Off with their heads

Feb 9th 2007

Last time, I looked at current trends in the popularity of different name initials. Vowels as a group are still soaring, leaving consonants behind. You can see the effect in names of every stripe. You want traditional, formal and regal? That would be Alexander today, not Frederick. Dignified Old Testament style for girls? Hmm, try Abigail, not Miriam. If you're considering a slightly offbeat name, you might lean toward vowel options to make the name more fashion-palatable--Adelaide over Millicent, say. Or you might steer straight toward the least fashionable letters to stay as offbeat as possible.

But the names most affected by swings in sound fashion are the most contemporary choices. Contemporary-style baby namers are willing to mold and refine a name to sound just right to their ears. So how does a creative modern namer address the decline of consonants? No problem. Just chop off the head of last year's hot name.

Madison has been a hit girl's name for 20 years and has begun a quiet decline. But Addison, unheard of 20 years ago, is suddenly booming. The '90s hit Kayla is fading? OK, here comes Ayla. You can find it happening in the middle of names too. Kaitlyn is falling while Kaylin is rising...and Aylin's rising even faster.

Sure, there are families of names where the vowel and consonant versions rise together. Aiden, Caden, Jayden all hit around the same time and are all soaring. But it's harder to find examples of hit vowel names on the decline that get a makeover by adding a consonant. Ashley isn't being reborn as Kashley or Amanda as Tamanda. 'Cause consonants are so 20th century, ya know?

The strongest candidates for a stylish trim--just a little off the top--seem to be the names that attract creative/contemporary namers to begin with. Look for little Bayleighs and Harleys to morph into Ayleighs and Arleys soon.


By Jan (not verified)
February 9, 2007 1:20 PM

I think it's an conscious trend...people think they just like the sound of Addison. I know a couple that named their daughter Ayla; they said it was after the character in Clan of the Cave Bear.

By Christiana (not verified)
February 9, 2007 2:06 PM

I knew a couple who named their daughter Ayla recently and I thought "I love names and I've never heard that one" she got a it from a co-workers granddaughter or something. Weird. I'd have a hard time with Arley, though - reminds me of the dame genre of Harvey or something. Dorky. I like Madison to Addison, but Ayleigh bugs me. I guess we shall see in a few years, right?

By SaraJ (not verified)
February 9, 2007 2:45 PM

My friend and I are agape at two of the name choices you offered. My blog recently had a long discussion about the name Millicent. People called it an "old lady's name." I pointed out that my daughter's name was an "old lady's name" also -- it's Adelaide. But Adelaide gets rave reviews, whereas the response to Millicent was only tepid, when not hostile. As usual, you scored right on the mark!

-- SJ

By molly h (not verified)
February 9, 2007 2:59 PM

i happen to be very fond of "old lady" names. mabel is one of my absolute favourites. and i *love* adelaide. there's a lovely song with "adelaide" as the title by an alt-country band - the old 97s.

By Moe (not verified)
February 9, 2007 3:40 PM

I had noticed this trend towards chopping the top off of names, keeping the very contemporary sound combinations. Reading this I was suddenly struck by the name Ayleigh. This -looks- like a made up name to me but I said it out loud and it is my sister's name.


Now, that will probably look very odd to most of you, and you may not think it is phonetically related, but Ayleigh is exactly how it is said. It is a Scottish Gaelic name popular amongst those who actually speak the language (as opposed to the made up names I find on many lists that purport to be Gaelic but are full of sounds and even letters that do not exist in the language). What strikes me is the number of similar names (or groups of naming sounds) that have grown up in separate cultures. Can anybody think of other examples? I think native African names may be a rich source here.

By Valerie (not verified)
February 9, 2007 4:01 PM

Laura- fascinating post as usual! Thanks!

Moe- interesting idea... off the top of my head I can think of a woman from Nigeria I know called Tinuke, which is very similar to the Dutch Tinneke in pronunciation.

