Why You Can't Find a License Plate With Your Kid's Name On It

May 26th 2011

San Francisco's Chinatown is a bonanza of classic tourist souvenirs. Refrigerator magnets reading "Greetings from SF"? Check. Flatten a penny and imprint the Golden Gate Bridge on it? Check. Miniature California license plates with children's names on them? Check...kind of.

On a recent family trip I saw racks and racks of the little vanity plates, but something struck me funny. None of them featured the current California plate design, the red script and blue letters on white that the state has issued for the past 18 years. Nor did I find the design before that. Instead, I had my choice of 1970s-style yellow on blue and 1980s rising sun. (Refresh your memory of plate designs past here.)

Why are all the mini license plates so retro? It's not a matter of nostalgia. I'm confident that the souvenirs I saw were actually produced back when the plate designs were current. You can tell from the selection of names, suspended in time:

Souvenir license plates with old names and designs

It seems that mini license license plate production halted a generation back. It may be that the product has lost its allure for modern kids, but I doubt it. I suspect that what's changed is the business proposition of fabricating metal trinkets molded into individual names.

Back in 1970 when the Californa blue and yellows were first issued, stamping out plates in just 10 names would cover more than a quarter of all American boys. Today the top 10 names account for only one boy in twelve. That makes manufacturing enough plates to lure in a broad swath of the public an impractical business. What's more, name trends change faster today, increasing the risk of getting stuck with a lot of worthless merchandise.

Is the era of the name trinket doomed to end? Not so fast. In another part of San Francisco, another souvenir vendor offered a glimpse of a personalized trinket future -- a future that harkens back to the past. This vendor solved the name diversity problem with old-fashioned hand craftmanship. Take a look at these options for just the begining of the "M" section:

Those bracelets were hand made by the vendor, a city-licensed street artist. If you don't find your particular name spelling in her extensive inventory, she'll create a custom version for you on the spot.

It's the perfect old-school solution to a newfangled name problem. If only you could weave a license plate.


By Gwendolyn Tessa (not verified)
May 31, 2011 1:30 PM

My first & middle names are "Gwendolyn Tessa," so I can't resist but vote for Tessa for twin B!

Also, if I'd been a twin, my mom said she would've name my sister Nora. So therefore I choose "Cora" from you list as a second choice, since it rhymes with Nora. (I saw someone else also suggested Nora, that's awesome!)

Finally, wanted to mention that one of my best friends growing up was named Maren (Marr-en, not mair-en) so that's also interesting to note, because for me it says that her name and mine somehow "go together" in a cosmic way :)

Please let us know what you choose!
~ GT

By Gwendolyn Tessa (not verified)
May 31, 2011 1:32 PM

(Above post was intended for Kadusey, by the way!)

By Coll
May 31, 2011 1:49 PM

Hi everybody. It's been a couple of years since I posted here regularly (though I still recognize some familiar handles), so I wouldn't be surprised if people no longer remember me.

I'm currently 21 weeks pregnant with a baby of unknown gender. My husband and I picked out our boy's and girl's names a long time ago, so the naming is almost done except for the girl's middle name. FYI, the last name is two syllables and begins with an E (pronounced "eh").

If a boy, we've firmly decided on S1mon K3lly E----. The middle name is a surname in my family.

For a girl we are debating between:

J0sephine Edith E----
J0sephine May E----

Edith is my husband's grandmother's name. I like the significance and I sometimes love the way it sounds so quaint with the first name, but other times it rubs me the wrong way. May is just a sweet name we both like (and happens to be the month I was born in). But it has no family connection and I like the thought of the baby having a namesake name, regardless of gender. The other issue is that we have a niece with the middle name Rae (after DH's other grandmother), though that child's first name is very different (L1la). Are those two names too similar? Would May seem derivative? Does it not matter since they're middles?

Right now I'm leaning slightly to option 1 and DH is leaning heavily to option 2.

I'd love the opinion of the smartest group of NEs around on this issue. Though my gut instinct tells me this baby is a boy and it's all going to wind up being academic anyhow.

May 31, 2011 2:00 PM

Congratulations, Coll! I do remember you from several years back. You always chimed in on literary discussions, if memory serves (and it may not!). My gut has been wrong all three times, so I'd be prepared for a girl. :), I like Josephine May better just for the flow.

