The Names You Choose Mean More Today Than Ever Before

Oct 28th 2010

The title of this column may seem like puffery, but I mean it very literally. Baby names carry more meaning now than in generations past. And all the time that today's parents spend fretting over the perfect name? They're not just obsessive, they're responding to a new reality. I can prove it.

I've talked before about a revolution in the way Americans name their babies. It started in the 1960s, when individuality was elevated to a prized cultural virtue. More parents started looking for names that stood out, rather than fitting in. It accelerated with the new media and information landscape of the '90s. Internet searches, unique user names, and 300 cable channels all upped the ante on finding a distinctive name. Bit by bit, the core classic English names that ruled for centuries began to disappear. They left behind a wild and woolly world where there's no such thing as a normal name.

That's the bird's eye view. What might not be obvious is the revolution's impact on an individual name, and an individual name-hunting parent. With the change in naming culture, your name choice carries more information; it means more.

Let's use clothing as an analogy. Imagine a company where employees are expected to wear gray or blue suits to work. If you see a guy wearing a gray suit in that office, what does it tell you about him as an individual? Not much. Now imagine another company with an anything-goes dress code. Couldn't you read more about an employee from his outfit there? And wouldn't the same gray suit mean a lot more in that environment?

Similarly, the more diverse the names around us, the more each name choice means. Back in the 1950s, "normal" really was the norm. The top 25 boy's names and the top 50 girl's names accounted for half of babies born. That meant that the typical child received a name that was very broadly used, so the name didn't communicate much about the family that chose it. (Gregory, George, Kathy, and Denise were typical/median names.)

Today, you have to include 134 boy's names to reach the midpoint of babies, and a whopping 320 names for girls. Names around the median now include Giovanni, Collin, Cody and Kayden for boys; Kyleigh, Ximena, Paisley, and Juliet for girls. Similarly, the 75th percentile of rarity has moved from Fred (rank: #93) to Giancarlo (rank: #677). There is no more naming "dress code," and so the names we wear speak volumes.

You can quantify this rise in meaning. (Serious stats coming up! If you want more methodological background, see these additional research notes.) In the field of information theory, a measure called Shannon entropy is used to describe the information contained in a message. The more diverse and unpredictable a message, the more information it holds. Think of how a photograph of a real-life scene, with all of its subtle colors and shapes, makes for a far larger file than a same-sized solid color block.

I calculated the entropy for the distribution of American baby names at five-year intervals over the past 125 years. Here's the full graph, for scale and reference:

 The Amount of Information Carried by Given Names

Now I'm going to zoom in for discussion:

Name Entropy Closeup

Notice how the curve starts accelerating in the '60s and speeds up again in the '90s. Name entropy, or the information carried by names, has risen as much in the past 25 years as it did in the full century before that. (It's not just a function of the number of babies born, either. See the research notes for more.)

This is the statistical underpinning of the practical reality we sense as parents. Choosing a name is a fraught, consequential process today.

Remember that company where you could wear anything you wanted to work? Imagine meeting three guys in that office. One's in an oxford shirt and baggy khakis. The next is dressed like an H&M model. The third is wearing a t-shirt with a "Far Side" comic strip that he bought in 1992. It's not just that you CAN glean information from those fashion choices -- you DO, automatically.

It's the same with names. As the cultural information conveyed by names grows richer, people process that information, often without even thinking about it. Or to put it another way, the more names have to tell us, the more we learn to listen.

So if you're obsessing over baby names, you're not crazy. In a world where babies are as likely to be named Elijah and Serenity as John and Mary, even John and Mary send powerful signals that the public is primed to receive.


October 28, 2010 1:37 PM

Oh, Laura. I love you.

By C Sllim (not verified)
October 28, 2010 1:39 PM

Great post, Laura! And you're absolutely right...

It's funny how, 80 years ago, naming your son "John" carried absolutely no connotation, other than that you live in a Western culture.

John could've been a privileged lad of the upper crust, or a poor immigrant boy in the east side of Manhattan.

Now, John's image is almost always upmarket and proper. Parents who are naming their baby boys John nowadays seem to be doing so out of a conscious effort avoid sounding trendy, and to ground their solidly in tradition.

By Jenny777 (not verified)
October 28, 2010 1:43 PM

I learn so much from this blog. I sometimes wonder if Laura should be in charge of the Federal Reserve or something, so she could do even more good with her amazing intelligence and analytical way of doing things. But I selfishly appreciate that she writes about such an interesting topic instead!

