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.


By hyz
April 30, 2010 12:29 PM

zoerhenne, good point. I know Hugh/Hugo have fans here, but I'm not one of them, lol. The eww sound again, plus Hugo makes me think of both huge and hunchbacks (thanks to Victor Hugo), so I just do not get good vibes from it at all. And "Stu" I would pronounce as "stoo", so not the same as "eww". Maybe with other "oo" names coming back, Stewart could be one of the next in line? It sounds a little dweeby to me as a FN (although I could like it a lot as a MN or LN), but I'm sure that could change over time.

April 30, 2010 12:32 PM

heh, good ones zoerhenne. except, i actually like hugo. must be that zippy 'o' that does the trick.

stuart though, i say "stoo," not "styew." not sure that's enough to give it a comeback though.

April 30, 2010 12:35 PM

Regarding the 'ew/oo/u' names, there is Rue which is sometimes used. As well as the surnames, Le Roux. Roux & Rousseau . Has anyone mentioned Drew?

April 30, 2010 12:55 PM

Larksong, it's great to have someone from South Africa on this forum. I know so little about your country and just looked up "languages" to get an idea about the possible background of the top names there. I read that before 1994, English and Afrikaans (from the Dutch settlers) were the only official languages, but now there are 11 official languages plus others that are spoken. Does your government publish a list of top baby names? Do the most popular English language names in SA reflect the top names in any other English-speaking country? I'd love to know about baby naming in South Africa.

I looked at your page too and noticed that your favorite names are all (mostly?) English language names. Did your family emigrate from an English speaking country? Many years ago two of my friends (in the Midwest, USA) married young men from South Africa (studying chiropractic medicine in the US) and went to live in your country.

April 30, 2010 1:05 PM

hmm. on the subject of the /oo/ vs. /ew/, i think in some cases there isn't a difference. for example, i can easily hear a difference between moo and myew or hoo and hyew, but in names such as julian or juniper, i can't imagine two ways to say that. i think maybe the /y/ sound is built into the /j/. same with larksong's suggestion of andrew/drew. so...i'm not sure what that means. i'm just thinking out loud. so maybe juniper DOES have the /ew/ sound, but it doesn't matter because that's just how the letter /j/ works, so it isn't unappealing in the way that beulah is?

and when i say /ew/, i mean /yew/.

By hyz
April 30, 2010 12:56 PM

Larksong, I'd call those all "oo" (not "eww"/"yew") names, and I think they're all nice.

By hyz
April 30, 2010 1:06 PM

emilyrae, I don't think the j has the y sound built in, or whatever. I just think that "jyoo" and "ryoo" are not common sounds in the English language, and that may be why you are having a hard time imagining them. But I believe Korean and Japanese, for instance, both have a clear difference between "ru" and "ryu". Same with French, which has "roux" as mentioned above, and "rieu" (like the violinist Andre Rieu, which my local PBS station seems to pronounce as "ree-oo", since they can't quite get their mouths around the right pronunciation). I'm trying to think of a good example in English between "joo" and "jyoo"--the best I can come up with offhand is that in some accents, "would you" (or "could you", "did you", etc.) gets run together and comes out kind of like "woodjyoo". Maybe someone else has something more clear, though.

April 30, 2010 1:18 PM

i minored in japanese and there is definitely a difference between /ru/ and /ryu/; however, the japanese /r/ is not at all the same sound as the english /r/, so i'm not sure that's an accurate comparison.

but, at least in my accent, the run-together sound in woodjyoo (would you) and the first sound in juniper are exactly the same. and my french (which was a long time ago and is now rather fuzzy)...i'm not sure. but i don't think rieu is the same as ryew. i don't know. just something i was thinking of.

By hyz
April 30, 2010 1:42 PM

emilyrae, agreed--the Japanese and Korean and French and every other R I can think of are all different from the American English R, so it's hard to think of a good comparison. Maybe it's just an accent thing between us, then, because Juniper is a straight, clean "joo" for me with no Y sound in it, and I hear a definite difference between "djoo" and "djyoo".

April 30, 2010 1:46 PM

@ Patricia

Wow! That's really interesting about your friends! Unfortunately - to my utter despair & hardest attempts to find one, the SA Government doesn't post the top 100 names for the country. I've only ever found two sites that list some names & that's only relevant to two of the ethnic groups & wasn't really helpful. I've actually been trying to crack the SA names for about a year now lol !

