May 2012

The 2011 Baby Name Pool: Meet the Champion!

May 29th 2012

Each year's Baby Name Pool has its own unique twists. This year, many of our savvy name watchers predicted the continuing ascent of hot tradesman surnames like Mason and Harper. Yet many were also lured in by the siren song of Pippa, the Royal Wedding favorite which turned out to be hotter as a discussion topic than a baby name. And not a one followed the "preppy cowboy" arrow from last year's hottest rising name Bentley to this year's, Brantley

One visionary competitor, though, did tab the #1 hottest girl's name, Aubree. She is this year's Baby Naming Champion. Please join me in a salute to Jennifer K., a 32-year-old surgeon from Seattle, who beat out all challengers with this slate of predictions:



Jennifer tells me that she made her choices by looking beyond Seattle's own quirky naming culture:

"I tried to imagine what might influence the average first-time mom in the US-- someone, by statistics, who would be in her mid-20s, married/partnered, living in a suburb or small city not on the coasts, and with some college...what would likely strike someone as fresh and 'cute,' or fresh and 'cool?'"

She looked to pop culture events during the year as potential sparks to new name trends -- or the fatal blows for past trends:

"The final death throes of the Jon & Kate franchise mean that their spelling of Aiden (Aaden) is no longer something people are likely to emulate. Taraji P Henson is a perfectly nice actress-- but her debut splash (and resultant namesakes) was a couple of years ago, and parents who are drawn to name their children after actresses are usually quite up-to-the-minute. Mylee is more obvious-- Miley Cyrus is getting more and more negative press, so I felt the people who were drawn to her name (particularly again the creative spellers looking for an even cutesier version of it) are looking elsewhere."

For her powerhouse choice of Aubree, Jennifer was inspired particularly by last year's fastest-rising girl's name, Maci. Aubree seemed an ideal choice to appeal to the same parents: "It fits in perfectly with the 'cute' phenomenon that is rapidly coming to dominate names for baby girls, is a fresh and obviously feminine take on a previously masculine name, [and] is easy to say and spell."

Jennifer is herself the mother of an infant son Antoine Raphael, whose names were inspired by specific individuals. "Antoine is his grandfather's name (originally from Syria), and Raphael is after someone called Raphael Hawaweeny (now known in the Eastern Orthodox Church as St Raphael of Brooklyn). Raphael the archangel also happens to be the patron saint of Seattle, and of physicians. :)"

Thank you to everyone who entered this year's pool, which was the closest-scoring ever. It's never too early to start your list for next year! I'll leave you with some final thoughts from our champion Jennifer, which echo some of the reasons all of us here love the subject of names.

"Naming is such a fascinating reflection of parents' values, culture and aspirations for their new child. I, like many of your readers, have been drawn to onomastics since I was a teenager. I like to learn about etymology and cultural sources, but even more like the sociological implications of names. I find that I can make relatively accurate snapshots of a family based purely on the names they choose for their children. Are they hoping their child will be popular, well-liked and friendly, or do they want their child to be on the fringes, trailblazing? Do they want to emphasize historical tradition and family continuity or do they want an innovator who breaks links with the past? What is their cultural/ethnic background, and how important is that to them?"

Most Popular Baby Names By State, 2011

May 19th 2012

In this roundup of hot names around America, the boys' chart gives the best sense of the country's regional diversity. Some notable examples:

Massachusetts: 1. William 1. Benjamin 3. Jacob
Montana: 1. Mason 2. Liam 3. Wyatt
New Jersey: 1. Michael 2. Ryan 3. Anthony
Hawaii: 1. Noah 2. Mason 3. Elijah 