By Goddess in Progress (not verified)
October 28, 2010 1:48 PM

Love this post, so interesting! I mean, I think plenty of people feel/notice the difference, but fascinating to have it quantified.

Now, I'm off to try to narrow my list of girl names. Oof.

October 28, 2010 1:49 PM

This is wonderful work. We Name Enthusiasts are lucky to have you!

Tomorrow I will report on the astonishing numbers of Katies that have applied to take one of the courses I oversee. All of these students are in the health sciences; most are in graduate school. Just think if I had administered the same courses fifty years ago! Granted, I would have had very few female students (or, I guess, had the job at all), but think of the number of Johns, Bills, and Toms I would have seen. :)

October 28, 2010 2:41 PM

Another ramification of this (what I've termed "name deflation") is that having a top-ranking name isn't like what it used to be (much of what I'm mentioning is what I figured when I was posting about this on another name site several months ago, well before this discussion was started). I've heard many Jennifers, Michaels, etc. claim they don't want to use a popular name because they didn't like being one of many with their name growing up. Thanks to their reaction, there are no names as popular now as the aforemationed ones were back in the day. The #1 names these days account for about 1% of all births; just a few decades ago it was about 5% (and as recently as when many of us were kids it was about 3%). Or to look at it another way, today's #1 names account for about the same percentage of births as a name ranking in the teens or so back then.

October 28, 2010 3:02 PM

i apologize for going off topic so very quickly, but apparently i didn't notice the new post and should have posted the following here. by the way, laura, this is a fascinating post, and i love the new "expert" features!

hello everyone,

i'm finally back after a pretty long absence due to various changes and things in my personal life. i can't even explain how much i've missed the community of this blog.

firstly, tidbits that i've been saving up:

a sibset of willi@m huds0n (will) and katherin3 marl3y (kate), approximately ages 6 and 3. i know it isn't a particularly unusual set of names, but it stuck out to me because every name was a family name (all names of grandparents i believe, except marley, which was the mother's maiden name). i also thought it was neat that the little girl went by kate; i feel like most people would call a child that young by "katie." but they're very nice, classic names.

a sibset of ram0na and @rlo(!) not sure on ages, but i'd estimate about the same as the sibset mentioned above. i love that there are people out there using names like this. :]

i was chatting with a friend of mine who had a professor (he's graduated now) whose name is ursula and who goes by "ushi" (roughly rhyming with "sushi"). he was telling me, "ushi isn't her real name; her real name is ursula, which i think is just the coolest name." so there! i thought you might appreciate some positive feedback from someone who is objective and not an NE. for the record, he's male (obviously) and early 20s, probably about 23. i've been wanting to tell you that so badly ever since it happened.

i noticed that you noticed i was gone. thanks. :]

i also am eagerly awaiting your announcement!

and on topic: as i like *both* oliver and olivia, i find the news about the UK stats very interesting/pleasing. oliver is much more my style than olivia, but as olivia is my sister's name (age 20), i do like it as well. to those who don't think oliver will ever take off in the states, i would argue that it already *has* taken off in the states. it is now within the top 100, with no signs of slowing down. maybe there are a few lingering americans (mostly men, i'm guessing) who still see it as girly/precious/prissy, but i'm guessing that will quickly change once their kids start meeting them in the classroom. in 2009, oliver has about the same percentage of total births that the names alex and cory had in my year of birth (1985), and no one would bat an eye at either of those names. i agree that it probably won't make it to the top ten, but i think it's safe to say that oliver has reached the mainstream here, even if not everyone has realized it yet. and i also don't see any reason why oliver is too formal to use as an everyday name; i suspect this camp is a varient of the oliver-is-too-prissy camp. "too formal" is really just a step up from "too prissy" and i suspect that those who feel this way will also start to change their minds when they start meeting little olivers in real life.

i also agree that olivia and oliver have different vibes, and i think zoerhenne's pairing of julia and julian is a nice comparison, particularly for me, as i love both julian and oliver and think of them very similarly: smart, serious, and strong. (though i do agree with the person who said that there is an impish streak in oliver.) olivia, by comparison, is a bit more lacy and pretty, but it doesn't feel precious to me (again, perhaps because of my sister); i agree with zoerhenne that it can also have somewhat of a studious vibe.

