Sep 20th 2008

Here are a dozen girls' names.  Can you spot any patterns in the list?


Go with the obvious: half of the names on the list start with L.  You're looking at the top dozen names in Austria, just one of the many countries infatuated with the lovely letter L.  Lena and Leonie are particularly hot in German-speaking areas; Lea is huge in France and Quebec; Lucia is the top name in Spain, with Lucy and Lucie soaring elsewhere; Laura is a favorite just about everywhere (good taste, world!)  Take any short name that starts with an L and ends with a vowel, and you're sure to be in style.

Regular readers of this blog may be experiencing a little deja vu right about now.  Yes, you've heard something like this before.  The same pattern came up in my discussion of rising names I've taken off my "Why Not?" list.  Names like Luna and Lila were rare in the U.S. just a few years back, but are suddenly in contention.  The global figures suggest that's not just a fluke.  L is the world's hottest letter for girls' names, and the U.S. is just hitching a ride on that bandwagon.


p.s. to those of you who've asked me about that mysterious little "login" button...no, it doesn't do anything quite yet, but stay tuned!



By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 23, 2008 12:23 AM

Congratulations to all the new parents and thanks for the updates!

Beth-Let's face it: Caroline is just about the perfect name.

Can someone explain the geographic name flow? Do names popular in Europe always make their way to the states? About how long does it take? I know names popular in England and Australia often make their way here in short order, but it doesn't always seem to be the case.
I've been surprised, for example, that Jemma/Gemma hasn't taken off here.

We know many Lilys, but most are close to preschool age. We also know lots of Ellas and Ellies, but again, most are a bit older.

I adore both Lucia (a favorite on this board) and Lucy. My mom was always desperate to have a grandaughter named Liesel, so if anyone wants to "adopt," that one, it would make my mom happy!
We do know a little Leah, but not an overwhelming number of other "L's" as of yet.

I also know sisters named Natalia and Eleni, who are often called Talia and Leni.

Finally, I just had to share that Jack has a new little friend named Madison, but he just can't get her name right-he's forever calling her Adamis. He never reverses words like that, so I've been tickled by it.

By Miriam (not verified)
September 23, 2008 3:47 AM

I am finally getting around to responding to Jennifer's post (9/21--11:01 pm) which she addressed to me:

First of all, asking why the GVS occurred is not a productive question. Really nobody knows, anymore than anyone knows why there is a major vowel shift going on at this time in white speakers in the Great Lakes region. This shift is not taking place in adjacent parts of Canada nor in the African-American community in the region. We know it is taking place and we can describe it (and frankly the sound of it drives me up the wall), but why, who knows.

I took a look at what is online concerning the GVS, and I was shocked to see how much of what is out there is erroneous nonsense. Some sites say it happened in 1400 (like everyone went to bed speaking English one way and woke up the next morning speaking another way), others say 1350-1450 or 1400-1450 or, or, or. Actually the core of the GVS occurred from the 15th century to the 18th century. There are other vowel changes that occurred before the 15th century, even as early as the 12th, but the changes which are subsumed under the rubric GVS can be dated to the 15th-18th centuries. GVS separates Middle English from Modern English, not Old English from Middle English. Some sites say that the GVS swept Europe at the same time, but no. If it did we wouldn't be calling the pre-shifted vowels "continental." Unfortunately the reputable sites (Harvard, Furman) are rather brief. The GVS took place in stages and its effects were not uniform. Ireland never finished the shift, and Scotland really didn't participate. That's why Scots English has the pronunciation 'doon' for 'down.'

Now for the Black Death. First of all, the term Black Death is generally applied only to the Great Pandemic of 1348-49. Bubonic plague is one of three forms of plague (the others are pneumonic and septicemic). Thus Black Death and bubonic plague are not synonyms. You are right--plague years occurred periodically up until the Great Fire of London, but they never reached the disastrous level of 1348-49 again. My sense was it was like the summer outbreaks of polio before the polio vaccine--scary and causing a cessation of normal activities which involved large groups of people--but not devastating.

As for population shifts due to the Black Death, yes, sometimes entire villages were wiped out, as were crowded urban neighborhoods. This had the effect of causing a shortage of labor, raising the prestige of English-speaking peasants to some extent and certainly emboldening them (see the Peasants' Revolt of 1381). But the main shift of population from the rural areas to the cities occurred following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and particularly following the passage of the enclosure laws in the 18th century which threw large numbers of agricultural workers off the land. This resulted in a large underclass in the cities, development of (more or less) organized crime, and the founding of the first police force by Sir Robert Peel. (See the Beggar's Opera.)

