Can You Spot Baby Name Trends? Join the Annual Baby Name Pool!

Apr 13th 2016

You know baby names. Even if you've never named a baby, or your babies are all grown up, you notice name trends changing. Maybe two different family friends have just named daughters Piper. Maybe the wave of Braydens you remember from a few years back has suddenly subsided. Or maybe, when you heard the name of newborn Princess Charlotte, you immediately thought "that name is going to be everywhere." Well, have I got the contest for you.

The annual BabyNameWizard Name Pool lets you pit your baby name acumen against the whole name-loving public. The game couldn't be simpler: just pick three names you think rose in popularity last year, and three you think fell. When the U.S. government releases its official 2015 name stats in May, I'll tally the results and announce the year's baby-naming champions.

If you haven't played before, you can read more details and check out the fastest rising (boys, girls) names of the previous year to get a sense of how name fashions operate. Then convince your friends and coworkers to enter and compete against you. This is an equal-opportunity contest, by the way -- we've had male and female winners.

All entries must be received by April 30, 2016.

Ready to go? Fill out your ballot now!

13 Amazing Animal Baby Names

Apr 12th 2016

Do celebrity baby names predict trends or reflect them? Zooey Deschanel named her daughter Elsie Otter last year, an almost totally unique middle name. But Kate Winslet named her son Bear Blaze in 2013, well after Bear had started showing up on name lists. Either way, these bold names are more than just nature-inspired - they’ve got animal magnetism!

Image via Pixabay 

Bear. Short and strong names for boys are on the rise - think Max, Jack, or Ben - and Bear fits right in aurally. However, Bear is much brighter and more modern. Strong celebrity namesake Bear Grylls (born Edward) is another great outdoor connection. You’ll never have to guess if little Bear is adventurous and spirited - it’s all in the name!

Fox. In the 1990’s, America was introduced to dashing agent Fox Mulder of The X-Files (which premiered on the Fox network, of course), and the name has been rising in popularity ever since! It’s a great edgy alternative to Felix, Jax, or Dax, and it holds onto that x-factor in plain sight. There’s also a sense of cleverness and mischief in the name - Fox will always keep you guessing!

Wren. One of only two names on this list in the US Top 1000, Wren jumped onto name records in 2013 and has been moving up quickly! It’s a lovely avian name with an unexpected first initial, and it’s nearly nickname-proof. There are only a few famous Wren’s in history - I look forward to being proven wrong in the comments - but quite a few recognizable fictional Wren’s. If you’re looking for a lovely, single-syllable name with subtle natural qualities, why not Wren?

Lion. With names like Leo, Leonardo, and Lionel starting to climb in popularity, it’s no surprise that Lion is joining them. It fits in well with the current two-syllable ends-in-N trend - like Landon or Leighton - but it will probably raise a few eyebrows. Still, the name Lion makes one think of strength and confidence, which aren’t bad traits to associate with your little one! Recent cartoon Steven Universe has Lion as a character name (though the character is admittedly a magical pink lion).

Pike. The only fish name on this list, Pike has the added benefit of associating with other namesakes - Zebulon Pike, for example, was an American explorer after whom Pike’s Peak was named. A pike is also a long, spear-like weapon. Its sound is straightforward and accessible, masculine and spunky. It could be an understated honorific for a fisherman relative, or a distant nod to a familial Mike.

Falcon. Sharp and powerful Falcon has only been given to about twenty children a year - far too few for this usable animal name! It’s a unique alternative to Griffin, and the boys’ answer to the many female bird names out there (see Wren and Lark on this list). Falcon might also increase in use over the next few years due to the Marvel superhero who shares the name - somehow Falcon works better than Hulk or Black Widow, don’t you think?

Cricket. This name has a much longer history than some of the other names on this list - Cricket has been used for girls since the 1950’s! Perhaps Buddy Holly and the Crickets were an inspiration? It’s the only insect name on the list, but Cricket is more lively and human than Butterfly or Ladybug. The cadence is like adorable Bridget, and the name itself reminds one of music and happy summer evenings.

Wolf. Like Bear and Lion, Wolf is tenacious and tough. Longer form Wolfgang has been out of fashion in the United States for a while, and the short form might be a way to revitalize it. It’s slowly been trending upwards, but the name is still rare enough that your Wolf will likely be the only one in their class. Be aware, however, that the many folk tales, songs, and movie characters associated with wolves will be mentioned to your child constantly throughout their lifetime.

