Disney animation has brought us hit names like Ariel, Jasmine and Elsa. Younger sibling Pixar, meanwhile, has brought us Sulley, Lightning and Wall·E. The computer animation powerhouse may be a smash on the screen, but it has yet to hit its stride as a baby name style maker. Could the new Pixar film Inside Out change that? The answer hangs on two names with very different histories: Riley and Joy.
The story of Inside Out takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. It's an admirably realistic choice: Riley was the 58th most popular girl's name of 2004. As it happens, that was the same year I completed the first edition of the Baby Name Wizard book. I included a full entry for Riley in the girls' section, and quickly felt the wrath of parents of Rileys...male Rileys. No name in the book generated more angry letters. Mothers accused me of failing to uphold the traditional masculinity of their chosen name. But like a lexicographer adding "selfie" to Merriam-Webster's, I was just describing the existing usage. The number of girls named Riley had been rising for years, and by 2003 they outnumbered the boys:
At this point the name is so familiar for girls that it's unclear how big a bump the movie exposure will give it. What the film certainly could do, though, is strike a tough blow on the boys' side. Celebrities can wield tremendous power over androgynous names. Dakota was a cowboy name, four-fifths male, before actress Dakota Fanning's first starring role. Today, it's majority female. Similarly, actor Ashton Kutcher singlehandedly pulled the name Ashton back from the girls' side. With male Rileys already declining, this prominent usage -- destined for heavy replay in a million family rooms -- could redefine the name as feminine.
The Inside Out character Joy is named quite literally. She is the personification of young Riley's capacity for happiness. This reminder of the word's essence might just be the boost the name needs. Joy has been a staple of my "Why Not?" list of underused names. While most one-syllable meaning names like Grace, Hope and Faith have soared, Joy has remained stubbornly linked to its 1950s heyday. The movie character should get Joy some second looks, especially as a middle name where the short-and-sweet reign supreme.
This all depends, of course, on how deeply Inside Out connects with its audience. Early response has been strong, but baby name impact takes a lot more than a big opening weekend. Take Frozen, a film which grew and grew over time. It not only made Elsa one of last year's hottest names, but spurred jumps in unlikelier choices like Olaf, Kristoff and Hans. Inside Out, with its name lineup of Sadness, Disgust and Bing Bong, isn't going to cast as broad a shadow. A generation of little Joys, though, would be more than legacy enough.
Suppose you came across this list of names: Caylee, Breanna, Trevor, Brennen, Destiny, Aaden, Rihanna, Ashlyn, Devin, Jazmine. What group would you think you're looking at? My guess is that the first description that would come to mind would be "young." Very young. Even the most traditional names on the list, like Trevor and Devin, are extremely rare among older Americans; the more inventive choices are positively unheard of. So, we're looking for a blossoming of brand-new youth. A list of birth announcements, perhaps, or a preschool class roster?
In fact, I took that group from a list of names that have fallen the most over the past five-year period. Those "brand-new" names are already on the way out. Take a look at the right side of this graph:
Every name I listed has lost at least half its popularity in the last five years. Many were already in decline before that. Breanna, which ranked among America's top 100 girls' names for a decade straight, is down over 90% from its peak. Amazingly, the names of the 2000s now make up a passing generation.
The vanishing names include many of the elements which give this naming age its distinctive sound, like strong "ee" sounds, the -lyn suffix, and Aiden rhymes. What's taking their place? A -ya ending is now hot for girls in names like Arya, Cataleya and Freya. The "doer" suffix -er is rising fast for both sexes, moving beyond common surnames like Taylor and Parker to quirkier choices like Major, Sawyer and Juniper.
Here's a full roundup of all of the popular names which have lost at least half their popularity in the last five years. Many still rank in the top thousand, but they're giving ground to the next baby name generation.
|Adyson||Braden, Bradyn, Braeden, Braiden|
|Ashlee, Ashley||Brenden, Brendon|
|Breanna, Briana, Brianna||Cale|
|Cheyanne||Deven, Devin, Devon|
|Destiny||Jadon, Jaeden, Jaydon|
|Haleigh, Haley, Haylie||Jaylen, Jaylin, Jaylon|
|Jaden, Jadyn, Jaiden, Jaidyn, Jayden||Kale|
Are today's hot names destined to be discarded in a couple of decades? Not necessarily. As these names have proven, there is such a thing as a name that's both trendy and timeless. Here are our favorite names that we began to adore in the '60s-'80s and we've never felt the need to let them go.
They're elegant and endearing, and have already shown we aren't fickle about every newly popular name. As other fads have faded through the years, these reliable names have proven to be worthy of our favorites today.
Andrea: We went wild for this lovely, feminine answer to Andrew in the '80s, and we've never looked back. Andrea feels like a true classic, and its loveable nicknames, including Andi and Drea, still strike us as fresh. It may not be a top-50 hit anymore, but we've proven Andrea still has plenty of life left in the years to come.
