Why Not, Indeed? Take Two

Jun 21st 2012

Every four years, I take a new survey of the baby name landscape for a new edition of the Baby Name Wizard book. Every single name gets a fresh look: Where has it been? Where is it heading? What does it mean to us today?

One of my favorite parts of the process is revisiting the "Why Not?" style chapter. That's the collection of names that...well, the book says it best:

"The names below are a hodgepodge of different sounds and styles, with only two things in common: they’re perfectly good, and hardly anybody uses them."

I add and delete "Why Not?" names as tastes evolve, and when names rise in popularity so that they no longer fit the description. (The cutoff is roughly one occurrence of the name for every 5,000 babies born.) It's not surprising that some of the underappreciated names get "discovered" like starlets. In fact, I consider that a good sign that the list really is identifying untapped fashion potential.

Last time, in 2008, the "discovered" names fit clear fashion profiles. For girls, the profile was trim little names starting with L and ending in -a, like Lila and Luna. The boys' names were balanced on the edge between first name and last name, like Rowan and Finn.

Here’s the 2012 list of rising names scheduled to depart the "Why Not?" list for Baby Name Wizard 3:


Quite the sex imbalance! The big group of girls’ names tell me that side of the list was on target. (I’ll call the theme of the group “literary romance.”) But where are the boys? Did I miss an upcoming trend? I think I did, and I know what it was: the New Cowboys. Names like Brycen, Brantley, Colt, Waylon, and Bentley. Clearly, I have to do a better job scouting for riders in the distance. 



By Dizzy (not verified)
June 21, 2012 10:50 AM

"Enzo" is big this year with new puppies, in my middle class neighbourhood.

By Rebekah (not verified)
June 21, 2012 10:52 AM

It is so interesting that you should make this observation, and include Waylon in the exemplars for the trend. My second daughter was born 3 months ago and would have been named Waylon had she been a boy. I didn't even know there was a New Cowboy trend and I almost contributed to it!

June 21, 2012 11:24 AM

I love Jasper for a boy and nearly all the girl names (minus Journey) so it seems pretty on-target to me!

By Beth the original (not verified)
June 21, 2012 12:28 PM

Penelope has taken off! Anyone know why?

June 21, 2012 6:07 PM

Penelope has been discovered by parents looking for underused classics. It has one standard spelling, an adorable nickname, a good mythological association, most people know how to spell and pronounce it, and it's below the top 100.

Pandora has most of that, except that her myth isn't as nice. Still, if Penelope ever rises into the top ten, I bet Pandora starts appearing too.

June 22, 2012 12:34 PM

As Mama to an Ev@ngeline born in 2011, it wasn't even on my radar until about 6 months before I was pregnant with her. :-)

And Penelope has two very cute nicknames. I ran into a little 16 month old nicknamed Nellie. :-)

By Eustace (again) (not verified)
June 22, 2012 6:17 AM

Ack! Ihave a Lena who is almost four. We named her directly after two ancestors, but even so I'm sure I was influenced by the trend for these little-L names!

By elodie (not verified)
June 22, 2012 6:52 AM

Journey does not fit on any list the contains beautiful real names like Penelope and Juliet.  

By Guest111 (not verified)
June 22, 2012 9:50 AM

Oh, Harper, how I am so sad to see your popularity rise beyond what I can tolerate. :(

By Someone registered "Guest" (not verified)
June 22, 2012 11:54 AM

Penelope was a character played by Kristen Wiig on SNL and Penelope Garcia is a pretty interesting character on Criminal Minds.  They may have helped remind the masses of the fabulousness of the name.  

When I first became friends with my now-husband in 2004, he told me he wanted to name a child Enzo, after the founder of Ferrari.  I was pregnant with my son shortly before Enzo was put on this list.  I can't imagine how the name has risen enough to graduate from it.  Goes to show why Laura's the expert and I'm the one regretting my name choice!  (Although my choice still beats Enzo in my book.) 

June 22, 2012 12:26 PM

So which names did not depart the list?  I'd be interested in seeing those as well.

I also know a puppy named Enzo, but feel it's better for humans than canines!

By Guest 2012 (not verified)
June 22, 2012 12:49 PM

I wonder if the popularity of Enzo for dogs is due to "The Art of Racing in the Rain"? Enzo is a great character. And a lovable dog.

