Name Spotlight: Spencer

Nov 12th 2008

One of my favorite things about the NameMapper tool is the way it can tell stories.  The Multi-map view in particular is full of narratives; I love watching a name spread slowly from region to region, or suddenly bloom across the country like Spring wildflowers.  And I particularly love when site visitors spot stories of their own.

One blogger noted the emergence of the boy's name Spencer in Utah in the early '70s, and its subsequent march across the U.S.  In fact, the closer you look at Spencer, the more patterns emerge.  Please join me for a journey through time and space on the back of one little name.  Tip: you might want to keep the NameMapper open in a separate window for illustration purposes.

Spencer is a classic occupational name meaning one who dispenses provisions; in other words, a pantry servant.  It's a top-200 surname in both the U.S. and the U.K., and has a solid history as a given name as well.  In fact, for many decades Spencer remained one of the steadiest and most timeless of American given names, never swinging into or out of fashion.  Then came the 1970s.

If you look at the Multi-Map view in the NameMapper, you'll see Spencer emerging as a popular name in and around Utah in the early '70s.  On the face of it, this is hardly remarkable.  Utah is the contemporary-naming capital of America.  Trendy new names launch their national campaigns in Utah just as presidential candidates launch theirs in Iowa.  Try typing similar occupational names like Parker, Tyler and Taylor into the Mapper and you'll see Utah popping up first.  In the case of Spencer, though, the trend was particularly dramatic thanks to a major figure in Utah life.  Spencer W. Kimball became president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) in 1973.  That religious role model was a perfect fit for Utah's existing name-style landscape, and the state has led the nation in Spencers ever since.

Over the following decade the name gradually crept up the national charts, buoyed by the rising tide of tradesman surnames and by some prominent Spencers in the broader culture.  (Luke Spencer hit General Hospital in 1978, and Lady Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales in 1981.)  Then came the big wave.  Flip to the Timeline tab in the NameMapper and you'll see the regional name Spencer go suddenly, dramatically national in 1986.  As a rule, that kind of blanket change requires blanket coverage, courtesy of television.  I'm guessing that many of you who can remember 1986 have an inkling what happened.  If not, perhaps this clue will help: Spenser, with an s, also made its first-ever appearance in the national top 1000 in 1986.

"Spenser: For Hire" was a detective show based on a series of novels by Robert B. Parker.  The main character went by a single name, putting the name Spencer in millions of American ears again and again through broadcasts, advertisements and news coverage. His cool private-eye image helped wash away the slight geekiness that used to cling to the name, paving the way for a burst of popularity.

Today Spencer is still a popular choice, but down from its peak.  On the map, it's slowly retreating to the same areas that favor other surnames like Tanner and Cooper.  And its future?  That's a hard call.  Names that rise fast usually fall fast, too, but Spencer has its long history of slow and steady use to fall back on.  This should be a good test of the theory that a timeless past can innoculate a name against a passing-fad future.


By Melissa C (not verified)
November 14, 2008 12:42 AM


Not sure if these are your tastes but thought I would throw a few suggestions out there:


Gabriel, Malachi, Isaiah, Quentin, Miles, Dominic, Silas, Jonas, Seth, Elias, Julian, Saul, Grant, Tristan


Naomi, Bethany, Leah, Lydia, Eliza, Sadie, Calla, Julia, Maren, Camille, Mara, Elena, Miriam, Meredith

Hope some of these are to your liking. Good luck!

By Melissa C (not verified)
November 14, 2008 12:44 AM

Also I know 3 Spencer all boys around 14-15 years of age.

One has a sister named Abigail
One two brothers Aidan, Leyland
One two brothers Wesley, Dillon

By Aybee (not verified)
November 14, 2008 11:26 AM

No worries, I wasn't offended. I just thought I'd clear up my earlier point.

Name upswing-- Seems to be a Liam boom (new births) here in the Northeast. Any one else witnessing this?

November 14, 2008 12:04 PM

Eo- Checked out Kelsey Grammer, and his other daughter's name is Greer. It does fit the trend, and while I don't love Mason, Spencer and Greer are 2 of my favorite names.