Most Popular Girls' Names by State, 2011
State 1st 2nd 3rd
Alabama Emma Ava Madison
Alaska Olivia Emma Isabella
Arizona Sophia Isabella Emma
Arkansas Emma Isabella Addison
California Sophia Isabella Emily
Colorado Olivia Sophia Emma
Connecticut Sophia Isabella Olivia
Delaware Sophia Olivia Ava
Dist. of Columbia Sophia Ava Elizabeth
Florida Isabella Sophia Emma
Georgia Emma Isabella Madison
Hawaii Sophia Olivia Chloe
Idaho Emma Sophia Olivia
Illinois Sophia Olivia Isabella
Indiana Emma Olivia Ava
Iowa Emma Olivia Sophia
Kansas Sophia Emma Olivia
Kentucky Emma Isabella Sophia
Louisiana Ava Emma Isabella
Maine Emma Sophia Isabella
Maryland Sophia Olivia Isabella
Massachusetts Sophia Olivia Isabella
Michigan Olivia Sophia Emma
Minnesota Olivia Sophia Emma
Mississippi Madison Emma Ava
Missouri Emma Sophia Olivia
Montana Emma Madison Olivia
Nebraska Emma Sophia Olivia
Nevada Sophia Isabella Olivia
New Hampshire Sophia Olivia Emma
New Jersey Sophia Isabella Olivia
New Mexico Sophia Isabella Mia
New York Sophia Isabella Olivia
North Carolina Emma Ava Olivia
North Dakota Emma Ava Sophia
Ohio Emma Sophia Ava
Oklahoma Emma Sophia Isabella
Oregon Sophia Emma Olivia
Pennsylvania Sophia Emma Ava
Rhode Island Sophia Olivia Isabella
South Carolina Madison Emma Isabella
South Dakota Ava Emma Olivia
Tennessee Emma Isabella Ava
Texas Sophia Isabella Emma
Utah Olivia Sophia Emma
Vermont Emma Olivia Sophia
Virginia Sophia Emma Olivia
Washington Sophia Olivia Emma
West Virginia Isabella Emma Madison
Wisconsin Sophia Emma Ava
Wyoming Emma Olivia Addison


Most Popular Boys' Names by State, 2011
State 1st 2nd 3rd
Alabama William Mason James
Alaska Mason James William
Arizona Jacob Anthony Daniel
Arkansas William Jacob Mason
California Jacob Daniel Jayden
Colorado Liam Mason Noah
Connecticut Alexander Michael Mason
Delaware Michael Mason Ryan
Dist. of Columbia William Alexander Daniel
Florida Jayden Jacob Daniel
Georgia William Christopher Mason
Hawaii Noah Mason Elijah
Idaho Mason Jacob Liam
Illinois Alexander Michael Jacob
Indiana Mason Liam Elijah
Iowa Carter Mason Owen
Kansas Mason William Jacob
Kentucky William Mason Elijah
Louisiana Mason Jayden Aiden
Maine Mason Liam Jacob
Maryland Mason Jacob Michael
Massachusetts William Benjamin Jacob
Michigan Mason Jacob Noah
Minnesota Mason William Jacob
Mississippi William James Jayden
Missouri Mason William Noah
Montana Mason Liam Wyatt
Nebraska Mason Jackson William
Nevada Anthony Jacob Daniel
New Hampshire Mason Logan Liam
New Jersey Michael Ryan Anthony
New Mexico Jacob Elijah Michael
New York Michael Jacob Jayden
North Carolina William Mason Jacob
North Dakota Mason Carter Jacob
Ohio Mason Jacob Noah
Oklahoma William Mason Jacob
Oregon Mason Liam Logan
Pennsylvania Mason Michael Jacob
Rhode Island Mason Michael Benjamin
South Carolina William Mason Jayden
South Dakota Mason Carter William
Tennessee William Mason Elijah
Texas Jacob Jayden Daniel
Utah Mason William James
Vermont Liam William Mason
Virginia William Jacob Mason
Washington Mason Liam Alexander
West Virginia Mason Jacob Landon
Wisconsin Mason Liam William
Wyoming William Jacob Jackson

The Shape of Boys' Names: An Update on the Age of Aidan

May 16th 2012

Once upon a time -- not so very long ago -- parents were super conservative with boys' names. Even as trendy girls' names began to rise and fall, you could count on the classic English kingly names to rule the boys' chart. Compare the top 5 boys and girls of 1947:



The girls' list is recognizably American Baby Boom. As for the boys...well, check out the top 5 boys' names in London in the year 1260, per Douglas Galbi:


How many styles can say they've held steady for 7 centuries? In the space of the past two generations, though, that rock-solid name base has started to melt away. Parents no longer feel bound by age-old tradition in naming their sons. As tradition gives way, something has to take its place, and that something turns out to be pure fashion.