By Guest 2012 (not verified)
June 22, 2012 12:50 PM

I wonder if the popularity of Enzo for dogs is due to "The Art of Racing in the Rain"? Enzo is a great character. And a lovable dog.

By BrookeDS (not verified)
June 22, 2012 5:43 PM

Sadly, I heard that Lorenzo nn Enzo is the choice for Snooki's son. So, to answer your question "why not?"

Because that's the name of Snooki's son.

I can only imagine the following it will get after that.


June 23, 2012 1:22 AM

I just don't get the Penelope love. It looks like it should be pronounced like cantaloupe to me. I think Tina Fey may have also given it a boost. 

June 23, 2012 2:24 PM

In my house we pronounce Penelope as "Pen-elope" (as in, the writing inplement departs for a clandestine marriage). I wish we didn't, it's a cute name with cute nicknames.  I do know two Pennys under the age of 3, so I can see it is on the rise. As well, I have met two little Evangelines. However, the only Enzo I know is actually Enso--the Japanese spelling/meaning. Not sure that counts.

On a related (?) note, I'm 36w pregnant with our first girl and I'm struggling with our name choice. I really like my husband's choice, Willa, but I feel like it's missing a longer name. I've yet to meet anyone that likes Wilhelmina, though. Thoughts? She's joining big brothers Emers0n and Elli0t.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
June 23, 2012 4:05 PM

There was a Penelope-or at least a Penny-on Lost a couple years back and also a Penny on Desparate Housewives.

I know of one, and she has sisters called Ava, Stella, and Olivia. I think it appeals to the vintage charm crowd, as well as those looking for literary flair, And those who like names I'd call Princess style, for lack of a better word.

I don't know of any Arabellas/Journeys/Noelles or Enzos in real life, but I do know real life children with all of the rest.

Enzo was on our list because my husband is a Formula One fan. I wasn't brave enough to use it, and learning of the Snooki collection, I'm glad I didn't.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
June 23, 2012 4:10 PM

Also, Laura, can I ask if the intent of the, "Why not?" names is to predict the next big thing?

I wouldn't feel bad about missing the rise of Brycen or Bentley, in that I don't feel they had much to recommend them even before they got popular. Of course, that's just my personal prejudice/preference.



June 23, 2012 4:32 PM

Cygnet, I think Willa is a lovely name on its own -- but I also love Wilhelmina.  I've loved it since the first time I read "Dracula"!  I suppose Willa could also be a nickname for Wilfreda? 

I think you'll have to be prepared for a lifetime of "no, not Willow", though!

By hwar
June 23, 2012 10:12 PM

I really wish BNW3 was coming out sooner. We're due with our second in October and are having a hard time finding the right name!  Our first daughter's name is Jane (born in 2006) and hilariously one of the names at the top of our short list this time is Penelope, so I guess we are "Why Not?" kind of namers.  We neeeed the new list!

By mello yello (not verified)
June 24, 2012 12:46 AM

I'm expecting baby #3 (a girl) in October, and love this blog. I don't think I've ever commented before. I just thought of the name "Leona" but haven't suggested it to DH yet. Now I see it fits the style of trim little "L" names (but with an extra kick). It's also an "old-lady" name set for a comeback. My other top choice was "Liliana" but DH vetoed it and favors "Juliana" (which I find is too common). We live in Brazil, so need international names. Big sis is Gabriela and bro is Andre.

June 25, 2012 1:31 AM

@ emma mom to nora - I'd imagine you'll have to wait for BMW 3 to be released to find that out.


Any word about a potential release date?

June 25, 2012 6:54 PM

i think wilhelmina is fabulous, but also love the short, sassy willa, i would probably use mina as a nn for the former longer one, though willa as a nn could work and satisfy your desire for the longer first name.

June 26, 2012 11:08 AM

I spotted the name Pandora just yesterday in a restaurant in rural West Virginia. It was written on a cutout of a hand and taped on the wall (contributors to a local fundraiser). Other names featured were Shirley, Pam, and Mandy, so these people probably span the generations. The bizarre thing was that Pandora shared her hand with someone named Nevaeh! Sisters? Friends? I'd guess the latter because I can't imagine that one family would choose a name straight out of Greek mythology for one daughter while choosing a trendy Christian name for the other. But if they are sisters, I'd love to know what any siblings are named! Any guesses?