The names in SA are very much divided into the different ethnic groups & styles. One of the most prevalent things here is that there isn't really a difference between 'current' names & 'older' names. We don't have the vintage thing, basically. It's all a mix & match of styles.You get many names that you do in English countries shared across the different races. The names basically reflect the countries of the people who originally came here years. You get LOADS of French/Dutch and German names.So, Jacques, Francois,Wessels,Johan abound. Also, because of the French Huguenots who came here, you got French surnames that also become 'Afrikaansified'.So, popular surnames are Labuschagne, Theron (said TERR-ohn here), Du Toit etc

I'd say SA is more similar to the UK than the US. Then you add in a fairly decent Indian population and you get the Indian names.In the Black community you get the traditional African names like Nkosi, Thebo, Thabang,Neo, Nandipha, Mhlatse,Bheki etc . Then you get the 'English' names in their community as well as word names. Names like Princess,Mercy.Beauty etc are actually popular across Africa. Traditional Biblical names are also used in their community. I’ve actually known a Meshach.Plus, years ago there was a very large Lebanese,Italian & Portuguese community, so I've come across guys named Caesar & other names of that type.

My family can actually trace their roots here until the 1820 settlers who came here, so I’ve been here awhile ; ) I’m actually VERY French & Dutch on both sides, and to be honest, I’m basically over French names unless they’re said by a French person. Dutch names aren’t really my style & they’re normally viewed as Afrikaans & I’m not Afrikaans. I’m also strongly Scottish & British.

Lol, I tried to do a brief summary of the entire countrys' naming demographics.If you have ANY questions just ask :)

April 30, 2010 1:47 PM

re "oo" names: Ruth is one. I think the "th" sound is not as popular though, but it is a sound that personally I love. Many of my favorite girls names have the "th" sound (Edith, Anthea, Blythe). The only "th" names in the top 50 are Elizabeth, Katherine and Samantha. So I guess the sound could be coming back, though I consider those pretty classic names.

conana- that's a great, and tough, question. When we chose the name Judah a lot of our friends thought it was kind of funny. Since we are both from religious Jewish families we are still somewhat religious and our children have a very strong religious identity. Our friends would joke that Judah would introduce himself and say "Hi, I'm Judah" and his friends would say "Yeah, we know you're a Jew" (because the sounds in Judah sound like, Jew Duh, so it sounds like he's saying, I'm a jew, duh). Verrrry funny *sarcasm*. Also there are some names that I normally wouldn't like, but because of associations I really love them. Edith is probably the best example of that. It's the first "old lady" name I ever really loved. House of Mirth is one of my favorite books and it's written by Edith Wharton. After reading that book I fell in love with Wharton's writing and even once visited her home (which is now a museum) in the Berkshires one summer. So Edith to me is not only a great name, but the name of a brilliant author.

I feel like I've gotten really lucky with the name Ruth because it fits all of my interests. It is a Hebrew name. It has a cute but not overbearing nickname. It is also an old/vintage name. And it is the name of one of my favorite literary/film characters, Ruth from Fried Green Tomatoes.

Larksong - I totally guessed you were from South Africa! FWIW I love South Africa and have been there twice (DH has family there) and can't wait to take the kids one day when they can withstand the plane ride :]

April 30, 2010 1:53 PM

Most of the names on my list land up basically reflecting the UK ancestry. WHich wasn't on purpose. I also love Latin & Italian names like Rafael or Diego, but I'm too pale to pull it off lol ! Unless the future Mr. is of Latin descent :) Plus, my first language is English.

The majority of names in SA are English/French/Dutch/Afrikaans/Names from the Bantu languages .

By hyz
April 30, 2010 1:53 PM

Becky, I love the soft "th" too! Anthea (as I mentioned) is a favorite, and that sound also contributes to my perhaps irrational looove of Hyacinth. It's charming in Ruth! Theodore is another one with that sound, and it's definitely soming back strong around here (lots of Theos to go with the Leos, lol).

April 30, 2010 1:57 PM

@ Becky

Heehe. Thanks :) Glad you like SA . It's a pity your kids couldn't come now and see the Soccor World Cup stadiums. They'd probably like it :)

April 30, 2010 2:01 PM

Larksong, your information on names and naming in SA is fascinating. With so many ethnic groups/languages involved, you must come across 'new' names -- and challenging pronunciations? - all the time. I was guessing that English language name popularity is most influenced by that of the UK. Amazing the variety of Europeans (and their languages) who settled in your country. You did a good job summarizing your country's naming demographics. Thanks!