and yes: olive and olivia are Very Different to me. olive feels almost deliberately anti-stylish (to the point of actually *being* stylish?), while olivia is obviously quite the height of fashion. and olivia is very "pretty," while "olive" is...not ugly, but very...stark, maybe, is the right word? olivia has frills, and olive definitely has none. for the record, olive reminds me of both olive from little miss sunshine and olive snook from pushing daisies. i like both names though...i guess i'm a fan of all the olive names. :]

also, the issues regarding mohammad/oliver are very interesting, and patricia, the comments you've been posting are very interesting/hilarious. i agree that it's not quite the same as the aidan/jacob thing here. and i'm right there with whoever said found it amusing that someone said the popularity of oliver is due to american tv; oliver is very british to me as well (and i'd wager to most americans)!

well, i suppose this is enough for now, as it's getting a bit lengthy. i hope i'm not being too contrary, disagreeing with everyone. it's so wonderful to be back!

By ClaireP (not verified)
October 28, 2010 3:25 PM

What is that little uptick and drop around late 1980s/early 1990s about? Just statistical noise? Or?

October 28, 2010 4:46 PM

Cool... I like the idea of there no longer being a "normal" name. And this should make it easier in some sense right? Except for those who just want to give their kids "normal" names. I like that it seems to even the playing field a bit or something though.

Elizabeth T: Are you in the Midwest by any chance? I haven't lived in many places, but I felt like there were a ton of Katies in the Midwest!

emilyrae: I agree about your characterization of Olive as anti-stylish and non-frilly.

October 28, 2010 4:48 PM

oh, also about Johns today being more "upmarket." I guess maybe there is a big difference in the trends of my students in their 20s and today's babies, but I teach at a community college that serves a lot of students from lower-income backgrounds and can think of at least four John/Jonathans I've had in the past two years. Unless the past 20 years have made a huge difference (and that's definitely possible) I think maybe John is still quite common enough that there are ones from different backgrounds.

October 28, 2010 6:58 PM

What an amazingly well-researched and well-argued post. Thank you Laura for continuing to allow us to ponder and answer the wider sociological implications of name choice.

October 28, 2010 8:09 PM

RobynT, I'm in North Carolina and teach at a big university. I have students from all over the world. This semester I have students named Yoon-Hie, Vidhi, and Toyin, for example.

October 28, 2010 8:16 PM

Great post! I'll have to show it to dh as evidence that I'm not just needlessly obsessed.

Emilyrae: Thanks so much for that tidbit! I need it. My mother wrangled our names out of me, even though I tried to keep them from her. Both she and my sister are pretty vehemently anti-Ursula.

I agree that Oliver has gone mainstream. My dh, who won't get on board for Simon because it's too "wimpy" even liked Oliver. I like it, too, but don't love Ollie. I personally don't think Olivia is frilly. I think it's very elegant, maybe, but not princess-frilly. I agree that the Julia/Julian comparison is apt.

Goddess in Progress: I envy your having to narrow down your name list. Somehow I can't get more than one or two for each gender to stick!

I started to re-examine our list. Thought we'd have more pressing need of it soon, but alas, just gotta keep on trying...

This is what we've got:

Ursula Sabin3
Anya Pascal3
Simon Xavi3r (if dh will ever come around to Simon, but unlikely)
Xavi3r Edmund
Ever3tt James (this is a new combo)
Nathaniel Walker (worried about Nathan/Nathaniel popularity combined, though...should I let that go?)

Does Soren make y'all just think of Sore? Maybe I could get dh to go for that instead of Simon. Of course, I'm not Swedish or Danish or anything...

Also, can you imagine a grown-up Xavier? I'm having a hard time picturing him as an adult. I can imagine a teenager, but not an adult, for some reason.

October 28, 2010 8:59 PM

Only have a minute now but will post more later-

emilyrae-So nice to see you back again :)

I'm imagining hyz had the baby as I haven't seen her on in a few days :) I just found out my friend had her baby on Saturday Aubr3y Clar3.

October 28, 2010 8:59 PM

Great post, Laura. Thanks for your work.

Just had a two-week apt for our new baby girl; this community was great for suggestions and feedback. Her name is Sylvi@ @nneliese. We are proud and thrilled.

Good luck to all who are expecting and choosing names!

