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.


November 18, 2008 4:27 PM

Aybee, Love Jon and Kate! I did notice their naming choices in that episode and I do think about the spelling choices. Especially Madelyn and Aaden. As for style I'd say the stand-out is Joel, I can't remember the last time I heard about a young Joel, but maybe that's just me? What do you all think?

Love the suggestion of Esme and Jude by KRC btw!!

By Aybee (not verified)
November 18, 2008 4:42 PM

Delia, RobynT, Jenny L3igh

I am an occasional Jon and Kate watcher... I think this was in an episode where they were interviewing them about the past.

Are Aaden and Madelyn the only names spelled cre8tively?

Joel does stand out, I have only ever met Joel's above the age of 20. I think it is a cute name though.

By Ana (not verified)
November 18, 2008 5:04 PM

I am a big fan of Jon and Kate and have been interested in their children's names. I am surprised by the creative spellings of Aaden, Madelyn and even Collin (with two "l"s if that is considered cre8tive). I think it's interesting, because their other children have pretty traditional biblical names like Leah, Hannah and Joel, or more classically modern names like Cara and Alexis.

The sextuplet girls' mns, I believe, are Faith, Hope, and Joy, though I'm not sure about Joy and I can't remember which mn goes with which child. I'm not sure if the boys' mns have such significance. I do know that their health was a big worry, even after they were born.

November 18, 2008 5:34 PM

Official names of the Gosselins:
Cara Nicole
Madelyn Kate
Alexis Faith
Hannah Joy
Aaden Jonathan
Collin Thomas
Leah Hope
Joel Kevin

The triplet girls mn's are due to biblical influence. The boys mn's are after family members. Kate has 2 brothers Kevin + Thomas and Jonathan is after Jon and his dad I believe.

By Eo (not verified)
November 18, 2008 5:56 PM

Interesting about Jon and Kate plus 8. I also wondered about Aaden. Does anyone know where they got that? Somehow, I don't think they would have completely "made it up"? Those parents are so plucky-- I admire their stamina and determination to raise their children well...

I love "Colin" but do prefer it with one "l". I always think of it in its context of being a medieval nickname for "Nicholas".

For a while, I was worried with Colin Powell's prominence that more people might start giving it the (to me unappealing) pronunciation "KOE-lin". But that doesn't seem to have happened. Or has it?

There is an eighteen year old "Joel" in our family. When he was born, I remember everyone being pleasantly surprised at the choice of the name.

Have noticed "Joel" used most heavily in Jewish families, and, interestingly, in those of Scottish background. Have always been fascinated at the way the Scots tend to hang on to Biblical names more tenaciously than the English. There's a reporter named Joel with a Scottish last name, something like "Mowbray" but currently slips my mind!

November 18, 2008 6:38 PM

Eo-I can't find any info on why Aaden is spelled that way. My guess is they just liked it like that. I too am also glad the Coe-lin pron didn't take off and that most people pron it Coll-in.

By Guest (not verified)
November 18, 2008 10:06 PM

Do baby names necessarily have to match? I went super conservative with my young-in-life daughter and gave her a Biblical top ten name. Now that I'm older and less concerned with the opinions of others, I'd like to do something a little fun and funky for my future son. I was reading a Reba McEntire bio and have become completely enchanted with her brother's name: Pake. He was a world champion cattle roper, and I just love the whimsical cowboy feel of the name. Is Hannah and Pake to odd a sibset? Should I have a girl, I really love Leah and know that it matches Hannah perfectly. I really only want to go wild with the boys' names, not sure why, except that girls names become dated so quickly and can come across as too "cutesy" for an adult, while boys with cool, unusual names seem sexy and mysterious as adults. Maybe that's just my warped opinion, though!

So, what do the baby namers think of Pake as a name and would it be too weird to have one child with a totally traditional name and the other with a highly unusual one? I guess the problem with matching styles is that I have a totally new perspective on life now: I'm much older and have a very loving relationship with a different man. I just don't know if because of the age difference and the different fathers I should try to make them as similar as possible instead of totally highlighting the differences.

