When it comes to baby name style, little is getting bigger every day. We're drawn to miniatures like Eli, Leo, Ava and Zoe that pack all their style into a tiny form. In fact, the percentage of American babies receiving a three-letter name has more than doubled over the past two decades. Take a look:
That's a major shift, but historically it's a return to form. Over the past 20 years, miniature names have been rebounding from a historic drought. In fact, from a zoomed-out graph it looks like our 20-year climb is just a return to the mini-name rates of the early 1960s:
That graph, though, conceals a major shift in style. Rather than returning to a previous style of short names, we're moving in a new direction.
The last time three-letter names were as popular as they are now was in 1963. Compare the top 10 mini-names of that year with today's:
|1963 Boys||1963 Girls||2016 Boys||2016 Girls|
The 1963 names shared a remarkably consistent style. 90% of them were a single syllable, and most were also common as nicknames for longer popular names of the time. They're the result of paring names down to their simplest, most direct, and most cheerfully informal cores.
Today's list looks and sounds very different. Every name on the girls' list is multisyllabic, along with half of the boys. The names are diverse in origin and style. High-impact leters like V, X and Z are plentiful. Nicknames are scarce.
In short, the new miniatures look a lot like a cross-section of today's naming trends. They're just...little. The miniature size itself is luring in parents from across the style spectrum.
When you think "cowboy," perhaps the names that come to mind are Wild West legends like Wild Bill Hickock, Kit Carson and Doc Holliday. Or maybe they're Hollywood cowboys like Hoss Cartwright, Bart Maverick and Rooster Cogburn. Today's new cowboy names give a nod to those traditions, but with a new spin. They're both more adventurous, and more formal. So long, Bill and Hoss; hello Ryker and Weston.
I identified that new cowboy style based on a statistical tally of the boys' names that are currently most distinctive to America's cowboy country. My target was names that are especially popular in states like Wyoming, Oklahoma and their neighbors, and not elsewhere. That means eliminating names like Oliver that are popular in Northern Plains cowboy territory, but also in other Northern states like Vermont and Wisconsin. It also rules out country music names like Bentley and Easton that are popular across a swath of the South along with Oklahoma and Kansas. The result is pure distilled contemporary cowboy style.
While old-time cowboy names were heavy on nicknames, the new cowboy sound is dominated by surnames and action. The hottest surnames typically have some connection to America's Western mythos, from cowboy hats (Stetson) to rifles (Remington) to Western movie stars (Cooper) to the land itself (Ridge). Action is represented by the "doer" suffix -er, or by energized spellings like a double-t ending or the letter x.
Take a look for yourself:
To get at the heart of this style, consider the names Colter, Bridger and Stryker. All three are doer-styled surnames. All are built around a common one-syllable word with an action edge: colt, bridge, strike. And all three have Western connections and rugged connotations.
John Colter was a pioneering explorer of the Mountain West region, where places like Colter Bay and Colter Peak are named after him. Legendary mountain man Jim Bridger is memorialized in many place names including the Bridger Mountains in Montana and Wyoming. Stryker is a U.S. Army fighting vehicle named after two Medal of Honor winners—and the name of movie soldier Sgt. John M. Stryker, played by Western legend John Wayne.
Together the three names paint a clear picture. They're turbocharged surnames that honor the dauntless spirit of men who were themselves called John and Jim. That's your modern buckaroo.
While long and luxurious names have been the favorites of the past decade - Isabella, Alexander, even Charlotte - parents are beginning to gravitate towards names with smaller sounds - Noah, Ava, and Mia, for example. These names may only have a few letters, but they’re no less extraordinary!
If you’re looking for a name that packs a lot of punch, these fifteen short-and-sweet choices are sure to intrigue. Some have connections to the natural world, some are unique cross-cultural options, and some strike a vintage chord - but all of them prove that good things come in small packages.
Nim. Author Wendy Orr is often credited with creating this energetic name for her 1999 book, Nim’s Island, but this name was actually recorded for boys in the early twentieth century a number of times. Dynamic and daring Nim is also the name of a programming language and a strategy game, further linking it to creative and intellectual pursuits.