My shorthand for the power of boys' name fashion has been names rhyming with Aidan (Jaden, Kayden, Braidyn, etc.). When I started tracking "The Age of Aidans" in 2003, 28 Aidan rhymes Aidan ranked among the top 1,000 American boys' names. That number rapidly climbed, and has been holding steady around 40-41.

In 2011 the Aidans showed their first small decline to 37. Don't expect revolution, though; this change looks like a very gradual evolution. As the -den names have slid, names ending in -ton have risen to keep pace.

In fact, the pure rhyming names are just the tip of the iceberg. I first charted the extraordinary rise of -n names for boys back in 2007. Here's the historical view again, 5 years later:

American Boys Born, By Last Letter of Name, Year 1900

American Boys Born By Last Letter of Name, Year 1900

American Boys Born, By Last Letter of Name, Year 1950

American Boys Born, By Last Letter of Name, Year 2011

The takeaway message seems to be: The more things change, the more they sound the same.

Some revealing graphs of 2011 baby names

May 15th 2012

Then and Now:

Ja- is the most popular opening for today's boys' names, by a wide margin. Ja- favorites include the #1 name Jacob, plus multiple popular spellings of Jayden and Jackson. Put them all together...then compare to what a name like James used to be.

boys names starting with JA

Image and Reality:

Together, the top-5 names Isabella, Sophia and Olivia represent our image of the elegant, ladylike names of the Victorian era. But bubbly little cuties like Minnie, Nellie and Bessie were really the order of the day.

Victorian Girls Names Image vs Reality


An X, at the start, end, or anywhere in-between, is enough to propel almost any boy's name today.

Boys names with an x in them


(In case you're wondering, the graphs above were created with the Expert version of the NameVoyager, one of the specialized name tools available to Baby Name Wizard Expert subscribers. This site relies on subscriber support; if you like what we do, I hope you'll consider subscribing to Expert for the extra tools -- plus NO ADS! Thanks.) 


The Fastest-Falling Baby Names of 2011

May 14th 2012

Fast-rising and fast-falling names are not just two sides of the same coin. They have fundamentally different characters.

Names tend to rise in a burst of glory, and fall in a slow, quiet drift. The hottest names may shoot up by 500%, but the fastest fallers seldom lose more than a quarter of their popularity in a year. In terms of storytelling, too, the drama tends to be on the rising side. (Check out this year's hottest names for boys and girls.) The falling names list often feels more wistful than dramatic, with a nostalgia for past glory days.

The fastest-falling names of 2011:

1 Tyler Brisa
2 Diego Alexis
3 Aaden Isabella
4 Angel Shaniya
5 Brett Miley
6 Joshua Kendra
7 Alejandro Brianna
8 Braden Jada
9 Jaden Makayla
10 Ty Danna

Some thoughts:

Brisa: OK, this one's a stumper. Brisa is Spanish for breeze, and with the wildly trendy "bree" sound should be a strong option for non-Spanish speakers, too. It was especially popular in 2009 & 2010, but tumbled in 2011. Why? Readers, can you help? UPDATE: Many thanks to reader Hwar, who tracked the brief rise of Brisa to the 2009 telenovela Verano de Amor. I missed it in my annual telenovela name sweep because the Brisa in question wasn't one of the lead characters, but rather a baby born in the show!

Isabella: That big fall is just from #1 to #2, in a year without a lot of "Twilight" action. In fact, Isabella is still more popular at #2 today than Emma was at #1 a few years ago.

Tyler, Joshua, Alexis, Makayla, Brianna et al: A whole generation of names is starting to turn the corner. For the next edition of the Baby Name Wizard book, I'm creating a new demographic category -- the sound of the 1990s & 2000s.

Miley: Here's my rule of thumb on negative publicity and baby names. A celebrity's press will seldom seldom torpedo their name...unless it was that celebrity who inspired the name's publicity to begin with. The sharp drop in Mileys can be directly attributed to the shifting public image of Miley Cyrus, given that alternate spellings like Mylee barely fell at all.

Braden & Jaden: Is the end of the Age of Aidans nigh? Maybe, but it's not as dramatic as it seems. Both of those names are settling in on "y" spellings (Brayden, Jayden) as standard.

Brett: Quarterback Brett Favre retired in 2011. It appears he took his name with him.

NameVoyager Updated With 2011 Data!

