Where are baby names headed in 2017? We've selected seven names that point the way.
The names below represent a variety of hot styles, from double-t surnames to bold word names. None of them currently rank among the top 500 names boys or girls. But based on search traffic, forum chatter and trend arrows, they're good bets to be part of the next baby name wave.
Elia (F): A smooth little raindrop name from Game of Thrones? That recipe has made Arya one of the fastest-rising names in America, and Elia – as in GoT's Dornish princess Elia Martell – seems to be next in line for the throne.
Prescott (M): Double-t names like Emmett and Wyatt are one of the hottest styles around. Prescott is a buttoned-down cousin to those names, with a new jolt of energy from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
Brontë (F): The surname of novelist sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne is catching on as a simple but unconventional choice for literary-minded parents.
Winston (M): Take your pick of Winstons: Legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Winston cigarettes, longtime NASCAR sponsor. Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston. Tank/hero Winston in the video game "Overwatch." That last Winston, believe it or not, may be the one that pushes this surname over the top.
Aviana/Avianna (F): With the names Ava, Arianna and Viviana all fresh hits, this name was just begging to happen. The word avian (the adjective related to birds) lends the name an extra element of fantasy.
Caoimhe (F): This Irish girl's name has the kind of sound that parents are looking for (pronounce it "Keeva"). So far, spelling has held it back. Americans are getting bolder about tackling Irish spelling, though, and Caoimhe may be hitting a turning point.
Flowery botanical names are on the rise, from classics like Rose and Lily, to modern picks like Azalea and Dahlia. But what about picks from other kinds of gardens - namely, herbs and spices? With increasingly individual options, it’s no surprise to find parents going this route already!
All of these names were used for children born last year, and many have an extensive historical record. Here are a few pretty options that are outside the top 300 - but still delicious!
Image: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com
Pepper. Thanks to the fabulous character in Marvel’s Iron Man reboot, the name Pepper has more than quintupled in popularity in the last six years - a superhuman feat! The name ranked once on the top 1000, in 1975, but has long been a nickname for names that start with P. Along with Piper, Poppy and Pippa, Pepper is an upbeat choice for any little one.
Cicely. Another variation of Cecilia, Cicely is a lovely name that fits in with modern trends while maintaining a historical uniqueness. The most famous Cicely is actress Tyson, though the name has also been used in classic literature. The cicely plant was eloquently praised by John Gerard in his 1597 book, Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes - “it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth... lust and strength.”
Sorrel. Both a colorful and botanical choice, Sorrel is a rare find that works for both boys and girls. It could be a unique alternative to Sawyer or Laurel, though it may take a bit of explaining. The name has been used a few times for characters in children’s books - once brought into cultural consciousness, it would be a beautiful option.
Ginger. A vintage nickname for feminine Virginia, Ginger adds more personality and flair to a classic. It peaked in 1971, but quickly declined - could the recent trend towards retro names bring it back? Nickname Ginny could be a great option for a Harry Potter fan, but Ginger on its own is friendly and fun.
Curry. Today, the name Curry is usually preceded by Steph in conversation, but increased attention to both names has made Curry a first name option. Though it sounds like a modern savory choice, Curry has actually been recorded as far back as 1896! It’s close enough to unisex Corey or Carey to fit in on the playground, too.
Thyme. A flash-in-the-pan option chosen by parents searching for uniqueness, or a strong successor to classic herbal names like Basil and Sage? Only Thyme will tell! This name has been in recorded use since 1995, and was used for six baby girls last year.
Saffron. Stylish and sophisticated in sound, Saffron has been used quite a bit by celebrity parents and in popular culture. From Absolutely Fabulous to My Little Pony, television writers love Saffron! The saffron plant has long been used in traditional medicine and cuisines all around the world, and it’s one of the most expensive spices worldwide.
Cassia. This variety of cinnamon is far more appetizing than Cinnamon, at least in this decade - Cassia has been rising up the charts, while Cinnamon has disappeared entirely. The beautiful feminine sound, the similarities to Cassie and Cassandra, and the Biblical connection (Cassia is a variant of the name of a daughter of Job) make this choice deliciously attractive to modern parents.
Basil. From the Greek basileus, meaning “king,” Basil was a well-used choice for a long time in English-speaking countries, partially due to its connections with a few early saints. Though it’s now associated with actor Basil Rathbone and upper-class British characters in television and film, recent trends towards the retro could bring Basil back to the table.
Juniper. A worthy successor to iconic Jennifer, Juniper holds onto the name’s brisk melody but adds a natural element besides. Quite a few Juniper namesakes abound, from popular songs to children’s television shows. Plus, the nicknames June and Junie are lovely vintage options.
Rosemary. Incredibly popular from the 1920’s through the 1940’s, parents today are returning to this lovely floral name for all sorts of reasons: it aligns with the “hundred year rule,” it combines two other classic choices, and it’s botanical without being overly embellished. Rosemary (and nickname Romy) may rise to the heights of Violet!
