British Baby Names vs. American Baby Names

Aug 6th 2011

What makes for a British baby name? A simple answer might come from the official list of the most popular baby names in England and Wales, which was released last week. Those stats show Olivia, Sophie and Emily topping the charts for girls, Oliver, Jack and Harry for boys. None of those name should sound too surprising to an American observer. All but Harry rank among the U.S. top 100 names, and Harry has the British double-whammy of a prince and a boy wizard in its corner. So far, expectations confirmed.

But then there's the #4 boy's name: Alfie. That name is virtually unknown in the U.S., given to only 6 American boys last year. (Other boys' names tied at 6 include Jagjot, Ifeanyichukwu, and Awesome.)

Is Alfie a blip on the radar, or a sign of a major style divide? What kinds of names define British vs. American baby name style?

I decided to look for the differences statistically, in the same way that I track the differences in U.S. naming from one year to the next. I normalized the 2010 name frequency data for England and Wales (E&W) and the United States (US) to occurrences per million babies born, to allow direct comparisons. Then I applied my standard Baby Name Wizard "Hotness formula," a calculation that balances percent change with the absolute number of babies affected. The result is a ranking of the "most British" and "most American" names. And yes, there are consistent differences in naming style.

To American ears, E&W names are overwhelmingly cute. My guess is that's not what the typical American expects. My chapter on "English" names in the Baby Name Wizard book described a style based on Americans' literary imagination, not geographic reality. Deep down, Americans kind of wish English people would be named Nigel and Victoria and live in a Masterpiece Theatre production. But take a look at the names that define real E&W name style today:

Most British Baby Names, 2010

1 Alfie Maisie
2 Olly Poppy
3 Archie Ellie-May
4 Harry Imogen
5 Kenzie Lily-Mae
6 Finlay Ffion
7 Barnaby Darcey
8 Ollie Freya
9 Freddie Bethan
10 Osian Ellie-Mae

Meet the kids, Ellie-May and Ollie! Not so much Masterpiece Theatre as Beverly Hillbillies, eh? But those represent hot name styles in England today. Not only do two spellings of Ollie make the top 10 most-British list, but if I expanded the list the next three girls' names in line would be Lily-Rose, Lilly-May and Lily-May.

The hyphenated girls' names are, admittedly, a bit of a statistical cheat. The U.S. doesn't allow punctuation in name stats. But the run-together versions like Elliemae are overwhelmingly British, as are the individual names Ellie and Lily. And anecdotally, in my nine years in the baby name business no American parent has ever approached me with a dilemma like "Ellie-Mae vs. Lily-Mae."

On the boy's side, cute diminutives have never been less popular in the U.S. This used to be a land of nicknames, overrun with Billys, Jimmies and Tommies. Today that's William, James and Thomas, thank you very much. Oh, you'll meet a fair number of young American Williams called Will or Liam, but little Billy has become scarce as both nickname and given name. In England & Wales, though, Billy is the #101 boy's name, a little behind Bobby and just ahead of Frankie. Lifelong boyishness is now the English way.

Looking beyond the diminutives, you'll notice the list features Welsh names like Osian, Ffion and Bethan. This is, after all, a list based England and Wales. (The individual country lists only run 100 names deep, insufficient for this analysis.) Freya is a Norse goddess name that's hot throughout Scandinavia as well as the U.K. Darcey is a feminized form of the surname Darcy (as seen in Pride and Prejudice). The great English ballerina Darcey Bussell is one prominent bearer.

That leaves just Imogen, Barnaby and the Scottish import Finlay to hold up the image of formal, quirkily classic English names. As for Nigel and Victoria, prepare to be disillusioned: both are twice as common in the U.S. today as in England.

To be continued, with the Most American Names next time...On to part 2, Most American!




By KristinW (not verified)
August 6, 2011 2:15 PM

But why is the UK so nickname-centric now, while we're trying to sound so formal?

P.S. I was thrilled to see Barnaby on the list. I lobbied for that name if we'd had a boy because of the song "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello Dolly. It's such a hopeful song.

"Out there
There's a world outside of Yonkers
Way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby
There's a slick town, Barnaby
Out there
Full of shine and full of sparkle
Close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby
Listen, Barnaby..."

By KristinW (not verified)
August 6, 2011 2:17 PM

Also wanted to add that, though I'm American, I've always love the UK top 100 list. Ollie is insanely adorable to me. My hubby is the one who's tough to convince.

By almk42 (not verified)
August 6, 2011 2:50 PM

I think nicknames as names are bizarre, especially when they're such cutesy nicknames. Then again, my family has grandparents with given names Mollie, Tommie, and Billie. Maybe you're right, that names in the UK sound more like names in the Southern US in the 20's and 30's.

August 6, 2011 3:03 PM

I'm not the betting type, but I would wager that Olivia, Sophie and Emily topped the charts for girls :)

By Margaret (not verified)
August 6, 2011 3:06 PM

Nicknames were popular as given names in the '60s here, weren't they? It was generally more for girls, though, I think. A nickname like Alfie in the top ten definitely sounds odd. I agree with the above comment that most of those girls names sound like they'd fit right in in the South.

