Names that are on your A-list may be looking all too familiar. Alexander, Ava, Amelia, Abigail, Avery, Aubrey, and Aiden and are all gorgeous choices, but they are all in the top 20 right now. So if you’re in the market for something more unusual, we found names that are both grounded and unexpected, and they will all earn you an A in baby naming.
Acacia: More than another floral name, Acacia is a unique Greek beauty with a history that dates back to biblical times. Today, it’s officially the name of the Australian tree which bears bold, yellow flowers and is the national floral emblem of the continent. It’s an Aussie icon with a gorgeous sound that’s refreshing to American ears.
Ailsa: The Scottish rocky islet named Ailsa Craig has created an inventive name that now feels like a twist on Frozen’s Elsa. With its striking long A- beginning (think Ava), Ailsa is charming and a bit surprising, but completely on-trend.
Alethea: (ah-LEE-thee-ə, ah-leh-THEE-ə) A four-syllable delight, Alethea has Greek roots and came into fashion among Brits in the 1700s because of its honorable meaning - truth. Here in America, Alethea has never taken off, even though its sound is equally as sweet and dignified. It comes with darling short forms like Alie and Thea.
Apollonia: The Latin form of the male name Apollonios, she has a saintly namesake as well as an ‘80s singer and a character from The Godfather to round out her claims to fame. But Apollonia is still an elaborate, unexpected choice despite those deep roots...that go all the way back to Apollo.
Ariadne: (a-ree-AD-ne) Steeped in Greek mythology, this ancient name is surprisingly playground friendly. The spelling may cause a few furrowed brows at first, but the rhythm and flow of this name is right up there with tried-and-true choices like Ariana and Ariella. Nickname options could include Ari or Ree.
Astrid: Quirky is definitely a good descriptive word for this Scandinavian name, but then again, so is glamorous. Astrid's royal heritage and mythic overtones give her a strong, feminine spirit; something the film writers of How To Train Your Dragon noted when they created a character bearing this name for the movies.
Aurelia: If you love old fashioned gem names, the off-the-beaten-path Aurelia affords an ancient alternative, with its roots in Latin meaning “golden”. It’s also a fantastic choice along the lines of Ariella and Ariel.
Avis: In comparison with Ava and Avery, Avis is wildly exotic. It has Norman French roots and an energetic sound that’s ripe for today, but the car rental company may be holding some back. (Just not Daniel Baldwin, whose daughter Avis was born in 2008.)
Alaric: A sturdy germanic name that is far from stale, Alaric is ancient, lyrical, and noble...and nobody seems to care. Only when we look beyond the top 1,000 names do we find that Alaric may be gaining ground, slowly but (un)surely.
Alban: A masculine answer to Alba, this Latin name means white and honors a saint as well as several places in the ancient Roman Empire. It's very unique, simple and stately, and it can be sweetly shortened to Albie.
Algernon: It’s French, refined, and literally wears a moustache. If you’re looking for an ironic gentlemanly name, you’ve found it. Algernon is familiar as a few noteworthy characters: the lab mouse in Flowers for Algernon, and an aptly named wealthy bachelor in the classic play The Importance of Being Earnest.
Alistair: You’d surprise a few people with this choice, though this debbonaire Scottish Gaelic form of Alexander is not unfamiliar. Three kings of Scotland give this name a royal air, making it that much more distinguished.
Alton: An English surname turned modern given name, Alton is a rare choice along the lines of Ashton or Dalton. After hitting a high point in 1900, Alton declined until it parted ways with most parents’ list of favorites. But Alton has promise once again, and a cool factor that Elton could only dream of.
Ambrose: Desperately old fashioned and eccentrically intriguing, Ambrose was dropped like it was hot after the turn of the 20th century. So we’re taking our cues from the “bros” in the last half of this name and calling it a fresh old-fashioned gentlemanly gem.
Angus: The decidedly Scottish name Angus is beginning to break free of its beef-related associations. While not a top 1,000 name, Angus comes with the trend-worthy short form Gus, which may make this unique choice more appealing for today.
Atlas: This bold name from Greek mythology is gaining ground and losing its weightiness as more parents branch out in search of a legendary and fashionable A- name that’s fit for greatness. Atlas was the name of choice for Edward Norton’s son, as well as Anne Heche and James Tupper’s son (whose older brother is named Homer).
You know it's a bad match. It would never work out. Your friends and family don't understand the attraction, and the practical side of you says to just forget about it whole idea. Yet your mind can't help drifting back wistfully, longingly....
You have a baby name crush. It's happened to many of us, an unshakeable attraction to an unsuitable name. Maybe it's the kind of name that's not usually your style, or is so "out there" that you couldn't pull the trigger. Maybe it's an "if only" name, ruled out by an awkward match with your surname or already taken by your brother-in-law. Whatever keeps you and your name crush apart, it never quite douses the flame. Do you fall into any of these name-crossed categories?
A name may be good for other families, but not your own. Occasionally the issue is a religious or ethnic fit, but the most common stumbling block is surnames. Speaking personally, I've always lingered over Ariadne, the name of the clever princess of the ancient labyrinth. I’m not sure it was quite in my comfort zone, but in the end it was a moot point. I couldn't pair that name with my surname Wattenberg. Not only is the result a mouthful, but the rhythm of A-ri-a-dne Wat-ten-berg counts out like "eeny, meeny, miny moe."
Another mom lost her name crush to an even more pointed surname problem. She had always loved the uplifting simplicity of the name Joy, and dreamed of giving it to a daughter. Then she married a man with the surname Sexton and Joy was out of the running.
