How tricky is the Baby Name Pool competition? Ponder this:
The single best rising name prediction in this year's pool (Jase) rode the repeated success of a name that was one of the top risers the previous year.
The single best falling-name prediction (Litzy) rode the demise of a name that was one of the top risers the previous year.
Yes, every pick is chancy, and it takes a full roster of strong choices to win it all. The scoring formula is designed to make sure all six predictions count, so a single lucky strike can't carry a weak ballot. This year's top scorers took different approaches to their predictions, but both showed a great instinct for American names and culture.
Meet The Champion
Please join me in congratulating Alyssa T., age 35, an accountant from New Hampshire. All six of Alyssa's ballot choices moved strongly in the direction she predicted, including three choices ranked among the top five rising or falling names for girls. Her strategy for identifying breakthrough names, in her own words:
"My three choices for fastest rising names have all been recently used by celebrities: Harper (Neil Patrick Harris, the Beckhams, and others), Penelope (Tina Fey, one of the Kardashians), and Olive (Drew Barrymore). In addition, all of them seemed to have been rising in recent years."
For her falling predictions, Alyssa had a unique perspective:
"I picked my own name," she explained, "because I've noticed it falling the past couple of years and expected it to keep dropping." Her other falling picks were Ashley, which she felt would follow Alyssa's path, and Miley, after a year of negative publicity for singer Miley Cyrus.
It's fitting that Alyssa's own name fueled her ballot, because it also fueled her lifelong interest in names. "In the 80's no one seemed to have ever heard of Alyssa, and people often asked me if my parents made it up. It was also constantly mispronounced and misspelled. I desperately wanted to be named Sara. I felt somewhat vindicated when it became so popular later on."
This year's competition was particularly close, so I'd also like to acknowledge the runner up, Caitlin H., a graduate student from Cambridge, MA.
Whereas Alyssa focused on fashionable names with positive momentum, Caitlin dug into rare names with timely pop-culture hooks. Her top-scoring predictions were Kree (from American Idol contestant Kree Harrison) and Khaleesi (from tv series Game of Thrones). Caitlin's full ballot:
Rising – Kree (F), Khaleesi (F), Damian (M)
Falling – Madison (F), Tyler (M), Hayden (M)
A scholar of Colonial America, Caitlin has a particular interest in the way names reflect our culture.
"I love the way that people express themselves through names. Whether it's Puritans giving their children Old Testament names as they write their own version of Exodus in the colonies, or newly freed slaves re-naming themselves and calling their children after the heroes of the abolitionist movement, the names that people use (and invent) are such a powerful statement of how they see themselves and their place in the world."
Caitlin's love of names and their meanings shows in the names of her own two young children, Molly and Sam. That's short for Amalia and Samaritan, naturally.
"I have a special place in my heart for virtue names," says Caitlin. "We often think of Faith, Hope, Joy, Grace, etc., as feminine names, but in colonial New England it was just as common to bestow virtue names on boys: Waitstill, Fearnot, Comfort, Increase, Rich-Grace, Vigilant, Experience, Return, etc. I love both the boldness of the names and the fact that parents were as creative with boys' names as with girls'."
Congratulations to our top scorers, and thanks to everybody who played. Join us again next Spring!
Why does a name's popularity plummet? This year's fastest-falling names demonstrate three of the top reasons.
A. Past the Tipping Point. Ultra-appealing names can remain popular for decades. Even past their peak, they'll have years of continuing favor. But in this fashion-conscious naming age, there can come a point where parents start to feel a name's decline, sensing that it's behind the times. When that happens, the decline can turn into a dive.
Names past the tipping point this year:
Justin (#1 falling boy, with help from a rocky year for singer Justin Bieber)
Alyssa (#4 falling girl)
Sean (#2 falling boy)
B. One-Year Wonders. A short-term burst of media exposure -- perhaps a headline newsmaker, reality tv contestant, or telenovela heroine -- can send a name shooting up the charts. But unless the name strikes a deep fashion chord, it's likely to fall back to earth almost as quickly.
This year's One-Year Wonders:
Litzy (#1 fastest-falling girl's name; last year's #3 fastest riser)
Perla (#2 falling girl; last year's #23 riser)
Adley (#3 falling girl; last year's #2 riser)
C. Sibling Rivalry. Multiple variations of a name can rise together. Sometimes they continue on in popularity together, but often one version takes control as the others recede. For instance, in the years 2002-3 roughly equal number of boys were named Jaden and Jayden. But Jayden alone continued to soar toward the top of the charts, and is now considered the standard form of the name. Similarly, when a name starts to decline its non-standard spelling variants usually fall first, and fastest.
Names losing sibling rivalries this year:
Masen (#3 falling Boy; Mason declined more slowly)
Bently (#4 falling boy; Bentley declined more slowly)
Sophie (#5 falling girl; Sophia declined only slightly and Sofia rose)
For more on this year's movers and shakers, see:
Fastest-Rising Boys' Names of 2013
Fastest-Rising Girls' Names of 2013
Beyond the top 1,000: Fastest-Rising Rare Names
The 1,000 Top Baby Names of 2013 (with 2012 comparison rankings)
The top 1,000 names for boys and girls are where trends happen. But fascinating stories lurk outside of the top 1,000, too, and sometimes these rare names can point to broader themes.
This year, the fastest-rising rare boys' names all line up to point in one direction. It's the exact same direction that their more popular counterparts pointed. Those popular top risers were:
Well, take a look at the biggest movers outside the top 1,000:
Whew. At that point the list takes a break for Zylen and Brennin...then returns to form with Jaecion and J'cion. I don't think there can be any doubt about the hottest sound for boys in 2013.
Other notable risers: Gambit, MyKing, Lamaj (Jamal backwards, presumably on the model of the more common Semaj.)
The girls' list, in contrast, is a smorgasbord of styles from various corners of popular culture:
#1 Tahiry: Tahiry Jose is a popular star of the reality tv series Love and Hip Hop. Her official cast bio begins with the words "Voluptuous urban model," and if you're not familiar with her work you might want to Google her away from your workplace.
#2 Vanellope: This name was intended as a joke, but oh what a stylish joke it turned out to be! In the movie Wreck-It-Ralph, Vanellope Von Schweetz is character from the candy-ful world of the video game "Sugar Rush." Her first name is a humorously artful blending of vanilla + Penelope. And now it's the name of 63 baby girls.
#3 Janney: Janney Marin is a reality tv star (of Chiquis & Raq-C) and the daughter of popular singer Jenni Rivera, who died in a plane crash in 2012. Rivera's full name was Dolores Janney Rivera.
Other notable risers: Kree, Rebel, Nyx