I know a little girl named Mason, she's in Kinder and her older sibs are Kayley and Shaun (b). I've known a couple of Spencers (boys), sib set for one was Emily, Pamela, & Kelsey, but the other was an only child. Never met a Greer, but I have loved it for a long time.

By Jane P (not verified)
November 14, 2008 12:26 PM

I love Paul, and would consider it for a son if our last name didn't start with P. Some letters can handle alliteration better than others - and P just can't (which means I can't use Portia or Paloma or Patrick either). Two P names in a row start to sound like a Dickens character.

I do have a cousin named Paul, who must be about ten now. He's the only Paul I know under 30 - which actually makes the name hugely appealing for me. I mean, how many absolutely classic boy's names are there that aren't in the top 100 already? Not many. Then of course their is the Biblical Paul, a wonderful namesake.

Along the same lines, someone above suggested Saul. I may be alone in this, but I have very negative reactions to that name. The two Biblical Sauls were 1) the persecutor of David who eventually disgraced himself by consulting a witch. He eventually kills himself. 2) Paul, before he converted to Christianity, when he persecuted and killed Christians. Not the nicest connotations.

By Guest (not verified)
November 14, 2008 12:30 PM

I know one Greer aged 12 or so, she's an only child.

And on a sidenote, I LOVE the name Malachi. I'd never thought of it till I met one (age 11) about a year ago, but now I love it. Still trying to convince the husband though...

By jessicah (not verified)
November 14, 2008 12:39 PM

Off topic--I work in a store where we send out coupons to kids on their birthdays, and then they bring them back to redeem. Here is the list of names from coupons redeemed yesterday (ages 0-13)

Michael (2)
Ian (2)

Seemed like an intriguing random sample...

By Jane P (not verified)
November 14, 2008 12:49 PM


I second Chloe for you. Also Claire and Rosalie. Josepha is a nice name that can yield the nickname Josie. So can Jocelyn as someone mentioned above. Genevieve and Gemma are also nice.

By Amy3 (not verified)
November 14, 2008 1:03 PM

Eo -- I wasn't offended either, maybe more embarrassed on my own behalf that Spencer Pratt would come to mind so fast.

OT, I wanted to add that the Spencer I know of has a sister Abbigail (I think that's the spelling, I know it's not the traditional one). Interesting that at least one other person knows of a Spencer-Abigail sib set.

November 14, 2008 1:20 PM

jessicah- That is a great sampling, never heard of Jacey before. It's such a contrast to some of the others like Ruth!

Eo, you're right about Paul Revere, he was a great silversmith and there is alot of his work in art museums, especially the MFA in Boston. I think that would be a nice namesake.

By Eo (not verified)
November 14, 2008 1:22 PM

I'm relieved, Aybee and Amy3!

Trish, after I posted I also looked up K. Grammer's children. How interesting that he went for surnames for the three girls (even more so since they are well-separated in age, and by different mothers)-- Spencer, Greer, and Mason.

For the little boy, he departed the pattern and named him "Jude Gordon"-- nice. The Gordon I think it said was for his grandfather to whom he was close, Gordon Cranmer.

Hey, do you suppose "Grammer" is a corruption of "Cranmer". It's true that Grammer is a lot easier to say, but what a shame to alter the original name. Wasn't there an archbishop of that venerable name?

Joan Lunden apparently changed her last name from "Blunden", which she thought looked too much like "blunder". Gosh, I wonder how her parents felt? Don't really get that, unless the name is truly horrible, obscene, etc.

I always liked "Greer" too, and far prefer that spelling to Brooke Sheild's choice of "Grier" for her daughter. I think I read somewhere that until the enchanting actress Greer Garson appeared on the scene, probably in the 1930's, virtually no baby girls were being given that name. I think it was her mother's surname...

By chrispy a/k/a christinepearl (not verified)
November 14, 2008 2:33 PM

Here are some names of babies from my alumni newsletter (small Catholic midwestern university):

Michael Robert
Nolan Anthony
Joseph Peter
Maximilian Julian
Elena Rose
Lucia Rosemary
Dominic Richard
Isabella Rose
Delaney Ann

November 14, 2008 2:47 PM

I have a cousin named Jacie (not sure if the spelling) and I think there was also one at my high school (these folks would be around 30 now).

