Stalking fashion's foe
The most common question about names is "what makes a name become popular"? (Actually that might be the third most common question, after "did you hear about the twins Oranjello and Lemonjello" and "what's up with Apple???," but indulge me anyway.) Today, for a change of pace, let's turn the question on its head. What makes a name unpopular? Why do we hear Myrtle and Gertrude and instantly say "no way"?
If you want a single rule of thumb for designing a 21st-century name, it's to make sure the consonants don't touch. Look at the middle of Myrtle, Mildred and Gertrude and you'll find three consonant sounds clustered together. Those tongue-challenging clusters were perfectly fashionable back in the 1890s, but today they're a rare breed. From Madison to Olivia, Emily to Alexis, we're sending our consonants out solo.
Can a single pair of sounds really be enough to sink a name? Right now yes, especially if the pair is heavy on the soft voiced letters L, M, N, R and W. (For all you linguists, that's the "liquids," "glides" and "nasals.")
Take a look at the usage of L* pairs:
And when you pair two of the demon sounds together, the effect is even stronger. It's fertile ground for the kind of names that are exclusively comic relief today: Merwin, Delmer, Durward.
So what is the single least fashionable sound of the moment? It's not enough for it to be unusual. It must be fallen from a great height, a once-common sound now relegated to the fashion cellar. There are many fine candidates, from FL at the start of names (Floyd) to RV in the center (Orville). But the nod goes to LM in the middle:
The only LM-centered name that stands much of a chance today is Alma, which clears out all other consonants from the vicinity. By the same token, Elden sounds more viable than Eldred, Flora more current than Florence. If you're using a consonant cluster today, you have to give it room to breathe.