By Guest (not verified)
November 18, 2008 10:25 PM

By the way, my Hannah has expressed to me that she will be annoyed if I give my new baby a super cool name when she got stuck with "the most boring, ugly name of all time". Ouch! She hates her name, but most of us do, I think. I love Hannah to death, but to be honest I'm not a huge fan of her name either and can't quite figure out what possessed me to choose it out of all the thousands of names available, other than I felt it was safe and liked the Biblical connection. I suspect she would quickly get over the slight (ha!) so I'm not too worried about this. :)

By chrispy a/k/a christinepearl (not verified)
November 18, 2008 10:55 PM

Jenny L3igh- Joel was the boy's name we had picked out for our 8 yr old daughter. I don't know any young ones.

I love the name Jude but dh does not, otherwise it would have been a contender for our Theodore.

By chrispy a/k/a christinepearl (not verified)
November 18, 2008 11:11 PM

Honestly, I do not like Pake. It sounds nicknamey to me. I would offer some options but my brain is fried & there are others on this board who are so good at suggestions... Hannah can be considered a frontiersy name not unlike Pake, though.

I can relate to a change in styles - my first and last are 9 years apart. We tried really hard not to back ourselves into a corner style-wise.

November 19, 2008 12:35 AM

Hello study breaks today consisted of running through the girls' names. Herein lie the findings :)

Utahn Names- the feminine side of the story:
Brooke (1970)
Aubrey (1980)
Mckenzie (1987)- but NOT Mackenzie (Iowa, also 87)
Madison (1988)
Mckenna (1992)
Paige (1987)
Rylee (1985- but not Riley, as zoerhenne pointed out)
Kylee (1989- but not Kylie)
Brinley (2002)
Brynlee (2004)
Mylee (2007- no Miley anywhere!)
Halle (except North Dakota, 2002)

Close Misses:
Hailey, Aspen, Sydney, Avery, Sadie, Amelia

Weirdly not:
Bailey (though, of course, the limited run of “Bailee” does.)

And some other unexpected observations- the four names below fit the Utah Name criteria, I think- and they’re really not recent coinages or borrowings:
Emily (1969- was in Alaska in 1960, but I think that’s the last of the first wave, so to speak)
Lucy (2004)
Eliza (2001, if you ignore Vermont)
Kate (1998- Utah at epicentre of revival)
Add to that Sadie and Amelia- what's going on?! I thought Utah was supposed to be the hotbed of new naming trends, not revivals!

and to zoerhenne: isn't Bryson weird? I'd love to know what the story is with that one, because it certainly feels like it should have been a Utah name! Skylar (f) is different for Riley, given the patterns shown by Kylee/Kylie, Bailey/Bailee, Miley/Mylee, Ashley/Ashlee and even Kimberly/Kimberlee... I'd say it's a Utah naming convention of sorts. Cool!

By C & C's Mom - and now B! (not verified)
November 19, 2008 12:39 AM

I know a baby Joel - just born in October! and yes he is from a Jewish family.

November 19, 2008 12:43 AM

more Utah names- Natalie (1961) is a perfect utah name. Natasha is not. It's time for me to be quiet. Sorry, this thing is keeping me endlessly entertained.

November 19, 2008 12:47 AM

Blythe- Aidan is one of those names I love, but will never use... suffice it to say that my last name sounds similar to Hernandez and my husband's family don't speak English well enough to avoid butchering many of the names I loved.

But I have a theory on the Aiden/Aidan/Aydan popularity. In 1995 (the first year Aidan makes it into the top 100 in a state), Rich Mullins (a Christian singer and song writer) released an album called "Brother's Keeper" with a song named "Let Mercy Lead." The song was co-written with a man named Beaker (a nn). The song was written for Beaker's son, and begins: "Aidan you're young, but Aidan you're growing fast."

I think, the song could have easily faded away like songs do after a year or so, but in 1996, it was released again in a compilation album, "Songs". Then the following year, Rich Mullins passed away in a car accident. And the Christian music industry mourned for months... playing his music over and over again.

So that gets you to 1997. Seems like, by that time, I knew of at least two or three Aidans in the church community. I do believe that the Sex in the City character probably helped the popularity overall... that's when you begin to see a dramatic rise, but I think this name's initial rise may be credited to Rich Mullins. (Check out the song some time.)