Because English was a substratum language from the period immediately following the Conquest to roughly the beginning of the 14th century. there was no English-speaking educated elite to put the brakes on English linguistic change during this period. Thus we have massive changes in phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon during this period. For example, English changed from a synthetic to analytic language. The beginning of the end for Anglo-Norman as the superstratum language came with the loss of Normandy by King John in 1204. By 1250 the elite were increasingly able to speak English, and it is after 1250 that Norman French lexical borrowings mushroomed. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) led French to be stigmatized as the language of the enemy, but at the same time it still had prestige as the language of culture and fashion. This ambiguity toward France and the French continues to this day. French took over from Latin as the lingua franca which all Europeans with cultural pretensions had to learn and maintained this position until the very recent hegemony of English. These and other social, political and economic factors led the English upper classes back to the English language, but there is no persuasive case to be made (not IMO nor have I seen such) that this was the cause of the GVS, since the process of the resurrection of English was basically complete before the shift got under way in earnest.

By Jenny (not verified)
September 23, 2008 10:45 AM

Miriam- Fascinating as always! Really, you should create a blog or website on this, we'd all love it I'm sure!! Two follow-up questions for you. Is Scottish actually pretty close to Middle English then? Or just certain words? And what are the sounds that are changing right now around the Great Lakes? While you say the sound bothers you, it must be interesting to be able to see such a vowel shift in action!

Cara- Leia and Sadie are a great sibset, I love that!

By Jenny (not verified)
September 23, 2008 10:53 AM

In other news, I was telling my boyfriend about some of the things we have been discussing and though he told me he was not interested in seeing the bnw book, I brought it out and he was totally pulled in! He can be very opinionated and so I learned that he is against Kre8tive spellings (rather vehemently) as well as traditional boys names being given to girls and changing them meaning. He also rejected my currect favorite name, Alice (::sigh::).

Laura, I also got a lecture on how Welsh isn't Celtic that's why they always make the distinction of being Welshmen (didn't seem to matter that it is sort of a combination category, but he wanted you to know, hehe;). Anyway, it was a lot of fun to get him talking about it (though I don't think he'll be a regular).

By Birgitte (not verified)
September 23, 2008 11:01 AM

My hubby loved Roscoe for a nn (huge Dukes of Hazzard fan).

I was nowhere near any State when Ike hit, I am still in Norway. But I think my pineapple/papaya diet made me go into labor 10 days before term (on purpose).

By Guest (not verified)
September 23, 2008 11:47 AM

I've always loved having an unusal name, and I'm not thrilled that out and about I often hear it called out, and it's a parent calling after their toddler! However, I always hated the biblical story that went along with Leah, hated going to synagogue on the day that Torah portion was read, and will never, ever name any daughter of mine Rachel! And since I was born the year before the first Star Wars movie came out, I spent a lot of time in school (and I mean kindergarten through college) getting called Princess! Although technically, her name is spelled differently (Leia). I suppose now that would be more of an issue if you named your child Amidala. I can't think of any character instances in literature, but there is a famous Hebrew poet named Leah Goldberg.

By RobynT (not verified)
September 23, 2008 12:11 PM

Kristi: while I like Soren, I think it sounds too much like Koen and so maybe Theron or Lucian would be better. Lucian is pron Lu-shen, is that right? I think it sounds fine with James or Jonas as MN. For the girls' names, Aleah and Rhianna strike me as very trendy, almost too light for your boys' names. Maybe it is just a pet peeve of mine when that happens in one family, as if boys/men have to be serious and girls/women can just be fun.

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 23, 2008 12:22 PM

KRC -- The other name we were considering is Eily. Although I still think it's a nice name, I'm very glad we didn't choose it. Despite being an NE, I was unaware of the many very similar currently popular girls' names. My reservation about it then was that it would be mistaken for Eileen, a name I truly don't like.

That said, Astrid is routinely misheard (most common being Ashley) so I guess I didn't win on that one anyway!

By Guest (not verified)
September 23, 2008 1:38 PM

@Maggie, I don't think the "L"- name trend is something you have to fret about immediately. Consider this post just a very early warning of future naming events to come. If you love Lydia, go for it! My instinct is it will be at least 5 years until Lydia becomes too played out (ie. in the top 50).