Perhaps the name was perfect, but someone else got there first. Repeating a baby name within a close circle of family or friends can ruffle feathers, and even adults’ names can end up off-limits. One mother told me that she hesitated to name her baby Aviva because of a family friend by that name, since Ashkenazi Jewish tradition refrains from naming after the living.
Other parents find that a name’s preexisting associations are too hard to shake. The Name Lady regularly fields the question, "Can we give this name to our baby if we already gave it to our dog?" Even in cases of namesakes, the image of the honoree herself can get in the way. Take the father who was tempted to name a daughter after his grandmother, until he realized that he "could only think of [her] smoking and trying to pretend that she wasn't."
Many of the parents I've spoken with had their favorite name voted down by partners or family. One dad who loved the name Oscar said "I couldn't get [my wife] to agree and she might just be right." A mom who wanted to name a daughter after writer Isak Dinesen put it flatly: "Everyone thought I was crazy."
Sometimes the objections are specific, as in the case of a mom enamored of the name Kylie: "Instant veto from hubby because we know about four dogs named Kylie." And in a bookend to Oscar, one mother's suggestion of Felix was shot down by her husband as "too Odd Couple."
Just as often, we veto our own name crushes. A couple from Nevada was drawn to the local nature name Sierra, but reluctantly gave it up as "too common for our family." Other parents worry that a name they like is too unconventional, and thus potentially a burden to a child. A mother who wanted the name Indigo for a girl said "I still love it because I see it as an adventurous, creative name…but I see it as more limiting than a more conventional name, in a first impression way." Another mom who was drawn to the literary flourish of Ophelia and Persephone admitted that she'd ruled those names out herself. Much as she loved them, for her own kids they crossed the invisible line of appropriateness.
Are you still harboring a crush for a name that will never be yours? Please share your stories, and we can all commiserate on the lingering allure of our unrequited crushes.
Ten years ago, the authors of the pop-economics book Freakonomics made some bold predictions. They had analyzed names and income among a sample of Californians, and come up with a class-based theory of baby name trends.
Call it the "trickle-down theory." Baby names, they claimed, first catch on with high-income, highly educated families, then trickle down the socioeconomic ladder as aspirational parents copy the more privileged. In their words, "It isn't famous people who drive the name game. It is the family just a few blocks over, the one with the bigger house and newer car."
Inspired by that theory, they compiled a list of 45 "high-end names" that they predicted would become popular with the masses by 2015. Now that the future is here, we can put their predictions to the test. Here's the 10-year popularity curve of the Trickle-Down 45:
On first glance, that looks pretty impressive. Their predicted names were given to 43,000 more babies last year vs. in 2004, a rise of nearly 40%. But there's more going on behind that graph. Take a look at what had happened to those same names in the decade before Freakonomics was written:
Now that's what I call a trend. In the prior 10 years the names had risen in popularity by 87,000 babies per year, a rise of nearly 400%. In other words, the authors had caught a ride on the tail of a comet, choosing a set of names that were already wildly trendy. That's no coincidence. The Freakonomics name list wasn't a pure economic projection; it was a hand-culled sample based on the authors' own sense of what sounded fashionable.
The trendiness of their name choices alone could account for their positive results. In fact, the authors would have done better in their predictions by simply listing all baby names that had risen every year during the previous decade. Compare the two outcomes (normalized to display on the same scale):
That doesn't look good for the power of the trickle-down theory. Even if their predictions were correct, though, I think they'd be a red herring. The big picture in baby names is not top-down but defiantly grassroots. Any parents who choose names because they're popular with the ruling class are swimming against the powerful and fascinating current of American naming culture.
Take a look at the names that actually rose the most in the USA over the past decade (based on our standard BabyNameWizard.com "hotness formula"). All currently rank among the top 1000 names for boys or girls:
If you don't recognize all of those names, I'll give you a hint: there's not a Fortune 500 CEO in the bunch. They're an ethnically diverse lineup showcasing the full range of popular entertainment: extreme fighting champions, Spanish-language tv stars, action-movie antiheros, animated characters, reality tv stars -- lots of reality tv stars. This won't come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog. Every year we run a contest to predict the fastest rising names in America, and the smart money is always on the populist side of culture, especially reality tv, telenovelas and hip hop.
A closer look further challenges the notion of aspirational naming. Anyone from an adult entertainer to an assassin to the spawn of Satan can inspire namesakes, as long as their name is catchy enough. The single biggest baby name hit machine of recent years has been Teen Mom, the show that follows the lives of pregnant, unmarried 16-year-old girls. Even among the Freakonomics names, the closest they came to predicting a breakout hit was the girl's name Quinn...and that name only took off six years after their prediction, when it was featured as the name of a pregnant cheerleader on the tv series Glee.
In other words, American parents are picking up fresh new names wherever they find them, and those names don't sound anything like ladder climbing. Increasing numbers of parents are going off-road inventing whole new names. Some take words that express something about them and turn them into names. (Firearms-related terms are popular choices.) Others simply string together attractive sounds. As the hip hop and reality tv names above become popular, it's a fair bet that most of them will be abandoned in favor of something fresher.
Any analysis that focuses on the very top of the name popularity list will miss this big picture. The existence of a top 10 maintains the illusion of consensus, but it represents an ever-shrinking slice of the population. Every name now represents its own subculture and worldview, and poorer parents aren't following in the steps of the wealthy. They're aggressively blazing their own trails.