Baby Names So Common, Nobody Uses Them

Apr 20th 2016

 
You've probably heard the old Yogi Berra line about a popular restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." When it comes to baby names, it's not a joke. Scores of names sit unused precisely because we consider them too common.

For example, I'll take a guess that the names Glenn and Theresa sound super-ordinary to you, while the names Maverick and Paisley sound fresher and more creative, maybe even surprising. Yet Glenn and Theresa haven't ranked among the top 1,000 baby names for years. Maverick and Paisley are now 17 times as common.

The key is that our sense of name popularity doesn't just come from baby name stats, it comes from our our own experience. You probably knew plenty of adult Glenns and Theresas when you were a kid. But your kids are a generation further removed from those names' heyday. How many Theresas will they know, vs. how many Paisleys?

Below is a list of 112 uncommon baby names. These names have roots, are easy to spell and pronounce, and will virtually guarantee that your child will be the only one in her preschool with that name. That's the good news. The bad news is that, as a group, the names are going to seem thoroughly boring and unfashionable to you.

The thing is, it only takes one. If you can find one appealing name on the list -- and I think you will -- you've hit paydirt.

Maybe you're looking for a biblical girl's name, and you're intrigued by Judith as an alternative to Hannah or Abigail. Then consider that there are 43 Abigails born today for every Judith. 43! Or maybe you think Neil has some of the same smooth, trim Celtic style that has made Liam a hit. The tally is 46 Liams for every Neil.

Think of this as a spectacular bargain-shopping opportunity. If a name like Judith or Neil or Sonia or Craig sounds good to you now, it's likely to sound just as good, and far fresher, to the next generation. And won't your daughter be more interested in how her name sounds to her peers than to yours?

SO-COMMON-THEY'RE-RARE NAMES

Current Popularity Rank: 500-1000
Anne, Bonnie, Bridget, Carla, Carolyn, Denise, Deborah, Eileen, Elaine, Ellen, Erica, Gloria, Gwen, Heather, Joyce, Judith, Kathleen, Kristen, Linda, Meredith, Monica, Natasha, Patricia, Paula, Renee, Sandra, Sharon, Sonia, Susan, Tara, Wendy 

Brent, Brett, Byron, Carl, Casey, Chad, Clay, Craig, Curtis, Douglas, Gary, Gerald, Harold, Harry, Heath, Hugh, Lance, Larry, Lionel, Nelson, Randall, Randy, Ray, Reginald, Roger, Roy, Terrance, Toby

Current Popularity Rank: 1001-2000
Anita, Betsy, Betty, Carol, Connie, Constance, Diane, Donna, Janet, Janice, Lois, Pamela, Robin, Shannon, Sheila, Stacy, Tanya, Theresa

Barry, Brad, Clifton, Clint, Dale, Dion, Duane, Dwight, Earl, Fred, Gerard, Glenn, Harris, Kent, Kirk, Kurt, Perry, Ross, Stewart, Stuart, Todd

Current Popularity Rank: 2001-5000
Beth, Christa, Glenda, Joan, Kay, Lynn, Sherry, Suzanne

Cliff, Hal, Ward

Current Popularity Rank: 5000+
Gail, Sue

 

Comments

1
April 20, 2016 2:48 PM

Nelson seems incredibly usable and perfect with current trends. I know a family who just chose Cliff (I think full-name Clifford) for their new baby.

2
April 21, 2016 12:14 AM

Some of these stand out a lot more than others, and I think it partly depends on whether similar names are currently popular.  Carolyn doesn't seem all that different when Caroline ranks in the top 100.  Judith and Constance, on the other hand - I can't think of any other names that sound like those.

Some sound fresher than others, too.  Judith peaked so long ago that current baby namers maybe don't have the same date-stamped associations with it as they do with, say, Heather or Chad.  (Although I do think it's unfortunate that the name Heather ended up with such a cliquish/mean girl reputation.  It has a nice sound and meaning, and there aren't a lot of similar names for it to blend in with).