Daya. Beautiful Daya has been gaining notice in recent years thanks to the eponymous pop star, who chose as her stage name this Sanskrit moniker meaning “compassion.” The name is used for both boys and girls in India and Sri Lanka, though American parents may find it more feminine due to its similarities to popular Maya and Anaya.
Rio. Vibrant and vivacious Rio fits with a number of modern trends in naming: it works as a place name (for Rio de Janeiro or the Rio Grande); it has a cool O-ending, like Leo or Diego; its concise form parallels Eli or Kai. Yet Rio has an engaging personality all its own, with added Latin flair and pop culture connections.
Isa. Though it’s likely to be heard today as a nickname for Isabel, pretty Isa has an interesting history - it’s an Arabic variation of Jesus, and a Germanic name element meaning “iron.” A few Isa’s have recently popped up in children’s television as well, giving it extra kid cred. If Bella can take off on its own, why not Isa?
Lux. Light and lovely Lucy is a current favorite, yet edgy Lux could be an alternative for parents who want a name with attitude. Latin for “light,” Lux is well-known as the name of a character in League of Legends as well as in the book and film, The Virgin Suicides. Boys’ names have been monopolizing the X-factor - Max, Jax, Axel - but Lux could be the girls’ answer to this trend.
Io. A figure in Greek mythology and a moon of Jupiter, ethereal Io is on her own unique astral plane. This two-letter choice may prove daunting, but Ty and Bo have made it work! Dazzling Io could work well as a nickname for longer forms Ione, Iolanthe, or even Violet, but as a first name choice it’s sure to impress.
Alba. Today’s audiences might associate the name with actress Jessica Alba, but this gorgeous choice has been on the books for over a century - it ranked on the top 1000 a few times between 1880 and 1923. From the Latin for “white,” Alba is an adorable choice with a compelling sound and a friendly vibe.
Sol. Another celestial pick, Sol has long been a diminutive of the biblical Solomon, but by itself could make an intriguing and sunny choice. When pronounced “Sohl,” the Spanish way, it calls to mind both independence (“sole”) and inner spirit (“soul”), making it an unexpected and inspirational name for your little one.
Pax. This peaceful choice was helped into the public consciousness by the Jolie-Pitt family, but longer surname pick Paxton got the popularity. Simple Pax is a handsome option with its optimistic sound and Latin background, and could also be a subtle honorific for other names meaning “peace,” such as Irene or Frederick.
Halo. A modern word name, hearing Halo is likely to conjure up the well-known video game or the Beyoncé power ballad. But Halo’s draw also has a religious angle, connecting it to familiar choices Angel or Trinity. If you’re looking for a name that recognizable but not exhausted, and meaningful but not sentimental, Halo may be the choice for you.
Kay. Retro Kay got its start in the United States as a nickname for Katherine, but its Arthurian history shows a Kay that’s far more masculine: it’s a spelling variation of the Welsh Cei, from the Roman Gaius (“to rejoice”). Today, it’s a striking choice for either gender - a swinging forties name for girls, or a romantic knightly name for boys.
Rue. Connected with “regret” both in its etymology and its botanical namesake, Rue is a serious and thoughtful choice. Older generations may associate this name with Golden Girls actress Rue McClanahan, while younger generations are sure to think of Rue from The Hunger Games. Indeed, Rue began rising in popularity after the latter series was published, making this name a contemporary option with historical gravitas.
Lake. With Brooke and River making waves, why not add Lake to the list? It’s a pleasant and mellow nature choice that works for both boys and girls, though its most notable namesake is actress Lake Bell. Lake also vibes with boyish Blake and Lane, cementing its image as a name that both fits in and stands out.
Una. From the Latin for “one,” attractive Una has also been used as a spelling variant of Irish Oona, meaning “lamb.” Smooth and euphonic, Una is aurally reminiscent of ideas like unity and union, with an additional feminine lilt. Well-used in the early twentieth century, Una is already on its way back up the charts.
Cleo. A vintage alternative to trendy Chloe, Cleo is at once both sophisticated and sensible. It has the elegant connection to royal Cleopatra, but the diminutive form makes it far more sociable and fun. Cleo comes from the Greek word for “glory,” giving it extra substance on top of its style.