@J&H's mom, that's strong praise for the name Caroline. If you had a girl, that's what you'd name her? I want to hear from more of you about what you'd name a child right now.

By Amelia (not verified)
September 23, 2008 1:55 PM

Hi - I posted a few weeks ago about names for our baby girl #2 - older daughter is Eliza. Names we were thinking about were names like Ruby, Tillie, Flora, etc.

Now my husband has brought up the possibility of naming our daughter after my beloved grandmother who passed away a few years ago, which I love the idea of, but I would like some feedback on the name: Polly. He likes it and I can't decide if I like it or if it sounds hopelessly old fashioned. It seems that absolutely no one is using this name these days.


By Eo (not verified)
September 23, 2008 2:36 PM

Amelia-- "Polly" is a wonderful name/nickname with a rich history from the Middle Ages onward.

Both Polly and Molly started out as nicknames for "Mary". There was "Mally" and "Molly" and rhyming "Polly", etc.

I also think Polly is delightful and compatible with the equally charming and nostalgic "Eliza"-- you'd have a great sib-set.

You have the option of bestowing the name "Mary", (a classic beauty of a name if there ever was one), and using Polly as a nickname...

Curious to know if Polly was your grandmother's full name or nickname?

Or, if you wanted a formal name that "sounded" closer to Polly, there are several choices. I know of a stylish woman who named her little girl "Paulina" after a beloved grandmother, and the child is called Polly. Bothers are Jack and Andrew...

By Eo (not verified)
September 23, 2008 2:38 PM

That's "brothers", NOT bothers!

By KRC (not verified)
September 23, 2008 2:43 PM

Amy3 - Interesting! I don't think I've ever heard the name Eily. I like it, but agree that is is very close to a lot of popular names for little girls today.

Amelia, I kind of like Polly. It is sweet for a little girl; I would only wonder if it ages well. But I am always in favor of names honoring beloved family members.

By C & C's Mom - and now B! (not verified)
September 23, 2008 3:07 PM

Amelia - Polly is adorable! Molly is currently popular, so why not Polly?

sib set in my son's hockey class: John (6yrs old) and Sean (4 yrs old) They have a younger brother too but I didn't get his name. John and Sean!

Consonant ending names - for girls a lot of surname/first names end in consonants - like my own dd - Campbell

I just had a baby boy, but if he had been a girl, he would have been Caroline Miller - called Millie.

I have also noticed that L is also a popular letter within names, even if it is not the first letter - Molly, all -ella names, etc

By Keren (not verified)
September 23, 2008 3:22 PM

I like Polly, although in England she'd be driven mad by the nursery rhymes Polly Put the Kettle on and Miss Polly Had a Dolly. There's a leading political journalist here called Polly Toynbee.

It's quite unusual for little girls I think, although Molly and Poppy are popular.

By Tirzah (not verified)
September 23, 2008 3:26 PM

FYI, Polly Pockets is a super popular toy for little girls.

By Jennifer (not verified)
September 23, 2008 4:04 PM


It might not be a productive question, but it's an interesting one. Historical linguistics, in my passing acquaintance with it, is full of such riddles-- namely, what are the forces that cause langauges to evolve?

I think that the decline of French during the Anglo-French wars, the repeated epidemics of plague, and the GVS were all more or less contemporaneous. Who's to say which direction causality flowed?

I will take issue with the notion that only the mid-14th c epidemic of plague was significant. Plague is a dreadful disease. It's still around, in Mongolia and-- surprise!-- Colorado (the US has 10-20 cases a year. Breaking the news to patients is, needless to say, interesting). Although the organism is quite sensitive to antibiotics, the mortality rate in untreated cases is quite high-- 50%! There's a debate going on in infectious diseases circles as to whether or not people develop immunity to plague after repeated exposure, which is an interesting question historically.

Why? England was immunologically naive to plague before the epidemic swept in from Asia across Europe. It absolutely decimated the population-- 1/3 died. As I mentioned before, this had extraordinary effect on the peasant population-- it caused them to move, to remarry, to find new trades, and to make urban living viable. Most importantly, however, it made life BETTER for everyone. What? Better? Well, the land was overburdened. Crop returns were diminishing. People existed on a diet of barley beer and coarse bread-- they were, in short completely malnourished. After the plague there was some demographic breathing room; people ate more and ate better, they had more land and could devote fields to pasturing (this is when sheep husbandry started to take off, which dramatically changed the face of English agriculture). Most importantly, they had excess that they could sell at market for material goods. This, in addition to people abandoning ruined villages and the like, meant people moved around.

