The Generational Sweet Spot, Or Why Your Parents Have Such Bad Taste

Apr 22nd 2010

Your taste in baby names is shaped by many factors. If I had to point to just one, though -- one force that drives your opinions, that's impossible to escape -- it would be your generation.

That's obvious on the face of it. We all know that name styles change dramatically over time. When it comes to our own personal taste, though, it's hard to feel the generational influence. Here's how I usually describe it: the names of your own generation sound too ordinary, your parents' too boring, your grandparents' too old. But by the time you make it back to your great-grandparents' names, things start to perk up. You've never known a young Vivian or Julius, so those names sound fresh to you.

That places a style "sweet spot" at naming generations roughly 60-90 years older than you. But it also points to a second sweet spot at names 20-40 years younger than you. Those are the names that you and your friends name your children. Meanwhile you're turned off by names in middle, particularly your own age and 10-20 years older. So if you were born in the 1970s, you probably didn't consider '60s names like Sheila or Kent for your kids.

Now here's the kicker. That same generation of names that marks your style nadir is your parents' sweet spot. And those charming antiques you love? They're your parents' stodgy grandma names. Let's overlay some hypothetical curves:

Call the areas in green "argument zones."

Parents, this explains why your mother-in-law keeps suggesting names like Karen and Steve. Grandparents, this explains how your daughter could possibly consider a name like Julius (or Genesis) for a little baby. And to our youngest readers, prepare for your parents to totally miss the appeal of Conrad and Joyce. They don't have bad taste, honest. They're just products of their generation.


April 25, 2010 11:57 AM

I would be horrified to have Amber, Crystal, Britney, Ashley, or Tiffany bestowed upon a granddaughter. There are plenty of names that were overused in my youth, and they maybe have lost their freshness for me because of that (like Stephanie or Jennifer, maybe), but the above names will be forever associated in my mind with a kind of flashy materialism and "Mean Girl-ness" that's linked to the '80's in my mind. Lots of glitter, mall browsing, pink lipstick and blonde hair -- I would imagine that's why those names might be appealing to a little girl these days, too. Little girls love glitter, which is just fine. But on an adult - just nms.

I just thought of another possible name to go with Ursula Sabine - Claudia Pascale. I think Claudia F0nt3n0t sounds really nice, too. Dh just gave Claudia a 4, so I thought it was worth exploring. I was stymied by the meaning of Claudia/Claudius in the past, but I just read about the Roman Vestal Virgin Claudia in Wikipedia, and that story is pretty great. Both names exude to me a kind of smart, serious sexiness. God knows what we'd use for a nn for Claudia, though.

Maybe I'll start cleaning house now...

April 25, 2010 12:29 PM

congrats! max noble is a great name. :]


i think claudia pascale and ursula sabine together are GREAT. i quite agree with the smart/serious/sexy vibe. i'm a fan. possible nickname: cleo?

By Amy3
April 25, 2010 12:15 PM

@cabybake, congrats to you and your family! Love the name you chose.

@Eo, if I'm remembering right Noble is cabybake's maiden name.

@Mirnada, I like Claudia and it sounds quite lovely with Ursula. I think you'll have loads of good possibilities to choose from.

By hyz
April 25, 2010 3:03 PM

cabybake--congratulations!!! And welcome, little Max Noble B.--a wonderful name, for a wonderful little guy, I'm sure! Hope you and your family are doing well!

mirnada, I do think Claudia Pascale and Ursula Sabine go together smashingly. I also agree about the smart/serious/sexy vibe from Claudia, esp. with your LN. The meaning always put me off, but I'm unaware of the vestal virgin story--I'll have to read up on that. I like the nn suggestion of Cleo, and of course Claudette springs to mind (not particularly shorter than Claudia, but cute).

By hyz
April 25, 2010 3:12 PM

Ok guys, so I have a confession and an announcement. The confession--I've been holding out on you. The announcement--we're expecting another baby!! :) The due date is mid-October. I promised DH I wouldn't say anything here until we had an idea of the sex, because he knew mentioning it here would lead to talking about names, and he wanted to put that off this time until we could immediately rule out 50% of the possible name choices. SOOO, we just had an early scan, and it's NOT 100% certain yet because we couldn't get a totally clear view, but we THINK it's a boy!!! I'm going to (try to) hold off serious name obsessing (and nursery planning, and purchasing of tiny boy clothes) until we get the official sex ultrasound in a month or so, but I just had to come tell you!