By CN (not verified)
February 9, 2007 4:59 PM

Just a comment on Ayla- I have loved that name since 7th grade when I read the entire Clan of the Cave Bear series over a summer. I've re-read the whole thing a time or two since then. There is a lot of great different sounding names in that book, Ayla and Joplaya being #1 and #2 on my fave name list the entire way through high school.

Oddly-since then I've only ever heard Ayla as a boys name, I've never understood that, its so light and airy and feminine to me, but I've heard worse, lol.

By Christiana (not verified)
February 9, 2007 5:33 PM

Love Adelaide, and really wanted to use the nn Addie, but DH said no. Remined him of the ditzy forever-girlfriend of Nathan Detroit on Guys and Dolls. (Sigh) No Addie for me. Incidentally for Anne of GG fans out there, Adelaide Pringle was the name of Emmeline Harris's mother.

By LA (not verified)
February 9, 2007 5:34 PM

Will Nevaeh turn into Evaeh? Will Destiny turn into Estiny? I've already heard of children called Iannah, I wonder whether that's a derivative of Brianna or Gianna? I've also heard of children called Aya. (from Maya?)

By RobynT (not verified)
February 9, 2007 6:12 PM

This post has reminded me of the name Arlo. I think this would fit very well into current trends, including the -o endings some folks have mentioned previously. I also like Marlo, but of course would only use one or the other. Do you think Marlo could be for a boy or only a girl? These names are totally going on my list. Arlo fell off the charts in the -40s and Marlo in the '80s. Woo hoo! Mine mine mine!

Moe: I think similar sound combinations arising from different cultures is very interesting! Because we are dorks, my husband and I came up with a list of last names that can be either Chinese or Caucasian (I'm not sure of their origin beyond that; I think some are English, some more like Nordic or something but I'm pretty clueless about Europe so I'm not sure if it's even appropriate to type names as english or Nordic.)

Anyway, we are both part Chinese so this list started from our chlidhood (and adolescent) confusions about the racial backgrounds of Robert E. Lee (American Civil War general for those not in US) and Karl Jung.

Some of the names on our list: Lee, Lang, Young, King, Zane

I think we had more but I can't remember right now...

By Penn (not verified)
February 9, 2007 6:49 PM

I've got one: Helen is trending more popular than Ellen--that's an example of a move toward the initial consonant sound. (Doesn't apply to Helena/Elena--the latter is more popular there.)

By Penn (not verified)
February 9, 2007 7:56 PM

On the boy's side, Alan/Allen/Allan is a respectable top-200 name, but Talon/Talan is skyrocketing in popularity (though still in the bottom half of the top 1000). That might be another example of a move toward the initial consonant sound, especially if Talan becomes much more trendy.

By Heather A. (not verified)
February 9, 2007 7:57 PM

The thing that I really like about The Baby Name Wizard is that she makes me think about "unpopular" names as much as, or maybe even more, than the popular ones. And then the weird thing is that names like Millicent and Gertrude, despite all those hard consonants, start to sound.... not so bad, maybe even a little refreshing? Am I the only one out there saying to my significant other, "What about Gertrude? Trudy would be a cute nickmane. I'm sure it will grow on you sweetie."

By Amanda H (not verified)
February 9, 2007 7:57 PM

I have a distant cousin named Arlo. When my great grandmother would talk about him, it took me years to figure out it was a person and that was his name!! Names get mangled in my grandparent's generation and region though, so that's part of why it seemed so odd.

Census records show tons of girls named Lidda, because locals pronounced Lydia as Lie-duh and the census workers had no idea what name these people were saying :)

Great post with the initial consonant thing. I hadn't put that together yet...

By Isla (not verified)
February 9, 2007 9:29 PM

Speaking of the O trend, what about Jago? It's the Cornish form of James, and seems to be rising in popularity in the UK.
I think it fits in quite nicely with Milo, Arlo, Leo, etc.

By anne (not verified)
February 9, 2007 10:24 PM

Great post, Laura! I have other comments to make on your post, but wanted to bring my last post over to the new thread, cause I need help with boys' names!

want to thank everyone who gave their well-wishes, gave H names, and commented (again) on WInter! Jack and Henry's mom, I'm glad Winter is growing on you. Hopefully it will grow on my parents!

