Want a celebrity baby name that will set the world abuzz with astonishment? Forget Dream and Zuma, the names you're looking for are…
When George and Amal Clooney chose those familiar, fashionable names for their newborn twins last month, popular opinion declared it a Hollywood miracle. A sampling of media reactions from around the globe:
Headline: "George and Amal Clooney don’t know they’re celebrities and picked normal names for their twins" (Digisnak)
"It's almost an outrage for celebrity babies to be given names that have already appeared on 'most popular' lists" (stuff)
"The Clooneys have cemented their distinctive reputation by doing something extraordinary. They have given their twins normal names….Wacky baby names in Hollywood are as common as juice bars on Sunset Strip, with most celebrities choosing names that sound like a cocktail or a haemorrhoid treatment." (TheTimes)
I myself received multiple inquiries from reporters about why these celebrities broke from the norm, and whether they could spark a new trend with this unprecedented normality. Unprecedented? That will come as a surprise to all the other famous parents who have named a child Ella or Alexander, like:
Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor
John Travolta and Kelly Preston
Keshia Knight Pulliam and Ed Hartwell
Mark Wahlberg and Rhea Durham
Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber
Tom Ford and Richard Buckley
Warren Beatty and Annette Bening
The secret truth is, Hollywood is teeming with conventional baby names. In past tallies, I've found that celebrity parents choose top-1,000 names at about the same rate as the general public. Why, then, do we think of Hollywood as a baby-name funhouse, out of touch with "normal" naming?
One reason is that "normal" naming isn't what it used to be. All parents are naming more adventurously. Sure, Kim & Kanye named their kids North and Saint, but consider that last year 71 not-so-famous American babies were named Riot, 91 were named Zeppelin, 179 were named Denim, and 1,200 (yes, 1,200) were named Legend. We can hardly expect Hollywood types to be less creative than the general public.
Another factor is that familiar, traditional celebrity baby names just don't stick in our minds. "Weird" name choices become fodder for internet wits and water-cooler banter. They're rehashed year after year, whenever a new unconventional name is mentioned. At this point, I'd wager that more people can name one of musician Frank Zappa's kids (e.g. Moon Unit) than one of his songs. Meanwhile I dare you to name a single child of Zappa's musical contemporaries, like Roger Waters or Jerry Garcia. In short, we remember the memorable.
So our perception of celebrity baby names is skewed. I've written before about the rapidly changing realm of typical baby names across America. Today I'm going to tackle perceptions from the other direction, and reveal the shocking normality hiding in Hollywood. Below are 10 traditional, mainstream hit names and some of the famous parents who have chosen them, totaling 52 celebrity babies. Between these conventionally named A-listers and the 1,200 newborn Legends, we may see that the divide between Main Street and Hollywood Boulevard isn't as wide as it seems.
Ava: Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Renner, Josh Gad, Jason Priestley, Rachel Roy and Damon Dash
Charles/Charlie: Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall, Jodie Foster, Russell Crowe, Jeff Goldblum, Cynthia Nixon, Chris O'Donnell
Charlotte: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze, Harry Connick Jr., Dylan McDermott, Amy Brenneman and Brad Silberling, Colin Hanks
Grace: Kevin Costner, Mark Wahlberg, Christy Turnlington and Ed Burns, Lynn Whitfield, Elisabeth Hasselback, Dave Matthews
Henry: Julia Roberts, Colin Farrell, Jack White, Rachel Weisz and Darren Aronofsky, Heidi Klum and Seal, Minnie Driver, Amanda Peet
Isabella: Matt Damon, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Josh Gad, Justin Chambers
Jack: Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, Tom Brady and Bridget Moynahan, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, Johnny Depp, Maya Rudolph and Paul Thomas Anderson, James Marsden
James: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Colin Farrell, Ellie Kemper, Jamie King
Oliver: Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, Julie Bowen, Fred Savage, Danny Elfman and Bridget Fonda
Samuel/Sam: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, Jack Black, Andrew McCarthy
From Skyler to Van, Americans have embraced modern Dutch names for their simplicity and style. Many choices translate well into the English-speaking world, and work especially well as cross-cultural picks.