May 14th 2012

Want to watch the 2011 baby names dance? The animated NameVoyager grapher is now up-to-date with the latest data!

Try typing...

BR for a trend that has lasted half a century

AU and selecting "Girls," then ask yourself why there aren't more baby Aurelias

MILEY to see Miley Cyrus's career trajectory


Go to the NameVoyager

The Fastest-Rising Girls' Baby Names of The Year, 2011: A Bree Spree

May 14th 2012


It's okay, don't be scared. I'm just reading the hottest girls' names in America out loud. That long "e" sound figures in most of them. In particular, the syllable "bree" looks like the sound of the year for girls. (You might recognize it as one of the new combo-name roots I discussed recently.) Bree power fuels 4 of the top 10 risers:

#1 Aubree

# 6 Briella

#7 Brielle

#9 Aubrey

Aubrey is an old Norman French name, a form of Alberic/Oberon, the fairy king. The best known male Aubrey was illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. But the name's sound, so very close to the classic female name Audrey, made it a natural to move to the girls' column. 2011 saw the debut of the reality tv show "All About Aubrey," following pop singer/reality tv lifer Aubrey O'Day.

Briella/Brielle, meanwhile, is:

- A trimming of the hit names Gabriella/Gabrielle
- A combo of the hit name elements Bree and Ella
- An update on the turn-of-the-millennium favorites Brianna/Brianne
- Breeeee-lliant.

The rest of the hottest, as calculated by the Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula, which takes into account both the percentage change and the impact in terms of number of babies:

#2 Aria
If you've read the fantasy novel Game of Thrones, you were probably swept up in the struggles of tough young Arya Stark. If you've only watched the fantasy tv series Game of Thrones, though, you might well have thought her name was Aria. Or maybe you knew, but just preferred Aria, with its musical associations. Both spellings rose fast, but Aria is dominant.

#3 Harper
You called this one, Baby Name Pool participants. Harper hits a rare baby name sweet spot: it's an androgynous tradesman name that literary traditionalists can get on board with, thanks to beloved author Harper Lee. Already one of the fastest-rising names of the decade, Harper got an extra turboboost in 2011 when David and Victoria Beckham chose it for their daughter.

#4 Mila
Another top choice in the Baby Name Pool. 2011 wa a breakout year for Friends with Benefits star Mila Kunis. And oh, that name: two long vowels in two short syllables. Mila is a Slavic nickname for various names built around the element mir ("dear"); in the case of Ukrainian-born actress Kunis, the source is Milena. Which brings us to...

#5 Milania
Milana is an alternate form of Milena, traditional in several languages. Melania is a form of Melanie, also traditional in several languages. But the #5 hottest girl's name, Milania, is...a little girl on "The Real Housewives of New Jersey." Hey, I'm just the messenger.

Other notables: Along with Harper, the top Baby Name Pool picks were Adele (thanks to the singer) and Pippa (England's new royal sister). Adele was indeed a fast riser, the #12 hottest girl's name. But Pippa, surprisingly, remains extremely rare.


Also be sure to check out the fastest rising boys' names, and the full top 1,000 names for boys and girls, with last year's ranks for comparison.


The Fastest-Rising Boys' Baby Names of The Year, 2011: Giddyup, Preppy Cowboys!

May 14th 2012

In 2010, the hottest rising boys' names of the year were Bentley and Easton. Both were surnames that used to sound as preppy as a seersucker jacket and bermuda shorts. But both had been transformed into Southern good ol' boys, with assists from country music stars Dierks Bentley and Easton Corbin.

In 2011, the hottest rising name name in America was:


No, not Bentley again, Brantley. A formerly preppy surname that has been transformed into a good ol' boy, with an assist from country music star Brantley Gilbert. And Bentley and Easton are far from done -- both rank among this year's top 10 hottest boys' names, too. It's fair to say that a large swath of the country should be prepared for a stampede of preppy cowboys in the years to come.

The rest of the hottest, as calculated by the Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula, which takes into account both the percentage change and the impact in terms of number of babies:

#2. Declan
Aidans all around us! Liams lurking behind every corner! What's an Irish-name-loving parent to do? Declan is making its case as the next in line for the throne.