So, I was starting to get attached to Anthea as a strong possibility for this one, but I guess I'll put that on the shelf for future girls (should there be any) and start pondering the boy options.... :)

April 25, 2010 3:45 PM

Hyz: Congratulations! Let us know when you start weighing names seriously!

Cadybake: Max Noble B. is a seriously handsome name! Congratulations to you, too!

By Amy3
April 25, 2010 3:54 PM

@hyz, yay! Such wonderful news! Congratulations! I can't wait for your name possibilities.

April 25, 2010 3:59 PM

Congratulations to cabybake & wee Max, and also to hyz! Exciting news all around. I'm loving Noble, and Anthea if it turns out the scans are mistaken ;p

@RebeccaE: it really is a generational thing: I'm also a Rebecca from 1982...

April 25, 2010 4:25 PM

yay! i can't wait until you start trying to decide in earnest because i always love all of your name choices. :D

April 25, 2010 4:53 PM

All the best, cabybake! Max Noble is a wonderfully handsome name.

And congratulations, hyz! I just love hearing about all the regulars' new babies on here. So exciting! I laughed reading about your husband. He knows you (and us) well!

April 25, 2010 4:58 PM

interesting names from my local listings:
SERENITY (as middle)
RUSS (Junior)

By Philippa The First (not verified)
April 25, 2010 5:59 PM

I had a close friends name Claudia and Claudine when growing up. They were Claudie when we were little and Claude when we were older. Sometimes I still say Claudie if I'm being silly.

I watched 'Mary Poppins' with my daughter this afternoon and noticed a section of lyrics I'd previously overlooked:
"Mavis and Sybil have ways that are winning
And Prudence and Gwendolyn set your heart spinning
Phoebe's delightful, Maude is disarming
Janice, Felicia, Lydia - charming
Cynthia's dashing, Vivian's sweet
Stephanie's smashing, Priscilla a treat
Veronica, Millicent, Agnes, and Jane
Convival company, time and again
Drocas and Phyllis and Glynis are sorts
I'll agree are three jolly good sports"

Do we agree with those characterizations? More to the point, did Disney choose a great crop of grandparent-generation names or what? The movie was made in the 1964 but set in 1910. I think they got it right!

April 25, 2010 7:07 PM

OMG hyz-Congrats a bunch! I will second that your DH knows you well. I will TRY to not post ideas till you are ready but there are some nice boy names that have V's in them. LOL! Best wishes!

Mirnada-Fwiw, I like Lydia better than Claudia. Lydia Sabine and Lydia Pascale are both lovely to me. Claudia has a grating to it that I can't quite seem to place. Maybe its the "CL" except I like Claire. It could be the "au" but I do like Audrey/Aubrey. Hmm?

How about Clover for a nature name whomever was looking for one? You could use Clo-ey for a nn.

April 25, 2010 8:43 PM

@cabybake - Congratulations on Max Noble!! I'm so pleased you went with Max it is very dashing and quite spunky with your last name :)

@Mirnada - I'm really liking Claudia Pascale with Ursula Sabine. It matches better than Anya Pascale (although I am quite fond of this combo). Definitely the smart/sexy vibe for me too. I've always fancied Cleo as a nn for Clementine so I think it could work for Claudia too. Will have to put my thinking cap on for more.

@Hyz - Congratulations!!!! I thought you might be thinking about another one soon, based on some random comments you've made :) So excited that it might be a boy this time. I'm also excited to see your picks as we have a lot of cross-over in style :)

April 25, 2010 8:35 PM

this post made me smile. my husband's grandmother, chloe, was often called clover as a nickname.

April 25, 2010 8:45 PM

very exciting news, hyz! congratulations to you and your husband. i'm looking forward hearing your name ideas for the little one.

April 25, 2010 8:45 PM

cabybake- congrats!! Max Noble is charming. So glad you went with it.

hyz- yay! that's so exciting. can't wait to start throwing around some names :)

It's now less than two weeks until Baby Ruth (yes we've been calling her that now...I figured it was unavoidable so why not start it early) makes her appearance.