Fresh and fashionable, these names have a sweet sound all their own. Check out these gorgeous Dutch choices that haven’t yet made it into the top 1000!
Image via Pexels
Fenna. This accessible, feminine choice rhymes with Jenna, but has a softer, more stylish sound. It has been embraced wholeheartedly by the Netherlands and Belgium, where it ranks in the top 100. Fenna comes from a word meaning “peace,” and it’s gentle vibe embodies that well.
Cas. A short form of Casper, concise and dynamic Cas works well for modern boys. It’s the masculine answer to Cassandra or Cassidy, but still feels new and uncommon. The character of Castiel on TV’s Supernatural has generated Cas some attention, but this cool name has a more diverse personality.
Saskia. Already popular in the United Kingdom in Australia, sweet and sassy Saskia could well appeal to the American population. It’s an attractive alternative to Sasha, and the name has quite a few bearers on various television shows. Artist Rembrandt van Rijn entitled a portrait of his wife “Saskia”, giving this name a creative connection, too.
Niels. Niels is best known as a Danish name, and is the name name of three Nobel Prize-winning Danish scientists. But it's also a Dutch nickname for Cornelius/Cornelis, and stands up well as a full name. If you’re looking for a name that feels smart but unusual, Niels might be right up your alley.
Cilla. While enchanting Cilla ranked once on the top 1000 in the US, it’s been underused since, giving this name some historical credibility without being overly familiar. It’s a short form of Priscilla or Cecilia, but has a crisper and more elegant sound. Late English singer Cilla Black has brought this name some notoriety, but Cilla’s vibe is more timeless than specific.
Roel. This handsome variation of Roland has a kind and substantial feeling, fitting in well with classic masculine choices like Joel, Cole, and Noel. It ranked in the top 1000 briefly in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but remains under the radar today. Actor Robert Downey Jr. and his wife gave their daughter the name Avri Roel, giving this winsome name a unisex spin.
Anouk. Though this darling variation of Anne remains popular in French- and Dutch-speaking countries, Anouk’s fame hasn’t extended across the pond - it was only given to fourteen American babies last year. Some awareness of the name comes from French actress Anouk Aimée, as well as the main character in Chocolat. Also spelled Anouck, this name feels both delightful and different.
Tygo. A name that’s bound to be a hit on the playground, Tygo is a Dutch favorite that would translate well to English-speaking communities. It fits in with names like Tyler, Ty, and Tyson, with a trendy O-ending. Still, Tygo seems like an energetic and unique name, especially for active boys.
Sanne. Pronounced “SAH-nuh,” this diminutive of Susan has a simple yet sophisticated vibe. It has the meaning of “lily” - a plus for fans of the botanical - and could be a novel alternative to names like Anna or Savannah. Pleasant and polished, Sanne would make a graceful choice for a modern girl.
Bram. This Dutch variation of Abraham is also linked to the Ireland and the UK, most notably by Irish author Bram Stoker of Dracula fame. It feels hip and lively, fitting in stylistically with names like Bryce, Brent, and Sam. With both Biblical and literary associations, Bram is sure to work for all kinds of name tastes.
Lotte. While Charlotte and Charlie have risen up the girls’ popularity lists, this Dutch and German diminutive hasn’t yet gained such an audience. But lovely Lotte - pronounced “LAW-tuh” - could appeal to fans of the former picks who want a name that’s more offbeat and fun. Notable namesakes include early German animator Lotte Reiniger and Austrian actress Lotte Lenya, giving the name a more artistic angle.
Sander. Softer than Zander but less common than Alex, Sander is a friendly short form of Alexander. It sounds like both an occupational name and a surname, but Sander is less faddish than other popular picks. This summery pick is well known in Scandinavian countries, too.
Merel. Though it’s pronounced like Meryl, stylish Merel comes from the Dutch word for “blackbird,” adding a subtle natural element to the name. Merel could work as an unexpected honorific for a familial Marlene or Marilyn, as well. It’s virtually nickname-proof, and has a smiling and sincere vibe with a unique feeling.