April 30, 2010 2:09 PM

No problem, Patricia. Oh, and I forgot, hyphenated names are also popular here. To be honest, I can't pronounce most of the Bantu names. The reason is because the main languages, Zulu & Xhosa have 'clicks' in them when you say them. This is a 26-second video I normally use to show people what is meant by the ''clicks'

After that, you might get why I'm not bothered about Isla being said incorrectly :)

I will say this, it's always fun to read the newspaper !

April 30, 2010 2:09 PM

very possible that it could be an accent thing. the only way i can make jyoo or ryoo work is if i basically say "ja-yoo" in a rather drawn out and unnatural way.

so interesting! thanks for all the info.

April 30, 2010 2:22 PM

How do you all say Juno?

Is it JEW-noh,JOO-noh, or JYOO-noh?

By hyz
April 30, 2010 2:27 PM

I say JOO-noh. I'm not sure what you mean by JEW-no, as I say the word "Jew" (as in a Jewish person) the same as Joo. But if you mean "jew" using the vowel sound as in Matthew, then I'd say that the same as "jyoo". So I really only see two pronunciation options, joo or jyoo, if you know what I mean.

April 30, 2010 2:31 PM


I think I went a little wild with possible accent pronunciation sounds . . .
You made perfect sense :)

April 30, 2010 2:32 PM

Cool! I like the sound of those clicks. And the speaker spoke English well without them too. I bet it would be a lot more difficult for an English speaker to learn to speak WITH the clicks. Interesting country South Africa.

By hyz
April 30, 2010 2:34 PM

Yeah, I liked the clicks, too, thanks! I've heard *about* those forever, but I don't think I'd ever actually heard someone speaking with them until now--the wonders of youtube!

April 30, 2010 2:36 PM

i say, joo-no, though i'm not sure that means anything coming from me, as i just mentioned that joo, jyoo, and jew are all the same to me.

April 30, 2010 2:42 PM

Glad you liked them :) Yeah, you can't really do a phonetic for that in English, so it's easier to just show someone

Actually, this is something I've wondered about for awhile. Do you guy's ever hear Nelson Mandela referred to as Madiba? Or is it only as Nelson Mandela? Sorry, it's just that he's often referred to as just Madiba in SA & I can't remember if that's an SA thing or one of the global things .

Thanks !

April 30, 2010 2:46 PM


Thanks ! It'd be interesting to hear Juno said with the French 'tzjuh' sound if that makes any sense at all. Like in Jacques.

April 30, 2010 2:59 PM

Has anyone heard the name Tavish before? This morning DH and I went on a preliminary apartment hunting venture (we're definitely going to need more space in the near future) and our real estate agent had two sons named Tavish and Dougal. Those names totally embody the random hipsterness of naming in my area, where people seem to combine hipster and some other trend (so this family has hipster scottish names, my neighbors have embraced the hipster/nature trend and have daughters Magnolia and Hazel). However, I've never heard Tavish before. She pronounced it TAH-vish, though according to BNW its "TAY-vish".

April 30, 2010 3:02 PM

I've only heard him refered to as Nelson Mandela.

April 30, 2010 3:02 PM

i've only ever heard him referred to as nelson mandela.

also, ha. zjhuno! (or however you write it)

April 30, 2010 3:16 PM


I have, but I have absolutely no idea from where.It's one of those' I know you, but who are you" ones. I was saying it as TAAH-vish. Like a long 'a' , as in the word 'are'.

It might be Madiba only here, because it's the name of the Xhosa clan that he belongs too. It's said mah-DEE-bah/buh if that helps.

By Eo (not verified)
April 30, 2010 3:17 PM

Wow, this discussion is making me realize I love dozens of names that feature "u" rather prominently. For some reason, they seem to populate the literary world quite heavily. Maybe writers and novelists tend to gravitate toward the more "difficult", less-universally acclaimed vowels?

Someone here (sorry I can't remember who it was) mentioned Djuna Barnes the other day, and her "u" name has always fascinated me too.

Partial list of great names with "u":

Luke/Lucas/Lucan (but not Lucian)

Of these, arguably only Samuel, Unity, Una, January, Tuesday, Hugh, Lemuel have the more rarefied "you" sound, and the rest seem to be variations on "oo". I find I like them all, for different reasons...

I remember reading somewhere that some literary figure coined the extremely rarely used woman's name "Ulalume", which might be a bridge too far for some people! Can't think who used it- maybe one of the Romantic poets...