The other Anne, my parents; names are Margaret and James, so I had to laugh!!!

I am having a really hard time with boys' names. Here are some I "like":

We've also talked about Lawrence and Paul, because they are beloved family members. Ugh. I'm just "eh" on every boy name!

By Jen. (not verified)
February 9, 2007 10:56 PM

Moe -- Eilidh has been one of my favorite names since I spent spring 1996 in Scotland. Unfortunately, I'm betting the kid would spend her life getting called "eyelid" on this side of the Atlantic.

Arlo fans: check out this video if you haven't seen it already:

You'll have the Arlo song stuck in your head forever.

By Jen. (not verified)
February 9, 2007 10:58 PM

p.s. just to be clear: I'm not the Jen of Jenville, just another child of the 70s whose parents thought they were being original.

By Wendy (not verified)
February 9, 2007 11:19 PM

Re: Eilidh becoming eyelid.

One of the names I love is Eilish.

Struck it off the list when both my sisters independently said "Eyelash"

Never heard of Aylin is going to take some getting use to.

By Laura P. (not verified)
February 10, 2007 12:33 AM

Robyn T. -- love Arlo.
Anne -- love Jude. That was have been our third or fourth child's name, but they turned out to be Elinor and Judith respectively, instead.

By Mary (not verified)
February 10, 2007 2:18 AM

Jude sounds like a nickname for Judah to me. It's incomplete somehow. Then again I strongly prefer full names to nicknames. August is very classy. August Judah would be cute. He could be called Gus, Jude or A.J. depending on your, or later on his, preferences.

I've heard of several baby boy Arlos. At least one mom credits Arlo Guthrie for the name.

By anne (not verified)
February 10, 2007 4:26 AM

Laura P.- I had a good friend in high school named Elinor. Love the spelling! However, she pronounced it "Ellie-nor", not "ella-nor" or "elli-nor". How do you pronounce it?

Mary- I guess, like Jack and Henry's mom, I've just never thought of Jude as a nickname. Was Jude from Jude The Obscure a Judah? Anyone know? I always thought it was a full name in and of itself.

As far as the vowel-discussion goes, how many people know more 'Anya's than 'Tanya's? I know about four Anyas who are my age (30).

By Sam (not verified)
February 10, 2007 4:30 AM

I love Jude. AND Arlo. That was my secret name that I was not telling anyone, not even you people! Alas, I also like Milo. I think Milo and Jude sound good together. Erm. Maybe not. Argh! So glad I'm not having kids for awhile!!

By anne (not verified)
February 10, 2007 4:33 AM

sam, I love Milo. The Phantom Tollbooth was one of my very fave books growing up!

By Keren (not verified)
February 10, 2007 5:58 AM

Jude is fine as a name on its own - much more common as a first name than Judah in the Uk (where admittedly we do like our shortened forms) . Think Jude Law, Jude the Obscure, Hey Jude and St Jude, patron of lost things.

By Keren (not verified)
February 10, 2007 5:59 AM

I noticed an Anna - Hannah - Anya drift in recent years.

By anne (not verified)
February 10, 2007 6:02 AM

Keren- true. I should have said, "Was St. Jude short for Judah?" since he predates Jude the Obscure by at least 1000 years...

By Marie-Claire (not verified)
February 10, 2007 7:40 AM

The consonant-vowel shift is interesting. A lot of my favourite names start with vowels - Eleanor, Anne-Louise, Ingrid, Alice, Eloise, Irena for girls, and Ambrose, Isaiah, Adrian, Elijah, Augustus, and Innes for boys. Strange though that it's just A, E and I. I don't really like any O names (perhaps Octavia or Ophelia, but I don't love them) and certainly don't like any U names! Oh, another vowel name I like is Adeline - much more refreshing that Madeline!

By Monica (not verified)
February 10, 2007 9:06 AM

Re Aylin:

"Hi, I'm Aylin."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that. Have you seen a doctor? And what's your name?"