Pim. With Liam the William nickname du jour, forward-thinking parents may be on the lookout for something a bit different. Pim, the Dutch nickname for Willem, might fit the bill: it’s short and sweet, with a bright energy akin to that of Jack or Max. It’s in the top 100 in the Netherlands but has yet to make waves in the US - perhaps we’ll see it in the next decade!
Cato. Many known this name as a masculine Latin choice, but Cato also developed as a nickname for feminine Catharina in the Dutch-speaking world. It’s a worthy successor to Kate or Katie, with a light and contemporary vibe. Might Cato join Harlow and Margot in the girl’s name rankings soon?
The hottest nicknames of today sound like yesterday. Even as the familiar, everyday nicknames that parents grew up with disappear, a new set of quirky-cute throwbacks is rising. A newborn boy today is more likely to receive the given name Gus than Mike, Dave, or Tom. For girls, Sadie is more popular than Kate, Kim or Jessie…or, for that matter, Katherine, Kimberly or Jessica.
Looking for more new-old ideas? The options are surprisingly plentiful. The early 20th Century was a nickname extravaganza, especially for girls. The trick is that for every old-time name with the revival appeal of Sadie, there are a slew of less promising prospects like Fronie and Mossie.
To hit the bullseye a nickname should be old-fashioned, but not bound too tightly to a formal name that's still stuck in the past, like Gertie and Myrtie. It should be cute, but not quite as cute as Lolly or Pinkie. It can be boyish, but not so distinctly male as Louie and Eddie. It should be a little quirky and surprising, but not as surprising as Leafy and Mintie.
I've identified 29 likely prospects below. All remain uncommon today, with only Hattie and Millie ranking among the top 1,000 given names for American girls.
For parents who wish to use these names purely as nicknames, I've listed their traditional formal sources. You can choose from among them for a full throwback package, or pair the old-fashioned nickname with a more contemporary formal name. For instance, a young Winnie today may formally be Winter or Winslow rather than Winifred, and a young Effie is likely to be…well, just about anything rather than Euphemia.
THE QUIRKY-CUTE ANTIQUE NICKNAMES
(with their traditional formal sources)
Billie: Wilhelmina; also Belinda, Sybil
Birdie: Bertha, Bridget, Beatrice, Elizabeth
Bizzy: Elizabeth, Beatrice
Dillie: Delilah; also Cordelia, Dahlia, Daffodil, Bedelia, Odelia
Dovie: Dove, Deborah; often just an affectionate nickname not linked to the given name
Essie: Esther, Estelle, Estella
Etty: Henrietta, Loretta, Annette, Marietta
Georgie: Georgia, Georgina, Georgiana, Georgette
Goldie: Golda; also often given in reference to blond hair
Hattie: Harriet; occasionally Henrietta
Hettie: Henrietta, Hester; occasionally Mehetabel
Letty: Letitia, Lettice, Violetta
Libby: Elizabeth; also Isabel, Olivia
Lottie: Charlotte; occasionally Lieselotte, Carlotta
Mellie: Millicent, Carmela, Melanie
Millie: Mildred, Millicent; occasionally Camilla, Camille, Emily
Minnie: Wilhelmina, Minerva; also Jessamine, Araminta, Arminda, Dominica
Nellie: Helen, Eleanor, Ellen
Polly: Mary; also Pauline, Paulina
Sudie: Susanna, Susan and related names
Sukey: Susanna, Susan and related names
Tessie: Theresa and related names
Tibby: Tabitha; occasionally Elizabeth
Tilly: Matilda; occasionally Ottilie, Clotilde
Trixie: Beatrix, Beatrice; occasionally Patricia
Vinnie: Lavinia, Vincenza; occasionally Lovina, Lavina, Davina
Winnie: Winifred; occasionally Winona, Edwina, Gwendolen, Rowena
Looking through the annals of ancient history, today’s explorers can find inspiration for art, literature… and names. Some classical choices are ripe for today’s trends, balancing historical substance and modern style.