June 26, 2012 1:12 PM

Funny, Lena is my top name for our daughter due in August but was not even on my radar back in 2010 when we had our first, Eva. Hubby thinks Lena on its own sounds incomplete, though, so we may go with Elena.

We are in Spain where Lena is not used as a full name, but it isapparently very popular in many other European countries right now. I think it actually came to me from having reread My Antonia in which there is a secondary character named Lena.

June 26, 2012 1:43 PM

For the Geeks among us, Penny/Penelope is the non-geeky girl on The Big Bang Theory. Another possible source of exposure for this name in recent years.

June 26, 2012 3:24 PM

Elizabeth T., I had an excellent student some years ago named P@ndora V@nessa.  If I remember correctly her brother was Tobi@s G@ndalf (G@ndalf was certainly the middle name--I am not 100% sure of the first name).  Try categorzing that mom's naming style. 

June 26, 2012 6:44 PM

@Miriam, I'd go with straight-up geeky and proud :) Or maybe Literary G(r)eek. Other options in that style:

Iolanthe Arwen

Artemis Miranda

Hector Aslan

Zephyr Prospero


Rather sadly I lost the Why Not? page of my BNW when it fell to bits a few years ago. I remember thinking that the entire Timeless and Exotic Traditionals set could easily fit the Why Not? title, but if the idea is to tab the Next Stylish Thing, that makes a little more sense.

Speaking of which, does anyone know why Jane is so hot in Utah?



By SunnySkies (not verified)
June 26, 2012 8:08 PM


Congratulations on expecting your first girl!  How exciting! 

I love the sound of the name Wilhelmina, but when seen in print, it looks heavy-footed (to me).

What if you took the "hel" out of Wilhelmina and spelled it Willamina?

That change of spelling, to me, makes a world of difference.

Then, your chosen short form of Willa would be right in the name.  :)

Just a thought.  :)



By Juillet (not verified)
June 27, 2012 12:06 AM

Willamina is a quaint timber town here in Yamhill County, Oregon...always thought if I lived somewhere else it'd be a darling name!

June 27, 2012 10:18 AM

Shout out to zoerhenne--where are you? I hope all is well!

June 27, 2012 8:01 PM

My husband & I love Moxie but can't quite bring ourselves to use it!  But what a lovely meaning!

June 27, 2012 11:10 PM

A friend of mine has daughters all with "little L" names - Lila, Lena, and Lula. 

By JR (not verified)
June 28, 2012 2:17 PM

I have been prediciting the rise of Juliet for a couple years now. It's about time; it's a beautiful, very feminine name. Also, I noticed an Elodie in the comments section. I heard this name years ago, loved it and have always wondered "why not?"

June 29, 2012 12:51 AM

I've been wondering where zoerhenne disappeared to for over a month now. (In a bit of a stalkery move, I checked and saw that her last comment was on May 18!) I've convinced myself not to worry and told myself that summer's just keeping her busy. It's too bad that we can't send private messages to people...

June 30, 2012 9:16 AM

i love Zoerhenne's input as well and have missed her.

By Jill81 (not verified)
July 3, 2012 1:43 PM

I know a Pandora who goes by Dorrie.  I personally wouldn't use the name though because lots of people around here seem to be really into  Pandora charms.  I'd worry that the name will become associated with the store/brand.

By 3473982985t32 (not verified)
July 4, 2012 7:08 AM

Why not Journey?  Because it's not a human name?  Because it's the name of a band?


And just because a woman used Harper as her pen name doesn't make it a girl's name.

By One of a Million Jens (not verified)
July 10, 2012 5:08 PM

My 13-month-old daughter is Penelope Rose.  I THOUGHT I was avoiding the trendy naming, but I guess I was just a wee bit ahead of the curve? I've ALWAYS loved the name but not the nn Penny.  We often call our Penelope "Pippa".  Again, ahead of the curve?? It's just such a great girly name w/o being frilly--recognizable but not common. And a great myth attached--Penelope was loyal & faithful to Ulysses for 20 years while he was missing.

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