Philippa- you're right, those are excellent names. The only one that stands out is Stephanie. I love Prudence, Agnes and Maude!

April 25, 2010 8:50 PM

happy news, cabybake! welcome young max.

By knp
April 25, 2010 10:25 PM

oh, congrats NE's!!!

By Eo (not verified)
April 25, 2010 10:36 PM

hyz-- Congrats! It will be great to get a full airing of alluring boy's names this time out, if he turns out to be one!

Spotted a MOST unusual baby boys' name in a decorating mag. today-- "Cotton". I immediately thought, oh, a surname-name, like one of my favorite vintage movie stars, Joseph Cotten.

But no. The article went on to say that, in decorating his nursery, the parents had filled an apothecary jar with fresh cotton balls, as a sort of visual reference to the family's apparently beloved cotton farm in Texas...So presumably the baby is named after that farm's chief product.

I find that amusing, and a bit quirky, but as an NE, I think I understand their thinking!

By knp
April 25, 2010 10:58 PM

Speaking of possibly quirky boys names, what do you all think of Royal? (I loved it in the Anne of "" books, wasn't Royal Gardner her beau in college? or was it just Roy?) Could it be open for a comeback? I like how it mimics my husbands fn Michael. He'll hate it, I'm sure.

April 25, 2010 11:24 PM

I haven't had a chance to comment on anything lately--because Eleanor Kathryn arrived early Thursday morning!

Just wanted to let you all know that Eleanor arrived safely, and that I didn't get cold feet about the name's popularity.

And actually, we have gotten an insane number of compliments on her name, and one person said that it was a perfect name because it could work for "a doctor or a teacher or anyone" which made my NE heart happy! :)

April 25, 2010 11:44 PM

@ Anne with an E - congratulations!!! I love Eleanor Kathryn and I'm sue she is a darling baby to go with her name :)

April 26, 2010 12:15 AM

Congrats on all the babies: Max and Eleanor and do hyz's little boy (maybe) in utero.

Philippa -That' such an interesting group of names from the movie. Looks like Disney got the names right for that movie.

My oldest son, Paul, received his First Communion last Saturday and I've of course been pouring over the list of names all week. They give first and middles which is really great as a NE. One thing that really struck me is that of the 29 children (9 boys and 20 girls) there were no repeats in first names (lots of repeats in the middle spot.) That is particularly interesting given the incredibly homogenious group of kids - all Catholic (obviously), from the same suburban mid-western town, with honestly little (probably no) ethnic diversity. There were also no invented names nor any uncommon names. There were only 2 surnames as first names - C0nn0r (b) and Kel$ey (g). One girl Ry@n (I'm pretty sure, the mn is Lynn) which I found interesting because I had never even heard of girls using the name Ryan before the comments after Laura's blog during the Olympics.

And relevant to Laura's latest post there were a few names that seemed more like "mom" names than 8 year olds names - Amy, Krista, Sharon, Candice and Christine. The most popular mn for girls was Marie (not surprising) and for boys was Thomas (4 of the 9 boys, which did surprised me).

By Eo (not verified)
April 26, 2010 12:13 AM

Great news, Anne with an E! It's wonderful that you found just the right name that you love for your little one...

April 26, 2010 4:34 AM

I've been wondering why it is that my mother really likes many of the names that I like, then it hit me...
My Mum was a teacher in the late 70's to early 80's prior to having us so she taught kids with the typical names that so many of her peers had used.
As a result, she gave us "unusual" names - I certainly know more Talias born from 2000 onwards than in the 80s like me.
My sisters are Re@nna (pronounced like the singer) and C@rita - though neither of those have taken off to the same extent.

By Sebastiane (not verified)
April 26, 2010 8:30 AM

I must say, when I discuss names with my parents, they either don't care what I want to name my kids or they say "oh, that is nice." Then again, I haven't actually had kids. Maybe things would change once I actually became pregnant.

I do remember one of my friends being pregnant and considering the name Stella. My mom and aunt thought it was horrid. They said to them it was an old lady name. I said I kind of liked it. I would never use it, but appreciate it on other people. I can understand where they are coming from, I have a great aunt named Stella.

