The first in a series of reports based on exclusive user ratings of names.
What makes a name sound sophisticated? Is it the rhythm, or the origin, or the public figures you associate with the name? And do other people hear sophistication the same way that you do?
These are among the questions we've tried to answer with a long-term user survey. For the past five years, we've asked BabyNameWizard visitors to rate the names they view in Namipedia. On a scale from 1-100, how smart does the name sound? How sexy, creative, friendly, sophisticated? With 1.5 million sets of ratings submitted, the results paint an unprecedented picture of the way we view names.
Before presenting the list of most sophisticated names, I'd like to make clear that none of these dimensions are "good" or "bad." There are tradeoffs: no name hits every target. The survey's job is to identify which kinds of names have these qualities. It's up to each parent to decide which of the qualities matter most to you.
The names rated most and least sophisticated are:
Based on these results, here's a recipe for baby name sophistication:
1. The longer the better. The average American baby name is 6 letters long. The names rated most sophisticated averaged almost 8 letters, while the least sophisticated name averaged just 5. Just like a long, flowing gown, a long, multisyllabic name seems to convey elegance, dignity, and formality.
2. Cuties and tough guys need not apply. With names like Colt and Rocky near the bottom of the list, it's apparent that macho swagger and sophistication don't go hand in hand. The greatest enemy of sophistication, though, is cheery cuteness. 60% of the least-sophisticated names end in the "ee" sound, which is the key marker of cuteness in English names. Sophistication, it seems, is stern rather than "Sunny."
3. No nicknames. Every name on the ultra-sophisticated list was in its most formal form, while several nicknames, including America's #1 nickname Mike, were rated at the bottom. Going back to our clothing analogy, nicknames are like a t-shirt and jeans: comfortable and appealing, but not sophisticated. Nicknames tend to be shorter than full names as well, but the nickname effect still applies even when the nickname is at least as long as its original source (e.g. Jack vs. John, Nancy vs. Ann).
4. Stay traditional. The least-sophisticated list features plenty of contemporary names like Nevaeh, Britney and Koda. The most-sophisticated names, in contrast, lean traditional. If that tradition includes European royalty (e.g. Maximilian, Antoinette), so much the better.
5. Surnames suffice. English surnames and place names (Anderson, Kensington) can provide the traditional feeling along with the length and that spell sophistication, even if they're not traditional as given names.
Based on those criteria, do you think your favorite name comes across as sophisticated? And do you care?
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.
If there's one thing we've learned in the last few decades, it's that sound matters when it comes to baby names. In the list of important factors in today's naming landscape, sound often trumps all—over family traditions, meaning, and even cultural associations. Todays' favorite names for girls roll off the tongue with airy femininity.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, we think that the word "love" has a perfectly appealing sound too. That's why we're inspired to find names with flowing vowels surrounding consonants like l and v. Whether they are longer or short-but-sweet names, they each have a softness that makes us swoon.
Alva: It's a bit sad that Alva is known mostly as Thomas Edison's middle name. While it was once given to boys as well as girls, this Scandinavian choice feels decidedly feminine to our ears today. It's a bit no-nonsense, but Alva is also a darling name straight from one of today's favorite decades for names—the 1890s.
Amara: Amara is a beautiful name that found its way on this list because of its similarity to the word "amor" (we had to cheat just a little). In the Nigerian language Igbo, Amara means grace, making this a near-virtue name with a proud heritage.
Ava: You can find this beautiful choice across the globe, worn by girls in Europe, Australia, and North America . It may be short, but it has loads of appeal, and it makes a perfect little palindrome. As the number 5 girls' name in the US, it's not unique, but Ava is truly well-loved.
Clove: Clove may be a spice name, but it's far from the popularity of more established choices like Ginger and Sage. Its use in The Hunger Games series has given Clove more attention, while solidifying its quirkiness. No matter how you view it, Clove is seriously charming and simple, and it has "love" built right in.
Dove: A nature name that conjures up peace, Dove is also just one letter away from love. It may be far out of the top 1,000, but parents do tend to like this simple, sweet name for the middle spot.
Evelyn: Most people wouldn't have guessed that Evelyn would be a top 20 name today, but looking at the trends, this one has had an almost predictable rise to the top over the last 30 years. No matter what, Evelyn will always feel stylishly vintage, thanks to its popularity in the 1910s and 20s.
Lavinia: Lavinia is a flowing, gorgeous Victorian choice that just begs us to dot its "i"s with tiny hearts. This name is besties with Olivia but has experienced none of her success. And Lavinia has a surprising history with namesakes from Roman mythology, Shakespeare, and even Downton Abbey. For those turned off by the nickname Vinnie, Linnie is another possibility.
Love: Sometimes the most obvious choice is the best. Love has immediate meaning, and it's simple, beautiful, and pretty to look at as well as to say. Love is rare for a first name, but parents have favored it for the middle spot, à la Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Maeve: A powerful name taken from the pages of Irish mythology, Maeve has crossed the Atlantic and is having a moment here in the US. It's unusual, but in the top 500 and rising with some momentum. Maeve is both a simple and spirited one-syllable choice (pronounced MAYV) that's rich in heritage and full of fashion.
