Instant name: just add N

Aug 7th 2008

Here's a rare name I expect to hear more of in the future: Graden.

Certainly, it has a fashionable sound -- another in the vast rhyming family that includes Aidan, Hayden, Caden and Braeden.  But there's more to it than that.  Graden sounds like a formal version of a popular formal name that sounds like a nickname.  Hmm, was that gibberish?  Let me give it another shot.

Classic multisyllabic men's names -- Thomas, Edward -- generally come with two standard nickname options.  There's a one-syllable basic (Tom, Ed) and a two-syllable diminutive (Tommy, Eddie).  That's sensible enough.  After all, the two main functions of nicknames are to shorten and to soften.

Today, though, the standard nicknames are decidedly out of fashion.  So far out of fashion that some parents are getting skittish about names that even resemble the form of a traditional nickname.  So more and more, you see parents tacking extra endings onto short boys' names, creating a new "formal" version for something that was never a nickname to begin with.

It's not a totally new phenomenon; Rexford is one example from past generations.  But the practice is growing.  And forget old add-ons like -ford, -burn and -wood.  Today there's just one way to extend a name: with the all-powerful letter -n.

For a case study, consider Colton.  Colton is a popular contemporary name, currently ranked #117 among American boys' names.  It was a surname before it became a baby name, but that doesn't tell the real story.  As a surname Colton isn't common at all, ranking behind the likes of Stumpf and Fortenberry in frequency.  Nor are there prominent Coltons to raise the name's profile.  The key to understanding the name Colton is that it made its debut as a popular baby name in 1982.  That's the same debut year as Colt -- which is to say, the first full season of "The Fall Guy," a tv series starring Lee Majors as stuntman/bounty hunter Colt Seavers.  At first, Colton was just a quiet shadow of the hardy young cowboy Colt.  But by the '90s, the more "formal" Colton was the clear leader of the pack.

Some more popular -n extensions:


All of them, notably, also have rhyming names in the top 1000.  Which brings us back to Graden.  So you like Grady, but perhaps find it a little boyish?  A mere flick of the -n gives you Graden.  You can still call him Grady if you like, and the full name blends right in with the current name landscape.  It's a nifty long as "blending in" is what you're after.  If you're customizing the name to make in more distinctive, though, keep in mind that uncommon and distinctive aren't always the same thing.  In an age where a third of all boys born get an -n name, Colt and Grady may end up standing out a lot more than Colton and Graden.


By maya (not verified)
August 7, 2008 12:12 PM

i have definitely noticed how many boy names are -n names - because the middle name i wanted to use (should we ever have a boy) starts with N and i just don't like how they run together.

not crazy about Graden, though. i much prefer Grey.

but that's just me...

By Guest (not verified)
August 7, 2008 12:15 PM

Graden sounds like something my wife used to do back when she was a teacher.

By Kelly (not verified)
August 7, 2008 12:24 PM

Graden looks like garden misspelled to me. I would have to add the obligatory 'y' to get Grayden.

I'll seen a few people who tried to make Kelly masculine again by making it Kellen.

By AG (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:01 PM

Kellen looks like a Helen Keller Smash up to me.

By Rjoy (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:02 PM

How much longer will this N phenomenon go on?

Also...Do you think this will pass over on to the girl side eventually? Anyone see Gretchen coming back?

By LaurieLw (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:08 PM

I have seen people thinking of Grayden to get to the desired nickname of Gray.

I do have to say I am tired of the -n endings to make a name "different". I agree with Laura that the Grady, Colt and such will be more distinctive amongst their peers.

I, too, am curious to know how long this trend will continue.

By Guest (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:09 PM

So does Calvin fall into the "n" phenomenon?

By buzzy bee (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:09 PM

In my last job I was part of a fairly multicultural team. We wracked up a Lachlan (Scottish), a Reuben, a Caylen and a Sachin (both Indian) within 3 years. The pattern was broken with a Josiah.

By Medbh (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:47 PM

Not on topic, but New Baby Alert:


Middle name is the mum's last name, so I won't include for privacy's sake.

She's very cute, and very Stella.


By Gwyneth (not verified)
August 7, 2008 1:52 PM

I agree that Graden is nothing distinctive, being part of the Aiden-Jayden-bobaden-bananafanaafoaiden crowd. I would stick with grayson to get the formal name and cool nickname twofer

By Elisabeth (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:02 PM

I think we've already have witnessed this among both boys and girls.