By Amy3
April 26, 2010 8:31 AM

@Anne with an E, congrats! Eleanor Kathryn is beautiful!

April 26, 2010 9:34 AM

anne with an e,
congratulations! to me, eleanor kathryn is the perfect name and i'm so happy you went with it.

April 26, 2010 9:43 AM

Congratulations, Anne with an e! Great news!

By Honey (not verified)
April 26, 2010 10:32 AM

I wonder if there's a difference between male names and female names for grandparents. Example, my MIL loves Jack (her dad's name) and was thrilled that it was given to my nephew. She also didn't have a problem with Erroll. However, Maybel and Ruth (the grandmothers) were totally off the table. How could my sis even consider those names? They were so stodgy.

By Guest (not verified)
April 26, 2010 11:14 AM

My DH and I want to name our children after parents/grandparents. While we are willing to use these names as first or middle given names, in almost every case, none of our family likes their own name! They feel disgusted that we'd saddle a grandchild/g-grandchild with their own long-suffered names.

April 26, 2010 11:37 AM

congrats to Anne with an E and the lovely Eleanor Kathryn!

By Guest B (not verified)
April 26, 2010 12:24 PM

Congratulations to everyone with good news and great names :)

I think my mother might be a mild NE, but maybe she likes words more and I like names more. She'll look up from the paper and tell me what a nice sounding city name 'Jalalabad' is, or think about what words/names spell backwards. She definitely doesn't have frumpy taste in names, although she would still be horrified at some of the older ones that are starting to crop up. I think she might die if she got a Gladys in her class.

Mirnada - Claudia Pascale is nice. I like it with the 'cloud' pronunciation as opposed to the 'clod,' which do you use? You could use Cloud, Dia, or Clia for a nn.

knp - I like Royal in the same way I like Noble. Male 'attribute' names really keep their old fashioned feel I think. There's also Loyal.

An interesting thing.. I just had a male friend in his mid twenties (who has no intention of having kids and is hugely non-domestic) voluntarily tell me all of his favourite names. They were seriously varied, very international choices too..

April 26, 2010 1:06 PM

Anne with an E-Wonderful to hear your news and name! Too bad Max and Eleanor can't have playdates irl.

By Due within a month (not verified)
April 26, 2010 3:17 PM

Great news about Eleanor Kathryn: in my mind's synesthetic eye it is a beautiful set of pretty girly colours. Congratulations!

I stumbled across an interesting BBC page yesterday - it seems political candidates are changing their names to appeal to voters. Would Barack have got away with this?

By Melbe19 (not verified)
April 26, 2010 3:32 PM

Congrats to everyone on the new babies!!

The name Royal always reminds me of Almanzo Wilder's brother from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I looked up his other siblings names: Laura Ann, Royal Gould, Eliza Jane, Alice M., Almanzo James, and Perley Day. Now that is a sib set you could do some analyzing on!

April 26, 2010 5:07 PM

Perley Day!? Interesting!

Due within a month: That's so funny! My synesthesia does make Eleanor look very feminine, too, but the K,T,H,R, and N in Kathryn help keep it from being TOO pastel-hued. Hmmm, I wonder if a higher percentage of NE's have synesthesia...?

Guest B: I agree that the "Cloud" pronunciation for Claudia is prettier, but since I'm not Italian or anything I think I'd feel a little pretentious trying to enforce that. I know there's clod in there, but there's also laud as in laudable. I dunno...maybe it's a name I'll only end up liking in theory. I admit, I can't imagine a 7 year old being thrilled to be named Claudia, but then again, her adult self might not be thrilled with the name her 7 year old self chose. Would most 7 year olds rather be called Emma or Crystal or Isabella than Matilda or Hazel or Ruth, for instance? Should one keep in mind the girly wishes when picking a girl name?

I remember when I was in junior high, I wanted everyone to call me Randi (definitely with an "i", of course). My teacher was aghast and tried to delicately explain what the word "randy" meant.