Plague kept coming though. Because the population was less dense it never took off to the extent that it did before, but it was certainly nothing like polio. The attack rates were high, as were the mortality rates. it's theorized that there might be some historical immunological protection (everyone alive in, say, 1550 was descended from a *survivor* of the 1340s epidemic, so perhaps they inherited a genetic predisposition to fighting it off), and that much better nutrition helped keep the plague from the horrible levels of the 14th c.

Finally, for naming experts-- there was a cadre of saints called the "Fourteen Holy Helpers" who were called upon for protection from pestilence. I've always wondered if there was a spike in interest in their names as well. What do you all think?

Agathius (Acacius)
Erasmus E
Vitus (Guy)

By cc (not verified)
September 23, 2008 4:05 PM

The only time I've seen the name Eily used was in Kate Douglas Wiggin's charming book, The Bird's Christmas Carol...a must read in our house each December.
I think it could be used as a nickname for Reily or Reilly.

By cc (not verified)
September 23, 2008 4:21 PM

Posted too quickly. I don't know where my brain is today.
I meant to say that Eily was the name of one of the large brood of Ruggles' who lived in a cottage in the alley behind the Bird's mansion. The children were a source of entertainment and amusement for the Bird's daughter, Carol.
The name Carol is not much in favor these days, but I've always liked it because of the child in this story, whose mother chose her name because she was born on Christmas morning. Mrs. Bird was lying in her bed recovering from the birth and listening to the voices of the boy's choir singing carols in the church next door when she suddenly realized she had found the perfect name for her Christmas child.
An oft discussed topic on this site is how important it is for one's child to have a name with some meaning. I think this choice was perfect.

By Jessica (not verified)
September 23, 2008 4:43 PM

Baby name alert: I overheard a 20-something bookstore clerk talking about his new neice... Magdalen. Although the way he said it made me wonder if it is Magdelyn. hmmm

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
September 23, 2008 4:52 PM

I don't much care for the name Polly I think it comes off as dated butthat is only my opinion. I do like Molly though. How about Penelope? Could Polly be derived as a nn?

As far as naming a child for myself right this very minute-that would be tough and would I consider dh's opinion or not.
Probably Brian for boy and Kimberley for girl.

By Miriam (not verified)
September 23, 2008 5:26 PM

"Who's to say which direction causality flowed?"

Answer: no one. The question of why a particular sound change took place is not a productive one, because in the overwhelming majority of cases we have no way to determine an answer. I have never seen a reputable philologist argue that the plague (in all its manifestations) triggered the GVS or even was a contributing cause. There is a major vowel shift going on right this minute in the cities of the upper midwest (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5220090). It can be described, but no one can say why this is taking place. How the sounds are changing in regard to the functions of the organs of articulation, yes, why, no....

"I think that the decline of French during the Anglo-French wars, the repeated epidemics of plague, and the GVS were all more or less contemporaneous."

Jennifer, these events are not all contemporaneous. The shift to English among the elites began even before the loss of Normandy in 1204. It was recorded that the wife of one of Becket's assassins called out to warn her husband of imminent danger--in English. This, of course was during the twelfth century reign of Henry II, and it demonstrates that an Anglo-Norman aristocratic woman in a moment of panic used English and obviously expected her Anglo-Norman aristocratic husband to be able to understand it and act on it immediately. By 1250 the English elite was primarily English-speaking. The 13th century saw the preparation of textbooks to teach young upper-crusters French as a school language. Clearly French was no longer their cradle tongue. So 1250, when Anglo-Norman was already in sharp decline, is a century earlier than the Great Pandemic and two centuries earlier than the appearance of the first stages of the GVS. I myself wouldn't call these events contemporaneous.

I never said that the plague wasn't horrid, but the great demographic dislocations are associated with the pandemic of 1348-49, not with the repeated lesser outbreaks, horrible as they were. Read Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year to get an idea of the great and final outbreak of plague in 1665. It should be noted that this work is fiction and appeared in 1722, well after the event it purports to describe, but it does give a sense of the impact of the plague in an urban setting. It should be remembered that while entire rural villages were wiped out in 1348-49, that epidemic and subsequent outbreaks were also hard on the urban populace.