By Anne/kq (not verified)
February 10, 2007 9:54 AM

"Here are some I "like":

Jude is on my "don't love it, don't hate it" list. Kieran, I don't like the American/Anglicized spelling, only the Gaelic: Ciaran. (Picked out for my second boy, btw.) August, I know the history and everything (having taken 3 years of HS Latin), but it just sounds like a month to me. Augustus is better. But I still am not fond of it. Ambrose is nice. I like that one but wouldn't use it for my kid because it wouldn't fit with our others, to my ear. Alexander and Gabriel have always been among my favorites. We want an Alex but unfortunately Alexander and our last name are a prominent historical figure, so we plan on making Alexander a middle name to John if we want to use it, and then calling the kid Alex until he's old enough to decide what he wants to be called.

Sorry to dissect all your choices! I couldn't resist!

By Anne/kq (not verified)
February 10, 2007 9:55 AM

Oh, and I've heard "Aylin" pronounced the same as "Eileen." Which comes with its own set of puns, of course.

By Amanda H (not verified)
February 10, 2007 1:23 PM

Judas was shortened to Jude fairly early. All that confusion with Iscariot...

By RobynT (not verified)
February 10, 2007 2:30 PM

Anne: I could see Anya still being used today too, much more than Tanya. Wow.

Marie-Claire: I love Adrian! Do Adeline and Madeline rhyme? i would pronounce Adeline with a long I and Madeline with a short I. Maybe there are differnet pronunciations?

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
February 10, 2007 4:11 PM

I noticed that Brandon became Andon for a short while--there is a tiny spike in the Voyager for 2004 that shows Andon's brief life at the top. Perhaps it staged a comeback in 2006?

I've always thought of Adeline as having a long i as well.

By RobynT (not verified)
February 10, 2007 4:20 PM

Elizabeth T: I went to high school with an Anden (b. 1977). His sister's name was Deann. I always thought his name was kind of strange cuz it sounded like "And then?"

I also have a friend (also born in the late '70s) named Anson. His brothers are named Trevis (b. late '70s) and Isaac (b. around 2000)

By Amy (not verified)
February 10, 2007 7:18 PM

St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes or last resort. St. Anthony is the patron of lost things. My great Aunt Helen used to say, "Tony, Tony look around. There's something lost that needs to be found."

By Wendy (not verified)
February 10, 2007 8:20 PM

The book of Jude from the New Testament -- in the Greek it is labeled Juda(h). The author identifies himself as Judas which is the Greek form of Judah. There were 3 Judas in the New Testament -- Judas Iscariot, the other apostle named Judas, and Jesus had a brother named Judas.

By Wendy (not verified)
February 10, 2007 8:30 PM

Re: Jude

Like Jude. Love Alexander. Gabriel and Kiernan are okay. Ambrose is a no on my list. I would keep away from August if you someday plan to have a daughter named Winter... It becomes almost a theme but not quite since one is a month and the other a season.

I have been thinking about sib sets for Winter and have these suggestions:


By Beth (not verified)
February 10, 2007 8:40 PM

Lots of Milos and Arlos over here in SF, so if it's your secret name it's not a secret!

Funny to think of chopping consonants off of my generation's names: Im, Elly, Eather, Ichelle, Icole. Nope. Maybe Aura for Laura would be nice.

A propos of nothing, here are some original names I remember from high school: Nils and Anders (very Scandinavian), Sage (a boy), Hopi (hippie parents, a girl), Marisa (a beautiful name), Tino (a boy, short for something Italian, but so cute on its own), Audra. Free for the taking, 20-odd years later.

By Margaret (not verified)
February 11, 2007 12:22 AM

To Heather A.:
Yes, I know what you mean. I have also been giving the name Gertrude a second look, because yes, it does sound "fresh" now. I can't believe it! I used to hate that name, but now I finding myself re-considering Gertrude and Gretchen.

