This Friday, May 11, the new baby name year begins. The U.S. government is releasing the annual name popularity statistics, and I'm expecting a lot of name news to talk about.
I hope you'll join us here to talk about the new top names, the fastest risers, broad trends in naming, and the inevitable eye-opening surprises. (Remember that last year's fastest-rising name was Kylo, as in the lethal Kylo Ren of Star Wars!) I'll be posting frequently, and the BabyNameWizard user community—here and in our forums—is full of the smartest, funniest and most knowledgeable name enthusiasts you'll ever meet. Please come to ask advice, check out the news, or just talk about names and trends.
On to Name Week!
Looking for a strong, masculine and traditional name that stands out from the crowd? Consider reaching way back, to the handsome options of the medieval era. These names were commonly used across Europe in the Middle Ages, but remain almost unheard-of these days. Their aura of knights and barons, soldiers and saints still shines through.
Anselm. A soft-sounding name with ingrained gravitas, Anselm comes from Germanic roots, meaning “divinely protected”; fitting, since the name was notably borne by a few saints and theologians. Anselm is also incredibly rare, having never been given to more than 12 boys in any year.
Falco. This dashing pick may seem contemporary, with its O-ending and avian connections, but Falco has been recorded as far back as the 1046 AD. Falco works well for namers who like the current animal trends - Fox and Bear, for example - but want something more timeless and tenacious.
Berenger. Worn by a few kings of Italy and Germany, appealing Berenger has an aristocratic history tempered by its surname sound. Nicknames are one facet to Berenger’s allure, with options ranging from retro Berry to modern Ren, but Berenger is an unparalleled first choice.
Gilbert. Though it’s associated with nineteenth and twentieth century namesakes, Gilbert actually comes from Old German for “bright pledge.” Today, Gilbert hovers at #960 on the US Top 1000 - could its vintage vibe and pleasant sound bring it back into wide circulation?
Diggory. A possible option for Harry Potter fans, Diggory originally came from the name Degaré, used in Middle English poetry. While the etymology specifics remain unclear, the name’s boundless energy and geek-chic charm make Diggory a contender today.
Everard. With Everett and Everly rising through the ranks, perhaps it’s time to reexamine sophisticated Everard. Quite a few intelligent and powerful namesakes have endured through the name’s history, but a contemporary, boisterous Everard is long overdue.
Alphonse. While Alonzo and Alfonso - two variants of Alphonse - persist as classic choices in Italian- and Spanish-speaking nations, elegant Alphonse has yet to recur in Anglophone nations. Another name with excellent nickname options, Alphonse feels both well-established and unexpected.
Hann. Originally a medieval English form of Johannes (John), modern audiences are more likely to associate the name with Star Wars hero Han Solo - not necessarily a bad link, now that Luke, Leia, and Finn are on the table. Hann would work well as a unique honorific, and may interest fans of names like Lane, Jack, or Harrison.
Venture. It may sound like a hip word name, but Venture was used as far back as the twelfth century as a short form of Bonaventure. Venture calls to mind exploration and excitement, a truly bold choice with links to religion, travel, and bravery.
Teague. Friendly and accessible Teague comes from the Old Irish word tadc, meaning “poet.” Teague at once meshes with current playground trends - single-syllable, surname sound, occupational link - but manages to feel fresh and upbeat.
Mauro. Pronounced “MOW-roh,” this gorgeous Latin pick works well alongside names like Hugo, Milo, or Cairo. Romantic Mauro ranks in the top 100 in Spain and Belgium, and thanks to a number of athletes, the name has been increasing slowly in popularity in the US over the past few years.
Joceran. It may be initially confused with Jocelyn, but the quick correction is worth it - splendid Joceran feels like it would adorn a knight in shining armor. This medieval French name can be shortened to adorable Joss, and it could work as a rare alternative to J-n names like Jonathan, Jordan or Julian.
Holm. Simple and stunning, Holm is a chic option with a hidden nature connection - it comes from Old Norse for “island.” Originally a surname, Holm is a fantastic nickname-proof option for fans of refined yet minimalistic styles.
Darwin. Another geek-chic choice, Darwin carries a scientific and sophisticated vibe, perfect for parents looking to honor ancient and recent history while staying current. Darwin comes from the name Deorwine, meaning “dear friend” - a sweet origin story for a superb name.
Alden. Already at #664 on the US Top 1000, Alden was given a recent boost by actor Alden Ehrenreich, the star of the upcoming Han Solo film. In addition to this celebrity connection, Alden has the added bonus of usage as a surname, working well with modern trends.
Gerard. Thanks to Scottish actor Gerard Butler, this debonair French name has been saved from the fate befalling other mid-century names, like Gary or Gerald. Gerard comes from the meaning “strong as a spear,” and maintains a suave and engaging image.
For more names in this style, check out 75 Genuine Medieval Baby Names with Enduring Style.
The names of our great-grandparents' time have a special appeal. Throwbacks like Clara and Hazel were gone for long enough that they've started to sound fresh again, and their past popularity gives them roots and warmth. Based on the standard retro name curve, many of today's popular names should be hitting their stride again around the end of the century.
But there's a catch. Today's popular names aren't all that popular. The names at the top of today's baby name hit list are only a fraction as common as the top names of past generations. The average American baby now receives a fairly uncommon name.
If we're not oversaturated with a specific name today, will it even acquire a generational date-stamp that sends it into hibernation? Or will the great-grandparent rule start to break down, and name comeback cycles become unpredictable, or non-existent?
My prediction is that the future retro cycle will be ruled by the same force that dominates today's naming choices: sound. In the past generation we've largely abandoned the core names of English tradition, and even stopped naming after our own relatives. That has left sound-based style ruling the roost. As sound families sweep in and out of fashion, the "freshness" of an individual name will increasingly be determined by the history of dozens of its near stylistic neighbors.
Sound-based styles aren't an entirely new phenomenon. I once identified name suffixes specific to every decade, from the -TTIE babies of the 1880s (Hattie, Lottie) to the -TNEY babies of the 1990s (Courtney, Whitney). But in the past, those sound clusters sat in the shadows of individual mega-hit names, and were themselves largely comprised of a handful of hits. For example, the total popularity of boys' names ending in the sound -ALD in the 1930s was even greater than that of boys' names ending in -the sound -AYDEN in the late 2000s. But take a look at the makeup of those two trends:
Each stripe in the graphs represents a single name. The 1930s trend was dominated by four hit names, Donald, Gerald, Harold and Ronald. The sound of the 2000s was spread out among dozens of variations on a theme. That makes the theme itself the trend, one we instinctively recognize even when an individual name may be unfamiliar. The style is an emergent property of a whole naming wave, represented equally by common names like Jayden and Aiden and rarities like Tayden and Graeden.
This raises a paradoxical option for future generations: authentic, newly invented antique names. Our great-grandchildren may be able to hark back to the turn of the millennium by custom-tailoring their own examplars of our style. Perhaps they'll give them a uniquely 2090s spin by incorporating hot name elements of their own time. Today's parents are already dabbling in this, creating "new antiques" by cobbling together stylish parts (e.g. Elizabella) or creating bible-inspired spellings (Lilah). In the future, some new sound we can't yet imagine will likely merge with endings like -ayden to summon up images of our era.
Special thanks to @nedibes for suggesting this topic