3
April 22, 2016 3:45 PM

Of course, this must apply to the US only- in the UK, Harry is currently ranked 3rd! Probably maily because of Harry Potter, but also Prince Harry.

Interesting idea, though- I taught a boy named John a few years ago, and was struck by how few Johns there are now. Likewise, Susan and Peter.

4
April 21, 2016 12:40 PM

This is my favourite category of name!

I really enjoy scanning the 'below the line' list each year for the 'normal' names that have fallen off parents' radar. Here are a few more for the so-common-they're-rare (though, some veer into long-forgotten territory, though I know at least one adult with most of these names), in descending order of popularity in 2014 (they're all outside the top 1000). Lots of -ette/etta and -ine/ina names fall in this category for girls (I don't have my boys' list at hand here).

Fewer than 200 girls in 2014:

Louise, Maxine, Shirley, Marian/Marion, Florence, Kirsten, Loretta, Maura, Nadine, Leticia, Susanna, Carrie, Keeley, Ida, Petra, Zora, Bernadette, Tracy, Harriet, Martina, Moira, Doris, Zola, Lesley, Joanne, Lorraine, Leanne, Marianne, Jeanette, Justine, Cleo

Fewer than 100:

Winifred, Brianne, Dawn, Glory, Lynn, Sybil, Rae, Felicia, Marla, Ines, Paulette, Adrianne, Lynette, Jean, Leandra, Lindy, Roberta, Philippa, Marta, Fern, Romy, Justina, Lisette, Leigh, Maureen, Siobhan, Dinah, Chantal, Josette, Polly, Clarice

Fewer than 50:

Bronwyn, Jodie/Jody, Hilda, Marcia, Ina, Dolores, Nell, Ilse, Francine, Trista, Lark, Winona, Delphine, Lorna, Nicola, Noreen, Clio, Rosaline, Muriel, Janine, Meryl, Leonie, Marietta, Rona.

Fewer than 20 (Emma out numbers each of these by more than 1000 to 1):

Trudy, Ilsa, Clea, Rowena, Susanne, Maude, Bette, Pascale, Blanche (6!), Bronwen, Dale, Jess, Maud.

5
April 22, 2016 3:54 PM

Fascinating, booky! Florence is currently popular in the UK (#26), and I wonder also about Cleo, Fern and Maud, although they're not in the top 100. They have the current sensibility (nature names and Victorian revivals).

6
April 22, 2016 5:11 PM

Hi Valerie--I was just looking this up (friday afternoon focus-on-work is not great)!

What I noticed first is that a handful of these are fairly common in the UK. Florence, as well as Harriet and Robyn, are in the top 100.  Lois, Bonnie, Betsy, and Connie are ranked between 140 and 150.

Cleo is ranked #403 (108 girls), while Fern is #521 (81 girls)--but Fearne is #370 (121 girls). There were just 7 Mauds and 13 Maudes in the UK last year, so that one is still quite rare/probably considered fusty, rather than a forgotten standard.

What's even more interesting, though, is that a handful of English standard names have become just incredibly rare in the UK. Jane is rising fast in the US, with more than 1000 girls last year, but England and Wales had...36. 36! Jane is as rare as Lilith and Ember, among girls starting school in 2018. But Jane is doing *well* compared to a few other old standards: Anne (27 girls), Joanne (19 girls), Susan (15 girls), and Joan (12 girls) seem pretty endangered.

And if you're looking for a unique name for you British daughter...Carol, Carole, or Carolyn. All three are off the list in 2014, meaning there were fewer than 3 of each born that year. Caroline (37) and Carolina (39) do a little better, but they're still not exactly thriving!