By lyspeth (not verified)
August 6, 2011 3:13 PM

I love that Barnaby is popular! I'm a big fan of the Midsomer Murders series and the main character is (surname) Barnaby.

By Guest019383 (not verified)
August 6, 2011 3:35 PM

really interesting post, didn't expect those lists.

By KristinW (not verified)
August 6, 2011 3:39 PM

I live in the U.S. South, so maybe that's why I like the UK names! Actually, though, almost no one here is named Lily-May or Ellie-May or Billy or Ollie. The kids are named William and Thomas and Isabella (or Lily and Ella), just like everywhere else. Folks here do like their double names, though, but they usually start with Anna (Anna Kathryn, Anna Kate, Anna Jane, Anna Lane) or have Elizabeth in the middle (Hannah Elizabeth, Anna Elizabeth, Mary Elizabeth), which makes for a mouthful of a name!

By Rebecca CKREM (not verified)
August 6, 2011 5:34 PM

Imogen is also Welsh

August 6, 2011 6:44 PM

Oh, thank you, thank you for this post! I know a Holly May (although not hyphenated) and a Molly May. And many, many Ellies,Alfies and Finlays. Never met a Kenzie though.
One factor you don't mention is class - ever present in British society. Lily-May would be more working class than Lily May.
Nigel, Graham, Derek, Victoria - these are all names for the 50+ age group in England. I remember another British friend and I aghast when an American friend named her child Derek ('Derek! How bizarre! It's a plumber's name!) - our babies were called Bunty and Judah.
I think the UK is nickname centric because we don't like the formality of the past, and we don;t want any danger of a cute Alfie being saddled with Alfred at any point in his life. I very nearly had an Alfie..definitely my favourite name if I had a fantasy late baby.
I'm an author writing teen novels - I'm going to keep this list in mind. My books are very British, the names might as well be too!

August 6, 2011 6:48 PM

Oh and I don't think Imogen is Welsh, because the 'g' in Welsh would be pronounced differently.

By Juli (not verified)
August 6, 2011 7:05 PM

I wonder: twenty years from now, will it be perfectly standard in Britain for a guy with "Alfie" on his birth certificate to choose to go by "Alfred" instead, turning the now-usual full name -> nickname process on its head?

August 6, 2011 7:15 PM

Alfred is so unusual in the UK - and it's so normal for people to have 'nickname' names...can't see that happening at all.

By Jane 6 (not verified)
August 6, 2011 7:21 PM

Wow. I am honestly very surprised.

Not to get too political, but could the boyishness-for-life thing have to do with having a cradle-to-grave welfare state?

Say what you will about the names Caden or Jayden (I don't like them, whereas I could see Alfie were it not for the muppet sitcom Alf)... but they DO project a sort of cowboy activeness. Young and manly, not young and cutesy.

August 6, 2011 7:26 PM

Karyn wrote: "I'm not the betting type, but I would wager that Olivia, Sophie and Emily topped the charts for girls :)"

Typo corrected, thanks!

And Rebecca wrote: "Imogen is also Welsh"

I'm pretty certain Imogen is English, straight from Shakepeare...or rather, from Shakespeare's typesetters. It's believed that the Shakespearean Imogen was a mis-printing of the Gaelic name Innogen that stuck.

By kgstar (not verified)
August 6, 2011 11:26 PM

How about some more commentary on the names Jagjot, Ifeanyichukwu, and Awesome? Like pronunciation on the first two? Anyone?

By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
August 7, 2011 12:36 AM

@Jane6 Your comment about the welfare state made me laugh. I'm Canadian and we're pretty socialist, though not many would use the term welfare state to describe us (at least, I don't think so--I could be wrong). My guess is that it's a reaction against the more fusty "Masterpiece Theatre" type of names.

And I do find the names Cayden, Jayden, etc cutesy and bratty and not manly at all. I find names like Alfie, Harry, Archie to be young, but definitely not cutesy--more laddish and rakish. Boys that girls could get into a lot of fun/trouble with! But perhaps that's my Canadian perspective, the nationality that really seems on the fence between the UK and USA.

August 7, 2011 8:43 AM

On the subject of why it surprises many that nickname-names are more common in the U.K. than the U.S., I think the answer is changing social forces and is cyclical. If you look at the American stats over time, you'll see that nickname-names were common in the 1880s-1890s, fell out of favor in the 1900s, revived in the 1930s and remained up through the 1970s, and has been low in recent years. If the pattern follows through, as this decade goes on we'll see a revival of less formal names on the birth certificate (as Wattenberg described in a 2009 blog post here:

At my blog post whose URL is at the bottom of this paragraph, I noticed that name formality decreases during what historians Strauss and Howe call "Crisis" periods (e.g. the present post-recession era, and before that the Depression/WWII era, and before that the Civil War era), is at its lowest in the post-Crisis period (e.g. the 1950s), increases during what they call "Awakening" eras (e.g. the movements of the '60s and '70s), and is at its highest in the pre-Crisis periods (e.g. the recent past, which is why the recent lists have been so void of them). Already when comparing the 2007 (before the crash) and 2010 lists many of the names that may be too short/informal for some (e.g. Ellie, Finn) have increased in popularity.

