If you've ever heard a favorite song of your youth pop up on an "oldies" station, you know the facts of fashion life: the past doesn't sit still. That holds as true for antique-styled names as it does for grunge rock.
Ten years ago, you could count on the top "antique revival" names drawing U-shaped curves on the NameVoyager, which tracks name popularity since the 1880s. That means that their previous peaks had been in the 19th Century. Grace and Emma are excellent examples:
Parents are still mining the fashions of the 19th-century, but the times are starting to change. Many of the hottest new antique revivals had their heydays in the first quarter of the 20th Century. These new antiques still sound decidedly old-fashioned, but their style is shifting away from the Victorian sweetness of Emma and Grace. Names like Lola, Ruby and Leo are decidedly sassy. Everett, Adeline and Evelyn have a jaunty formality, like a straw boater hat.
The following names with previous peaks from 1900-1925 have risen sharply in the past decade, and now rank among the top 400 names for boys or girls:
Here's the curve they trace, more of a tilde than a U:
[graphs created with the Expert Edition NameVoyager]
What’s next? Some names from the early 20th Century with up-and-comer potential:
Then stay tuned for another 10-20 years, until the generation of Lois, Gene and Betty comes back around.
The results are in, and I have identified the boldest name suffix of the 21st century. Sorry, Ryleigh and Kayleigh, Brooklyn and Ashlyn, yours didn't come close. Nice effort, Gunner and Ryder, Colton and Kingston, but you've been beaten out -- by a suffix that's overwhelmingly feminine.
The boldest name-suffix family is:
-TY, as used in names of three or more syllables.
Say what? Modest littly -ty? How can that possibly beat out name endings like -xx, which is brash enough to transform good old-fashioned Max into MAXX, the calling card of professional wrestlers and jumbo-sized condoms?
To start with, -xx and its kin are fringe players, given to small numbers of babies. But the real key to -ty's power lies not in the suffix itself but in the kind of names it caps off, and inspires. Other suffixes span a wide range of styles: for every gutsy Gunner there's a preppy Parker, and for every brash Brooklyn a conservative Carolyn. Not so with the the multisyllable -ty names.
Last year, over 10,000 American girls were given a name longer than two syllables ending in -ty. 97% percent of them were names adopted from English words describing positive qualities or abstract concepts. If you take Chasity to be a form of the virtue name Chastity, the percentage approaches 100%.
It may be hard to think of a classically modest virtue name like Chastity as "bold," but Chastity, Verity, Charity, Modesty and their kin are much more aggressive style statements than Grace or Faith. They're also just the tip of the iceberg.
Not a single 3+ syllable -ty name made the mainstream of American style in the 20th Century. Today, Serenity and Trinity rank in the top 100, Liberty, Felicity and Charity in the top 1,000, and the entire -ty style is rising -- and getting bolder. Other -ty names given to 10 or more girls last year included:
...plus creatively spelled names like Aunesty and Zerenity.
Put them all together and the -ty names form a portrait of our bold namining era.
Last week, I compared the biggest celebrity-driven name trends of recent years to the naming impact of Shirley Temple in the 1930s. It was no contest. Shirley's influence absolutely dwarfed anything today's stars can muster.
Does this mean that celebrity culture had a bigger baby-name impact back in the age of the Good Ship Lollipop? Not necessarily. Shirley Temple was an extraordinary phenomenon: a child superstar. Perhaps her shining model of the All-American Girl won over an otherwise conservative naming generation. Or perhaps our own celebrity-saturated age is following a larger number of famous trendsetters, making for a greater overall Hollywood influence.
To find out, I decided to cast my net more broadly. I set Shirley aside and compared the rest of her celebrity name era to the present day.
My periods of comparison were the 21st Century (2000-2012) vs. 1930-1942, the heart of Hollywood's "Golden Age." To count as a celebrity name trend, a rising name had to be linked to a prominent person or character who was attracting a dramatically new level of attention. To capture the full impact of a new star, I looked for names that rose by the largest number of babies over a two-year period.
By that measure, the five biggest celebrity name trends of our century to date are:
#1. Mason (son of reality tv personality Kourtney Kardashian)
#2. Emma (baby born on the sitcom Friends)
#3. Addison (character on tv series Grey's Anatomy)
#4. Jayden (son of singer Britney Spears)
#5. Liam (Hunger Games actor Liam Hemsworth and One Direction singer Liam Payne)
And in the Golden Age? Here is a partial list of celebrity name trends from 1930-1942 that were bigger than ALL of the above:
#1. Linda (actress Darnell)
#2. Judith (singer/actress Judy Garland)
#3. Barbara (actress Stanwyck)
#4. Joan (actress Crawford)
#5. Ronald (actor Colman)
#6. Judy (Garland again; the two-year period included both Babes In Arms and The Wizard of Oz)
#7. Douglas (General MacArthur)
I call it a partial list for several reasons. The first, of course, is that we left off the queen of them all, Shirley. The second is that some of the Golden-Age celebrity names had multiple two-year periods that eclipsed all of the modern stars' bests. And the final reason is that the list is limited by my 21st-century ability to spot trendmakers of the 1930s. (For instance, Rosalie was one of the hottest names of 1938. A gold star if you instantly thought, "Well of course! The Eleanor Powell/Nelson Eddy musical Rosalie was released on Christmas Eve in 1937!")
No matter how I sliced and diced the data, I found that the Golden Age of Hollywood was also a Golden Age of Hollywood-inspired baby names. Yes, the modern data may have a "long tail" of small trends that add up, but the starlets and radio-drama heroes of the '30s left a pretty long tail of their own. At some point, too, minor media influences cross the line from true celebrity names to simply "where I happened to encounter the name."
What's more, celebrity-driven trends tended to last longer in the earlier period. Compare the fastest-rising names of 2007 vs. 1937, as calculated by the BNW hotness formula: Miley (singer/actress Cyrus) and Deanna (actress Durbin):
Two years after their peaks, Miley's popularity had dropped by 60%, while Deanna fell by just 25%. That kind of "soft landing" meant that far more babies ended up named after the earlier celebrities.
It's remarkable to think that a relatively traditional name era like the 1930s could actually follow celebrity names more than our own age does. Today's parents, after all, are constantly looking for fresh new names. But I suspect that very characteristic is what's holding celebrity names down today.
Unlike parents of the '30s and '40s, we're unwilling to be seen as following trends. For every mom today who chooses a name like Giselle because it's a movie princess (Enchanted), there's another who crosses the name off her list for the same reason. And unlike the thousands of parents who proudly named their kids after the likes of Shirley Temple and Douglas MacArthur, we aren't willing to name after anybody at all. The fear of conformity is more powerful than the lure of heroism, or of Hollywood dreams.