The only Liam I know is an 8 year old in Hawai'i born to older parents from the Northwest.

By chrispy a/k/a christinepearl (not verified)
November 14, 2008 2:51 PM

Eo - I had a student named Byron some years ago. His parents were from Guatemala so it was probably more of the recent-immigrant-giving-an-English-name-that-isn't-currently-popular than an homage to the poet. Parker and Nash could also be nods to poets Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash.

I also had student named Nelson who was latino but not Dominican. I want to say Guatemalan or Ecuadoran.

Kae - Another name that can take the nn Josie is Joelle. I have known a few Joelles.

Re: Paul I think it is a bit too plain to be popular right now. Most of the old classics being dusted off have at least two syllables. Don't get me wrong, I like the name. It is a family name - my son Dominic's mn, my father's name, as well as the name of 2 of my cousins (in their 40's). We have 2 Paulines in the family too.

November 14, 2008 3:39 PM

TECHNICAL UPDATE: For those of you who were hitting a mysterious error on the NameMapper, it should be cleared up now. (You may have to restart your browser, though.)

Thanks for your patience!

By Elaine (not verified)
November 14, 2008 4:04 PM

EO-Yes Thomas Cranmer was an Archbishop of Canterbury and a leader in the English Reformation. My husband is a huge fan of his but I can never get his name right: I want to say "Cramner". Interesting to think about the Grammer connection.

By SKS (not verified)
November 14, 2008 4:05 PM

I knew a Spencer (boy) born around 1985 or 1986, so I guess that fits with Spencer's rise. He had 1 brother, Sam.

I also associate Spencer with Spence, who was a character on Ellen DeGeneres's sitcom in the mid-1990s. Not sure if Spence was a nn.

By Christine (not verified)
November 14, 2008 5:00 PM

I had a boss named Spencer. He would be in his late forties I guess, with brothers Quentin and Sheldon. Very common plain last name so I guess their parents wanted more interesting first names for their boys.

I think Paul (and Mark for that matter) are great names that you can't go wrong with. Strong, classy names. My thinking is they aren't used much because longer names are in style right now.

By robin (not verified)
November 14, 2008 7:04 PM

hi there...1st time blogger here...

but a long time reader....

my partner and i have adopted a baby from russia;
she is so exquisite; she looks like a princess!(of course; all moms feel that way!)

she is 3 months old; we have named her katharina..which totally suits her..problem is we cant agree on a nickname ; and when we introduce her to friends and family; they all ask us..what is her nickname...i dont care for kathy or katie/kate.. nor rina .. nor kitty..i cant imagine saying...come here little kitty!

does she have to have a nickname?
can we make one up that is not quite related..such as that deviating too much from katharina?

thanksgiving is coming up..we need help asap!!



By Kae (not verified)
November 14, 2008 7:13 PM

Thanks for all the suggestions! It's pretty interesting to read them all.

Some of the ones you've suggested are ones that have also come across my radar previously.
Like- Isaiah, Genevieve and Naomi - I'm still thinking on those....

Some I used to love and maybe would have considered using had I had a kid 2 years ago like Julianna, Elise and Seth...

Some, I like but they have seen a big boom in my area: Claire....

And some that I love but they sound funky with my last name which starts with L: Liesel (love it but could never use it)

And some I like but just wouldn't like for my own kid... like Gideon- great name, just isn't quite what I'd like.

Some of the names, I am thinking more about - like Liam, I started thinking more about it since yesterday.... I think I'll look up the meaning and look at the popularity... (even though it's L, I think it could work ok with the last name...)

I'm also thinking more about Rosalia (Rosa for short)

Coll: How is Josiane pronounced? Jo-sane? or Josi-ann?

Thanks for ALL the suggestions, it's helpful in the thinking process for me... looks like Hubby and I will wait another day or two to have our talk about names.....
If you think of anything else, let me know.