Kyle becomes Kylen
Riley becomes Rylan

MAX is also a big one for which parents always seem to search for a more "formal" name: Maxton, Maxford, Maxington among them (parents, please stick to Maxwell, Maximilian, or just Max). Many parents may feel that these suffixes (-ton, -ford, -ington, -worth) make the family sound like they hail from an affluent British estate, but sadly, it's pretty much the opposite.

Also, to my eyes, Graden looks like a typo for Garden. In this case, I prefer Graydon.

Funny, some ancient names that look as if they would fit this model but don't, say Samson v. Samuel and Lucian v. Luke, have yet to lure parents in large numbers.


By Elisabeth (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:06 PM

Also for girls,

Grace becomes Gracen. (!)

By Amanda (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:12 PM

I would like to go on record as predicting the name Cullen will catch on like wild fire. Cullen Jones is an attractive, young, black swimmer on the US Olympic team. I think this will be a case of right name right time!

By C & C's Mom - and now B! (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:14 PM

very funny - we just names our 3rd baby Beckett. I was a strong advocate for just naming him Beck . I like short, snappy baby names (in Laura's book, they are the Brisk and Breezy catgory). My dh really wanted a longer, more formal name, hence Beckett for the birth certificate. And I can still call him Beck if I want. So we did exactly what Laura said in this entry, but not with an "n."

Another name I considered was Grady, but never Graden.

By RB (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:32 PM

I have trouble thinking of many of these names that don't sound totally silly. I tried applying it to some of the top boy's names, but "Jaken" (just to take the #1 name) sounds like a sea monster.

Here are some others I can think of. Several are "real" names or surnames, but you can easily see how someone might derive them independently based on the process Laura describes:

Maxton (which came up on these boards a while back)
Kenton / Kennon
Neilon / Neilson
Quinton (a twist on Quentin or an embellished name for a fifth child?)

The only one of these I would use is Levon, and that's a stretch.

By RB (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:34 PM

Oops, I went away for a while as I was writing, and I see that Elisabeth already mentioned Maxton and Samson! Sorry for the repeat!

NE minds must think alike...

By vac (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:40 PM

re: Gretchen coming back Say it isn't so! It's been steadily travelling up my list for the past few months.

By Kelly (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:46 PM

I know a 7 year old Gretchen, but she's the only one I've met.

By Katie (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:54 PM

We're definitely going to be seeing more Cullens... it's also the surname of the male lead in the bestselling Twilight series.

By lizpenn (not verified)
August 7, 2008 2:56 PM

How about Gayden? Think that'll catch on? Hm, maybe not.

In the invented-boy-names-ending-in-N category, I recently saw a last name on the spine of a book that fits the bill: Hazen. Has the hip "Z," sounds like the male equiv. of the fast-rising Hazel, and it ends in an N. I wouldn't consider it myself because of the ubiquity of the "N" trend, but I have to admit it sounds kind of cool

By RobynT (not verified)
August 7, 2008 3:12 PM

I think Jackson might also fit into this trend.

BTW, babies I know born (or to be born) recently:

Maya's parents are in their early 30s. Does that count as older parents? As much as I like that name, I do feel that it's sort of played out.

Also, if any of you watch Project Runway, I'm sure the name Kenley has caught your eye. For those that don't, Kenley is female and her style makes me love the name even more! Probably not enough to use it, just enough to think about it a bunch.

By Marjorie (not verified)
August 7, 2008 3:13 PM

"MAX is also a big one for which parents always seem to search for a more "formal" name: Maxton, Maxford, Maxington among them (parents, please stick to Maxwell, Maximilian, or just Max)."

Hi Elisabeth - you missed my grandson Max, short for Maximus. It was a natural choice though; he has an uncle Julius and his late grandfather was Julius!

By AJ (not verified)
August 7, 2008 3:25 PM

Elisabeth, wanted to let you know that there is a little girl Gracyn born last year that I know. Second choice for the mom was Emercyn Emercin etc. All this despite calling the girl Grace or Emmy. My comment that kre8ive spelling just mean she'll spend her whole life spelling her name for people was met with stony silence. "It makes her unique."