By Philippa The First (not verified)
October 28, 2010 10:32 PM

Claire P: I'm going to guess that uptick is Jennifer and Michael.

October 28, 2010 11:42 PM

PennyX: Okay, I agree that Olivia is not frilly, it's just that Olive is even less frilly.

Soren doesn't make me think of Sore but I would expect someone Scandinavian. And while I don't know if I can picture Xavier on an adult, I'm sure it would be fine if I actually knew one. And I don't think Nathan/Nathaniel are too popular. They're more classic. I don't think I know any kids with these names (though to be fair, I guess I don't know many kids yet).

By hyz nli (not verified)
October 29, 2010 12:27 AM

Well, I'm finally catching up here, and it looks like my announcement is one post too late. :) Our little Oliver J00n was indeed born last week, and he is an absolute joy. He is adorable and robust and easygoing, and, importantly, his big sister is totally in love with him (as are we, of course). We've gotten all positive reactions on his name, especially from people around our age--our parents' generation were a little more reserved at first, but seem to have warmed to it quickly. We've been calling him both Oliver and Ollie so far, and I think his name fits him well.

I might be mostly lurking for awhile--I can read while nursing, but typing is more of a challenge. Thanks for thinking of us! It's good to be back. :)

October 29, 2010 12:32 AM

Great post Laura! I am excited to go back and read more on the data at a later time.

Thanks to everyone on the nod regarding Julia/Julian. I also don't think of Olivia as "frilly" necessarily but more of a proper "height of fashion" as emilyrae put it. Olive to me has only a few minor characteristics of what I think an Olivia to be (coincidentally, much like how the actual spellings of the name are similar). The -ia adds a certain flair that Olive will never have for me.

PennyX-I still like all of your current choices. I think given the amount of time and thought you have put into them, they are solid. That is why you do not need to "narrow down" the list. You've already done it while composing it. Soren makes me think Scandinavian and isnt my cup of tea but it may be yours. I wouldn't rule it out just yet. The rest of them:
Ursula Sabin3--*growing on me
Anya Pascal3-*like a lot sounds pretty
Simon Xavi3r (if dh will ever come around to Simon, but unlikely)--*I want to say this one with a more "Ex" ay-vee-er sound for flow. I like the combo.
Xavi3r Edmund--*this one I tend to go with the Zay-vee-er pronunciation which I know you are fonder of. Maybe its the "n" ending in Simon??
Ever3tt James (this is a new combo)--*beautiful
Nathaniel Walker (worried about Nathan/Nathaniel popularity combined, though...should I let that go?)--I like this too!
DD and DS each have a Nathan in their class so (7yo) and (11yo). There are many more Kaden's, and Ryan's.

By Rjoy (not verified)
October 29, 2010 12:44 AM

hyz- Congratulations! So wonderful! What timing on his name after such a post. :)

namedaftermygrandma-Congrats to you too! What a beautiful name. I really like Anneliese.

Such a great post Laura!

This post is so poignant for me right now. I am so overwhelmed with the baby naming that I am seriously considering waiting till after he/she is born to even think about it. (but I am and NE so alas I can't help myself too much)

I don't have one I LOVE but several that I really like. Which is the first to me and quite frustrating. And just like Laura's post, we are contemplating what type of message to we want to give.

Gidieon is way out there (except not so much now because of Neil Patrick Harris...errrr.) Seth is in the middle (family name) but not quite manly enough for me. and Andrew is so normal that I kind of like it. Normal. Fit in. No explanations, no eyebrows raised, no spelling.

and that is jut for boys.

Don't get me started on girls......Girls are even MORE over the map.

Again, great post. I have to show my husband.

By Amy3
October 29, 2010 5:17 AM

@Laura, super post! I love how you routinely take the discussion of names to the next level both statistically and sociologically (it's early, is that a word??).

@NAMG and @hyz, cOnGrAtS to both of you and your families! I love both the names you chose. @hyz, Oliver is a perfect match with Ivy. Enjoy your babies!

@PennyX, I agree with zoerhenne, you've really distilled your lists so much, narrowing isn't really needed. I'm a fan of Soren so I'd say keep it on the list. I don't have any trouble seeing Xavier on an adult (I don't know any Xaviers irl). The only Nathan/iels I know are school-age, but I find Ethan is much more popular in my area. My faves on your list are probably Simon X and Ursula S.

