesame Street" in 1993 to help balance out the sex ratio and build on the youth movement of kid-muppets like Elmo.
...and please feel free to add to this roster with comments.
After I wrote about the decline of consonant clusters in names, a reader noted that certain pairs like TR actually seem to be going up: TRavis, TRistan, TRevor. In fact, about 20% of consonant sound pairs have been significantly more common over the past 30 years vs. the previous 70.
What makes a cluster buck the trends and rise? There seem to be two main factors. First, clusters that stick to the start of names like BR (BRandon, BRooke, BRianna) do better than those that hang around in the middle. In fact, while TR is a trendy starter, it's on the outs as a center sound--think paTRicia and gerTRude. Second, a pair has a better shot if it leads with a strong unvoiced consonant, a sound made just by the passage of air through the mouth without vibrating vocal chords. Top letters include S (SPencer, SKye) and K (KRista, KRistopher).
And some more quick consonant hits...
The separation of consonants isn't just an American trend. Take a look at the top names in Germany, traditionally the land of Ernst and Wolfgang, Bertha and Helga:BOYSGIRLSMaximilianMarieAlexanderSophiePaulMariaLeonAnna/AnneLukas/LucasLeonieLucaLea/LeahFelixLauraJonasLenaTimKatharinaDavidJohanna There is one trendy group of names where voiced consonant pairs are actually hot. It's the girl's names taken from old-fashioned boys names that were themselves adopted from surnames (which were usually borrowed from place names. Namers are good recyclers.) Try Sidney, Shelby, Lindsey, Courtney, Whitney, Aubrey.
It makes sense that those names would have more of the outmoded pairs, since they're selected from a field of outmoded names. And the very fustiness of the choices for men helps sharpen the style for girls--think of singer Avril Livigne tossing on a striped necktie.
A few more consonant-packed candidates that could follow the same path: Clancy, Murphy, Kirby, Arley, Finley and Tierney.