The third in a series of reports based on exclusive user ratings of names.
There's power in friendliness. A cheerful, approachable manner can open doors, make friends, and earn people's trust. Politicians know this -- you can see it in the way they campaign under friendly nicknames rather than their full, formal names.
What makes a name sound friendly? Tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors have rated names on friendliness, and their judgment couldn't be clearer. The friendliest names quite literally make you smile. Take a look:
Kelly-Kiley-Carly-Cory-Casey-Kelsie-Kaley! The trend isn't hard to spot, but the elements of friendliness these names point to go well beyond the letters K & Y.
A bright palette. The friendly names feature bright, crisp sounds -- the auditory equivalent of primary colors. Just like bright colors, they project a straightforward cheer that attracts people.
Short and sweet. The average name on the list is just five letters and two syllables. Of the traditional names on the list, most are nicknames.
The shape of a smile. Try saying KileyKaleyCasey aloud, and you'll find that your face ends up in a grin. Maybe photographers should use that in place of "cheese"?
Fresh and new. The names rated sexiest and most sophisticated were steadfastly traditional. The friendliest name list, though, is full of contemporary creations, especially on the girls' side. For friendliness, the name's shape and sound seem to count for more than its cultural connections.
Cuddle up. The smiley -y ending is the English fond diminutive, the way we indicate affection or call something cuddly and adorable. That ending dominates the lists for both boys and girls, nicknames and full names alike. (Note that Ricky and Joey were rated super-friendly, not Rick and Joe.) Cuteness is disarming, approachable, and yes, friendly.
So long, sophisticates. This recipe for friendliness is the virtual opposite of the style trend we found for sophisticated names. It's a good reminder that no name can hit every target.
While the most-friendly lists have a lot in common for boys and girls, the least-friendly names take very different directions. The boys' names emanate danger: Vlad the Impaler, Death Eater Lucius Malfoy, Spartan Warrior King Leonidas, Undead Avenger Draven (The Crow). None of them have ever been very common as English names, and the combination of exoticism and threat is their unfriendly hallmark.
Some of the girls' names, in contrast, are merely old. Names like Bertha and Gertrude were major hits of generations past. Even the fictional characters who are strongly linked to names on the list, like Harry Potter's Professor Minerva McGonagall and Frasier's Dr. Lilith Sternin, are just stern and severe, not murderous. Do we really find a stern old woman as unapproachable as a raging, sword-wielding man?
Methodology Notes: Ratings were submitted by tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors over the couse of five years, rating names they chose to visit on a scale of 1-100. Rankings are based on names rated by a minimum of 150 users. Alternate spellings may be dropped from lists to avoid repetition. Rare names (outside the current top 1,500 for boys and girls and no apperances in the top 500 in the past century) are excluded as they are easily dominated by a particular character, e.g. Sherlock or Bellatrix.
A new Ernst & Young study of corporate directorship has uncovered a stark statistic. According to a report in the Washington Post, there are more men on corporate boards named John, Robert, William or James than there are women on boards altogether. In the words of an Ernst & Young executive quoted in the article:
"The idea that we can essentially pick out four common men’s names, at random, and find this shows there’s a long way to go."
Pick out "at random"? If that's Ernst & Young's idea of a random sample, I don't want them anywhere near my accounting. What they picked out were the four most common names in their sample -- and, not coincidentally, America's top four male names for a spate of decades from the 1910s through the 1940s.
From the 21st-century perspective, four baby names may sound like an incredibly small demographic slice. We live in a world where names are selected as distinctive style statements, for boys and girls alike. If you add up today's four most common male names, Noah, Liam, Jacob and Mason, you'll account for just 4% of American boys.
That wasn't always the case. Parents used to stick more closely to the classic English regal names, especially for boys. The average corporate director is 68 years old, born back in 1946-47. In those years, the top four names accounted for a whopping 19% of all boys born. They account for the same percentage of directors in the Ernst & Young study.
In other words, the name stat says that in this sample of very senior business executives, men outnumber women 5 to 1. That figure may be discouraging, but not surprising.
The study's authors were trying to drive a point home. They hoped that couching the statistics in baby name terms would make the gender imbalance more shocking. For me, though, the message that John, Robert, William and James delivered wasn't about gender at all, but about age.
Consider that Michael was America's #1 male name for almost half a century starting in 1954, but it doesn't even crack the top four names on corporate boards. And of course, when it comes to workplace power, age and gender are closely linked. In 1970, when the typical director might have been pursuing an MBA or JD, only 4% of those degrees were awarded to women. Increasing board diversity is bound to remain a struggle if your dominant name curve looks like this:
In 1953, America was in the grips of the "Red Scare." From Washington D.C. to Hollywood, careers and reputations could be shattered by the mere hint of communist ties. And yet this name shows up in the 1953 baby name records as given to six newborn girls:
A show of pride by communist parents? An act of defiance in the face of witch hunts? Perhaps, but I suspect the real explanation is less dramatic. Take a look at the popularity history of the name Connie:
The orange line highlights 1953, the year that the oh-so-similar Commie hit the baby name stats. One Commie for every 1,500 Connies doesn't sound so surprising. My question is, was it deliberate? Did a handful of parents decide to give the popular name a little twist...or did the national focus on "commies" make that word a likely slip-up in the records process?
Mistakes do happen. On the path from parents' dreams to birth certificate, a name can be misheard, misspelled, misread or mistyped. It's not always easy to tell a typo apart from a creative name choice. And realistically, some mistakes are more likely than others. Try typing your own full name, but in place of the last two letters type "xz." Chances are your fingers will rebel and try to follow the more familiar groove. That same autopilot effect makes common words particularly likely to pop up as typos.
Of course, a common word may also be deliberately chosen as a name if it fits in perfectly with the baby naming sound of the times. Here are some more examples of unlikely words that hit the name charts when a similar baby name was at its peak. Creative name choices or typos? What do you think?