October 29, 2010 7:12 AM

Congratulations to NAMG and hyz! Sylvia and Oliver would also be a good sibset. :),

That blip in the 1980s is interesting. Maybe the conformist culture slipping into baby names? But children born in that time period were the children of Boomers and the so-called Flower Children, whom I don't associate with conformist tendencies. Any theories, NEs?

October 29, 2010 8:14 AM

That's a very interesting and well researched post Laura, thanks! It's strange to think that a name like Jane or Mary would be considered a statement now.

Congratulations to NAMG and hyz on Sylvia and Oliver. They sound lovely, I hope they are well.

PennyX: To be honest your list seems quite distilled already. I can't really imagine Xavier on an adult, but there are a lot of names like that for me. It doesn't sound too childish to grow up with though. And I've started to love Ursula recently.

Also, what would be a good sign of growing popularity? I seem to see Martha a lot in the Telegraph birth announcements (Martha Grace, Daisy Martha, Martha Clementine) and it rose 6 places to 81 on the most popular British names.

October 29, 2010 8:19 AM

Congrats on your new baby hyz!

I haven't been keeping up with the conversation this week as I signed up for the expert tools on Sunday and have been happily obsessing ever since.

Don't get me going on the number of Katies. With my first 3 kids I happened to use names that weren't very popular - not be design just luck. Then we had a Katie and not only are there Katies all over the playground their are lots of 20-something moms named Katie as well. I've been trying to call her Kate. I'd switch her to Kit but I fear its too late.

By Eo (not verified)
October 29, 2010 9:09 AM

NAMG and hyz, congratulations on your little ones-- wonderful news. Also I missed the news of little Mabel's arrival and want to issue belated congrats on that and on other newly arrived bundles I may have missed out on due to spotty "attendance" here-- it is so great when the subjects of so many of our discussions actually arrive in this old world...

Lovely to see you back, emilyrae... enjoyed your latest "namespotting" examples.

Speaking of namespotting, there's a stylish expatriate Brit couple who keep showing up in my interior design mags. The latest feature on them in "Elle Decor" listed their toddler children as:

"Ivo" (boy)
"Alastair" and "Celia" (twin boy and girl)

I've often thought of "Ivor/Ifor" but rarely considered "Ivo". It's fresh and appealing, and has the punch of the "o" names.

By Eo (not verified)
October 29, 2010 9:21 AM

Oh, another Laura, if I may comment-- Love your idea of switching to "Kit" (Kit and Kitty are my all-time favorite nicknames, perhaps) and I don't believe it is at all too late. It is very close to "Kate" and just as legit for all the Katherine names and variants.

Plus nicknames "evolve" all the time. Our son Benjamin was "Binns", "Boz", "Baines", "Benj" and "Banks", before Banks finally became the favored and most universally used for him around age five or six.

Now, after all that, at age ten in his upcoming Pilgrim play he is even being billed by the school as "Banks Correct-last-name"... Some of you know the school's history at getting his names (first and last) totally mixed up, so it's a big improvement for them!

October 29, 2010 9:46 AM

Welocome to the new little ones! Also congrats in a way to you Eo for the school getting Banks' name correct. I am one who remembers the early tribulations you endured.

Akward Turtle-I would think that is a good amount of a rise for Martha. I would keep an eye on it.

Rjoy-I like all those names each for a different reason such as you suggest. I also believe they all go together as well though. Andrew Gideon, Gideon Andrew, Seth Andrew, Gideon Seth are all nice combos if you wanted to do that. There are a few Seth's and Andrew's of my ds's age but no Gideon's in this area. All those names are NOT in the popular Kindergarten or new baby crowd.

anothe Laura-There are many many Kate's and Katie's in our neighborhood as well. Then mixed with the Kaylie's, Kylie's, Makayla's and the like it all gets very Lalala... I think Kit would be a fresh alternative to the above.

Celeb news: The news on Celine Dion's twins are that they will be named Nelson (after Menela) and Eddy (after her producer).

By Amy3
October 29, 2010 10:04 AM

@Eo, yay! So glad you seem to finally have the school in line with regard to Banks' name. I've loved Ivo since I read it in a book years ago, but I was pronouncing it Eye-vo in my head and now I think it's probably Ee-vo. Does anyone know the correct pronunciation? I have to admit that if it's Ee-vo, I like it far less.

