About two weeks ago, we marked … well, Mother’s Day, yes, but that’s not what I want to talk about. But a couple of days before Mother’s Day, the SSA released the list of most popular baby names for 2006, in what someone aptly described as “Christmas for name nerds”. (Here’s the link).
I’ve loved reading about names since well before having a child; a lot of it due to sheer nosiness (what do other people think makes a good name? Oh my God, who would name their kid THAT?) and a bit of it due to wanting to give my fictional characters names that are more than just placeholders. When the Baby Name Voyager went online, I spent a truly embarrassing amount of time on it, watching names like Jaden and Isis spike upwards over the last few years while names like Dorothy and Pearl went into freefall around the middle of the century. The procession of Top Ten lists is interesting to watch; the top ten boys’ names of a hundred years ago wouldn’t look too strange to us now, but the girls’ names include Dorothy, Ruth and Mildred, none of which are exactly burning up the charts at the moment.
Since I live in a state which has a reputation for giving its children, shall we say, original names I tend to notice the names borne by the children at the playground. Sadly, nothing terribly original has come to my attention – probably the middle of SLC isn’t the place to find the exotic hybrids that site talks about. Mostly, the babies (including mine) seem to have either highly-popular yet classic names (Isabella, Jacob) or they are members of the “Aidan” trend so deplored by members of this site. I’ve never met a small Arvel or Daxen, but I’ve encountered Kadens, Bradens and Madisons beyond count. The most exotic Aidan-offshoot I’ve met so far is a Drayden.
Personally, I prefer names with established histories behind them, though I realize that in expressing a preference for older names I’m not being entirely consistent. All names were made up at some point, and an old Kiowa name meaning “Willow” shouldn’t technically be any more legit than just using the English word “Willow.” What I can’t fathom – and what I don’t think has been done before this era – is inventing names which consist simply of pretty sounds. Kaden does not, as far as I can tell, mean a thing in any language. Ditto for something like Kayla (though you could stretch things a bit and argue that it’s a nicknameish derivation of Katherine).
So what do you think? Old and laden with meaning (possibly not very flattering – Jacob means “supplanter”), or new and to hell with the meaning? Some combination of the two? Does a name’s popularity factor into your inclination to use it? Does the surge of Aidan-derivatives confuse you as much as it does me?