About Pake - I agree that Hannah and Pake sounds like they could both be in the same Frontiers catagory. But Pake sounds made up to me, and I'm terribly fond of that. As far as the must names go together question... the answer is Yes and No. Obviously, it happens that they don't always end up belonging together. If you ask "baby namers" as you called this group... I think many of us would say it's important, but it's probably not nearly as important to the rest of the world as it is to many of us.

November 19, 2008 1:34 AM

Wow - 3 Pipers born at my local hospital in the last 2 weeks. This name really seems to be on the rise; I'm guessing Piper Palin is giving the name a lift.

By Guest (not verified)
November 19, 2008 2:23 AM

By Eo (not verified)
November 19, 2008 9:38 AM

Hi Guest, I have to concur with other namers that "Pake" would not be my personal choice.

However-- I know what it's like to become enamored with a name that does not meet with universal approval! First and foremost, you have to please YOU. If after consideration you know that it is the name for you, then here are some additional factors:

"Pake" can be considered a surname name, of German origin. Most famous bearer: The late, highly regarded research physicist, George E. Pake. Kind of a nice association to have.

I agree that it has that frontier flavor. Similarly, it reminds me of the "heart-of-gold" hired hands in "The Wizard of Oz" before they became the scarecrow and tinman, etc. in Dorothy's "dream". Didn't they have names like "Hake" and "Hub"? So, for me at least there's an interesting combo of Kansas earthiness and the whimsy of the Oz books/movie.

Am wondering if part of the appeal for you is the similarity in sound to the whole "Jacob/Jake" phenomenon?

Were it me, and I was in love with "Pake", I'd use it as a nickname a la Jake. But it would be the nickname for-- "Paul"!! (speaking of recently discussed classics on this board).

There's no reason why Pake couldn't be a nickname for Paul, if "Jack" can stand in for "John", or "Hank" for Henry. You'd have the sturdy classic in Paul, and the cute nickname in Pake...

By Eo (not verified)
November 19, 2008 9:41 AM

Oh, Pake could also be a nickname for "Patrick".

Isn't "Paco" a nickname for Francisco? Or am I thinking of something else? If so, there's even the possibility of Francisco morphing into Pake, through Paco! Whew...

November 19, 2008 10:12 AM

Thanks, Bethany. That's fascinating. I know three boys named Aidan William, all between the ages of 7 and 9, and all living in the same general area. Ethel Mae rearing her head, don't you think?

By Guest (not verified)
November 19, 2008 10:30 AM

It was only a matter of time: I saw an announcement for He@ven Nev@eh.

November 19, 2008 10:59 AM

Guest: I think it makes sense for your naming style to change through time and I think it could be cool to have your childrens' names reflect that. I'm wondering how old your daughter is and maybe if it would be helpful for her to help you with naming--that is as long as it came from a place of love and not "I want him to have a name he will hate as much as I hate mine." Other than that, I have to agree that I am not a fan of Pake. Mostly cuz I know it (with a different pron) as a derogatory term for Chinese. So that's just limited to a geographical area. And FWIW, I like Hannah!

November 19, 2008 11:24 AM

Guest-I agree with the others. I'm not a big fan of Pake (which I'm guessing rhymes with Jake, rake, cake,etc.). It seems made up. However, I also agree that if you really like it then "pooh pooh" to us. I don't think the names have to match but I personally prefer that they do with my own kids. Hannah is a great name. Leah very much matches (see Jon & Kate comments above). The first boys name that comes to mind is Colin but that may be because we were jsut talking about that also. As long as you don't name a boy Montana LOL! I think it will be fine. Btw, Jake or Elijah are good choices too.

November 19, 2008 11:27 AM

Thanks bethany!

November 19, 2008 11:30 AM

Blythe- Interesting about the girls names too!
Still, I have the question, what makes Maine and Vermont especially so close in naming styles to Utah? Laura? Anybody?

By Melissa C (not verified)
November 19, 2008 12:20 PM


I agree with what everyone else has said so far. I am not a big fan of Pake, it also sounds made up to me. But I also think if you love the name go for it. I don't necessarily think the sibling style has to match... my children's names probably won't because my husband and I have such different tastes when it comes to naming.