You are certainly right that the massive population loss of 1348-49 improved the lot of the survivors. The 2/3 who survived inherited the stuff of the 1/3 who died right off the bat. Chaucer's elders, for example, did use their windfall to move to London and set up as vintners. They were able to educate their son and secure him a career as one of the earliest full-time bureaucrats in England, definite upward mobility in part due to the plague. As I said before, the deaths of so many agricultural laborers raised the value of the remaining laborers who were able to demand (and receive) higher wages in spite of efforts to enact and enforce wage caps.

The improvement of the circumstances of the lower and middle classes increased the prestige of English, leading for example, to the flowering of Middle English literature in the last quarter of the 14th century. Chaucer knew he was taking a risk for posterity by writing in English, but his friend Gower hedged his bets by writing three long works, one each in French, Latin, and English. Chaucer's English works were widely read both by the court and by the middle class. This period also sees the beginning of learned and technical writing in English as opposed to Latin. Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe is the first known piece of tech writing in English. Chaucer translated it for his little son Lewis who was hopping up and down to learn how to use the gizmo, but who was not a sufficiently good Latin student to read the instructions.

So events like the plague and the Hundred Years War raised the prestige of English which began to be used for purposes previously handled in Latin and French, but it can't really be said that the prestige of French was significantly lowered. French was still a necessary second-language acquisition for all those with social and cultural pretensions (see Chaucer's Prioress, Madame Eglantine, and her bad school French, the French of Stratford-at-Bow, because she didn't know the French of Paris). The use of French as a lingua franca in Europe and areas colonized by Europe continued up until very recently and still continues (the announcements at the Beijing Olympics were made in French, English, and Mandarin). And certainly at least until my generation French was considered a necessary accomplishment for daughters whom their parents wanted to see "finished." My parents did not send me to finishing school in Switzerland to get good French, as did the parents of some of the girls I grew up with, but they did engage a French tutor for that purpose.

But none of this can be pointed to with any degree of certainty (or even probability) as the cause (or a cause) of the GVS.

By Guest (not verified)
September 23, 2008 5:59 PM

Polly is one of those rarer names I wish more people used. It's ready for a big revival. I think immediately of English actress Polly Walker who was riveting as Atia of the Julii in the BBC miniseries "Rome."

But like Molly, Kate, Sally, and Sadie, (& boys' names Sam, Max, Jack, Charlie) I tend to think of it as more of a nickname and not as much a proper firstname.

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 23, 2008 6:01 PM

KRC and cc -- I actually knew a girl named Eily growing up. I've never heard it on anyone (real or fictional) since.

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
September 23, 2008 6:08 PM

Amelia, I like Polly and don't think it is out of place with today's trends (especially in England - not sure where you're from? The names you like make me think England rather than the US). There was that rom-com "Along Came Polly" with Jennifer Aniston a couple of years ago, where she played a free-spirited, fun character. I also like the fact that, like Eliza, it originated as a nickname for a very traditional name but can stand on its own.

Miriam, I am really enjoying your and Jennifer's exchange! I have a question, although please don't feel obliged to type out a very long post; I know you're not my personal linguistics teacher ;)

I had somehow got the idea that sound shifts started because of the stigmatisation of the first vowel in the chain. For example, the way that an accent pronounces a particular vowel might become associated with an undesirable social group. So, the people with this accent who want to distinguish themselves begin to pronounce that vowel in a different way in an attempt to avoid the "vulgar" or "stuffy" pronunciation. Then the newer pronunciation might sound increasingly similar to another existing vowel, so that vowel in turn is pronounced differently, perhaps becoming more closed/open. And so on, like a chain of dominoes.

Is there any truth in this, or have I got mixed up? I'm not sure how generally you were speaking when you said that it was near impossible to pinpoint the cause of a vowel shift - whether you were referring to particular tangible causes, or not. (I studied some linguistics at university, but wasn't especially good at it and it's a bit hazy now.)

By Laney (not verified)
September 23, 2008 6:43 PM

At the park today met a Shalynn (about 6) and her sister Vera (about 2) with their Grandma. "Shala" sounds really sweet when you hear it spoken out loud. Grandma also said "Sholly" a couple of times which sounded pretty darn cute.

Shalynn with the "Lynn" at the end fits right in with all the Kalynns and Evalynns and Shilos and Sashas. Not at all my cup of tea but it was interesting..wonder if they made it up. I haven't heard that one before.

By Amelia (not verified)
September 23, 2008 6:45 PM

Thanks everyone on the input on Polly! I do think that Eliza and Polly go well together. My grandmother's given name was Mary, but we would be likely to just go with Polly (though the Penelope, nn Polly, idea is intriguing).