In a follow-up blog post, I posted a theory on how it seems like Britain follows a similar but opposite cycle to America:

In addition, a comment on one of my blog posts mentioned that in the U.K. the nickname fad is more common among the lower classes, with the upper classes still more likely to opt for the full name (remember over there the class structure is less flexible than in America).

August 7, 2011 10:09 AM

I'm so surprised by many of these names! Would never have guessed Effie-May! And I've never even heard of Osian before. I'm really not a fan of most of those names, Imogen and Freya aside.

I've been trying to get DH to talk about names a little more. He's kind of sort of playing along...for a few moments at a time.

I'm feeling very uncertain about Ursula (I know I keep mentioning it), largely because people seem to have a universally negative response to it. DH is stubbornly oblivious. I'm thinking we should seriously reconsider Anya again. We're likely to have a relatively nerdy, at least bookish kid, so maybe our Anya wouldn't run the risk of evoking the model/ballerina/mean girl image.

Zoerhenne, I didn't understand what you meant about Mira being dark with the LN. Can you clarify?

If I can get DH to go for it (and let go of Ursula) a possible girl sib-set would be:

Anya Pascale and Mira Sabine

Both would be meaningful, because Anya was my favorite name for so long, and Mira is related to my name.

He's a stubborn man, though...sigh.

He won't really tell me what he thinks about most of our boy names. He only told me the ones he hated. Of the ones that get an "ok" vote are:

Rowan, Calder, Walker, Simon, Jonah, Elliot, Everett, Nathaniel, Xavier, and August.

Who knows what he really thinks about them, though. Xavier and Simon are still my favorites, I think. I wish I could think of other good options...

Sorry for going on for so long, but I need an outlet ;)

August 7, 2011 1:40 PM

aw, i'm so sad to hear of your baby name cold feet regarding ursula. maybe i'm biased because i like the name ursula so much (it's on my list if i ever have kids), but i fall into the the to-heck-with-what-everyone-else-thinks camp, mostly because i feel that people adjust once they know a child with the name. just the other day, i was talking to my friend's grandmother, and we were discussing baby names, and she told me, "when my son called me up and told me they were naming my granddaughter 'alexandra,' i thought 'what! what kind of a name is that!'...but now i just love it."
i know it isn't quite the same, as alexandra is much more common than ursula (and ranked 72 in the year my friend was born, so the grandmother was obviously a bit out of touch), but i think the principle stands. once there is an adorable little girl to go with the name, people are going to start changing their minds.
i also feel that the negative association of the little mermaid (which, judging from things you've said, seems to be the main obstacle) will fade quite a bit by the time your daughter would be in school. i mean i'm sure the film will still be around (disney will never die), but i don't think it will be iconic in the same way it was when i was a child. i mean one of the evil stepsisters in cinderella is named anastasia, and no one seems to care about that. i don't know--i do understand feeling uncertain about choosing a name that is a bit daring and to which you've gotten some negative response to, but ultimately, i think that if you and your husband like the name, other people's thoughts shouldn't really matter. they can adjust.

i do also like anya, and sort of like mira, though i don't love it (i keep thinking of meercats for some reason).

also, love your boy names, especially simon, elliott, xavier, and august. i forget, which xavier pronunciation do you favor? personally, i always go back and forth: on one hand, i prefer the sound of ex-avier. but on the other hand, my brain revolts against the idea of 'x' being pronounced as 'ex.' that isn't the sound that the letter makes! i think my favorites are simon and august. mmm...but all so good.

regarding your comment on the nickname vi looking like the roman numeral for six, i've actually made that mistake before! when i was in school, there was a poster for a band (i think) that was visiting, and i turned to my friend and said, "what the heck? who are jackie, six, and lena?" ha! that being said, the poster was in all caps, and i don't think i would have made the mistake if it had been Vi instead of VI.

August 7, 2011 2:44 PM

With the timing of this American vs. British name discussion, I decided to go ahead and post at my blog another find I made when comparing the stats: The "conformity curve" that we've discussed, the percentage of babies given a top name, which has flattened considerably in recent years in the U.S. has not flattened as much in the U.K. In other words, British parents are more likely to use a top name than American parents; this is particularly the case with boys, in which the differences are larger than they are on the girl's side.

August 7, 2011 4:46 PM

This post finally motivated me to find the actual data! For anyone else who wants to play along at home:
Click the 2010 or whatever year Data for Boys or Girls and then look for the last table in the spreadsheet.

I'm super entertained to see that Rupert is right next to Wilfred on the 2010 list, ranked in the 360s (representing 116 and 115 instances of use). Wilfred is the remaining boys name on our list that we won't be using for this next baby, but will likely be a future son should we have one. Ha! Even if they didn't make it into the top 10 British-skewed names of this post, I would guess these "Masterpiece Theatre" style British actually do skew towards E&W, since they're much rarer in the US (not in the top 1000)... will do the actual number crunching a bit later because I'm curious!