By espie (not verified)
November 14, 2008 7:17 PM

For a nickname for Katharina, how about Katya? Or Reina (pronounced Ray-na and Spanish for "queen")? Nina would also work as something derived from her given name but not too directly...

By Kae (not verified)
November 14, 2008 7:19 PM

I have a friend named katerina and her nickname has always been "Kat" and it is actually quite cute on her.

Another suggestion is "Ree" or "Ria"

But you don't necessarily need a nickname- you can just call her Katharina or really whatever nickname you would like.

November 14, 2008 9:01 PM

I have a friend named Kat, and I think that's a nice nickname for Katharina, but I agree with Kae that you just don't need a nickname. I know several Katherines and Elizabeths who go by their full names all the time, and it works just fine for them. You could also wait and see what nicknames come up naturally when your daughter gets a bit older... you never know where inspiration for a nn. might come from, and you may end up calling her Dolly or Sunny or something completely unrelated to her given name. Other ideas from Katharina: Kara, Thea/Theo, Kata, Katria, Katrina, Nika, Ara/Ari, Karina. I really like Kara and Thea or Theo, myself.

November 14, 2008 9:04 PM

Oh, and Kit! Forgot about Kit. I also have a friend named Katherine who went by Kit Kat (like the candy bar) when she was a little girl.

November 14, 2008 9:06 PM

I think that if you're struggling to get a nickname, you should just stick with Katharina for now. The right nickname will appear on its own--or it won't, which is fine because Katharina is a beautiful name.

But I'm sure Eo will give you lots of great suggestions, and I look forward to reading them! OK, Eo, the gauntlet has been thrown...

By J&H's mom (not verified)
November 14, 2008 9:21 PM

Kae-You have such a fun mix of names! Each time I come to post one, I find you've added a new wrinkle to the puzzle.
I think what your girls' names all share is a certain strength. They're the kind of names that make me think about pinoneer heroines, or women with that kind of character, if that makes sense.

At any rate, some of these are repeats, but I think there are a few new ones.
Calla, Astrid, Ruby, Greta, Hadley, Ivy, Cora, Corrine, Sena, Bronwyn, Bronte, Mercy, Honor, Phoebe, Tabitha, Miriam, Jane, Lucy, Inga

A few for your boys' list. Again, I know there are repeaters.
Elias, Silas, Jonas, Truman, Anders, Davis, Josiah, Martin, Matthias, Thatcher,

Robin-I'd say, "We just think she's a Katharina." You can let your family sit around and try to come up with something while the turkey is cooking. It's been my experience that people love to talk names!
I do think Rainey is fine, if you like it. Congratulations, btw!!

By Easternbetty (not verified)
November 14, 2008 9:26 PM

I've always loved the nickname Kath or Kathe (both pronounced the same way, one syllable).

Katharina is such a beautiful name, I'd want to use it in full all the time , though!

How about Thara? (a common South Asian name, though the Th is not a full-on English Th but a cross between that and "t" sound).


or, the noticeable-precisely-because it-is-plain: KAY.

November 14, 2008 9:30 PM


How are you pronouncing Katharina? I would pronounce it KAH-ter-eena and have the nn be KAH-tee or Kaethe (e standing for an umlaut) pronounced Kate-uh (as in Kaethe Kollwitz). Or I would use Katya as a nod to her Russian origins (that's the standard familiar form of Ekaterina).

If you are using the flat A as in Kathleen (instead of the broad A which is how I would pronounce that name), then one of the traditional nicknames like Kate or Kathy would seem to be more intuitive.

Or just call her Princess since that is which she is! (At least according to her mom, and moms always know best about such matters.)

By toothfairy (not verified)
November 14, 2008 10:49 PM

Thanks everyone, for your thoughts on "Paul!" It really seemed to be an anomaly when I was entering boys names I like into the name mapper. Many of the "classic" boys' names have dropped in popularity, but Paul is the only one I could think of that disappeared completely. Mark is close though, in 2007 it was only ranked 98 or 99th in a couple states. For a comparison, try "John:" it has dropped, but it went from #1 or #2 down to #9-20. Same with Matthew and Peter-dropping, but not disappearing!