April 30, 2010 3:25 PM


What about Eunomie & Eunomia? Would Lula & Luna fall under the 'oo' part?

Ulalume is amazing. Such an interesting sound

April 30, 2010 3:32 PM

i like u names too, including many of the ones you listed. :]

By hyz
April 30, 2010 3:51 PM

Eo, I actually like many of those names, too. Although, I say Samuel more like "sam-yule/sam-yull", which plays down the "yoo" sound for me. I also like Unity, which clearly has a strong "yoo", but I think the meaning of the name overrrides that for me. I would've pronounced Una like Oona, and I like it that way (although interestingly, there are Korean names Yu-na and Yun-ah that I do like). January is kind of fun for me, and Tuesday is ok, although I definitely say "Toos-day". Hugh and Lemuel don't float my boat.

April 30, 2010 3:56 PM

from when i was little to when i was a teenager, i thought january would make a fantastic name. it's no longer a name i would consider in real life, but i still quite like it and think it has very "namey" sounds.

By hyz
April 30, 2010 4:10 PM

emilyrae, I totally agree, although I just realized that I tend to say January as "JAN-ya-wary", not "JAN-yoo-airy", so maybe that's why I like it. In any event, it definitely has a good "namey" sound to it.

By EVie
April 30, 2010 4:11 PM

Re: getting "belly" from Bella--one of my exes had the last name Bell, and I used to cringe when I imagined taking his surname for precisely this reason. Funny, because in other contexts I love the imagery of bells (cf. one of my favorite poems, "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe, which I think is one of the most beautiful examples in all of literature of the English language at work). It probably had something to do with my subconscious feelings about that relationship :)

I feel like I've heard Tavish before, pronounced TAY-vish--probably sometime during the year I lived in Scotland, but I can't remember where I heard it.

I think that some of the "oo" vs. "yew" distinctions come down to accent again--for example, I pronounce the words "do" and "due" differently, but I think a lot of people don't ("due" is DYOO, as is "dew").

April 30, 2010 4:32 PM

My 'guilty pleasure' month of the year was November. I wouldn't actually use it, but it always sounded very sweet & fresh to me. The nickname options of Novi,Vivi,Ember & Em always seemed cute

I've also head January said as jan-YOU-ree. Kind of like Jan meets the name Jurie (YOU-ree said quickly with the emphasis on a quick 'you'. Like you zap the 'you' as you say it)


I say 'dew' & 'due' pretty much the same way. There's an extremely slight difference in the end of them for me.

April 30, 2010 4:42 PM

Becky: I think I have heard of an actor named Tavish, but never heard his name pronounced, only seen it in the credits. I think I've also heard Tavis (pron like Travis).

Saw on Facebook someone named Mir@cle Co1on. I know Colon as a last name is usually pronounced differently than the body organ, but I was still quite shocked to see it. Maybe/hopefully they are from somewhere where people always pronounce Co1on as "cologne."

Also, have you folks seen that there are lion cubs in need of names:

April 30, 2010 4:54 PM

I wonder if anyone has suggested Leo for the lions ! hehhe

They're gorgeous !

April 30, 2010 5:01 PM

My guilty pleasure month name is October. We actually know a young October who goes by Toby. He was in Levi's pre school class last year. Very cute kid, the name fit him well. I recently heard his mom had a baby so I'm quite interested to know what they named it. I'll have to investigate that one.

oh, and regarding the lion cub names, I've been wanting to take Judah and Levi out to the Bronx Zoo to see the cubs but now that they've been unveiled so close to my due date I'll have to wait it out a bit. I'll have to get Judah's opinion on what they should be named, since he seems to have a knack for naming after the week of fish names, lol.

By Bue
April 30, 2010 5:06 PM

My first association with Tavish is the surname McTavish, which I'm sure I've only heard pron. -Tah. But I also knew a Tavis in high school, pron. -Tay.

Eo, that's a nice list. January is a great name. I used to think it was probably January Jones' stage name, but it's real. Her parents must have KNOWN she was going to be a star!

Larksong, I know a huge number of South Africans in London (all white, all in their 20s and 30s) and their names broadly seem to fall into two camps: those from an Afrikaans background are called Pierre, Jeanne, Rudi, or names I can't spell because they're so Dutch!, and those who are from - I guess you'd call it an English background? - seem to have quite traditional English names - Rose, Katey, James, etc. with the odd quirky one like Hilton thrown in. Thanks for the brief overview of your country's naming practices - I find it really interesting.