By Medbh (not verified)
August 7, 2008 3:38 PM

Gracyn... Emerycyn/Emercin, yikes!

Are these parents aware that the "son" ending means "son of" and are just trying to make it not so by kre8ively re-spelling these names?

I have a friend who named her daughter Emmerson, and I had to really bite my tongue. I call her Emmy (her parents use this nickname, also).

By A bee (not verified)
August 7, 2008 3:43 PM

Gwyneth--I love Bananafanaafoaiden!

By LaurieLw (not verified)
August 7, 2008 3:46 PM

I have been hearing Kenley or Kenlee thrown around some name sites already. I don't know if it will take off or just be blip. But it does seem to fit in with some of the name trends out there.

By Elisabeth (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:00 PM

AJ, Emerson is a well known surname that has some feminine sounds popular at the moment, so it's no surprise parents would adopt alternate spellings. Teri Hatcher has a daughter Emerson. Were those comments before their baby was born? I hope so!

Marjorie, Maximus is lovely and totally appropriate considering his predecessors. Maybe he'll grow up to have a little Lucius, Octavius, or Cassius of his own.

I think Kenley on Project Runway is adorable, but I do loathe her name. Good example of when disliking a name has nothing to do with one's feelings for a person who has that name. Of course, the opposite can be true as well.

By vac (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:07 PM

There was a Kenlea in my high school. I think it's a little prettier speeled that way, but still not my style.

By vac (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:07 PM

There was a Kenlea in my high school. I think it's a little prettier speeled that way, but still not my style.

By vac (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:08 PM

I misspelled "spelled." Perfect.

By nikki (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:23 PM

Ahhhh!!!! Just say no to Graden! My son is named Grady...a name that we LOVE! And I have been asked twice if its short for Graden. The
-aden, -ayden, -aiden, etc. trend is bad enough, but I truly did not expect to ever be asked about Graden when we decided on Grady's name.

I agree about Cullen by the way. I noticed it both on the swimmer and in the Twilight series! From those books, I definintely prefer Carlisle or Jasper :)

By MrsJ (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:27 PM

Like I've said here before, our tiny town has multiple Cadens, Laytons, Daylens, Rylans, and at least one Grayson, Taylen, and Treyton. I don't have the stats to prove it, but it would almost seem like more than 1 in 3 boy babies have an -n name around here.

It makes me worried to ever use a more traditional boys' name that ends with -n (like Calvin, as someone mentioned) or even to use a girls' name (like Maren) that ends with -n. I do wonder if the -n phenomenon is going to jump to girls, as I have heard of several girl Kaydens and the like.

(Also, we have a Kinley in town, probably about 8 years old.)

By maya (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:33 PM

i'm trying to convince my hubby that Holden is a good name - it's my all-time favorite. he's very hung up on the catcher in the rye aspect (as opposed to the william holden aspect), but since salinger is one of my favorite authors, i have no problem with it.

it's an -n name, but not a kreated name.

what do you guys think? bad? should i let it go or fight for it?

By Rjoy (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:38 PM

C & C's MOM and now B!- Great name.....but does it bother you that Beck is a nickname for Rebekah, bekah, than beck??

By Amandolynn (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:48 PM

"Grady as nickname for Graden" is also a logical parallel of Brady and Braden/Brayden/etc.

What interests me is that people don't want their sons to have boyish sounding names so they formalize the names BUT girls so often get stuck with names that will age badly. For example: Molly, Kayley, Lexi, Coco, Apple.

By Amandolynn (not verified)
August 7, 2008 4:57 PM

Maya, I know one Holden: a girl who uses the nickname Holly. I see Holden as just an extension of the Aidan, Hayden, create-a-name theme. And Holden Caulfield is a jaded, foul-mouthed misanthrope. If your such a Salinger fan why not use Jerome?

As for Beckett with nickname Beck: yuck. First off, Beck is traditionally a nickname for Rebecca (as noted earlier by Rjoy). Plus the musician Beck is a HUGE scientologist and that's a turn off for me.

By maya (not verified)
August 7, 2008 5:16 PM

Amandolynn - I don't like Jerome! :) I like Holden. And not because of that book either - that's my least favorite of his books. I just like the name.

But I also love the name Beck for a boy (and Beckett).