Paul and Mark just might be winners for parents looking for classic, not-invented or trendy names, but want to ensure that their child's name is unique, at least within his homeroom.

I am still surprised that both names completely disappeared from the top 100 lists! Maybe it is the 1-syllable thing...or the lack of nickname options?

By Melissa C (not verified)
November 15, 2008 12:17 AM

Hello everyone!

I am looking for some name suggestions for my friend due in March. She just found out she is having a girl, if she had a boy she wanted to name him Zephyn, but she hasn't come up with any girls names. She doesn't want to name the girl Zephyr... because she wants to save Zephyn for a future boy.

Any name suggestion that have a similar quite unique feel with stand out letters... that would go with having a possible sibling named Zephyn that I could pass along to her for ideas. Thanks in advance for suggestions!

November 15, 2008 1:11 AM

Melissa C -
Perhaps Zinnia or Xanthia/Xanthe?

By Coll
November 15, 2008 1:39 AM

Kae, I pronounce Josiane as Jo-zee-ANN. But you could pronounce it however you wanted :)

Melissa C, what about Ysa (pronounced EE-sa) for your friend's child? I know someone who named their baby that recently, when looking for a creative update of Isabelle. I'd also consider Yseult/Ysolde. If they had their boy later, they'd have Y and Z.

By Penny in Australia (not verified)
November 15, 2008 8:18 AM

@ Melissa C - wow, Zephyn is a bold name, but it's growing on me. My initial feeling was that an A name might go well - eg Annabelle and Zephyn.

By Louise (not verified)
November 15, 2008 8:26 AM

Hi all, sorry to hijack the blog again for my own selfish reasons! Just couldn't resist replying to the lovely people who replied to my name dilemma.

Zoerhenne- I am liking pretty, feminine yet not 'made up' names. Names on our list that have been nixed for various reasons: Evangeline, Charlotte, Annabel etc. Our LN is two syllable with a B and I am not really into FN /LN alliterations...

At the moment I am pronouncing Eliane as EL-EE-AHN as that is the only way I have heard it. The spelling I initially knew is Elian but when I saw Eliane with the 'e' I thought it looked more feminine. Hmm. I did think of the Eliane/Elaine confusion but I'm not sure if it is confusing enough to put me off! I love the name Sunny on it's own but DH is not so into it. I agree that it will be tricky getting people to call her Sunny instead of the more natural Ellie/Elle, but I'm thinking at least she has options for a few nn through growing up?

As for Malia, because we don't live in the US I don't think the popularity factor or the association with Barack Obama would be too much of an issue... Can someone verify for me Obama's pronounciation of the name? I've heard MAH-LI-ah and Ma-LIA.

Thanks for all the feedback so far and sorry about the long post!

Finally, Tirzah-you're comment about Adam Sandler's daughters made me laugh. I'm predicting the next one to be Shady Sandler. The perfect mix!

November 15, 2008 12:44 PM

Louise: I am pretty sure it is Ma-LI-ah. This is based on the assumption that it is influenced by Obama's time in Hawai'i.

By Riot Delilah (not verified)
November 15, 2008 1:20 PM

re Spencer: here in the UK the equivalent of Lord & Taylor's is Marks & Spencers. So it's very well known in British popular culture but not everyone would use it as a given name. There was a Spencer on a soap opera briefly a few years ago but seems he's been forgotten. So it's not unusual as a name, but it is unusual as a first name.

By Aybee (not verified)
November 15, 2008 2:09 PM

I have heard Obama Say it Muh-lee-uh (with the lee-uh close together).
I think Eliane is a pretty name, I did originally read it Elaine, but I do agree with you that if you really like the name you shouldn't be put off.

Met a little girl in the grocery store today, looked to be about 18 months, called Eleanor. Thought of someone's comment from another thread about how children in earlier decades, named things like Nicholas and Joseph, would always be Nick and Joey. Not true today! I only heard little Eleanor called by her full name. She was with a slightly older brother and I wanted to ask what his name was, but resisted!

By Elaine (not verified)
November 15, 2008 3:55 PM

I don't think Aybee's story about "Eleanor" is unrelated to Robin's question.