@another Laura, I don't think it's too late to change a nn, and I love Kit. So sweet and spunky!

By momof07 (not verified)
October 29, 2010 10:35 AM

I absolutely loved reading this new post! I am new here, and a mother of 7, and so far a grandmother of 4, with many little nieces and nephews. My 7 children were born between 1980 - 1992, with a mix of older names that I always loved since I was a little girl playing house (Valerie, Monica, Michelle, Steven & Julie), and a couple of newer names (Megan & Dana). My grandchildren were born from 1998 - 2010 with names that represent that era (Gabrielle, Jenna, Brayden & Jaxon).

I have watched as the baby name trends have gone full circle, with this new generation of parents using the names of my old great-aunts and uncles who are long gone. I remember being appalled when people starting naming their baby girls Sarah, when I was in my 20's. I had an old Aunt Sarah who was as wide as she was tall, with a girdle, support hose, white hair, and practical shoes, and I just couldn't imagine anyone looking into the beautiful face of a newborn and saying "I think, I'll call her Sarah". I'm over it now that my old Aunt Emma's name, along with Aunt Helen, Aunt Gertrude, Aunt Agnes, and Aunt Clara are being widely used today. Sarah doesn't sound so old to me anymore. But then again, I realize that this new generation of parents weren't around to witness the 80 yr. old aunts in their support hose, so those names sound cute to them, and not so old and matronly.

And I also realize that the Sheri's, Brenda's, Carol's, Susan's, Lori's, Kim's, Lisa's, etc. that were so popular in the babyboom generation, will someday represent the names of 80 yr. old ladies, that our grandchildren will cringe at when their grandchildren become parents and start to use those names again.

I guess what's old is new again! Our newest grandson named Jaxon, would have been Loralai if he had been a girl! Both names are becoming increasingly popular. Jackson has been popular for a while, but the new trend is the different spelling of the name. But names really do say something not only about the child themselves, but also about the parents. I am a traditionalist through and through, from my home decor tastes right down to my children's names! Funny how this works!

October 29, 2010 10:38 AM

Wow thanks for the support on Kit! DH of course thinks I'm crazy on all this especially since one minute I tell him it's too popular and the next minute that it's a mom name. I feel a little out numbered with her dad and her 3 siblings all calling her Katie. (She's 2 1/2 for what it's worth). I've laid a fair amount of ground work for Kit because I've been calling her Kit Kat for along time and of course that's now her favorite candy. It's all gotten a little silly as the other day at the library I wasn't sure what I was suppose to call her. I think I settled on "baby" at the time. Last week an older lady asked her her name and she responded two and half. The lady then tried to clarify by asking what her mommy calls her. Well I guess she took it to mean what does Mommy call you that others don't and she told her Kit Kat. I guess I'm thinking at this point I can't make Kit happen but perhaps will plant the seed enough that maybe she'll pick it when she's older.

October 29, 2010 10:43 AM

momof07 - I wouldn't say that Gertrude and Agnes have made a comeback yet. The so-called "100-year rule" does not guarantee that names that old will come back, but rather at that point they no longer have strong ties to a living generation and thus can sound fresh again to parents looking for a name. The present general name fashions (e.g. popular sounds, etc.) have a lot to say whether or not a particular name will rise again (that's why we now see lots of young Emmas, but not Agneses).

October 29, 2010 10:45 AM

Oh, hubby is open to Kit in theory. Awhile back dh said he could go for Kitty. For me that sorta ruined the whole Kit image for me so I vetoed it. Any thoughts on Kitty?

By momof07 (not verified)
October 29, 2010 10:55 AM

KellyXY - I for one, am glad that Agnes and Gertrude are not making a huge comeback! haha I wonder how long it will be till my Grandfather's and Uncle's names become popular again for baby boys: Cortland, Claude, Willard, Floyd, Edwin, Donald! I'm not seeing this trend happening anytime soon. New babies in our family other than my own grandchildren, have been named Madison, Emma, Olivia, Taylor, Sydney, Milena and Hannah. As you can see we are short on boys, but two of our nieces are due in the spring, so who knows! By the way, my name is Brenda, but that name was already taken, so I used Momof07 instead!