On the other hand, Son #1's name is ranked last at 4678 (a many-way-tie), meaning it was only bestowed 3 times this past year and just barely managed to get onto the data set.

Speaking of which, does anyone happen to know the # of births that the American and E&W 2010 years represent? (E&W data truncates at names given less than 3 times, and the American data cutoff is 5 times, so one can't just total up to get the total number of babies born.)

ETA: PennyX, I am so very sure that when the name is introduced alongside a cute baby, Ursula would get a much more favorable reception. I would hate for you to end up using names that I think are much less interesting just because of the poorly thought-out, hastily uttered opinions that would never have been mentioned if they knew how hurtful they were to you. In my experience, my mom (who outright said "Rupert? That's a stupid name!" to me when I accidentally mentioned it was a name not taken when we were expecting son #1) doesn't even remember ever having expressed that opinion after the fact, because when I told her "Well, neither you nor any other people are going to find out the name for kid #2 or beyond in advance because you called a name we were considering 'stupid'" she swore she would NEVER have said something like that. So clearly, something that just slipped out beyond her (not very substantial) filter with nary a thought, but something I carried around for a really long time.

So, I still think you should use Ursula and combine it with a more unobjectionable middle name so that your daughter if she ever disliked her name would have the flexibility to go by Jane or Elizabeth or whatever. I also like it in a sibset with Imogen, which has a similarly distinctive, untrendy feel to me (on American shores).

I know so many little Miras that it's a bit overwhelming... none of them actually are Mira on the birth certificate, so I think this is a stealth-popular name, though it's very likely that I'm also in a local pocket of popularity (most of the little Miras I know have Jewish heritage). And Anya - it's very pretty, but also not the sort of name I can get very excited about. It sort of blends together with a lot of other popular names for me. To me it's very much a nickname for Anna and feels a little bit insubstantial as a given name, though as the E&W data shows amply, whether nicknames as given names are a hot trend or something to be avoided very much depends on your location.

August 7, 2011 4:34 PM

Emilyrae: Maybe I'll get the courage again. And DH feels very passionately about Ursula, which is funny. He doesn't care much either way for any other name - boy or girl. I'm not worried as much about what people will think of the name on a little girl. I know people will fall in love with the little creature regardless of her name. More how the girl would feel in high school or college.

I knew an Ursula once years ago - not well, but as an acquaintance. Never really gave her name a second thought one way or another at the time. So Ursula can't be as bad as Gertrude or Mildred then, I guess. We'll see.

Full disclosure: I'm in the 2ww right now, so am trying to distract myself. It's misery.

By UKteacher (not verified)
August 7, 2011 4:40 PM

I'm a teacher in England and I have taught kids with all of these names except Barnaby, Freddie and the Welsh ones (and only McKenzies nicknamed Kenzie.)

August 7, 2011 4:48 PM

Oh, PennyX, I'm so sorry about the two week wait. Please go do something nice for yourself and try to find your happy place. I really hope this cycle works for you... and if not, that your next step of moving on to donor eggs DOES do the trick and you can produce a beautifully named child very soon in any case.

I think you should honor your husband's passionate feelings about Ursula. I got to use the name I felt that strongly about and it is such an amazing thing. As a compromise, perhaps use that to feel good about letting your own stronger feelings about boy names guide that discussion more completely.

ETA: But I like Gertrude... it's just a bit much alliteration for me with our hard-G last name, though the combo has appeared on our family tree before.

By Anna S (not verified)
August 7, 2011 5:30 PM

Fascinating post!

I'm wondering, though, if it is the correct approach to include the names of Welsh origin in this analysis? I'm not British so this is only speculation, but do the Welsh names actually sound "British" to the Brits? Or would a Brit make a distinction and say they "sound Welsh" rather than British/English? An American analogy would be if you had a pool of "typically American" names plus Native American names in somewhat comparative numbers. (Or Hawaiian, or Hispanic - names tied to a minority with different linguistic origins).

@lucubratrix - you can find the total number of births for any year on the SSA site. Start here and follow the links:

August 7, 2011 6:47 PM

ah, i see. well, that, i think, is much harder to predict. i am sure there are people who have unusual names and dislike them, but at the same time, i also know that there are people with very common names who dislike their names just as strongly. (and of course there are people on both sides of the divide that love their names as well.) i am not sure that you could guarantee that your child wouldn't dislike her name no matter what you chose. for my part, i obviously have a very normal name (though i didn't know any others growing up), and there was a period in elementary school when i didn't hate it necessarily, but i thought it was very "plain." i distinctly remember agreeing to trade names with my friend sarah, which i thought was much prettier and more interesting. but later on (not sure when--high school/college maybe), i came to really like my name, mostly for the facts that it was a) very solid and traditional (important to me still to this day) and b) it had several literary namesakes (i was a literature major).