Nova: A bright, rising star of a name full of sparkle and modern sensibilities, Nova is going to catch on quick. It only recently appeared in the girls' top 1,000 and at last check it sits at 529. We love its sound, meaning, and how it feels like a twist on names like Norah and Noelle.
Olive: Rearrange the letters in this name and you can spell "I love". It's a Victorian favorite that sounds perfectly old-fashioned and pretty, without being frilly. And we have nothing but positive associations with olives, as a staple in mediterranean cooking or an olive branch that symbolizes peace. Drew Barrymore would agree, who chose Olive for her first daughter, born in 2012.
Sylvie: This sweet form of Sylvia is surprisingly out of the top 1,000, while Sylvia is starting to make waves in the US once again. Its charming sound and French stylings make Sylvie a graceful, alluring choice.
Valentina: Google this first name and you'll see the most famous women to wear it come from a variety of countries across the globe: Italy, the Ukraine, Argentina, and Russia. Aside from having the v-and-l factor we're looking for, its connotations are especially appropriate this time of year. It's a beautiful name that's doing very well in the US, aiming for the top 100 soon. Chosen by actress Salma Hayek as well as Victoria Secret model Adriana Lima for their daughters.
Valeria: This name feels like it's part Valentine, part exotic foreign land. It shares roots with Valentina and is another top pick in places like Russia, Spain, and Latin America. Here in the US, Valeria hit a peak in 2009, but it's still in the top 200s today.
Viola: This violet-colored floral name blooms with old-fashioned charm. It's rare but packed with theatrical and artistic qualities, thanks to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, as well as Shakespeare in Love and actress Viola Davis.
Originally appeared on The Stir.
What do Noah and Sophia, two of the hottest baby names right now, have in common? Throw out as many adjectives as you want -- they're both elegant, charming, traditional, etc. But the secret to their attraction may just be that they both have a long "O" sound. And baby names that include the sound of "oh" are all the rage.
"Parents don't want to just write the circle of an O, like Robert," explains baby naming expert Laura Wattenberg, founder of Baby Name Wizard. "They want the 'oh' sound itself."
Certainly, some celeb parents jumped on the "oh"-sound bandwagon early on. Brad and Angelina have Shiloh. Nicole Richie named her daughters Harlow and Sparrow. "But trends this big don't come from celebrity names," says Wattenberg. "There's a huge overarching desire right now to choose names that contain long vowels and crisp consonants."
Names with long "A" sounds like Aiden and Ava have been "hugely dominant for years," Wattenberg points out, "so now parents are looking to I, U, and O."
More From The Stir: 8 Hottest Baby Name Trends for 2015
Surprisingly, names that actually end with the letter "O" aren't as popular as names that end on a consonant. "For instance, 'Marlo' is still stuck in the '60's," Wattenberg says, "but 'Marlow' is a rising name for girls. It has a nice, unexpected sound without going too masculine."
So what are some other hot names containing "oh" to look out for? Here are a few to put on your short list.
1. Arrow: Straight-shooting and strong, this name is only going up in popularity.
2. Bruno: Already popular in other parts of the world, Bruno's old-world charm is starting to catch on in the US.
3. Carrow: Pronounced "CAR-oh," we like the prep-school feel of this boys' name.
4. Kohl: A freshened up version of Cole, although both spellings share a likable charm.
5. Leonardo: Leo is strong enough to appeal to guys and sweet enough for girls to relate to.
6. Otto: This name of German descent is confident and smart, with just a hint of cuddliness.
7. Rocco: A big name for baby boys to grow into.
8. Shadow: No longer just for black cats, this name has real depth.
9. Woodrow: Responsible, fair-minded, and trustworthy -- all the qualities you want your son to grow up to have.
10. Yarrow: Unique without being off-putting, Yarrow has a quirky likability.
1. Harlow: This quiet bombshell of a name manages to connote equal parts smarts and style.
2. Joey: Dawson's Creek is long gone, but the irresistably tomboy-ish name Joey will live forever in our hearts.
3. Margot: Sophisticated, distinctive, and come on, what other name allows you to use "Go-go" for the cutest nickname ever?
4. Meadow: You don't have to be a fan of The Sopranos to appreciate the natural beauty of this girls' name.
5. Morrow: Meaning "the morning," we feel certain this name is on the rise.
6. Posey: We have no idea why this unique name isn't on everyone's short list. Reminiscent of olde England and princesses, with a hint of whimsy. Try it spelled "Posy" or "Poesie," too.
7. Shiloh: Endearing, especially when you consider it comes with two equally sweet nicknames, "Shi" or "Lo."
8. Sparrow: We love the delicate strength of this uplifting name.
9. Willow: A name as graceful and resilient as the tree it's named for.
10. Wynslow: The "y" makes this staid moniker surprisingly modern and feminine.
Which of these "oh" names do you like the best?