I recently introduced this year's "100 Club" for boys: names that reached the threshold of 100 new American babies for the first time last year. Now I'd like to present the girls. While the boys' list was a colorful collection featuring the ancient and the deadly, the girls are a portrait of contemporary style with a global flair. Many of the names have risen gradually, and are close cousins to other popular names. Others have suddenly caught on thanks to celebrities near and far, real and fictional.
The Girls' 100 Club:
Aiza (Popular Urdu name, boosted by British-Pakistani model and actress Aiza Khan. See Eiza below.)
Annalynn (While actress Annalynne McCord is the most prominent bearer of this name family, the e-less version of the name has been the steady riser over the past half decade.)
Arabelle ("Bell" is the hottest syllable around, and the form Arabella is already a fast-rising hit.)
Asiya (A classic Muslim name in honor of the virtuous wife of the Pharaoh in the time of Moses. A slow but steady riser as a cross-cultural "liquid name.")
Cosette (Character from Les Misérables; the film was released just before the start of 2013.)
Daleyza (Young daughter of singer Larry Hernandez, as seen on his reality tv series Larrymania.)
Eiza (Via Mexican actress and singer Eiza González. Despite the close similarity to Aiza, these names appear to be rising independently.)
Elliette (With the growing use of Elliott for girls, some parents are turning to a French-styled ending to make the name recognizably feminine. Éliette is an established French diminutive, but the double-l version isn't used in France.)
Ever (A subtle sister to inspirational names like Destiny, Promise, Miracle and Journey, Ever rose with the big leap in the name Everly.)
Janney (Janney Marin is a reality tv star and the daughter of popular singer Jenni Rivera, who died in a plane crash in 2012.)
Lennox (Popularized by the tv series Melissa and Joey, Lennox's masculine rhythm and the obvious nickname Len/Lenny make it something of a surprise as a girl's choice. Along with Lux [see below], this name points to growing demand for -x options for girls.)
Lux (Latin for "light" and a homophone for "luxe," Lux is also the "Lady of Luminosity" in the video game League of Legends.)
Merida (The princess heroine of the animated film Brave.)
Navya (Via the title character of the Indian tv drama Navya, and Indian actress Navya Nair.)
Novalee (A gradual riser ever since it was introduced in the 2000 film Where the Heart is.)
Renesmee (The Twilight baby name is finding takers in the post-Twilight era, as the saga's young fans grow up.)
Tahiry (Glamor model and "video vixen" Tahiry Jose stars on the reality tv series Love and Hip Hop.)
Waverly (A place name with the same fashionable core as Everly, this name is coming of age along with the Wizards of Waverly Place generation.)
Two weeks ago I talked about the names Americans use as placeholders, showing off the many facets of anonymity. For even greater variety, allow me to introduce the nobodies of other lands.
Many languages have "null names" parallel to John Smith or John Doe. The local equivalents of John are common choices: the Netherlands refers to Jan Jansen, Russia to Ivan Ivanov, France to Jean Dupont, and much of Latin America to Juan Pérez. Another common root name is Fulan/Felani, with variations like the Arabic Fulan Al-Fulani and the Spanish Fulano de Tal.
But as in the U.S., nobodies can be just about anybody. Some of the international placeholders capture an essence that none of our terms quite match. Below are some highlights of the world's colorful everymen and women.
(Fun tip: try searching for these names on supposed "real names" social networks. To get you started, here's a LinkedIn lineup of 25 Australians named Fred Nerk, a local equivalent to Joe Schmo. One lists his occupation as "Head Yokel at Yokels.")
Don Nadie (Spain): "Sir Nobody"
Dozaemon (Japan): An anonymous drowned body. From the name of an 18th-century sumo wrestler with an extremely pallid complexion.
Jan met de pet (Netherlands): "John with the cap," the typical man on the street.
Matti Meikäläinen (Finland): Meikäläinen has the form of a Finnish surname, but actually means "one of us."
Max and Erika Mustermann (Germany): A very literal placeholder, Mustermann translates roughly to "Sampleman."
Ola Nordmann (Norway): A personification of Norway and the typical Norwegian, somewhere between a John Q. Public and England's John Bull.
Otto Normalverbraucher (Germany): "Otto AverageConsumer."
Pihtiputaan mummo (Finland): Literally, "the grandmother from Pihtipudas." Represents the least tech-savvy person imaginable, to whom new products and jargon will be confusing.
Ploni Almoni (Israel): A placeholder name for millenia, Ploni Almoni is the Bible's own John Doe. For more of a "Joe Blow" effect, try Israel Israeli.
Svennebanan (Sweden): "Swedish banana." A kind of Swedish Joe Sixpack, the lowest common denominator of everymen.
A note of thanks: I compiled and cross-referenced these names from many sources, but I'm particularly indebted to Wikipedia's placeholder names page, and a former page on John Doe from NationMaster, now sadly defunct.
A celebrity baby can launch a hit name. That much is beyond debate. Just look at what happened to the name Kingston when singers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale chose the name for their first son in the middle of 2006:
But celebrity parents don't just shape the times, they're also part of the times. They're attracted to the same stylish sounds as their less famous counterparts. Often enough, they choose names that were already rising fast — and then get credit for making the names popular.
How do you know which came first, the celebrity baby or the baby name trend? Can we even separate the two? Let's take a look at an example from my home state of Massachusetts.
In these parts, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and fashion model Gisele Bündchen are the reigning celebrity couple. In December 2009, they welcomed a son named Benjamin. At that time, Benjamin was the 6th most popular name for Massachusetts boys. The next year it leaped to #2, and since 2012 Massachusetts has been the only state in the union where Benjamin is the #1 name for boys. The fashion influence of young Benjamin Brady seems clear...until you zoom out.
Remember how Benjamin was #6 in Massachusetts before the Brady baby was born? That ranking already made the Bay State America's Benjamin capital. From the 1990s on, Massachusetts and neighboring states have loved the name Benjamin like nobody else. I can confirm from personal experience that my local schools are teeming with Bens.
Here's the 15-year history of Massachusetts Benjamins:
I can't imagine anyone would look at that graph and think, "Wow! What happened in 2010??" Yet a gradual decline did reverse at the time of Master Brady's birth. So it's quite possible that the celebrity baby influenced Massachusetts names, but it's equally likely that Massachusetts influenced Brady and Bündchen's choice of name. Benjamin is just what boys are called around here.