so i don't's certainly something to consider, but i am not sure you can predict it. just because you have acquaintances that dislike the name doesn't mean your daughter would. it's so interesting to me that your husband loves the name so much because i have a [very unfair] stereotype in my head that men do not have interesting taste in names, haha. i think it is because there have been a few people on here whose husbands only suggested thigs like jessica and ashley. i know it's an inaccurate stereotype (because, hello, linnaeus...), but i still couldn't help being surprised.

if you don't mind me asking, what is it exactly that draws your husband (or you) to it? for me, it's the meaning, the striking U initial, the fact that (in my opinion) it actually is a pretty sound, the fact that i can see it as serious or sultry (wasn't there a bond girl named ursula or something?), the fact that it's unusual yet familiar and traditional...i could probably go on. also, have you heard it said in an english accent? gorgeous.

i wanted to tell you, even though i know this is late: i still love rupert, and i think the whole rupert murdoch thing is just a blip on the map. frankly, i'll probably have forgotten about it by the time your baby is born. i love rupert almost as much as i love ursula, so i can't even express how happy i am that you're considering it. :]

August 7, 2011 7:55 PM

emilyrae: *wink* I missed you when I made my Facebook challenge.


Your talk about Ursula was interesting to me, so I checked it on Name Voyager. Interesting trend! It peaked in 1900 and slipped from there, following the same trend as lots of female -UR- names: Irma, Myrtle, Myrna, Pearl, etc.

But then, suddenly, in the 60s and 70s, bam, the name's back! I was wondering why, when I realized the answer: Ursula Andress. I'm sure Ursula K. Le Guin was a helping factor, but... I'm pulling my guy card. It's Ms. White Bikini. Otherwise, it would have been vetoed as grandma's name.

Once you reach the 80s, though, the name crashes off the charts.

Then again, the same happened for Pearl. And it's just now coming back onto the charts. So, you know what? I think Ursula's ready for a bit of a renaissance. I wouldn't be surprised if it shows some popularity in the future. No, not as a top name, it never was, before. But whether you get a picture of a Bond Girl, fantasy author, or sea witch in your mind, the name suggests mystery with a hint of danger. And that's sexy.

And for everyone: What is with the letter L? Lily is a top name across nations, across languages these days.

By Jane 6 (not verified)
August 7, 2011 10:29 PM

I like Ursula, and I think you should embrace it. I also like Anya, and I'm a bit confused by the rather bored reaction to it... as I've never known an Anya. Maybe it's too pretty? Or just a little drab compared to an Ursula. I think Linnaeus summed up the charms of Ursula pretty well... "mystery with a hint of danger" is exactly right.

Go with August for a boy. It combines the "A" beginning of Anya with the two "u's" of Ursula. It's perfect for you.

As far as the original topic goes, I was thinking about it, and I think it is the "ie" ending sound that really makes the British boy names sound so cutesy to me. I dislike the --den names, but at least the "n" ending sounds like an echo of a surname-name. Do these parents envision their children growing up and becoming doctors and judges, etc., and introducing themselves as Dr. Ollie Smith or Judge Alfie Johnson?

By Jane 6 (not verified)
August 7, 2011 10:29 PM

The first part of that comment was for PennyX.

August 7, 2011 10:37 PM

Here in Australia we seem to be part way between British and US trends. We seem to do nicknames on the birth certificate slightly less often but have a lot of similar names as the UK. Oliver is top 10 here and most of them are called Ollie/Olly but I haven't seen many 'just Ollies'. Finlay and Archie are also fairly popular here for boys. For girls Imogen, Lily, Ellie, Maisie and Poppy are all fairly well used. We don't seem to do the double name thing much though.

I do find some of the top E&W names a bit too cutesy as birth certifcate names. I prefer them as nicknames for more formal names but I agree that in 20 years time no one will think anything of someone with the full name of Alfie or Ollie.

@PennyX, fingers crossed for your 2ww. I hope this is the one for you! I think Ursula is the right name for you. I think it works really well and I see it being quirky yet elegant on a teenage or young woman. If you aren't sold on it though would you consider using it as a middle name? I still really like Anya too but am not sold on Mira. For your boys names August is my favourite. Closely followed by Rowan, Elliot, Jonah and Simon.

@Lucubratix, your story reminds me of why we aren't telling anyone of the names we didn't use for Astrid. I don't want anyone making any disparaging comments about them as they will probably be in contention if there is every a second daughter. I don't want in the back of my head that people thought it was weird or stupid.

By Also ZR (not verified)
August 7, 2011 11:33 PM

PennyX-It's me Zoerhenne. I don't have but a second right now to respond to all the comments. However, I wanted to answer your question specifically. I referred to Mira (with your LN) as a dark combo because the sounds made it seem a bit mysterious rather than light hearted or lilting. Anya and Ursula have a rather sing-songy flow about them that Mira does not. It gives me a picture of a dark-haired free-spirit. This is not bad mind you, but not at all a cute toddler in pigtails image I can conjure up with the other two.

P.S. There is an actress named Mira Sorvino in case you weren't aware. Her mn is Katherine.

