Name That Trend

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?


6 Responses to Name That Trend

  1. Mary says:

    I vote for old and laden with meaning, because people’s names should connect them with the past in some way. Furthermore, if parents are going to give a child an unusual spelling of a classic or traditional name, no getting pissy when people spell it wrong. They asked for it. And if a kid has a very trendy name, that will mark their age at a time in their life when perhaps they are seeking to be selective with whom they share that information. A classic, traditional name also sometimes enables people to find its equivalent when meeting people from other parts of the world, which is fun. A classic name that is currently trendy is fine, like Jacob or Emily.

  2. LE says:

    I wrote about why we chose the name we did here. When picking Lea’s name, I didn’t want a name in the top 100, I wanted a name with meaning (historical, lexical, and familial), and I wanted a name with an easy diminutive for pre-school spellers.

    In 4th grade, I had a class of 25ish with three Jennifers and two Megans. That’s when I realized that having a common name sucks. In 11th, I spent a delightful evening flirting with a Felix and a Brendan, which is when I learned that having an easily mispelled name (with many variants) sucks.

  3. Mary says:

    I looked at the link, and that is a very pretty name, and very meaningful. I can tell you, as a substitute teacher who is actually pretty good at calling most names accurately, that one will be mispronounced because it looks very much like another name (although most younger teachers will probably have never encountered it.) And of course, I highly approve of the middle name.

    The middle name link was very interesting. When I came into the world, the middle name was actually pretty important in Roman Catholic families because there were usually a bunch of Marys. Therefore, one was distinguished by being a Mary Ann, Mary Margaret, Mary Elizabeth, Mary Ellen, etc. Most Marys have spent a portion of their life being among the two-named, those who have their middle name used regularly.

  4. LE says:

    Yeah, nurses who call us to the cack of doctors’ offices usually get it wrong. “Althea”, they mumble. “Alicia?” they query. I’ve gotten a lot of “that’s a pretty name” comments, which is code for “did I mispronounce it?”

    Middle names are important in distinguishing people with common first names, as are titles. I imagine the problem is worse in large families and even worse in churchy large families. My family is average sized, but I already have Cousin Eben (“Little Eb”) and Uncle Eben (“Eben”). Much as I like the name, it didn’t make the cut for boy-names because it’s too common around here. (“Littler Eb”? “Baby Eb”? No thank you.)

    Were you ever Mary Middle Name?

  5. Sonetka says:

    The constant-mispronunciation factor is why my son (Daniel Benedict) has a first name which is both common (#6 last year – too high for my taste, but in Utah the rank is actually much lower; also, his dad was absolutely in love with the name) and isn’t rife with alternative spellings. I grew up having my (real) name consistently butchered into about six different variants, and some of my relatives have yet to learn how to spell it correctly – I love them and everything, but after twenty-eight years you think they’d have noticed that I don’t sign my letters in quite the same way as they address them. If Daniel can avoid that, that would be nice. The middle name is uncommon enough that if he ends up with three other Daniels in his class he can go by his middle name if he chooses.

  6. Mary says:

    Yes, LE, I was Mary Helen. I still sign my name that way (not just a middle initial). Some of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and older family friends still call me that, and that’s who I feel like on the inside. The majority of people in my life (including my husband) now call me Mary, and that’s OK too. They are both representative of different times (and different spheres) of my lfe.

    I also like that it’s a connection to my maternal grandmother who died before I was born. (I think I was the girl in the family born first after her death, so that’s why I got the name.) Since I didn’t get to know her, I’m glad I got to have something special that belonged to her.

    Sonetka, I grew up with a very common last name, so I was happy to take my husband’s last name so I didn’t have such a common first AND last name. However, I started to run into the name butchering problem–not fun, particularly for a substitute teacher with students who could get very creative with it. Now there is a celebrity with the same last name, for whom I am grateful, because the mispronunciations have lessened about 80%.

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