How much can one ingredient change a dish? If that ingredient is a habanero pepper, it can utterly transform it—in ways that some will find irresistible and others won't touch. In baby names, the closest things to chili peppers are the high-impact letters X and Z. The single letter switch from Jason to Jaxon or from Kayden to Zayden transforms the name and transfixes our attention.
Grabbing attention is what current baby name fashion is all about, so it's not surprising that the rate of X's and Z's in names has surged in the past generation. The details of that surge turn out to say a lot about the direction that names are taking.
The graph below shows the rate of American boys receiving a name with an X or Z from 1900 to the present. (I chose to focus on boys because the furtive Z in the classic Elizabeth dominates the girls' trend.) The X-Z explosion is hard to miss:
Looking at the graph, you'll see a huge rise in the 1980s, a brief leveling off, then another sharp rise in the past decade. Those two jumps in "power letters" turn out to be quite different.
More than three-quarters of the 1980-1990 rise comes from four names: Alexander, Zachary, Alex and Maxwell. All four are familiar, traditional, broadly popular choices with just a little boost of X-Z power. To account for three-quarters of the more recent surge, you need 15 names:
That list is a mix of modern styles: creatively X-powered spellings (Jaxson, Jaxon), surnames newly converted to first names (Hendrix, Paxton), traditional names that used to be considered obscure or unlikely (Maximus, Ezekiel), and brand-new inventions (Zaiden, Jaxton). The total effect is worlds apart from Alex and Zach.
In the earlier name wave, the power letters were a selling point that presumably tipped the balance in a choice between, say, Alexander and Nicholas. In the new wave, those letters are the driving force. The names are built for sound and impact around their high-Scrabble-value centerpieces. Consider that the names Alexander, Zachary and Maxwell sound little like one another, or like any other common names. Then consider the sound-driven pattern of Braxton-Jaxton-Paxton.
The two waves reflect a deep change in the way parents think about names. More and more, instead of choosing from a menu we're cooking from scratch. And when you lay out an array of raw ingredients, the most colorful and spicy prove hard to resist.
Read More: Are There Any More Z Names?
The past has as many moods as the present. Old-fashioned names can be sturdy, quirky, or playful. But if there's one feeling that's best captured by an antique, it's elegance – like the elegance of a long gown back in the days when gowns were still more clothing than costume.
That throwback elegance is starting to reappear in modern baby names. Its standard-bearer is Olivia, the graceful Shakespearean invention that has become a new American classic. More throwbacks like Arabella, Valentina and Genevieve have followed. Now a new group is rising and pushing the opulence and literary style even further.
The names below hold little back. They are grandes dames, not shrinking violets (make that Violettas). Even the most modest of them have a drawn-out grace, while the showier could fairly be called sumptuous or imposing. They've all risen in popularity, but none ranked among the top 200 names for American girls last year. That means that individually they still have the power to surprise, and collectively they point in a blossoming fashion direction.
|63 ELEGANT ANTIQUE NAMES FOR GIRLS|
Across the pond, nickname names like Alfie, Freddie, and Archie have risen to the top of the charts. They combine familiarity with friendliness, and they strike a nice balance between classic and modern. Here in the United States, however, such names are less likely to end with “ie” - at least for boys. Many American parents prefer striking, single-syllable choices - with nickname style, if not origins - that are at once recognizable and memorable.
Image via Pexels
For fans of the crisp nickname sound, with a few original options, here are thirteen options that fit the bill.
Sam. Though it’s a short form of Biblical favorite Samuel, Sam has long been established as its own brand of boyish. It’s unassuming and accessible, with hundreds of great namesakes across history and fiction. Sam been decreasing since it was first recorded in the United States, making it a relatively uncommon choice today.
Ben. Mellow and kind, Ben is a name often given to characters who are especially caring (see Ben Wyatt in Parks & Recreation or Uncle Ben in Spider-Man). Perhaps it’s the “benevolent” or “beneficial” sound? Longer forms of the name include Benjamin, Bennett, Benedict, or Benicio, but the short form is fantastic all by itself.
Ash. While 90’s favorite Ashley is on the decline, boys’ names Asher and Ashton are still rising. Why not skip the suffixes entirely and stick with active and engaging Ash? Kids like the connection to Ash Ketchum of Pokémon fame, and parents like the effortless style and simplicity it offers. Celebrity Seth Meyers brought this name back into the spotlight when he and his wife chose Ashe (a surname choice) for their son last year.
Zac. Modern and edgy, the “Zac” spelling was given a major boost in the mid-2000’s via Zac Efron, the teen heartthrob of High School Musical fame. Still, the classic Hebrew choice Zachary gives more substance to its nickname. Zac is cool and attractive, overcoming trendiness by appealing to all kinds of personalities.
Bo. This lovable, rugged name jumped into the top 1000 in 1977, the same year Smokey and the Bandit - featuring a main character called Bo - appeared on movie screens. Two years later, Bo Duke debuted on television, and a new standard was cemented. An ageless name with Southern charm, Bo is likely to increase in popularity, and for many good reasons.
Win. A mix of virtue, action, and success characterize this attractive name - Win has all the positive energy of Chase or Lance with the respectability of Winston or Winslow. It also sounds like other popular playground picks, Brynn and Quinn. Win is an excellent choice for any upbeat and dynamic little boy.
Cal. Though today’s Cal’s are more often Caleb’s or Calvin’s, the nickname deserves closer study: it’s adorned a president, a vast array of athletes, and a character immortalized by James Dean. Cal is also a great pick for denizens (or devotees) of the Golden State. For a uncommon route to the nickname, try Callahan or Calloway.
Kip. Quick and bright, Kip has a crisp sound all its own. It’s another popular name among sports stars, but Kip is also an ageless choice, well-suited to any boy from 8 to 88. Kip has long been short for Christopher, but literary Kipling would be a stellar option, too.
Van. While Van’s popularity peaked in 1891, its masculine and accessible tone appeal to twenty-first century parents as well. When associated with famous last names, like van Gogh or van Dyke, it feels refined; when connected with music and film, like Van Morrison or Van Johnson, it feels rugged. Since it’s also jumped into the top 1000, one can be sure that Van is going places.
Nat. Classic and cool, Nat is the kind of retro nickname that’s sure to blossom in the next decade. With so many Natalie’s and Nathaniel’s, the Nat nickname is already prevalent. By itself, however, the name calls to mind iconic American singer Nat King Cole, a fantastic namesake. For a different path to Nat, try Ignatius or Renato.
Art. This offbeat choice has a wide array of connections and connotations, perfect for the namer who wants a bit of everything. There’s the vintage name Arthur that’s making a comeback, the direct aural link to art and artistry, and the multitude of musicians, athletes, and even royals with the name. One drawback - Art’s ability to rhyme with certain words will not be lost on other children.
Ned. Despite not having ranked on the top 1000 list since the 1970’s, the name Ned has experienced a bit of resurgence. From Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide to Game of Thrones, characters named Ned aren’t hard to find. Still, such cultural popularity hasn’t quite translated into a numbers boost, making this friendly, geek-chic nickname for Edward all the more attractive.
Lee. For decades, names ending in the -lee sound have conquered popularity charts, from Emily to Riley to Bentley. But Lee on its own deserves another look. Its neat and polished tone help it stand out in a crowd of trends, and its use as a last name helps link it to family and friends (and heroes) with the name. With shorter names growing year by year, Lee is bound to climb - without being relegated to the second or third syllable.