These fourteen names for boys take insight from the records of Ancient Rome, decorating emperors, philosophers, and everyone in between. If you’re looking for a name with both strength and smarts, you’re sure to find a handsome option here.Image via Wikimedia Commons
Cicero. Bright and bold Cicero has an appeal on multiple levels, from its association with the master of Latin prose to its modern melody and O-ending. From a Roman surname meaning “chickpea,” this choice has an intelligent and unexpected sort of flair.
Albus. Today’s audiences may link this lovely name to Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame, but Albus originated as an ancient surname. It has a nature connection as well - “Albus” is a type of rosemary plant - giving this geek-chic name more real-world substance.
Rufus. A stylish standard in the United Kingdom for centuries, sweet Rufus has its roots in the Latin language. Namesakes abound throughout history, from musicians to politicians, and it’s no wonder - Rufus has a dashing sensibility all its own.
Vitus. A Roman praenomen meaning “lively,” Vitus is spirited and handsome to boot. The Christian Saint Vitus is the patron saint of actors and dancers, making this choice a subtle way to honor an artistic loved one. Dapper Vitus has only been recorded by the SSA twice in history, in 1929 and in 2010 - it’s sure to feel fresh for years to come.
Caius. With short favorites Kai and Cai rising up the charts, why not choose a longer choice that has a more sophisticated vibe? Caius is an elegant Roman variant of Gaius, used in Shakespeare’s work and adorning a college at Cambridge. Friendly yet noble, Caius is sure to appeal to many tastes.
Junius. A celebrated family in Ancient Rome bore the name Junius, and this charming choice endured as a first name through the early 20th century. It’s a novel alternative to Julius or Jude, with the cute and boyish nickname Juni (of Spy Kids fame).
Fabius. Though it sounds like dramatic Fabio or Fabian, Fabius adorned a tough general in the third century BC - an excellent namesake for a strong little one! The name comes from /faba/, meaning “bean,” which adds a fabulous idiosyncrasy to strapping Fabius.
Quintus. This unexpected choice was a popular praenomen in the Roman era, often bestowed upon the fifth child (or a child born in the fifth month). But Quintus can be more versatile than just a “number name” - it’s a cool and quirky option that is similar to modern Quinn and Quentin, and it’s been used in the US sporadically since 1917.
Augustus. The most popular name on this list, Augustus ranks at #457 in the US top 1000, and for a few good reasons: it has the powerful meaning of “magnificent,” it fits in with the trend for title names like King or Messiah, and it has an extensive historical record that helps it feel usable. Plus, the nickname choices for Augustus are superb, with Gus, Gusto, and Augie among the possibilities.
Marius. Beloved across Europe, Marius has never achieved such prominence in the US, making it perfect for those who want something accessible yet uncommon. Marius Pontmercy is the name of a heroic character in /Les Miserables/, and the /prenom/ could make an attractive honorific for a familial Maria or Marilyn.
Seneca. Both a Roman cognomen and the name of a Native American tribe, Seneca is a refined multicultural choice. While this antique name is historically male, it’s now given to boys and girls almost equally - 33 girls and 29 boys in 2016. Serene and unique, Seneca is bound to soar - especially since it features prominently in the /Hunger Games/ series.
Tiberius. Derived from the Tiber River in Italy, Tiberius is a powerfully masculine choice - it was worn by one of Rome’s greatest generals and emperors. Tiberius is connected with both the Star Trek and Harry Potter universes, giving the robust name a fun pop culture spin.
Marcellus. Polished and pleasant, Marcellus is a lively diminutive that sprung from classic Marcus. It’s been rising rapidly in popularity since 2013, and may soon break into the top 1000! With so many namesakes - religious, athletic, political - Marcellus is a name that surely inspires greatness.
Cassius. Ranking at #602 for boys, Cassius is an energetic name with historical significance: Cassius Clay (now known as Muhammad Ali) was named for his father, who was in turn named for a nineteenth-century abolitionist. It can be pronounced as either “Cash-us” or “Cass-ee-us,” and the name exudes confidence and courage.