May 31, 2011 3:22 PM

Coll-Welcome back! Congrats on the new little one! I think I like the first choice because of the family connection but he second because of flow. Being similar to the cousins mn doesn't matter to me. Hmm I'm no help. Can I offer other options?
Pearl; Joy; Ruby; Audrey; Ivy; Mabel; Iris; Faith; or Amy or Mya as anagrams of May.

By SarahB (not verified)
May 31, 2011 6:59 PM

I know they were not on the list but what about Sarah Mae or Emily Rose?

By izzy
May 31, 2011 8:35 PM

@Coll: I prefer May, because I like the way it sounds, and if you sometimes hate Edith, I wouldn't go with it, avoid "namer's regret" if you can!! I also would recommend Faith, Sarah, Elle/Belle, Grace, Maude, Anne, or Opal. I actually like Opal, now that I think about it....

May 31, 2011 8:55 PM

Coll - I don't know how you feel about unisex names, but you could always use Josephine Kelly which I think sounds lovely.

May 31, 2011 11:08 PM

Lily Mae is a little bit Old Timey Western for me in combination, but if you use both names together they do have a very appealing southern charm. I like Mae better than May here (not in general) because Lily is a spring word name already. While I slightly prefer Lillian as a long form to arrive at Lily, I think Lily is an established stand alone name as well as a nickname, and to me it ages better (and passes the judge/doctor/president test better) than many of the other two syllable ends-in-y/ie names on your list.

Adalaide Elise - I, like others, can't quite get behind the spelling, even though Adelaide is by far my favorite of all the names on your list and I love Elise best from all your middle names (well, along with Jane). If it's wanting Ada as a nickname, I think you can do that either way. I withdraw my reservations if the spelling is in honor of an Adalaide important to you, though! I think this is probably still my favorite, since Adalaide is weighty and substantial and more formidable than many of the other names on your list, which strike me as more sweet/cute.

Sarah Jane- since Sarah is such a timeless simple classic, and the fabulous Jane has the plain-Jane association (not helped by "Sarah Plain and Tall"), I'd pair either with a more punchy name, because I am a fan of contrast... but one man's overmatching is another man's harmony. (I know at least one Sarah Jane in my circle of friends.) If you're intending to use both as a double name, I think the harmony works more in your favor. If the Jane will be tucked away behind an initial most of the time, I'd prefer something more daring unless the Jane had special meaning.

Hannah Grace - not a fan, I think because I've oversaturated on this particular combination. There's nothing wrong with it at all - it's a very classic popular first name with a very classic popular middle name, but they just go together a little too well for my taste. The biblical first name with the often-religious middle name would make me only recommend it if you are in fact religious. But, my reservations aside, I'm quite sure that this combo is one I've encountered not just once but many times before on course rosters, so I might be alone in disliking how these two names fit together.

Mollie Claire - I have mixed feelings about Molly as a given name (I really like it and it is spunky and friendly, but it doesn't quite age in my head, though I suspect the crop of little Mollys aging will take care of that problem)... but the ie ending further cutesifies it for me somehow. I do like Claire, though!

Ellie Rose - I greatly enjoy Rose. Ellie in my area would blend into the sea of Eleanors and Ellas and Elles and Ellerys and Ellingtons and little girl Elliots and L____s who all go by Ellie. Regardless of where you live, I'd be aware that you're choosing a name that's actually far much more popular than the official birth certificate rankings suggest. Also, I prefer Ellie to be short for something more weighty. It seems insubstantial on its own, especially given the staggering number of other names it's used as a nickname for.

June 1, 2011 7:07 AM

OK, so I'm 38 weeks pregnant and hubby has finally looked at my list of names (well the short list I gave him).

His favourites are:


He has OK'd
Xanthe (although has concerns it might be hard to spell)
Juniper (although may be more hippyish than the others)
Juliet (we both have concerns about popularity)

Has vetoed (although I could probably push for one of these as a middle if I really wanted it):

So, hit me with your best combos using the preferred first names. Happy to hear anything you think will work well. Regular posters know many names I like plus there are several in my profile if you want an idea. While I have lots of ideas I'm open to any suggestions. Also, of the first names what do you all think works the best?

Surname is similar to Worth.