We are in California.

By Miriam (not verified)
September 23, 2008 6:48 PM


Certainly major sound changes like the GVS and Grimm's law that involve changes in a number of sounds (vowels or consonants) take place in stages and certainly one change can lead to another. But where it gets iffy is the idea that the first change occurs because a certain sound is stigmatized by being associated with a low prestige group. That could happen, I suppose, but I would not go so far as to say that's always/often--or even ever--the trigger. You could turn it around and say that the first change is started because a group with prestige has a certain pronunciation and is emulated by people lower on the totem pole. Another possible trigger--contact with another language. There are a lot of possibilities, and to my knowledge it is not possible to pinpoint causes for particular sound changes. No one knows what happened to get the Grimm's law changes started.

It's a similar story as to the question about how human language originated, what were the first human languages like. A number of theories were proposed like the Yo-heave-ho theory (that language began as grunts used to co-ordinate group work effort) or the bow-wow theory(humans imitated animal cries). The very names of the theories indicate how pointless it is to speculate in the face of zero evidence. There are no known "primitive" languages. Every known language, living or dead, is well developed and highly complex. In fact older languages (like reconstructed Proto-Indo-European) can be more complex than their descendants. What sort of language Lucy and friends in the Rift Valley used, if any, we don't know and can't know. So the question of language origins has been tabled. Even the proponents of the highly controversial theory that claims "Nostratic" as the pre-historic (Paleolithic/Mesolithic) progenitor of major current language groups (Indo-European, Finno-Ugaric and others) do not extend their claims to the origin of human language.

So linguists and philologists generally spend their time on what and how and where and who, but not why.

By Lucie la Morena (not verified)
September 23, 2008 6:56 PM

Thank you very much for your quick reply, Miriam! You've cleared up something I've been wondering about for a while. Although that said, it just gets curiouser and curiouser!

By Harriet (not verified)
September 23, 2008 7:52 PM

I am soooo busy and haven't been here in weeks, so I'll catch up later. (Til then--congrats to whoever's expecting and whoever's expectations have been fulfilled, thank you to everyone who's provided wonderful insights, and, to be on topic, I think L names are beautiful and really like Linnea and Laurel in particular.)

But I had to share these links. Something we all know about:


and this, a high school debate tournament roster. (There's a kid named SummerStar!):

http://victorybrief sdaily.com/ 2008/09/21/ field-report- yale-2/

By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 23, 2008 8:09 PM

Guest-I sort of let go of a hypothetical Caroline when we went with Jack for our son (just too Kennedy-esque, even for a loyal Blue state girl).
I truly do love everything about it, though.
I think I'd go with Julia or Georgia if I was somehow having a girl tomorrow.
It would be a very hard choice, though.
I also have a soft spot for Kate, no matter how many I meet.

On Polly-I think it's a very sweet match for Eliza. I suppose you could also do something like Paulette or Pauline.
I happen to have a close friend in her thirties named Polly (sisters are Nancy and Julie), so I attach it to a different era than other posters.
She wasn't nuts about her name growing up, but obviously, she was just ahead of her time!
I do love, love Penelope, too.

By Opal (not verified)
September 23, 2008 8:19 PM

J&H's mom, like you, I knew a Polly growing up, and while I personally don't have anything against the name, I know she didn't much care for it, especially always hearing "Polly want a cracker?"

I like the idea of Penelope nn Polly. Lots of options for her if she herself decides she doesn't like Polly.

By Jane (not verified)
September 23, 2008 8:39 PM

I love Polly. It's sweet but not too frilliana. And everyone knows how to spell and pronounce it, yet it has so far escaped massive popularity. I also kind of like the nursery rhyme "Polly put the kettle on." I read once that a father made up the rhyme because he was so taken by his clever daughters, who, when they didn't want the boys around spoiling their fun, always started playing tea to drive them away. Then when they were gone, they went back to more interesting persuits. There are two nice characters in children's books named Polly, too, in The Magician's Nephew, and in An Old Fashioned Girl.

By Jane (not verified)
September 23, 2008 8:41 PM

by C.S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott, respectively.

By Jane (not verified)
September 23, 2008 8:44 PM

also, meant to type "pursuits"

By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 23, 2008 9:04 PM

This post made me recall Troy Patterson's article in Slate a few years ago in praise of Lois Lane and other L-names for women.