Also I suggestion that I thought sounds similar to Pake.. is Payton/Peyton... it could definately have the nick name Pake. Good Luck!

November 19, 2008 12:45 PM

Lots of "made up" names sound like names to me, but Pake doesn't. Maybe because it rhymes with fake? If you no longer like the name Hannah, however, what are the chances of you still liking Pake ten years from now? I think that if you truly love it, then you should go for it, but just beware that your child is going to get a lot of unusual reactions, and you'll have to deal with that. It could get tiresome and annoying, especially if over time you fall out of love with the name.

November 19, 2008 1:09 PM

Oh wow to He@ven Nev@eh, hopefully she thinks palindromes are cool...

Guest, I second the suggestion of Peyton, Paul or Patrick nn Pake, I think those are neat! I have to say Pake is nms, but I actually really don't mind it with Hannah at all. If you decide you really love it, I say go for it. And maybe you can get your daughter involved in a postive way either by helping with a mn or by giving herself a new nickname. If she doesn't like Hannah she can always choose to reinvent herself! My sister went by her mn for a little while as a kid and then changed back when she was ready.

zoerhenne thanks for the info on the Gosselin's mn's I didn't know them and that is definitely interesting.

Re: Joel, fun to hear about how that name is perhaps rising in popularity!

November 19, 2008 2:25 PM

Jenny L3igh-You are very welcome.

I saw a name last night on TV-Zaven. What do you all think? Does it rhyme to much with the Aiden group? Does it sound made up? I didn't look up origin or anything yet. I kind of like it. It's got the cool Z and also a V and ends in -en. It's very 2000's feeling.

November 19, 2008 2:26 PM

zoerhenne: I bet Vermont and Maine have their fair share of "frontier" oriented folks.

Guest: I also wanted to say that I think it's really interesting that you're more adventurous with boys' names because I feel like most people have the opposite tendency. And yeah I think Hannah and Pake match fine. I think there is a lot of freedom when it comes to boys and girls names matching b/c people often have very different styles by gender.

November 19, 2008 2:46 PM

I really, really dislike Pake. I also think it sounds made-up, which I don't like, and as someone pointed out above, it doesn't sound like a "real name" to me the way some made-up names can. I am also one who thinks sib names should match in style, but I don't think it's the worst thing ever if they don't. I'd be much less concerned about that than about the negative reactions you might receive with Pake. But if that doesn't phase you, you should go with the name you love. I would suggest Jake as an obvious alternative, and I think it happens to go well with Hannah, as a bonus. I would also prefer Peyton to Pake, although that's not my style either. I'd even prefer Lake to Pake, which might be appealing to you because it's less traditional than Jake. Now I'm also thinking of Link (maybe short for Lincoln, maybe on its own), and I wonder if you'd go for that. I think it's kind of snazzy. Finally, I'll suggest Park (nn for Parker)... it's pretty close to Pake but much more substantial, in my opinion.

By Amy3 (not verified)
November 19, 2008 2:56 PM

Re: Joel, I don't know any young Joels, but I wanted to add (if someone hasn't already; I haven't read to the end of the comments yet) that it is used in Hispanic communities, too, where the pronunciation is typically Joe-EL.

Re: Pake, I have a friend with an early-20s cousin named Pake. It's his mn, his fn is something entirely conventional (maybe Christopher, I can't remember), but he goes by Pake. It's nms, but I've always liked it because of the association I have with it through him (I've known him since he was a baby).

I do think Pake and Hannah work together well in that frontiersy way.

November 19, 2008 3:15 PM

Since my parents live in Hawaii, I also think of the derogatory term for Chinese people when I see "Pake." In Hawaii, it's pronounced PAH-KAY.

November 19, 2008 4:47 PM

My worry about Pake would be the similarity with Puke. But I really wouldn't worry about matching it to a sibling style.

November 19, 2008 5:00 PM

I'll second Clementine's suggestion of Lake, which is one of my GPs.

November 19, 2008 7:17 PM

Guest- while I generally prefer siblings names to match somewhat, I certainly didn't do that with my kids. My boys have traditional, common names (Eric, Kevin) and my daughter has a very trendy, surname name (McKenna). But they are the names I love/loved most in the world, so there you have it.