Sources:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/datasets/babynamesenglandandwalesbabynamesstatisticsgirls

http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/datasets/babynamesenglandandwalesbabynamesstatisticsboys

7
April 24, 2016 4:06 PM

I'm always surprised about Hilary/Hillary not being in the top 1000. It doesn't seem old fashioned enough to be in this group in my mind, but maybe other people have a different association than me. Also I wonder how much Hillary Clinton has made the name have strong political associations and somehow it's less used because of that? 

8
April 25, 2016 12:26 AM

Funny to read this as a member of a different generation to most name nerds. I was born 1998, so my age cohort will start having kids over the next few years.

 

Most of these names sound less fresh to me than they likely do to you -- they're all at once parents, grandparents, and layabout aunts/uncles. On the other hand, the following names all sound pretty great and child-friendly:

 

Bridget

Natasha

Tara

Byron

Casey (m)

Tanya

Kurt

Kay

 

Maybe start scanning the birth announcements for little Bridgets and Byrons in 2020.

9
April 25, 2016 9:17 AM

The problem with this list is that many are just too close to the generation having kids. I'm about to hit the big 3-0 and it reads like a list of my aunts and uncles. I think it's just the practicality of finding a name that you like while also not inadvertently namesaking your uncle's ex-wife.

10
April 28, 2016 12:01 PM

That's interesting, vaticidalprophet... I'm within a year of your age, and most of thenames you mentioned sound dated to me. I do like Kurt and Byron, but I wouldn't use them.

My own personal taste is remarkably similar to what's currently trending. I constantly find that names I initially think are hidden gems are actually in the top 100. It's frustrating!

Best story: I thought Charlotte was unusual along the lines of Gloria or Helen... until I realized it was in the top 10. 

I do agree that a good number of the names on Laura's list still have a slightly dated feel,  but several of them I do like, including Elaine, Gwen, Judith, Curtis, Gerald, Harold, Harry, Hugh, Lionel, Anita, and Glenda.

And I absolutely love Ellen and Gloria, and would definitely consider using the for a child of mine, although I would use Ellen as a nn for Helena, Eleanor, or Penelope, though. All of which are currently on the rise...

Proving once more how much my tastes are in line with current trends...

11
April 28, 2016 3:39 PM

This blog really hit home for me! It's exactly the naming style I follow... familiar, easy to spell, yet currently unpopular names.  My 20-month old is Erica, with Brett and Shannon at the top of my lists for baby #2.

Most people I know consider these "Mom" names, since people of our generation found these names to be very common; but this is fine by me!  I would rather have that than have their names be lost in a sea of Sophia, McKenzie, Parker, etc.

12
April 29, 2016 10:32 AM

I keep thinking my own name, Martha, ought to be on this list. (It isn't for two seemingly contradictory reasons: 1, its heyday was long enough ago that it's no longer perceived as common; and 2, it has actually remained in slow-but-steady use over the decades; unlike the names Laura lists, it has never fallen completely off the charts.)

13
May 3, 2016 12:11 PM

I love these names! 

--Mother to Susanna (b 2014) and Marian (b 2016)

14
May 3, 2016 6:09 PM

I really like the name Hillary, but I can't stand Hillary Clinton, and I would not use the name because of that. I think whenever someone hears the name Hillary, they think of Hillary Clinton, then they think of Bill Clinton, then they think of Monica Lewinsky and the scandal. That's why the name Hillary sucks.

 

15
May 5, 2016 10:01 AM

I love the name Hillary precisely because it represents strength and smarts, thanks to its famous namesake.  

16
May 5, 2016 12:30 PM

Marian is on our list for the next girl! Our oldest is Theresa Rose (goes by Rosie), but then we had two boys back to back instead. I was pulling for Marian Eleanor, but husband isn't thrilled with Eleanor as a middle name.

17
May 7, 2016 2:49 AM

Some great classics on those lists. My favorites are probably Diane and Pamela for girls, and Stuart and Douglas for boys.  

18
June 2, 2016 11:06 AM

I didn't realize Glenn was so unpopular! I would have thought the Walking Dead character would have made the name rise in popularity.

19
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