By Alli (not verified)
August 8, 2011 12:35 AM

Penny X: I absolutely love the Mira/Anya sibset. Anya has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and I fell in love with Mira a couple of years ago while working at a daycare. There was a 4 year old named Mira who was so spunky and intelligent and fun. She always had a twinkle in her eye, and her name fit her perfectly.

I agree that you should choose Ursula if you and your husband really love it, but if you keep finding yourself pulling away from it, maybe that's the way its supposed to be.

Of your boys names my favorites are Nathaniel, Simon, and Jonah. I think that Nathaniel, Jonah and Rowan all go well with Anya and Mira. Xavier and Calder are the names that I think fit best with Ursula. I'm having a hard time thinking of other girl names that would go nicely with Ursula... maybe Phoebe? (haha)

By EVie
August 8, 2011 2:30 AM

Penny X - It seems like you did too good a job talking everyone into Ursula! There's definitely something to be said for going with a name that your husband loves, especially considering it was one that you originally suggested. You clearly had strong feelings in favor of it at one point. I would try to reinforce those in your mind instead of dwelling on the doubts.

That said, I love love love Mira. For those of you who say you're living in a pocket of them, of course I believe you, but I just can't believe that the name is generally boring or stale—it's currently ranked at #856, and that's the highest it's been in the last 120 years. So, not a common name by any stretch of the imagination. It's short and sweet and pretty, but also, as zoerhenne said, with some darker tones to it, and I think it balances out your rather-elaborate surname beautifully without being at all incongruous.

Regarding the British baby names—I'm admittedly a total Anglophile, but I just can't get behind the Alfies, Ollies, etc. as given names. Yes, they're adorable on children, and yes they can be rakishly charming on a 20-something or even a 30-something. But once that rakish 30-something hits 40, it's not so charming anymore... it starts to run the risk of sounding kind of buffoonish. (And, full disclosure: I say this as someone whose husband goes by his -y nickname and probably always will. So I'm hoping I won't still think that when he turns 40 in 10+ years). Again, love them as nicknames, but would much prefer they be Alfreds or Olivers.

I also am completely fascinated with the idea that this is a class thing (something I suspected before the Brits confirmed)—I suppose you aren't seeing many of these names in the Telegraph birth announcements?

By Blythe (nsi) (not verified)
August 8, 2011 6:41 AM

I was trying to do this calculation by hand a couple of weeks ago! Fantastic to see it here.

Harriet and Florence are masterpiece theatreish names that are in the E&W top 100, but barely register in the US at the moment.

Something that stuck me about the English naming pattern of the moment is the near extinction of the (historically) most common women's names- that might smack of hyperbole, but there were precisely 32 baby girls named Jane and 32 baby girls called Anne born in England last year. Margaret (80), Helen (61) and Frances (77) fare a bit better, but compare that to quirky, unusual Beatrix...with 124 born last year.

The 'plain' English names have definitely been supplanted by their frillier, latinate counterparts- Annabelle is in the top 100, Francesca is very nearly there.

In regards to the British affinity for nicknames, I don't think it's quite as simple as a class divide. The opinion given here is that putting Archibald/Alfred/Millicent/Margaret on the birth certificate is highly pretentious, if the child is going to be called Archie/Alfie/ Millie/Maisie. There seems to be a fine balance, for most of the population, between Telegraph rah-rah and Daily Mail/Sun chavvy.

August 8, 2011 9:00 AM

Regarding Finlay:

This one's interesting, because although Finlay is very rare in the USA, Finley is rising rapidly up the charts--but more for girls than boys.

August 8, 2011 11:37 AM

I actually wasn't all that surprised to see these names; just consider the names Jamie Oliver (aka the naked chef) and his wife gave their kids:

These kids' names may be at the extreme (well, at least Petal is), but I remember reading about it when he had his last child and discovering that the names weren't considered TOO weird over in Britain (only slightly weird).

August 8, 2011 12:05 PM

Hey guys, thanks so much for giving Ursula such serious thought and discussion, especially given that it's not the first time I've brought it up.

Emilyrae: To my husband, I think Ursula sounds very strong. That's the first thing he says about it. It's the same for me. It seems smart, strong, sophisticated, and yes, a little sexy/sultry. It sounds like someone who marches to the beat of her own drum, and someone who can hold her own. And I do personally like the sound of it. I also like the history of the name. I'm not Catholic myself, but I liked reading about Saint Ursula and the fact that she's the patron saint of students. Maybe my cold feet is really just a fear of going against fashion, when I look at it carefully. Maybe it's not a trendy sound right now, but isn't essentially "ugly". I normally have a pretty good ear, and it sounds good to me ;) I would want to encourage my daughter to be courageous and different and I guess Ursula does that more than Anya.

My husband is also convinced that Ulli or Ulla are super-cool nicknames, for some reason. He's better at spotting "cool" than I am, so I guess I should defer to him there.

I think Ursula Camille or Ursula Sabine might give her a "pretty" mn to fall back on.

And then maybe I could have Simon Xavier for a boy ;) If he's sporty, he could go by Si, and could fall back on the dashing Xavier if necessary.

Oh, I can't remember who asked, but I like the ZA-vier pronunciation the best. The other seems like "too much" to me.