#3. Mason
Yes, it's a Kardashian name -- but more importantly, it's a trim tradesman surname that sounds like Jacob, Macy and Jaden all rolled into one. Or to put it another way: American boys' names are still living in the house that Jason built. (See previous post for more on Mason.)

#4. Iker
A warm welcome to the hottest Basque name in American history! The name Iker was apparently created by a Basque nationalist as a Basque equivalent to the Spanish Visitación. It has become a popular name throughout Spain, and was introduced to America by goalkeeper Iker Casillas of the World Cup Champion Spanish soccer team. (No, that doesn't make it the biggest soccer-inspired name trend in America. That honor remains with Mia, via American soccer star Mia Hamm.)

#5. Raylan
Raylan Givens is the Deputy U.S. Marshal at the heart of the tv series "Justified." The show is based on a series of stories by writer Elmore Leonard, who has said that he named the character after a young man he met in Amarillo, Texas. Like Mason, it's just a small tweak on other names of the moment (Jalen, Rylan, Riley), but this time with a distinct Texas twang.

Also noted...
The top 25 rising names include Jaxen, Jaxson, Jaxon and Jaxton, plus the more traditional Axel for good measure. Our national love affair with the letter X rages on.


Also be sure to check out the fastest rising girls' names, and the full top 1,000 names for boys and girls, with last year's ranks for comparison.

The Most Popular Baby Names in America for 2011

May 14th 2012

The Social Security Administration has released the official rankings of the most popular baby names in America for 2011. The new top 10:

1  Jacob  Sophia
2  Mason  Isabella
3  William  Emma
4  Jayden  Olivia
5  Noah  Ava
6  Michael  Emily
7  Ethan  Abigail
8  Alexander  Madison
9  Aiden  Mia
10  Daniel  Chloe

The big news is the continuing change at the top of the girls' chart. The rise of Sophia itself isn't a surprise. (Back in January, Time Magazine ran a piece called "Hello. My Name is Sophia" based on my prediction of Sophia as the top name of this year.) But looking more broadly, we've now seen four different #1 names in a five-year period: Isabella (2009-10), Emma (2008) and Emily (2007, the end of a multi-year run.)

That rate of turnover is completely unprecedented for boys or girls. It's another signal that the "fear of Jennifer" -- the worry that a popular name will make your child one of five in her class -- doesn't match today's reality. Jennifer was #1 for 15 years, with a peak popularity more than three times Isabella's. #1 just isn't what it used to be.

On the boy's side, Mason makes one of the biggest jumps to the top in recent memory, all the way from #12 to #2. A tip of the cap to readers, who made Mason the most-guessed boy's name in the Baby Name Pool.

You'll doubtless hear lots of reports crediting the rise of Mason to the youngest member of the Kardashian clan. My guess is that celebrity influence is overstated. Yes, having a little Mason on tabloid covers in every supermarket in the country makes a difference. But the critical spur to Mason's rise happened 25 years earlier, when the name first appeared in the soap opera "Santa Barbara." The national Mason rate rose ten-fold during the soap's run, and it's been climbing ever since.

And today...take a look at the top boys' names. Three of the top four, Jacob, Mason and Jayden, have the exact same vowel pattern. Then consider that Maci was the fastest-rising girl's name of last year. Boy, was America ever ready for Mason.

I'll continue to analyze the new name data throughout the days to come, here and on Twitter -- follow @BabyNameWizard!

An All-Time Great Sibling Name Set

May 12th 2012

It seems the Social Security Administration has decided to make its Mother's Day names announcement the day after Mother's Day. Go figure. But lucky for us, the world of names never sleeps! Just in from Washington:

Today, the National Zoo  introduces  a new family of elevn otters to the public. According to, Whole Foods sponsored the otters' voyage from California to DC, so the grocery chain was given the honor of naming mom and dad otter and 8 of their 9 children. The ninth pup was named by the public via a Facebook poll. That unconventional naming process gave us otter parents Chowder and Clementine, and this sibling set:

Pork Chop, Pickles, Saffron, Olive, Peaches, Turnip, Radish, Rutabaga and Kevin.

An instant classic. (Though to nitpick, I'd never include a cut of meat in an otherwise vegetarian-and-kevin sibset.)


Thanks go to reader Kenny for alerting me to this naming news. No thanks go to the Social Security Administration, for messing up my Mother's Day weekend.