By erinh (not verified)
June 1, 2011 6:52 AM

This post certainly struck a chord with me - my name is Erin, born in '71, and I could *never* find anything with my name on it in the 70s and early 80s. I used to get quite upset about it. Possibly because my sister's more common name was easy to find. I think the name Erin started to appear on things in the late 80s or early 90s, but I'm pretty sure it's gone again!

By knp
June 1, 2011 7:55 AM

CHimu: Ariadne Clementine! Ariadne Genevieve! Cordelia Astrid! Ariadne Delphine. (I'm sooo voting for Ariadne here...dh nixed it for me)

Good luck with your last couple weeks!

June 1, 2011 10:00 AM

Chimu-That would've been much too late for me as I would have had the babies already! :) Are you still using 2 mn's?
Anyway, I have always loved Astrid Cordelia* and hope that you use that. But other ideas for you for fun:
Astrid Juniper*
Astrid Elisabeth

Ariadne Juniper
Ariadne Honora
Ariadne Delphine
Ariadne Genevieve

Juniper Clementine
Juniper Suzannah*
Juniper Carys*
Juniper Boronia

Juliet Clementine

Cordelia Ingrid
Cordelia Delphine

Xanthe Penelope
Xanthe Delphine
Xanthe Elisabeth
*These marked ones were on the list already.

By Amy3
June 1, 2011 12:52 PM

@Coll, I love Josephine, May, and Edith so it's not easy to choose. However, if you're not sold on Edith, go with May. I also liked the suggestion of Josephine Kelly. That sounds great and is my favorite.

@Chimu, Astrid! Pick Astrid! :)

Seriously, I love zoerhenne's combo, Astrid Cordelia. That's lovely, spunky, unexpected, wonderful. Can't believe you're already at 38 weeks! Best of luck with your delivery!

I'm taking an antibiotic that seems to be giving me the strangest dreams. Last night I dreamt Steve Martin had a son with someone who while like Tina Fey wasn't her. They named the baby Hex. I couldn't decide if that was really cool or terribly wrong.

June 1, 2011 1:14 PM

Chimu: My favorite first name on your list is Cordelia. Cordelia Astrid maybe? Though I do like it flipped around too as others have suggested. I feel like Xanthe could be an annoying name to have with spelling and pronunciation difficulties. (I think I know how to pronounce it, but I'm not sure, and I think a little Xanthe would run into that problem frequently).

Coll: I agree with others that Josephine Kelly is a beautiful name!

By alr (not verified)
June 1, 2011 4:14 PM


I, too, quite like Astrid Cordelia. My other favorite combos from your list are:

Astrid Juniper
Cordelia Harriet

And a few outside the box brainstorms:

Astrid Penelope
Daphne Cordelia*

*(I'd totally name my daughter this combo if A. I didn't have a husband with opinions, and B. We weren't adopting a daughter who already has a name.) ;)

June 1, 2011 9:16 PM

Yes we have left it a bit late to discuss names but I've just been in denial about having to actually pick something! I'm finding it hard to actually commit to a name knowing that there are so many I like. In some ways I'm glad my husband has vetoed a few names as it makes it easier. We aren't deciding for sure on a name til we meet the baby but I'd like a solid short list to work from.

Lots of votes for Astrid Cordelia or Cordelia Astrid :) I like both those combos a lot so will put that near the top of the list. I was originally hesitant to pair pretty much my 2 favourite names together in case I wanted to use one later but I don't think we will have more than 2 kiddies and the next one may well be a boy so I think using both could be a good option.

@knp - I'll put you down as an enthusiastic voter for Ariadne :)

@Amy3 - I knew you'd vote for Astrid ;) Just remind me, your Astrid does like her name doesn't she? That is important to me, I don't want to saddle a kid with a name that gets them teased or they hate.

@allij28 thanks for your opinon on Xanthe. I think that is what hubby thinks too but he thinks it's 'interesting'.
Does anyone think Xanthe sounds weird with Worth? I think the flow is ok but I normally don't like /th/ first names with our surname

Is everyone with me that Juliet is probably 1) too safe and 2) likely to be too popular? I'm not willing to let it go yet but I think it's moving down the list.

Re middle names - I am still keen on the double middle with the second one being a variation of Margaret in honour of my Nanna. My preferred options are Margrethe, Marguerite, Margaux and maybe Gretchen or Greta? I'm still to talk to hubby about this but if anyone wants to play with combos feel free.....