Sparrow. One of the more unisex names on this list (though really any could work for either), Sparrow is melodic and bright. Disney pirate Captain Jack Sparrow gave this name a boost in recent years, but the name is not only associated with the buccaneer. Sparrow is also perfect but unexpected for a springtime baby. The recent trend of names like Willow and Harlow will help Sparrow fit in nicely, too.

Hart. This name is not easily recognized as an animal name - for those wondering, a hart is another name for a male deer. The name was used briefly in the 1880’s, but fell out of use. Hart is definitely hardy and hearty, but it will probably be confused for its homophone “heart”. Yet its history and similarity to names like Harley or Arthur could help it soar again!

Lynx. There are a lot of reasons to like Lynx: its most obvious rhyme, “jinx”, adds an air of playfulness; the sound is similar to darlings Lennox, Knox, and Lux; the real-life feline is seen as supernatural in a few ancient religions, which further cements its mystery. It even sounds like Link, a cute vintage nickname from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Sable. In the 1980’s, the soap opera Dynasty had quite a big influence on baby names; Alexis, Dominique, and Amanda are among their characters. One lesser-used name was the unusual animal name Sable, with calls to mind luxury and excess (think sable-trimmed coats). But with Sadie and Abigail getting popular, Sable might just strike the right note between opulence and subtlety.

Lark. A beautiful name that has been around for decades, but never became popular, Lark is a lovely name used for boys and girls. Associated with the dawn of a new day, larks have long been used as religious and secular symbols, with many positive traits. The name itself sounds light and lilting, but the hard k at the end adds substance. If you like Parker or Laura, Lark might work for you!

The Middle Name Illusion

Apr 6th 2016

Caution: Middle Names On Your List Are Smaller Than They Appear.

For most of us, the baby name hunt means looking for two names, a first and middle. The middle name is the junior partner, of course, but they're both baby names. We sweat over both choices to create the ideal three-part composition.

Then a funny thing happens. The child is born, and one name becomes an integral part of the fabric of our lives while the other name vanishes. The pre-birth prominence of the middle name turns out to have been an illusion.

The middle name illusion may seem harmless. What's wrong with having an attractive full name, after all? Yet misreading the impact of middle names can lead us astray in the whole naming process. I hear from a lot of parents in situations like these:

"We love Edward, but it's awkward to say with our surname Dwyer. We're looking for a smooth middle name to fix the rhythm -- maybe James?"

"Her middle name is going to be Doloris, after my grandmother. What's a first name that sounds good with Doloris?"

"We have really different tastes, so instead of struggling to find something we both like I suggested a compromise: I'll choose the first name, and he can choose the middle name."

These parents are all asking middle names to do jobs they aren't equipped to handle. A middle name your child will never be called can't fix a broken first-last pairing. A middle name chosen for sentiment rather than style shouldn't determine your style. And a compromise that leaves one parent holding only the middle name is no compromise at all. In each case, overestimating the middle name interferes with the first name decision.

The solution isn't to ignore middle names. It's to realize that a middle name -- assuming you don't use it on a daily basis -- is different in essence from a first name. Your first name is your interpersonal identity, a verbal face you present to the world. Your middle name doesn't do that job, but it can play other roles. For instance:

• Honoring relatives or family/cultural traditions.

• Attaching a special meaning or story to share with your child about her name. (E.g. naming after a personal hero, or a particular etymological meaning, or the place the child was born.)

• Creating an elegant full presentation for formal occasions.

• Embedding a "secret message" (e.g. "Danger is my middle name").

• Creating an appealing monogram or initials (e.g. choosing the name Jayden Rex for the option to use the nickname J.R.)

• Providing a change-of-pace alternative if a first name with a specific image doesn't turn out to fit the child.

That's an impressive range of possibilities, and your family may think of even more. Once you look past the illusion, you can focus on making the most of what middle names do best. Instead of just asking "What name goes well with this first and last pair?", try starting with the question "What do I want to accomplish with a middle name?" Whatever your answer, you should end up confident that that your child's whole name is the best it can be.


Read more: A One-Step Recipe for Baby Name Contentment