Personally, I don't care for Pake. But neither do I think it's awful, there certainly are many other names out there that I really dislike. Maybe pair it with a more "traditional" first or middle name so he has a choice someday (my friend, Vicky Lynn, has always resented not being able to change her name to "Victoria")... although it doesn't have to be TRADITIONAL, even something like Pasquale might be cool?

By Knee Coal Peay (not verified)
November 19, 2008 7:21 PM

I just can't love Pake, sorry.

By chrispy a/k/a christinepearl (not verified)
November 19, 2008 9:52 PM

zoerhenne - Vermont & Maine tend to be sparsely populated, with many individualistic, quirky, frontier-like folks. That may be the connection to Utah.

November 20, 2008 8:30 PM

Guest-I like Clementine's ideas for alternatives to Pake. I like the Park idea or even Lake. I thought of lengthening it to Laken for a slighty more "formal" version.

Re:Vermont and Maine-I'll buy that there might be a bit of frontierness in those people but I always had the vision (being from CT) that they were more oriented to the New England views (whatever they are)!

By DeeDee (not verified)
December 15, 2008 10:43 PM

Hello J&H's Mom, my daughter is named Spencer Kay(1987). Named for her father(1961). Named for his grandfather (1911) She likes it.

January 7, 2009 4:55 AM

Haha, I didn't ever realize that there exists the device of such kind. And this is the brilliant example of life penetration into the very browser frame. Anyway, what about this "Spencer"? If I remember the etymology quite well: Spencer was named after a large loose-footed gaffsail on a square-rigger or barque that was named after Earl Spencer (1758-1834) – the ages ago-story...

By Sophia - Iphone (not verified)
January 8, 2009 10:04 AM

Boy Names, a complicated deal........
A good name is hard to find... it's true.. Spencer is a boys name.. I wouldnt use it for a girl..

By Guest (not verified)
March 10, 2009 6:25 PM

Kae, I think Gabriel, Micah, Jonah or Judah would go well with Elijah and Isaac.

I have a son named Kenneth "Kenny" and I'm having trouble thinking of good name for his little brother. Any ideas?


By Guest (not verified)
May 18, 2009 8:26 PM

As a man and a Spencer, I have to say this.

SPENCER IS NOT A FEMALE NAME. I don't know who thought up this new age garbage of giving interchangeable names of gender, but SPENCER IS NOT A FEMALE NAME.

I don't care what wacked out celebrity names their daughter, but Spencer shouldn't be one of them.

By XXplease! (not verified)
June 4, 2009 6:49 PM

Spencer is in my top 5 names for a girl right now, only topped by Harper. I *LOVE* Spencer for a GIRL...not so much for a boy.

By XXplease! (not verified)
June 4, 2009 6:53 PM

Oh, yes...I meant to comment on the name "Pake" that was mentioned several posts back!

I think it is definitely different and unusual but not unattractively so in the least. It flows well with Hannah, IMO, as well. If you love it, you should go for it.

By club penguin (not verified)
June 10, 2009 3:21 AM

The only Spencer I know is the 50-something father of one of my closest not a part of these trends. In fact, as my friend's middle name is Spencer, as well, I suspect it's a family name.

By Kritsin not Kristin (not verified)
May 6, 2010 9:41 PM

I think of Spencer as a boy name and Spenser as a girl name. That's my point of view. I too think of Spencer Reid from CM, though, so if I have a Spencer his mn will be Reed

June 13, 2010 11:15 AM

I know this thread is millions of years old, but.....

RobynT: My friend's name is Kristin, and she is very sensitive as to how people spell her name. She is not "Kristen, Tristin, Christian, or Christine" I always saw Kristin as the down to earth-erist of the two, because of the humble repeation of the "I".

By SPENCER (not verified)
November 8, 2010 8:46 PM

i'm a girl and my name is Spencer!
I love my name, all of my friends could NOT imagine me with any other name :)

By Spencer (not verified)
June 11, 2011 7:58 AM

My name is Spencer (sounds SPENSA) i am a girl and i was born in the 1990s Spencer is the best name ever and ive never met a boy with my name.