My other thought on middle names is that Juliet and Juniper both went down ok but we have hesitations on using them as a first name. Both could work well as a middle. Hubby's initials are A.J. so the baby could also be an A.J

Astrid Juniper
Astrid Juliet
Ariadne Juniper
Ariadne Juliet

Thoughts? Apologies for the mammoth post but I think you will be hearing a lot from me in the next few days and I really value the ability to garner non-biased opinions on this board :)

By Amy3
June 1, 2011 9:43 PM

@Chimu, my Astrid (who is 9) does like her name most days. Just yesterday she noticed that her group of closest friends all have names that end in A. She didn't seem put out by it, and I told her having your name start with A was much cooler. :)

She does have days when she's less enthusiastic about it, but that might happen if she had a top 10 name, too (or at least one in the Top 1000!). I think generally, though, she's pleased we chose a name so carefully that we thought really suited her (we took 2 girl names and 1 boy name into the delivery room). And she will likely never face being Astrid Last-initial as I frequently was or as the Emilys she knows are.

Finally, we paired it with Katherine, which is a family name. We definitely wanted to honor our family members who had the name, but we also thought it was a good fail safe should she ever decide Astrid is too "out there" for her. With that in mind, Cordelia or Juliet would give her a more conventional option whereas Juniper (to me) is as unconventional as Astrid. (Although I do love it and it sounds great with Astrid.)

My top pick is Astrid Cordelia Margaux and second is Astrid Juliet Margaux.

June 1, 2011 10:11 PM

@Amy3 - I'm sure no kid likes their name all the time but as long as it doesn't cause too many issues I'll be happy :) Good point about the middle name too, will take that into consideration when we try and work out combos.

June 1, 2011 10:21 PM

I pretty much never give my opinions about possible names but I wanted to weigh in regarding Chimu's query because when I read "Astrid Cordelia" I was struck by how pretty it is. Astrid is a sharp, snappy name an Cordelia is soft and flowy and I think that they complement each other fantastically.

I don't think that it works as well in the other order because the ending and beginning "A"s conflict with each other.

Oh, and I agree with the "th"s repeating in the first and last names isn't the most pleasing. With so many other lovely combos to choose from, that may be a good way of eliminating one.

Good luck!

June 1, 2011 10:49 PM

Chimu-I agree that you may want a more mainstream name in the mn spot as a fall back in case the girl would like one. Astrid Juniper or Ariadne Juliet go best for me for flow though. I don't think Xanthe (zan-thee)? is that bad unless however it is sounding more like Zanth (with the th ending) then it would run together too much for me. It is the most "out there" of your top runners.
Most of the combos I posted (and have thought about) go with Margaret as the 2nd mn. I will post more tomorrow maybe.

June 2, 2011 1:00 AM

А есть, какая нибудь альтернатива? ;)

By İzmir Mimarlık (not verified)
June 2, 2011 4:15 AM

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June 2, 2011 4:33 AM

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By Babygrams (not verified)
June 2, 2011 4:37 AM

Hey Laura, this is so true, im in england, and its exactly the same here, we have little keychains and i can never find any names outside of the normal names which have been given to kids/babies.

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June 3, 2011 10:21 PM

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By Alyssa Z. (not verified)
June 9, 2011 12:27 AM

YES! Another Doctor Who fan!

I loved Sarah Jane! I wish she didn't die (the actress) :c

On the name - Sarah Jane is kind of an odd name. Jane is a classic name that I associate with Peter Pan. But Sarah is... Well, I don't know. But I always think of a princess when I hear Sarah (doesn't it mean princess?).

By Anya (not verified)
July 1, 2011 6:09 PM

I have hard time finding anything with my husband's or my kids' names. The easiest is probably my middle one, Marcus. The oldest one usually settles for Luke (one letter off). The youngest one's name, as well as his father's, is just too rare and ethnic. I normally go by Anya, and can't find much either, but my full name is Anna, so that's easy.
You can customize stuff with pretty much any name on websites like cafepress, or even occasionally find ready-made things (although my husband's name is ALWAYS on girly stuff).

By Volcano (not verified)
July 14, 2012 8:35 AM

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