Sage. Both a common houseplant and an adjective meaning “wise,” Sage is a simple yet memorable choice. It currently ranks at #370 for girls and #649 for boys, a unisex pick that will flatter all kinds of personalities. It also appears in Gerard’s Herball - “it quickeneth the senses and memory” - and has long been used in alternative medicine.
Cayenne. A final spicy name, and this one packs some heat - Cayenne was given to nine baby girls last year. It’s been used for both genders sporadically since 1978, and does share some aural traits with Cheyenne and Kaia. Though it will be doubtful to find two Cayenne’s in one classroom, we may see more in the future as parents seek out rare names!
Is nothing sacred? 2016 was the year that answered the question with a resounding "Nope." Boundaries were crossed, news was faked, the solemn was mocked, the unutterable was spoken (then shared and re-shared). Around the world, "what-if" scenarios were replaced by "what now?"
We might not have realized it at the time, but we had a little preview of what was to come back in March, in the form of a name:
In case you missed it -- or in case the frantic pace of the year's news wiped it from your memory -- here's the story.
In March, the British Government's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) prepared to start construction on a major new research vessel. The £200 millon ship was expected to transform critical research efforts in polar regions. The NERC saw the moment as an opportunity to raise awareness of the vessel and of their important overall mission, and they came up with a publicity idea. They invited the public to suggest names for the ship via social media, and to vote on them using the hashtag #NameOurShip.
One man jokingly nominated the name Boaty McBoatface. The suggestion went viral, and that name was the runaway winner of the popular vote.
The NERC was not amused. They announced that the vessel would bear the more respectful name RRS Sir David Attenborough, and consigned the name Boaty to one of the ship's small remotely operated submarines. The internet wasn't happy about the grownups stepping in and breaking up its fun. A short-lived online campaign called for Sir David Attenborough himself to change his name to Sir Boaty McBoatface. The whole process made the polar research vessel the most talked-about ship in the world.
In Britain, the affair led to some serious soul-searching. Scientists were even summoned to Parliament to discuss the ramifications of the naming fiasco. The viral vote was called a shameful trivialization by some, while others hailed it as a public relations coup that attracted vast attention to the research enterprise. Similarly, some were outraged that the NERC quashed democracy by overruling the public's choice of name, while others saw the Boaty prank itself as a perversion of the democratic process.
Perhaps, in fact, it was all of the above. As The Atlantic wrote, "(I)s the Boaty McBoatface Affair really a perversion of democracy? What if it's actually a manifestation of how democracy tends to work in practice?"
The crowd doesn't always show wisdom. It's swayed by self-interest, by bias, by laziness, by novelty, by the allure of shiny objects. The crowd will choose immediate gratification over long-term benefits, just as individuals do.
BabyNameWizard.com reader jwanders nominated Boaty McBoatface as Name of the Year with this in mind, describing the name as an emblem of "a large number of people making a choice without enough consideration of the consequences." Reader PJ expanded on the theme:
"Be careful what you ask for, crowd sourcing, what is and is not a 'legitimate' process or name, an underdog that's not taken seriously for good reasons that surprisingly wins, and the element of ridiculous absurdidity that becomes part of public discourse. Sounds like a name to represent 2016 to me."
In the months since the boat dust-up, other public naming initiatives have carefully limited the crowd's control over the final selection. When Canada chose a national bird last month, they balanced an online vote with expert advice. An official defended the decision to avoid a pure popularity contest, explaining "That's how you end up with Boaty McBoatface." Boaty had become the official symbol of public naming peril. (Baby-naming parents might also take it as a caveat about asking the anonymous internet to vote on Baby McBabyface's name.)
The boat-naming campaign was hardly the first social media vote to be hijacked for humor. When a 2012 Walmart promotion promised a live performance by the rapper Pitbull at whichever of their stores received the most Facebook "likes," a viral campaign exiled the star to the most remote Walmart possible, in Kodiak Alaska. The whims of crowdsourcing even predate the Internet. A 1970s Bronx elementary student vote on the name of their new school explains why P.S. 160 is called Walt Disney Elementary.
What's notable in this case is the growing willingness to be outrageous even about serious topics. There's a current of nihilism flowing beneath the humor, perhaps the same current that leads dissatisfied voters to say "to heck with it, let's just blow it all up."
Even viral nihilism needs a hook, though. In this case that hook was a catchy and cleverly formed name. Boaty McBoatface! The pairing of a familiar human name template with absurdly juvenile vocabulary makes for an instant classic. The name also functions as a snowclone, an adaptable meme form that can be endlessly recycled with different content. The homages came quickly. In May, Google released an open-source natural language parser under the name Parsey McParseface. And it got weirder.
In September, many news outlets reported on a new baby gorilla born at China's Jinhua Zoo. The zoo reportedly announced the birth on social media and invited the public to vote on the gorilla's name. The winning name, by a landslide, was Harambe McHarambeface -- boaty-fying the ubiquitous name of the dead gorilla Harambe.
Then those news outlets had to retract the gorilla story. It had been a hoax, spread via an elaborate and convincing fake news site.
If that's not 2016 in a nutshell, and in a name, I don't know what is.
Wishing you a safe and sane 2017,
Read More: 5 Names that Mattered in 2016