So, if we end up having one girl and one boy we're set. Otherwise, we're in big trouble.

By CarlyM (not verified)
August 8, 2011 12:42 PM


I'm going to assume you want real opinions here (good and bad), since that's what I was looking for when I asked opinions of names on here. I am going to go againt the grain on Ursula. I really dislike the name. I think that the name is one that people have a strong reaction to, either way and I really think most people would have a negative reaction. You said in another post that you don't want to give your child a name that's universally hated (and gave some examples). I think that the people on this forum have a much more open mind to baby names than the general public. Honestly, I think to most people, the name Ursula falls on exactly the same list as the other names you mentioned.

I would really hesitate to give my child a name that most people dislike. The others are right in that once the person gets to know the child (or adult) with the name, the name doesn't seem as important anymore. But at the same time, it may mean that your daughter will constantly have to be trying to overcome that initial impression of her name instead of having a name that gives a good first impression in the first place.

I think there are names out there that are just not my style style and those names can easily grow on me once I know a person by that name. For example, nature names aren't really my cup of tea, but I can see why others like them, and if my brother named his daughter Summer, it would definitely grow on me. But there are some names that most people actually dislike, and to me Ursula is probably an example of that.

Anyways I hope that this post wasn't out of place. I know it's never great to hear that others dislike a name you love. I just thought I'd give a different perspective since most people seemed to have the opposite opinion! For the record, I absolutely love Anya and Mira/Miranda. I think they are both beautiful.

By hyz nli (not verified)
August 8, 2011 1:40 PM

PennyX, I think it's spot on to say that people will come around to the name once it's attached to a kid. You may recall that my initial reaction to Ursula was negative--almost entirely because of the Little Mermaid--but just repeated exposure to it in discussions here has given me another context for it, and I almost can't remember why I felt so negative about it before. I honestly think it does have a pretty sound--it doesn't have any hard/choppy/plosive sounds, just smooth s and liquid l and r. It does sound rather strong and handsome to me (like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, or something). I do quite like Anya and Mira (I prefer Anya of the two, but both are pretty and go well together), and neither of them are at all plain or common, but they can feel that way after the more notable Ursula. It's hard to go off the beaten path, but I can definitely see Ursula as a good choice here, and I think everyone would come around, as I have (without even the benefit of a cute little girl Ursula to associate it with!). Good luck with the 2ww--always a stressful time! Fingers crossed!

August 8, 2011 1:43 PM

Re Ursula--

I must say I have no association with the Disney character whatsoever, never heard of it until Pennyx first mentioned considering the name. My associations are St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins and, most particularly, the character Ursula Brangwen in D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love. Ursula falls in love with Rupert, her sister Gudrun with Gerald, and Rupert and Gerald are attracted to each other. Like Lawrence's other novels, Women in Love was shocking in its day for his treatment of sexuality, and that aura, if you will, colors for me the names he chose for his characters.

As for Lawrence's other name choices, in Sons and Lovers, the sons are William and Paul, the lovers are Miriam and CLara, and the mother is Gertrude (I have no doubt Lawrence read Hamlet). Lady Chatterley's name is Constance (O,irony), her impotent husband is Clifford, and the virile game keeper is Oliver. Constance's sister is Hilda; her father, Malcolm; Oliver's estranged and vengeful wife, Bertha; and Clifford's nurse, Ivy.

I dare say, for the most part these are not the names a writer would choose for characters in a sexually scandalous novel today (if there could be such a thing as a sexually scandalous novel any more). Many of them are completely "out," but some are making their way back or have re-arrived (Oliver, e.g.).

August 8, 2011 2:27 PM

wait, what facebook challenge? did i miss something awesome? gah!

about the post:
i'm with EVie, i like the nicknames, but only as nicknames. i'd much rather they were alfreds and olivers that went by alfie and ollie.

regarding ursula/carlym:
yay, differing opinions! it's good to have that here, i think.
although i will say that i pretty firmly disagree with this particular part:

"But at the same time, it may mean that your daughter will constantly have to be trying to overcome that initial impression of her name instead of having a name that gives a good first impression in the first place."

i've never in my life met anyone of any age that i had to "overcome" my reaction to their name, even people with names that i strongly dislike. it's just their name, and i accept it, and it doesn't affect how i feel about the person. i don't know, maybe in the workplace, if i were in a position to hire people, i would have to overcome my reaction to names like princess or bambi...but i have never encountered this situation in day-to-day life. maybe it's just me, but i don't really feel that a person would be held back in life by any traditional name, however unfashionable. i mean do you really think a girl named ursula would have fewer friends? fewer job opportunities? i do not.

August 8, 2011 2:12 PM


No, nothing awesome. Basically I promised to friend anyone on Facebook who sent me an invite and mentioned that they came from BNW. It was more a point on the commonality of my name. But I figured if anyone was up to the challenge, you would be.