Robin, if Katharina fits your daughter perfectly, then maybe just call her the full name. I ran in to the same dilemma when our daughter Eloise was born. Everyone wanted to know her nickname which surprised me. It took a lot of time to name her Eloise, I hadn't thought I needed a nickname too! We've given family permission to call her Ellie, but she's totally an Eloise to us. People are following suit and calling her the full name Eloise. So, no, she doesn't have to have a nickname.

By Eimi (not verified)
November 15, 2008 5:25 PM

Sibling set alert:

Dominic (just born)

Parents are Canadian livestock farmers.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
November 15, 2008 6:05 PM


Is there really a hyphen in Swanhilda?

I wonder at the motivation behind that...perhaps it's a purely visual preference?
Some people are extremely visual and the signt of a name on paper will sway them where the aural aspects would not.

By EssBee (not verified)
November 15, 2008 6:08 PM

One name that I have come across several times over the years, always in male Mormons from Utah, is Rulon. Surprisingly, I looked in my "100,000+ Baby Names" book -- which has some VERY unusual names -- and it's not even in there.

Does anyone know anything about Rulon? Just curious!

November 15, 2008 6:23 PM

Rulon Jeffs was the father of polygamous leader Warren Jeffs, of the FLDS church. I'm sure there are other Rulons in the mainstream LDS church, though.

By EssBee (not verified)
November 15, 2008 6:23 PM

Yeah, the ones I have known have been mainstream (not FLDS) Mormons.

November 15, 2008 7:02 PM

name alert: came across school-age sisters named Leel@ and Quinn.

By Louise (not verified)
November 15, 2008 10:37 PM

Name alert:

Babies born to friends/family since we went away...

Isabelle Charlotte
Solomon Bastien
Hudson Michael
Zoe Lee
Lili Faith

Elaine: I agree! You spend all this time finding the perfect name for your child and then have to come up with nicknames as well? All well and good if you have one in mind, but in some cases a nickname can take away from the beauty of the full name...such as Eloise or Katharina...

By J&H's mom (not verified)
November 15, 2008 11:45 PM

Wasn't it a Rulon who was the surprise gold medalist in wrestling a few years back?

It sounds similar to other names currently in style, so I could see that giving it a bit of a boost.

By Bethany (not verified)
November 16, 2008 12:54 AM

Melissa C- The name that comes to mind for a sibling of a Zephyn is Esphyr. The only Esphyr I have ever heard of is Esphyr Slobodkina who wrote and illustrated "Caps for Sale" - a beautiful children's book.

Robin- As far as a nn goes, I totally agree that a nn is unneccesary. (Neither of my children have nn's.)However, I love the idea of Katya or Irina... as a way to honor your daughter's heritage.

By Aybee (not verified)
November 16, 2008 11:06 AM

Thank you for pointing out my unintentional usefulness! You are right, I don't think it is unrelated. Upon re-reading this post, I realized I have known three Katharine/Catherine/Kathryns who have no nicknames. All are in about their mid to late 20s. The names all seemed to suit them well and I couldn't imagine calling any of them "Katie" or "Cathy."

November 16, 2008 1:14 PM

Re:Katharina-I love the name Katharina. I don't think it needs a nn if you don't want it to. However, on a high school level I think my natural instinct would be to call a friend with this name Kath or Rina or Tina or something of that nature.

Re:Zephyn-Interesting name I've never heard of. It sounds made up. I'd probably pick a real solid name to go with it. A names seem to make sense intuitively but any hard beginning sound would probably work i.e. no S, H, J names. Some that might work-Kayla, Katharine, Belinda, Adrienne, Talia, Miranda, Daphne, Olivia, Veronica, Ivy, and Ophelia.

By Marjorie (not verified)
November 16, 2008 3:00 PM

I have a niece Kathryn who was always as Kathy when young but now definitely encourages others to use her full name. Her close family finds it difficult to switch.

Another friend - Catherine, was always known by her full name but in adulthood announced that she would henceforth be Kate. As far as I know, her family and friends are happy to comply.

Different strokes for different folks!