April 30, 2010 5:41 PM

i Love october as a name too! hmm, i guess i must have a thing for months as names. i'm so excited that you know one in real life! the only time i've heard it was on a girl, and it was not in real life. writer dave eggers named his daughter october adelaide. i secretly love it. :]

By knp
April 30, 2010 5:28 PM

I was going to bring up the Mac Tavish surname as well-- which means that Tavish is a first name (mac= son of, right?) So, I think it is a scottish name, and I'm betting the Tay- vs. Tah- sound confusion comes from the heavy scottish accent.

April 30, 2010 6:59 PM


Yep, that describes it. What generally happens is that the majority of the Afrikaaners have the Dutch/German/French names.So, if I saw a Jacques or Pierre, I'd think he was Afrikaans. The English generally have 'English' names or names from the UK. I know, the amount of SA immigrants in the UK is shocking. I think they're actually ranked the 5th biggest group of immigrants in London, if my memory is correct

LOL. I nearly wrote down October 'Toby' as well. February is also one I secretly admire . You could call her Rue.

By Eo (not verified)
April 30, 2010 5:47 PM

Just thought of a couple more "U"'s-- "Tullia", which I think is a rare classical Roman name, and then Becky jogged my memory of the Scottish "Dougal" which I also like.

"Dugald" is great also. By the way, having grown up in Scots-dominated southern Ontario, I'd only ever heard Tavish or McTavish pronounced with the short "a" like in "hat".

I am surprised that Namipedia would assert the "a" is like "ay", but perhaps we Canucks and Yanks have been saying McTavish wrong all these years!

I am quite certain that the woman who is pronouncing her child's name with the "ah" sound, "TAH-vish" is incorrect. That sounds pretentious, if only because I think your average Scot would be confounded by such a fancy fillip!

Tavish is doubly nice as it is a Scots form of "Thomas". I find that Celtic versions of lots of standard names are often quirky and appealing, like the Welsh "Gwilym" for William and "Betrys for Beatrice; the Cornish "Daveth" for David, "Ebrel" for April, "Eseld" for Iseult, and "Jory" for George; and the Manx Gaelic "Kikil" for Cecilia, "Ealish" for Alice, "Moirrey" for Mary, "Reynylt" for Reginald, "Aedyt" for Edith, and "Malane" for Madeline. Aren't they pretty?

We're so lucky to have Larksong's input. The South African name lore is fascinating. I didn't know that large numbers of Huguenots fled to South Africa as well as Holland, England, Ireland (that's where my Huguenot ancestors ended up) and New York and South Carolina. I wonder if Charlize Theron is of Huguenot descent?

April 30, 2010 5:51 PM

I think the English in SA are actually the less adventurous. Most of the English tend to have very normal, traditional names. It's more the other cultures that add the variety.I've still got a lot of research to do, but so far this is what I've come to :)

April 30, 2010 6:00 PM

@ Eo

Thanks for the complement :)

I could be mistaken, but I think her mother is actually German. I 'think' her mother's name is actually Gerda. I don't know how to do the phonetic of that. It's actually funny, but Charlize Theron's name is actually said differently here than it is outside of the country. There's actually a clip of her on Ellen Degeneress( blanked on spelling) saying how we say it. Theron is said like TER-rohn, but the 'ron' part is kind of like 'rohn' meets 'rawn'

It's HIGHLY possible that she is of French descent, as a lot of people here are.

By sarah smile (not verified)
April 30, 2010 6:09 PM

I have heard Nelson Mandela called Madiba before, perhaps in interviews with other South Africans. But I agree that he is generally known by his full name here in the US.

I have also heard the name Tavish, which I rather liked. I think it was on a book or movie character rather than a real person, though. I think of it as TAH-vish, but that could just be my own mispronunciation.

I know of a January, nn Jani (JAN-ee). I think it works pretty well as a name. Her parents have a blog about her called "January First".

April 30, 2010 6:20 PM


She is of Huguenot descent

They were listing all the famous South Africans of Huguenot descent and she's one of them


April 30, 2010 6:29 PM

When I wrote TAH-vish above I meant the "a" sound in apple, not the long "ahh" sound in all. So the woman wasn't pronouncing it wrong/pretentiously. Just wanted to clear that up.

DH has a bunch of family members who live in London and are South African. The two we keep most in touch with, whose names I can remember at the moment are Sean and Marcelle. The other names have escaped my mind right now but I'll ask DH later (that is, of course, if I remember to, lol).