By Kate R. (not verified)
August 7, 2008 5:20 PM

Beck is also a surname. Some of my ancestors were surnamed Beck and there are several males with the first name Beck in my family tree (usually because it was the mother's maiden name).

By Tirzah (not verified)
August 7, 2008 5:21 PM

I would pronounce Levon, LeVON, not LEvon.

Have any of you guys been watching So You Think You Can Dance? There was an 18 year old girl in the top 10 named Kherington. I'll bet she has to spell that a lot.

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
August 7, 2008 5:31 PM

Amandolynn, I believe Beck(ett) has already been named. Didn't know Beck was a Scientologist - though I found out recently half the cast of My Name Is Earl are...

Re: Holden, my first association is Catcher in the Rye, and then the film The Good Girl, which has a not-very-likeable character who renames himself Holden after the book, a bit of a wannabe-rebel (or at least that's how I remember it). Catcher in the Rye seems to be quite a polarising book; I think a lot of people will hear Holden and think "Cool, like Catcher", and others will hear it and cringe because of the same association. For that reason, I would shy away from it. But on the plus side, it does blend right in with the -en trend so little Holden's contemporaries wouldn't give his name a second thought.

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
August 7, 2008 5:50 PM

Re: Beck again, it just occurred to me that it's a dialect word for 'stream' or 'brook', in the North of England. I think it's of Scandinavian origin - if anyone's read Melvyn Braggs 'The Adventure of English', he talks about how many of the dialect words he grew up using in Cumbria had their roots in Viking settlement. I suppose that's how it came to be a surname (for someone who lived by the 'beck'), and then used as a first name.

By Devon (not verified)
August 7, 2008 6:24 PM

No one from New Jersey would name their baby Trenton LOL... and
I shudder every time I see a little girl named Camden.

By SF (not verified)
August 7, 2008 6:38 PM

Umm? Ever heard of Graydon Carter?

By Cathy (not verified)
August 7, 2008 6:44 PM

Devon, here, here, re: NJ natives not using Trenton or Camden. Trent is great - Trenton not so much! Another name NJ natives would never consider is Brooklyn.

By Yolanda (not verified)
August 7, 2008 7:06 PM

How about...

Calen (cal-en; nickname: cal)
Westin (nickname: west)
Jameson (jay-me-son, nicknames: jamie or james)
Keithan (nickname: keith)

By ajaz (not verified)
August 7, 2008 7:13 PM

Re: Kenley

I work at a mother's day out, and there are two little girls, one named Kenlie, the other Kinley, both around two years old.

By Leonie (not verified)
August 7, 2008 7:36 PM

In Australia, Rylan is pretty much a boy's name (Riley is in the top ten) and Kaylin/Calan/Kalan/Cailen etc is relatively split between boys and girls. Same with Caiden etc, but I think if you add a y (Kayley etc) then it becomes a girl name. Gawd.

By c.Elizabeth (not verified)
August 7, 2008 7:43 PM

I have always given very little heed to the "spell it her whole life" argument. There are plenty of us who would consider our names very UN-kre8tiv who have been stuck spelling our names as well. My first name is Carrie, that one will always need to be spelled of course. My dh get things adressed to Jonathan, Jonathon, and Johnathan (this spelling is actually in my family tree about 5 gen. back). My aunt Lisa gets Liza and sometimes Lissa. And Kelly, Theresa, Reagan, Brian and Sherry are all ordinary names with ordinary spelling that have to be spelled their whole lives.

I do somewhat acknowledge the misprounced arguement though even that one can be tricky.

By Leonie (not verified)
August 7, 2008 8:15 PM

Also this doesn't belong here, but how about an international Olympic team analysis?

Australia's top ten baby girl names are Ella, Emily, Mia, Isabella, Chloe, Charlotte, Olivia, Sophie, Lily, and Sienna. One in four girl babies are given one of these 10 names.

But just to show that a lot of these names are pretty "new", in our 400-plus Olympic team, there are only 2 Emily's and 1 each of Olivia, Mia and Sophie (this includes common alternate spellings). It will be a different picture at the 2020 games I reckon!

By Leonie (not verified)
August 7, 2008 8:19 PM

I agree c.Elizabeth. We are entering a world where no one, nowhere, is going to take name spelling for granted, simply because there are so many free radicals out there, even for common sounding names. Maybe the digital era will save us all and we'll just have to swipe a card everywhere we go?