How many young Emmas, Isabellas, Jacobs and Ethans do you know? According to databases of popular baby names, parents in the U.S. have been stuck on those names for years, so if you haven’t come across a lot of kids with those monikers, you soon will. (We have two Isabellas of different ages on our 10-family cul de sac, and one Jacob. In our own household, we have a 10-year-old cat named Emma.)
|"You named me WHAT?"|
Despite all the colorful baby names that catch our attention, and the modernized spellings some parents think are so clever, Americans have remained remarkably steady in their preference for traditional names that are both attractive and mainstream. Even during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, when society was turning itself inside out, couples continued naming their babies Michael and Lisa, David and Michelle, James and Jennifer. John and Mary aren’t at the very top anymore, but over the past century they have been the most enduringly popular baby names in the U.S.
A handful of unusual names have gained footholds in the top ranks. Jax, Jaxen, Jaxon, and Jaxton are all on the list, as are Unique and Precious. Cheyenne (for a girl) appeared at #84 in 1999 and was #229 in 2010, and Jayden, a unisex name that is also spelled Jaden, Jaeden, and Jaiden, has risen quickly. According to the Social Security Administration’s database, Jayden was the #4 boy’s name in 2010 and the #212 girl’s name. Jaden, for boys, was at #91, and #762 for girls. Variations of the name first jumped into the top 1,000 baby names in the late 1990s. Where did it come from? Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have a 13-year-old son named Jaden, and it might seem the name was created to honor the mother, but it appeared in written records a century before any of the Smiths were born. And it was already gaining popularity before the Smiths named their son Jaden, so they may have been following a trend rather creating one. (Show business now has another baby boy named Jayden, Britney Spears’s son.)
Celebrities’ names for their offspring have little influence on most parents – and for that we should probably be grateful. Moms and Dads have not rushed to follow Gwyneth Paltrow’s example in calling her first child Apple. It’s too soon to tell, though, whether names of celebrity babies born in 2011 will strike a chord with other parents. I fervently hope Alicia Silverstone didn’t ignite a trend when she named her baby boy Bear Blu. Beyonce, as you no doubt know, has a little girl named Blue Ivy. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon named their twins Moroccan (boy) and Monroe (girl). Mike Tyson chose the shorter Morocco as his son’s name. Viola Davis and her husband adopted a boy and named him Genesis. In similar spirit, Natalie Portman named her son Aleph, for the first character in the Hebrew alphabet. Mike Myers and his wife thought Spike was the perfect name to hang on an innocent child who was too young to defend himself.
The celebrities who arguably have the greatest impact on baby naming trends these days are Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. After the birth of their daughter Shiloh in 2006, the name appeared among the top 1,000 for girls and has been there ever since. Maddox, the name of one of their sons, appeared on the list for the first time ever in 2003 and was at #180 in 2010. Their twins’ names, Vivienne and Knox, landed on the list for the first time after the Jolie-Pitt pair were born. Pax and Zahara’s names haven’t caught on, though. The parents have perennially favored first names, and now Jolie is also popular for girls.
A few odd names show up on the top 1,000 list, fade away for a while, then reappear. Unique (for a girl) is one of those, and Maverick (for a boy) is another. A few old-fashioned names, like Ethel and Gertrude, seem to have disappeared permanently, while others have hung on. Why, I wonder, have Cora and Cornelia remained steadily in the top 1,000, while Cordelia hasn’t appeared since 1950?
My own name has been on the list every year except one since 1913, and during the decade I was born it was at #5 or #6 for eight years in a row and at #8 or 9 for another three years. That explains why I meet so many women my age named Sandra. It remained in the top 100 until 1984 and has been dropping slowly since then. In 2010, Sandra ranked #517. Soon baby girls with my name may be rarities.
Writers use various lists to find out how common a name was in the year a character was born (or would have been if he or she were real), but anybody who wants to avoid giving an overused name to a baby would be smart to check the rankings too. In addition to the Social Security site (which hasn't yet been updated with 2011 information), you’ll find helpful data at BabyCenter.com and Parenting.com. Parenting predicts that the most popular baby names in 2012 will be... pretty much the same as in the past few years.
What are your children’s names? Why did you choose them? Do you think it's better to give a child a traditional name or something unusual?
How does your own name rank in popularity?