April 26, 2010 5:43 PM

oh, hmm, how interesting. eleanor isn't pastel-y to me. the "ella" part would be, but the "nor" makes it too strong to be pastel in my brain.

i have never noticed/been bothered by the "clod" sound in claudia. i don't know if it's because it is spelled differently (claud/clod) or if is because i say "au" slightly differently than the /o/ in clod, but for whatever reason it has just never occurred to me. my reaction is the same as when someone once pointed out to me that oliver has "liver" in it. i was sort of like, "oh. i guess it does. well, whatever." it just doesn't bother me, i guess. i've always had a positive view of the name claudia, even as a child. i think this was largely due to the babysitter's club books. claudia was a very creative, artsy character and i remember thinking that claudia was the prettiest, coolest name ever. so maybe a young girl wouldn't dislike it as much as you think. i've never liked the clow-dee-a pronunciation. to me, the /aw/ sound is prettier than the /ow/ sound. anyway, bnw2 describes it as having "stately grace," and i have to agree.

and i regarding picking names with regards to what a child would like, i say...hmm...i say keep it in mind, but don't let it make the decision for you. you child is going to be an adult a lot longer than they'll be a child.

By EVie
April 26, 2010 5:54 PM

Mirnada - it's a very interesting challenge, trying to find a name that would appeal to a child as well as an adult. I have to admit that I do take what I thought as a kid into consideration when making my lists of names. It makes me hesitate on names like Margaret, for example. I love Margaret now, but when I was young, I thought it was the most horribly ugly and clunky name anyone could think up. It's funny how our tastes change--kind of like how as kids we love candy and anything sweet, but as we grow older we start to appreciate more sophisticated flavors.

I think that if you're not worried about Ursula appealing to a little girl, you needn't worry about Claudia--I definitely would put those two names in the same camp, style-wise. I would think that Anya and Sylvia are safer in terms of little-girl appeal... although who knows what the next generation will like?

There is a young professor named Randi who lives in my building. Every time I look at her name on the mailbox I wonder whether she feels handicapped having such an unprofessional-sounding name. I bet she wishes her full name was Miranda ;)

By Jillc (not verified)
April 26, 2010 6:07 PM

Congrats to cabybake, Anne, and hyz! Still (not so) patiently awaiting our new addition (official due date is Saturday)...

Was Perley Day a boy or a girl?

Royal reminds me of Royal Tennenbaum -- not a bad association. I definitely like it better than, say, Baron.

@another Laura, so funny about analyzing the First Communion names -- I did the same thing with my SIL's high school graduation program last year!

@emilyrae, I, too, loved Claudia from the Babysitter's Club! Wow, did I read way too many of those books.

April 26, 2010 7:02 PM

Long time lurker, first time poster. I'm concurrently reading the new posts and making my way through the archives; it's difficult to remember what already happened and what's now happening in real life!

Congrats to all the new moms and soon to be moms. I absolutely adore the name Eleanor.

When my mother was pregnant with my sister, her grandmother (my great grandmother) was pushing Robin/Roberta. Quite out of place on a child of the 80s.
Incidentally, my "alternate" names were Karen and Lisa, both far less common for my generation than Sara.

By hyz
April 26, 2010 7:07 PM

Hey guys, thanks for all the well-wishes! We're excited, of course, and looking forward to preparing for the new arrival. So far, at least, I don't feel nearly as stressed about naming as I did last time--as you all know, I have a well-worn list of favorites to turn to, and I feel a bit more sure of my own style. As we get closer to the big day, though, my calm feelings may start to evaporate!

Anne with an E, congrats on little Eleanor K.!! A lovely, classic name, and I'm sure it is just right for your little one. :)

Re: Royal--I had a female dog named Royal when I was growing up (an Airedale Terrier), so my perception of it is colored a bit, but my only other strong association with the name is the LHOTP/Almanzo Wilder connection, so I like it in that way. In my mind, it's not so far off from Cotton (mentioned by Eo). I'm surprised to hear Cotton on a little boy--my only associations with that are Cotton Mather and the horrid grandfather on King of the Hill (wow, that must be a record, I've now mentioned that show twice in one post--earlier in reference to Peggy. All I can say is that I don't have cable and I watch a lot of late night syndicated TV shows). Another name along these lines is Garland. I remember a long time ago someone showed up here asking what everyone thought of that name for a boy, and most people weren't positive, since the main association tends to be with the noun these days, and that seems a) not like a name and b) kinda feminine. But I've come across this name from time to time since then in historical settings, and it's kind of grown on me. Anyway, all of these names seem distinctly old fashioned in a way that's not likely to come back in a big way, distinctly rural, possibly southern (esp. Cotton, obviously), and rather handsome and dignified. It would be neat to see them on kids today.