Names are comedy gold. Using a personal name instead of a generic pronoun can instantly make a joke more evocative, more relatable, more specific and, paradoxically, more universal.
In a drive-by medium like one-liners or Twitter, adding so much texture with a single word is priceless. Comedians know it, too. See how the name works in a bit like this:
*Wife blows me a kiss from across the room*
*I pretend to catch it*
*I walk over to the window and toss it outside*
"Grow up Karen"
— GoaT FacE (@EndhooS) May 19, 2014
It just wouldn't be the same without the "Karen," would it? How about this one:
*shakes wife awake*
Karen. Karen! Don't make any sudden moves...he's back again. pic.twitter.com/4Xb5jPfXPL
— Lazer Cat (@Laser_Cat) August 20, 2014
He died doing what he loved: his wife of 40 years, Karen.
— pat tobin (@tastefactory) May 12, 2016
Starting to get the picture? Yes, Karen is the name of choice to make a generic woman sound comically specific. And if Karen is the queen of Twitter comedy, Linda and Susan are her royal court:
[sifting through mail]
baby shower invitation? Haha, um no thanks, Linda. I have a regular size shower that I can use whenever I want
— Marin (@marinhubka) August 29, 2015
yes, we are a highly diverse company. susan in accounts is a goth
— Deirdre (@figgled) August 1, 2016
Whenever the Internet needs to summon up a quick wife, colleague, secretary or mom, it turns to Karen, Linda and Susan. Those three names have a lot in common. Weighing in at five letters and two syllables, they're simple and no-nonsense. Just as important, look at their historical popularity curve:
All three were top-10 names of the 1950s. That sturdy, throwback familiarity is what makes them work as everywomen. You might think of them as the grownup counterparts of the "Mid-Century Normative Child," the little Sally or Timmy who we still trot out to represent a typical child, even though today's typical American child is named Paisley or Alejandro.
Notably, there's no male counterpart to the reigning comic everywomen. On the occasions when a comedian does use a male name for effect, it's not a mid-century everyman but something more specific. Somehow, Mike or Tom just isn't funny. Todd or Kyle, though, is funny.
This gender divide makes Karen, Linda and Susan heirs to a timeworn comic trope. They're the name equivalents of the long-suffering mom in every sitcom and comic strip. Which is to say, the comic foil: the eternal straight woman rolling her eyes at the goofy man and smart-aleck kids.
That stereotypical role can rankle, because -- let's be clear -- real moms are hella funny. (Nobody better try coming to my house and making me the comic foil, thank you very much.) And yet, I'm never sorry to see Karen & co. pop up in my Twitter feed. The names are the key. They do more than amp up the humor. Even the generic, archaic secretary of a "Susan, hold all my calls" joke is a little bit more human than the nameless secretary of a cartoon panel, thanks to the magic of names.
Here's a name puzzler: which of these is a unisex baby name?
It's a more complicated question than it may seem.
• Leslie was long considered unisex in the U.S. and masculine in Australia and Britain (Lesley was the feminine spelling), but it has fallen out of use for boys.
• Ashton is a surname that became a male given name, then turned unisex, and is now mostly male again.
• Monroe was a purely male name of a century ago that has recently resurfaced as a female name.
• Kosisochukwu is an Igbo name that is given equally to boys and girls in the U.S., but remains unfamiliar to most Americans.
• Salem is a place name that was seldom considered as a baby name until the past few years, but is now rising in popularity for boys and girls alike.
Whether you love unisex names or hope to avoid them, this fast-changing landscape can be confusing to navigate. Here's a basic roadmap. I've collected every baby name that's currently given to significant numbers of girls AND boys in the United States. (The cutoffs: at least 200 total babies born last year, and a sex ratio of no greater than 3:1.) Individually, they're options for parents who seek a name that's genuinely unisex in usage. Collectively, they show us what unisex style looks like…for now.
And to answer the opening question, of the five names I listed only Salem qualifies.
|THE UNISEX BABY NAMES MASTER LIST|
|Name||Total Babies Born||Percentage Girls|
Read More: Unisex Baby Names Don't Stay Unisex