Ashley: The name graph for Ashley is a little amusing, appearing for the first time with an intense spike in the 80s and leaving a plunging line in its wake. But as Ashley was a number 2 red-hot star at the top, there was nowhere for it to go but down, and it's doing that very slowly. We still love this England-inspired place name that strikes us as quite feminine, which is ironic since it began as a male name. The US has declared Ashley worthy of the top 100s, as its irresistible charms still have power over our hearts.
Jessica: For children of the '80s, it's possible this name makes us think of "baby Jessica” McClure, or one half of theSweet Valley Twins, but in reality it probably just makes you think of someone you know. Jessica became a girl next door as the number 1 girls' name from 1985-1990, and again in '93-'95. It's still hanging in the top 200s today, and while some are starting to move on, we think this light-hearted Shakespearean name has true staying power.
Kimberly: So many parents have loved this cheerful name through the decades, starting with its high point in the '60s. It has surname and British-locale style, derived from Kimberley in both South Africa and England. Today you can find Kimberly at a rank of 105, not too shabby for a name that used to sit in between Karen and Susan.
Melanie: A sweetheart of a French name that took hold of England in Medieval times, Melanie started gripping American parents in the 70s. And, unlike many of the others in this list, Melanie is firmly in the top 100 today, and it's improved from where it was ranked at the turn of the century.
Michelle: Another French name that avoided the fads, Michelle is a feminine form of Michael that became a stylish standard. While less-than-French trendsetters Michaela and Makala experience ups and downs, Michelle still rings out as a classic with a theme song (courtesy of The Beatles).
Nicole: You guessed it. Nicole is the feminine and French answer to Nicholas that became a top-10 hit in the '80s. Our steadfast love of this crisp, youthful name has only wavered a little in the past few years. Nicole may be experiencing a new low, but 129 out of 1,000 isn't that bad...she's sitting between contemporary favorites Adalynn and Delilah.
Vanessa: Pretty and poetic, Vanessa was at its most popular in the 80s, even though the name has been around since Jonathan Swift created it in the 1700s. We still adore this charming classic today, as it remains in the top 200s.
Veronica: Of all the girls on this list, Veronica has by far the longest history of love over the last century and a half. But this spirited name has always felt ahead of its time, and parents in the '70s finally took notice, making it a top 100 hit for the first time. Original frenimies Veronica and Betty contributed to this name's fame, and todayVeronica Mars is still putting this name in the spotlight. But despite its history, Veronica is also struggling the most, sitting at 375 for 2014.
Brandon: This name rocketed up to the top 20 almost as soon as it hit the charts, after a soap opera helped introduce it to parents in the mid-80s. Today, this likeable Old English name sits easily in the top 100s.
Corey: An adorable name with loads of 80s flair, Corey makes us think of classic flicks starring "The Two Coreys,” Haim and Feldman. Over the years, this name has proven it also belongs in the 21st century, though it's slipping quite a bit since the glory of the '80s.
Eric: In the '80s, Eric was as big as permed hair and members only jackets. But unlike those fads, this name has proven itself as a contemporary favorite, making Eric not only a fresh classic, but a Disney prince as well.
Jason: You don't have to go back to 1974 to envision a baby named Jason, but since it was a number 2 hit back then, this name may be more likely to remind you of someone middle aged. With its Greek roots and an extensive history, Jason has maintained a strong running even today, as it's holding steady in the top 100 at 75. The "Jay” sound is still wildly popular—just take a look at Jacob, James, Jayden, and Jace, all names that have the edge over Jason.
Justin: It's amazing to think that this name wasn't even a blip on the radar until the 80s, despite a history that goes back as far as the 2nd century. The sound and classic feel has kept Justin a top-100 hit even today, as it fits right in with trendier names.
Kevin: Parents struck gold in the 60s with Kevin, a contemporary Celtic choice with a crisp sound and an ending that's just right. While it may be awhile before Kevin is ever a top 20 rockstar, today this name is at an impressive rank of 70.
Ryan: First, it was actor Ryan O'Neal who made Ryan a household name, but today Mr. Gosling has stolen the limelight. Even so, no one person can take credit for the enthusiasm we've shared for this name since it appeared in the 80s. Its Celtic tones and simple charms has made Ryan a longstanding hit, holding on to its style for both boys and girls.
Sean: The Irish form of John first struck parents with Sean fever in the mid '80s. Its soft sound and celebrity stylings, from Sean Connery to Sean Preston Federline, have kept this name feeling current no matter what decade we're in. Today, Sean remains in the top 200.
Troy: A late 60s hit that comes from a surname, Troy is inspired by the legendary ancient city that fell to the Greeks after a 10-year siege. This name may be falling a bit nowadays, but it's got classic style fit for an epic poem. (And we're pretty sure Brad Pitt would approve.)