August 8, 2011 2:23 PM

i just wanted to strongly second your comment on coming around to names you previously disliked. i'm so glad it's not just me (although, now that i reflect, of course it wouldn't just be me). this happens to me all the time on this blog. i have a strong negative reaction to a name, but then, through discussion here, i start to view it differently, and then all of a sudden i can't even remember why i didn't like it in the first place. so i imagine that the process would be even quicker with a cute baby to help it along. anyway, thanks to everyone here for this: you change my mind about names every day, and i love this.

ha, yes, i would have enjoyed that. that's a cool challenge. did anyone find you?

August 8, 2011 2:32 PM

emilyrae: Nope, no one. Feel free to try.

Some extra thoughts on Ursula:
If there's any true negative reaction for me regarding the name Ursula, it's that I have a hard time seeing it on a child. However, from young adulthood onward, there's no problem, the name seems fine.

I've often said and thought that we aren't just naming a child, but naming an adult, as well. In fact, the adult phase lasts a whole lot longer. So that's the phase that matters more. So, in the end, I have as little trouble with Ursula as I have actual trouble with Alfie.

Finally, a child named Ursula would allow me to see a child named Ursula (imagine that!). So it's not a real issue at all in the first place.

August 8, 2011 2:33 PM

Another thing to think about with Ursula is the beginning sound "Ur." Other names that have the sound include:


The "er/ur" sound is not stylish right now. I think that's why you get more push back on Ursula than say Delilah, which has a modern sound.

By Amy3
August 8, 2011 2:33 PM

@PennyX, I'm late but I still really, really like Ursula. Sure, it's not trendy today (and maybe never will be), but while different, it shares certain elements with current on-trend names (most specifically ends-in-A). I think it's an unusual (but not unknown), strong, beautiful name for a girl.

I also like Anya and Mira (they make a nice set), but they feel less weighty next to Ursula, which is just so wonderfully substantial.

Your daughter will be in what I think is an interesting position of defining Ursula for people since many won't have met one IRL. That's how my Astrid is - very few people she meets know other Astrids. I think she generally enjoys that.

And Simon Xavier ... swoon ... you've just got some great names piled up. Best of luck! I hope you're pinning one to a baby soon.

By Amy3
August 8, 2011 2:44 PM

As for the currently common British names, I'd prefer using the longer form on the birth certificate even if the plan is to use a nn generally. It just seems unnecessarily limiting to use a nn as the formal name, but I also see the point of "name them what they'll be called.". Maybe that's why we chose a name with no obvious nn!

Maybe it does say something about differing class structures within societies and how flexible they are, though. That is, perhaps Alfie's parents aren't concerned with how his name will look on a resume or if it passes the "Supreme Court justice" test. If Alfie won't be "moving up" or flat out doesn't need to because he's already there, it may be a non-issue.

Americans do seem concerned with how a name reads to others in the sense often of wanting to give their kid a good start on the road to success. Maybe this plays itself out differently in other countries. (And I'm not sure what this says about the parents of those six Awesomes!)

By EVie
August 8, 2011 3:43 PM

Amy3 - That's a great point about Alfie and moving up in society.

Re: Ursula: I think the sound of the name is quite beautiful... when pronounced the English way, with an non-rhotic English accent (something like EUH-syoo-lah). Gorgeous. But I'm afraid that the American pronunciation makes me cringe—I really dislike that strong ERRRRR at the beginning, and the suh-luh. (Another name that I have a similar problem with is Martin. LOVE the way in sounds in an English accent. But in most American accents, including mine, the T becomes a glottal stop—MAR'in. This frustrates me, because I love the name in theory... but I can't even say it right myself. Well, I can, but then people would think I was totally pretentious).

I wouldn't be too worried about an Ursula being judged unfairly in a professional context, because it IS a strong and traditional name. And I wouldn't worry about other adults disliking the name, because even if they do, they should be polite enough to keep it to themselves. But I would worry about it in a social context, particularly if you say she might be a bit on the nerdy side. It's hard enough being the nerdy kid with a name that fits in. You don't want to be the kid who struggles to be accepted and ALSO has a weird name (and I say that as someone who was a very nerdy, socially awkward middle-schooler, who fortunately had an unexceptional name). It's not so much a question of people judging her by her name... it's more about whether the name can be appropriated as a symbol of social rejection. Which will of course have implications for how she sees her own name in the aftermath of middle school.

Anyway, I don't mean to actually dissuade you from using the name if you love it—I would actually be happy to see it used, even though it's not my favorite. The more variety in naming the better, and I like to see traditional names get more exposure. But I just want to provide a counterpoint to all the Ursula-love that's going on here.

August 8, 2011 4:00 PM

Maybe when we finally have a real baby on the way I can get DH to sit down and read this thread. He doesn't take my concerns seriously right now, unfortunately. He's not much for planning ahead, and also is all over the place with names he thinks are "just fine". Clayton, Malcolm, Carol, Howard, Ava, Audley. You name it. Sometimes, I wonder if he's just pulling my leg. Meanwhile, he objects to Clara because there's that Disney cartoon of a cow. Whatever. Guess he's not really taking it seriously yet.

Again, I really appreciate everyone weighing in and giving me their honest opinions!