It begins with this:

"A stripper once told me that so many women in her line of work choose stage names with two "L"s—Lulu, Lily, Lola—because saying them makes you tap your tongue up and down in a licklike way."

Here's the link:

By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 23, 2008 9:15 PM

And Lila will always be, to me, the incomparably snooty yet oddly relate-able Lila Fowler (Sweet Valley High), as I'm sure it will be for many women either pushing or past thirty.

I also came across something interesting while reading about the anti-feminism some see in the popular Young Adult _Twilight_ novels. Meyer explains why she named a character "Renesmee."

Meyer: "Well, I couldn't call her Jennifer or Ashley. What do you name the most unique baby in the world? I looked through a lot of baby name websites. Eventually I realized that there was no human name that was going to work for me, so I surrendered to necessity and made up my own. I don't approve of such shenanigans in real life, I don't even believe in getting creative with spellings for real kids! But this was fantasy, and no human name fit, so I did the best I could. I named Renesmee so long ago—Fall 2003—that the name now sounds really natural to me. It wasn't until people started mentioning it that I remembered, 'oh, yeah, it is a weird name, isn't it?' "

Here' the link: http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/bd_faq.html

I'm tempted to call Meyer an NE, though I think it could be argued either way (the sole reference to websites implies a lack of the typical NE home mini-library of name texts, for example).

Interesting how she expresses disapproval of names ("shenanigans") that don't meet her criteria, perhaps because they are created? I have not read the novels, but I believe she has characters with mainstream, historically common names--Bella, Edward, Jacob, Alice.

My own view is that there's no inherently "better" type of name or namer such that someone of disparate taste should feel comfortable "approving" or "disapproving" of others' choices.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 23, 2008 9:17 PM

I don't mean to imply that people without the resources to craft a mini-library [aka 2+ books ;) ] are not NEs. I actually was referring only to Meyer, whom I believe is not hurting in the money department (and who has written a few books by now), hence my surprise that she does not mention name books, only sites.

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 23, 2008 9:52 PM

I like Polly a lot, but if you wanted a longer formal name (that isn't Mary), Penelope is a nice choice.

If I were naming a baby today (without my husband's input), I'd choose Beatrix or Laszlo.

Miriam and Jennifer -- As always, fascinating stuff! It's been great hearing linguistics and medical history (two of my favorite subjects) discussed in tandem, especially when the time period is medieval (another of my favorite subjects). Add names to the mix, and I'm in heaven!

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
September 23, 2008 10:12 PM

I haven't read the Twilight series, although my niece raves about it, but I have been wondering for some time whom you all think are the best naming authors. I read Kate Atkinson's "It's Not the End of the World" (a collection of short stories) some time ago and was in awe of her naming prowess. On the flip side, I recently read Chris Bohjalian's novel "The Double Bind" and although I enjoyed the novel, I felt that some of the names were off (granted, he was constrained to Fitzgerald references for many of the names). Many of the names in David Baldacci's books are horribly off.

By Jane (not verified)
September 23, 2008 10:23 PM

One of the best authors as far as naming characters is JK Rowling. In fact, I'd say that the majority of her skills as an author lie in the creation of atmosphere... which she is really good at. And I think that ties in with names.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 23, 2008 10:39 PM

Totally off-topic, but here's a link to a story I just heard on how scientists name newly discovered flora, fauna, and insects.

Can you imagine the fun?


By C & C's Mom - and now B! (not verified)
September 23, 2008 11:11 PM

I recently read in a baby name book that Lolo is an old-fashioned nickname for Caroline - very cute and very L!

By Coll (not verified)
September 23, 2008 11:12 PM

Polly is adorable! I know of a woman in my Brooklyn neighborhood who named her 2-year-old-daughter (just) Polly. So your little Polly would not be alone by any stretch. If you want a more formal version, I like Paulina (the name of the charming and admirable young girl in Charlotte Bronte's Villette is Paulina Mary, and she is known as Polly).

My two favorite authors for names: Dickens and L.M. Montgomery. Podsnap, Bella Wilfer, John Rokesmith, the Veneerings, the Boffins, Jenny Wren... and that's just in one novel! And L.M Montgomery not only has Anne-with-an-e (and any NE understands how essential that "e" is) but Emily Starr, Kilmeny, Marigold, and my favorite, Valancy Jane.

If I were naming a child today (with husband's help) I would choose Simon Alistair or Josephine Rebecca.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
September 23, 2008 11:17 PM

ElizabethT and Jane:

That's a good question. First off, I'm interested as to what makes the names of that author "horribly off," ElizabethT.