Btw, love Perley Day. Was that a girl or a boy? My guess would be girl, but it's not always safe to assume with these things. It reminds me a lot of Dewey Dell, from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. That was a good sib set as well--Darl (b), Jewel (b), Cash (b), Vardaman (b), and Dewey Dell (g).

Claudia with the "cloud" pronunciation seems Spanish to me, and with the "clod" pronunciation seems more French (and I believe it's the standard US pronunciation). I DO notice the "clod" in Claudia, probably only because it's the first syllable, and it's emphasized. I have the same reaction to Soren and "sore", although the liver in Oliver has never jumped out at me, since it's not pronounced the same way (it's more like OLIVE-er, not oh-LIVER, kwim?). Anyway, if you can get past the "clod" and the "lame" meaning (I know not everyone cares about those meanings, but I get hung up on them), I think it's a very stylish name. And in terms of which names little girls would like to have, I'd have guessed that they would be more likely to love Anya and Claudia, and "grow into" Ursula and Sylvia. Claudia does sound more like a "cool girl" to me than the latter two (which sound more bookish, or something).

April 26, 2010 7:40 PM

oh, i'm so happy you brought up the names from faulkner's as i lay dying. i thought that was always a particularly amusing sibset. let's hear it for the rural south!

i just realized that i think the reason i don't hear the "clod" in claudia is because in my brain, it is broken up like claw-dee-uh, not clawd-ee-a. obviously for all practical purposes, those probably sound the same to most ears when said aloud. but it makes a slight difference in my brain. and for me, the "aw" is slightly drawn out.

By Melbe19 (not verified)
April 26, 2010 7:53 PM

I went back and checked...Perley Day was a boy.

By ColeMarie (not verified)
April 26, 2010 8:10 PM

I am intrigued with the name Calvin, as it brings me back to the 1920's era. Just a cool, classic name.

By Philippa The First (not verified)
April 26, 2010 8:41 PM

Congrats to all on the babies!

My synaesthesia has Eleanor as lavender and Kathryn as a darkish blue (not quite navy, more like Facebook blue). I would LOVE to know if there was a correlation between synastherisa and an interest in names.

emilyrae: I also hear CLAW-dee-uh not "cloud' or "clod" as the first syllable in Claudia. I really like the name Claudia (with some minor reservations for lack of good nns and the "lame" meaning - as if anyone else would even know!)

April 26, 2010 8:47 PM

Congrats Anne with an E! Eleanor is such a beautiful name. It is too bad that all these new babies can't have playdates together. Virtual ones will have to suffice.

Question: What do you like better Ruth Tziporah Hopperman or Ruth Zipporah Hopperman? (Hopperman is not my real last name, but is mighty close). I can't decide if it is cool or weird that the first has the initials RTH which almost spells out Ruth.

By AndiK (not verified)
April 26, 2010 9:18 PM

Congrats on all the newly born and newly expected babies! There must be something in the here's hoping I can catch it. :)

I'm really intrigued by the talk of attributing colors to names. I don't really have that ability--when I write, I mentally assign colors to the characters, but it's more a result of name AND personality combined. If I may be so bold to ask the people gifted with the ability: what colors do you see for R0se Elin0r and J@mes Edw@rd?

Mirnada, I like Claudia. My only associations are Claudia Kishi (from the Babysitters Club) and a very cute, very precocious little girl with long dark pigtails I had in class a few years ago. For me, the name works on a girl and a woman. Any chance of your little one having long dark hair? :)

Becky, I think RTH is a fun set of initials for a little "baby Ruth". :) But I'm a fan of fun initials. At one time I was loving the idea of a little Elinor Loveday K-- and calling her Elke.

By AndiK (not verified)
April 26, 2010 9:19 PM

Also, welcome Sara no H. :)