By Jack & Henry's mom (not verified)
February 11, 2007 2:35 AM

As usual,Laura is spot-on. I've noticed both Aya and Ayla on several baby polls lately-also Isla. Addison, though, I think we have to pin on Grey's Anatomy. If there is a big spike in Meredith, we'll know for sure!
It's definitely true that not all old names are being revived. I had a beloved Great Aunt who was born in the early 1900's. Her fn was Thelma-not one experiencing a big boom, but her mn-Evangeline, is suddenly on the rise again. I think she would have gotten such a kick out of that. Apologies if I've already shared that-I get so caught up in these threads.
Anne-I love all your boys' names, save Ambrose, which just seems like too much of a handle to me. I do agree with someone that August might not be a good idea if you're still thinking about a daughter named Winter. I love Jude and would also be glad to "give," you Jonas or Julian-two of my favorites, or how about Dashiell with the nn Dash? I was too chicken to use it myself, so I'm forever trying to "sell," it to others!
Happy naming all.

By RobynT (not verified)
February 11, 2007 3:06 AM

I think River, Blue, and maybe Talan are a little hippie-ish with Winter. Although I suppose if you are into that, there's nothing wrong with it.

Beth: Elly is cute! Well, probably Ellie. Hopi seems kind of strange though. A friend of mine was telling me about folks who name their dogs after Native American tribes--I think maybe these are like hippie folks? But it seems weird and appropriation-ish to me.

By Amanda H (not verified)
February 11, 2007 3:21 AM

St Jude is the patron saint of lost causes because his name was Judas and kept getting confused with Judas Iscariot, which did him no favors.

By Paz (not verified)
February 11, 2007 3:42 AM

I would have to respectfully disagree that Ashley is not getting transformed by adding a consonant. The name Ashlyn has risen in popularity every single year for the past 20 years or so.

By Holly (not verified)
February 11, 2007 5:40 AM

Adeline is my daughter's name and I love it. She gets nothing but rave reviews from others from our generation, but a lot of quizzical looks from people my parents' age. Adeline in the US is pronounced with a long I, but in England and France (and everywhere else in Europe) it's pronounced Adeleen with a long E. As far as I know, Madeline is supposed to be pronounced with a long I as well, like the children's book character Madeline who walked in a line, and Madeleine with a short I. That rule definitely is not hard and fast though...

By Anne/kq (not verified)
February 11, 2007 10:31 AM

"Maybe Aura for Laura would be nice."

"As the blackbird in the Spring, 'neath the willow tree
Sat and piped I heard him sing, singing 'Aura Lee.'
Aura Lee! Aura Lee! Maid of golden hair,
Spring-time came along with thee, and swallows in the air."


I can totally see Aura.

And I have always pronounced "Madeline" with a long "I", but all the little Madelines I meet nowadays are pronounced like MadeLYNN. Go figure.

By Rosamond (not verified)
February 11, 2007 12:21 PM

"I would have to respectfully disagree that Ashley is not getting transformed by adding a consonant. The name Ashlyn has risen in popularity every single year for the past 20 years or so."

Paz, I'd guess that last letters are different from initials. Names ending in n are definitely an epidemic around here! They even got their own whole section in Laura's book.

By o.h. (not verified)
February 11, 2007 11:31 PM

Not to be contrarian, but I quite like Ambrose. But then I like both St. Ambrose and Ambrose Bierce. Between the pair of whom lies quite a lot of conceptual space.

By anne (not verified)
February 12, 2007 1:41 AM

Thanks for all comments and thoughts. I must admit I lean toward Ambrose, because it was my beloved grandfather's name. Of course, he hated it like hell. LOL.

And it is a very good point that August and Winter is way too close to a theme for my tastes. So I guess August is waay on the back burner. I don't like the boys' names that might "go" with the mood of Winter. I'm pretty much a traditionalist, although I used to like 'Blue' as a girl's name!

By Jenae (not verified)
February 12, 2007 1:23 PM


I was wondering if you had any baby name suggestions to go with the name Vienna.
My husband and I have a daughter named Vienna, and our second child is due in June.. not sure if it is a boy or girl. All the girls names we like so far seem to have the same a ending.. and we want to stay away from that. Please help.