October 29, 2010 10:59 AM

Wow, I love everything about this post! Thank you so much for this–I learned a lot (and no longer feel like such a weirdo for over-analyzing names). I love that people have more freedom in terms of naming their kids these days. The only downside I see to this trend would be the implications as far as names indicating socio-economic status (and thus leading to stereotyping).

October 29, 2010 11:13 AM

Another Laura: Kitty sounds more girly but Kit seems more tomboyish. Kitty as a full name is too fluffy for me (if that makes sense) but as a nickname it's lovely.

Olivegreen: I agree about stereotyping, but that's always happened to an extent. In England when Joan became to common upper classes came up with Jane. I think it's probably worse now.

October 29, 2010 11:51 AM

I think it sort of funny that Laura's writing about why picking a name is such a big decision and my daughter's 2 1/2 and I still feel like I'm picking her name. Katharine's clearly her name but they're are a lot of options within that to pick from. I wonder if Kit is as classic as Kate and how much that matters. Of course if I wanted to be classic but not as common I could call her Katharine but that hasn't come naturally for me. I think for future children I might need to avoid names with so many options as it has extended the name picking agony after her birth.

By BlueMominVA (not verified)
October 29, 2010 12:40 PM

My pre-teen daughter enrolled in a new middle school this year. We live in a Maryland DC suburb, and this is a small, public magnet multi-ethnic middle school that tends to draw more of the geeky kids. I mean geeky in every sense of word -- some are gifted, but most are just quirky and interesting and picked the school because it's smaller and lacks the drama of the bigger, traditional middle schools. Got the directory last week, and here are the names of some girls in her grade level:


There are some more popular names, such as Madison, Isabella, Rachel, Abigail and Jessica -- but only one of each. In fact, out of about 40 girls, none shares a name with another girl.

Compare this to d's previous school, where names like Jessica, Brianna, and Meghan were well represented.

Which got me to wondering if unusual names really do, somehow, influence more atypical personalities and interests.

Just throwing it out there.

October 29, 2010 12:41 PM

As promised, here is the tally of Katies: I have heard from approximately fifty students about the four classes I coordinate. Of those, one goes by Kate, one by Kati, and four by Katie. Amazing! Other repeats are Daniel (2), Britney/Brittany and Meaghan/Meghan. A few are undergraduates but most are graduate students, probably ranging in age from 20 - 26.

By BlueMominVA (not verified)
October 29, 2010 12:41 PM

Just FYI, I love Kit! :)

By lynnn (not verified)
October 29, 2010 12:54 PM

This is a great point, and what makes names different from the clothes we wear to work is that the names are picked by the parents - so don't express self-identity so much as parents-identity. I expect there'll be more children who change their names as adults, especially if mom and dad picked a name that suggests stripper poles or tattoos and the child is now an adult going into a serious profession and wants a name to "match" their new gray suit.

OTOH, "Barack Hussein Obama" never changed his name, so maybe someday we'll have a president "Unique Tyffany Jones."

By EVie
October 29, 2010 1:05 PM

Congrats to hyz and NAMG! Great choices, both of you.

another Laura - I actually think of Kate as more dated to my generation (late 20s) than Katie. I went to school with a ton of Kates. I feel like a lot of them probably grew up Katies, but then switched to Kate around high school/college to sound more grown-up. Even my cousin Catherine (same age as me), who growing up was never called anything else, is now going by Cate. In my a college a cappella group of about 12 girls, there were two Kates and two Jens.

My favorite Katherine nickname is Kat, but I do like Kit (I only know two, both of them elderly ladies in the community where I'm living now). Kitty is very Regency to me, probably from the Pride and Prejudice character and also from the heroine of Georgette Heyer's novel Cotillion. I also am quite fond of Cathy, dated though it is—but only with a C, I don't care for the K version. I love your nickname of Kit Kat though, I think that's really cute, and if you keep using it, then I think you should be able to slip into just Kit pretty easily as she gets a bit older.

Re: Agnes - I actually do know one! I think she's about four. Little sister is Charlotte. I wondered whether it was a family name, but I didn't want to ask because I know that can sometimes come off as rude. She's a super cute kid though, so the name has grown on me a lot. The parents don't strike me as hipsters or anything, so I don't think it's a so-uncool-it's-cool sort of thing. I also knew an Agnes in high school, with a twin sister named Angela—I remember thinking that Agnes got a really raw deal (I think their parents were immigrants, so they might not have realized how very different those names are).