JK Rowling is great for me when she's "On" and a bit too obvious when she's off. For instance, Dolores Umbridge: Best. Villainess. Name. Ever. Love, love the sly wink to "pain" and the last name that smacks of raking "umbrage." The key to the first working is that Dolores really is the name of millions of women of a certain age bracket, so it doesn't feel like a neon light "This is what this character is like!" name.
But Lupin just kills me. Every time I re-read the series, I think "But he became a werewolf AFTER he was born/his parents named him! What are the chances that a Lupin gets bitten?"

I'll have to think more about what other authors are good namers. But I can tell you what I DON'T like: popular genre fiction is riddled with names that I feel are just too generic and "wonderbread" for fictional characters. Yes, in real life, there are probably tens of thousands of Jack Hunters, Teri Martins, and Martin Harrises, and most of them wonderful people--but you're a novelist! You have the freedom to mix things up. If the character is Anglo, there are thousands of marvelously out-of-the-way Anglo surnames you could use, and dozens of familiar but lesser-used ones. Instead of Summers, how about Somerville? Ditto Irish, Scottish and German surnames.

And, please, authors: along those lines--more culturally diverse names would be an NE's dream. :)

By ajaz (not verified)
September 24, 2008 12:06 AM

Laney: I knew a Shaylin when I was younger, she's probably about 13 now.

Regarding Twilight: I love most of the names Meyer chooses for her characters. Some of the names she uses are: Bella, Edward, Jacob, Alice, Jasper, Carlisle, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett.

By Kristi (not verified)
September 24, 2008 12:33 AM

Thanks to everyone who has given input on our baby name lists. I think we have a strong leaning on a boy's name, but are still not sure about our top pick for a girl's name (and I'm thinking this one will be a girl).

Sarah R. - pronunciation is of some importance to us as well. We eliminated two names from our list (Tiernan & Lelia), although we really liked them, because they were more difficult to say.

Along with the L theme of the original post, like several who have posted, dh & I Love the name Linnea. Unfortunately, my cousin named her daughter Lynnea 11 years ago. She pronounces it Lin-EE-uh.

By Tirzah (not verified)
September 24, 2008 1:14 AM


I think Lupin is his last name. His first name is Remus, after Remus and Romulus who were rescued by a wolf while infants.

If you buy into the Harry Potter world, it does make you think that your name shapes who you are!

By Miriam (not verified)
September 24, 2008 1:50 AM

TV shows also have good and bad namers. I think Marc Cherry does a very good job on Desperate Housewives. For example, Lynette and Tom's children are Parker, Preston, Porter and Penny--spot on. And when Tom's love child Kayla shows up, you just know she is not going to be Lynette's style, from her name on down, and she's not going to fit into the Schavo family. Lynette's sisters have names that all begin with L, so no wonder Lynette is into alliteration.

I am amused by the name of Kyra Sedgwick's character on The Closer. She's Brenda Leigh (not quite Brenda Lee) and has an over the top southern accent.

Some bad namers:

Whoever does the naming on Saving Grace. Grace's family is depicted as very Catholic--one of the brothers is a priest. Grace's name is necessary for the pun in the title of course, and her sister who died in the Oklahoma City bombing is Mary Frances. The brothers all have saints' names, and the other sister is...Paige. Doesn't seem like she belongs in the same family.

In a new show Sons of Anarchy about a rogue motorcycle gang in a small northern California, the queen mother of the gang (Katy Sagal) is named Gemma. How many little girls in rural northern California were named Gemma 50 years ago? Her son, in his latter twenties more or less and vice president of the motorcycle gang, is Jackson, nn Jax. If I hear someone named Jackson, called Jax, I figure he's about five. Jax has a newborn son named Abel, which I did think was an interesting choice.

And then there are the soap operas. It's been a loooong time since I watched a soap opera, about 40 years or so ago, but back in the day the soap opera characters had IMO a big influence on real life naming trends. I don't know what kinds of character names are being used and what kind of influence they have on naming trends these days though.

By Anne (not verified)
September 24, 2008 3:05 AM

I must be odd...

The first trend I noticed was that all but one have a vowel as the second letter and all have a vowel/vowel plus H at the end.

Oh, I like Polly. But it's too nicknamey for me to consider it as a formal name. (I'm one of those moms who named my child Margaret with the full intention of calling her Maggie all her life except on formal occasions and when she's in trouble!)