October 29, 2010 3:40 PM

re: Ivo: I'm thinking it's probably related to Evo (like Evo Morales) so that makes me think ee-vo?

another Laura: hilarious! fwiw, i think Katie is still a great name no matter how common it is. as for Kitty, i'm not a fan. too precious for my taste. and this is coming from a huge Hello Kitty fan. i guess, to me, kitty is an animal first. it's also that the two Kittys I know are (I would guess) in their 60s. they're my parents' generation, not cool! :P

October 29, 2010 4:30 PM

lynnn's comment has me thinking,
Does the name "grow into" the person or does the person "grow into" the name? This would really be an interesting study to do if it were at all possible to name twins both William and call one Liam and one Billy or Christopher (Chris/Topher) even girls called Kayla and Kyla. The point is does naming a child Olivia make them into a studious/prissy/or whatever type of kid. Do Oliver's naturally turn out bookish and geeky? *Note I am just using examples-I could have picked ANY name*

October 29, 2010 5:01 PM

Yes, Ivo is pronounced ee-vo. The English form of the name is Ives, as in the rhyme, "I was going to St. Ives and met a man with seven wives." The difference between the continental form Ivo (pronounced ee-vo) and the English form Ives (pronounced eye...) is the Great Vowel Shift (again). The Modern French form of the name is Yves (eev).

By Eo (not verified)
October 29, 2010 5:24 PM

Thanks, my sweet zoerhenne and Amy3! It is indeed a relief.

Yes, Amy3, I'm afraid "Ivo", if one is referring to the Croatian, old French and other continental origins, is pronounced "ee".

It's disappointing to me too, as I also far prefer "eye" from an aesthetic and auditory standpoint. It seems to have more "bounce" or vitality!

Not to worry-- I found one source that mentioned that one could also consider "Ivo" as a diminutive or endearment for "Ivan", in which case it could of course take the "eye" pronunciation in English.

Or, one could consider it a variant of the English "Ives" that Miriam mentioned, or "Ivor" for that matter, and legitimately get the "eye" from that.

Finally, in Britain there is that very old and honorable tradition of taking Continental names and rendering them "Anglicized"-- thus an old name like "Esme" is just as legitimately pronounced as "Esmee" rather than the Frenchified "Esmay", in English.

The parents in question were English and Scottish, judging by their names, so I would love to know how they pronounce their little Ivo's name....

October 29, 2010 5:48 PM

NAMG - My 18 month old is a Sylvia, too! Everyone we've talked to loves her name. Great choice. Anneliese was on my list, but DH nixed it.

By EVie
October 29, 2010 7:03 PM

Eo - your comments on Esme made me think of a similar medieval name I came across in the course of my name-dictionary reading: Ismay, also spelled Ysemay and various other combinations of those letters (found it in the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames—a great resource for discovering medieval given names as well as surnames). In this case, the -may ending is not French—the dictionary says the name's origin is unclear, but it is probably from Old German, or possibly (though not likely) from Old English. I really like it (especially the option of using May as a nickname) and have been scheming about how to present it to my husband, who is a rather traditional namer.

By Eo (not verified)
October 29, 2010 7:58 PM

EVie, I love "Ismay" too! And the variant you discovered-- "Ysemay" is ravishing. Now that I've seen it, it is my favorite-- thanks for the discovery.

Tell your husband "What could be more traditional than a medieval name?!" And you could expose him to lists and lists of other attractive, five or six hundred year old names, until he gets desensitized to the perhaps unexpected forms and spellings!

It's those archaic spellings that make the names so alluring to me, like the perennially beautiful "Alianore" for Eleanor, for example.

The lovely old name "Amy" took on a whole new life for me when I discovered an Elizabethan spelling- "Amye"-- as in the elusive and haunting historical figure Amye Robsart...

October 29, 2010 10:54 PM

Great post! At least I know I'm not unduly obsessed with names :)

First the congratulations.
@NAMG - congrats on Sylvia Anneliese!
@hyz - I'm very excited to hear of the arrival of master Oliver!

PennyX - I like all of your combos. I think Xavier ages well and I've known X's of many ages.
I am a lover of the name Soren and it doesn't remind me of sore at all. I am also not at all Scandinavian and would have no problem using it!

October 30, 2010 12:35 PM

I posted this on today about a new celebrity baby name I think will be loved by NE's. Do you agree?