Every year sometime around Mother’s Day, the baby name freaks of America celebrate their high holiday: the release of the previous year’s Social Security Administration official baby name data. That’s right, somewhere, someone in a little office compiles all the data from every single recorded birth in the United States to tell us the Top 1000 names for each gender. (Whoever you are, I love you thank you for what you do. I hope you know how many of us there are out here who want your job. Just kidding. No, seriously.)
The first thing we do when the list is released, naturally, is look for our own children’s names. We hope for them to be comfortably tucked away somewhere safely down the list, and no higher than the previous year. Mine, incidentally, aren’t there. They would, I believe, be on the equivalent British list, but, alas, such a list does not exist to my knowledge, only the top 100 for each sex (here and here). Beatrice reentered the list last year, and has made a substantial climb to 899 this year. Will Miss Trix be hot on her heels? Who knows. I haven’t met one of either yet, my own excepted.
Our girls’ middle names, which are all in honor of their great-grandmothers, are ranked 231, 346, and 253. Pippa’s, although the most “unusual” by most standards, is on its way to name stardom thanks to Little Miss Garner-Affleck, and I’m okay with that. Really, I am. I was discussing with a friend recently the possibility that Violet could be the next Lily. She wasn’t sure at first, but then checked the data: Lily was not in the charts in the 1970’s, 289 by the 1990’s, and is now riding high at 27. Could Violet ever get that popular? Well, it was off of the charts for the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, but it has made a pretty impressive comeback in the last few years. It’s only up 30 spots from 2006, so let’s hope it’s plateauing.
Once we name-nuts have scoured the list for the names of our own precious little ones, we then search for the rest of “our names”. These are different for everyone, but it seems to be a common bond among nameophiles that we all have a list of ten or more names that are close to our hearts. We know that we will likely never actually get to use most of them on real children, but we would be nevertheless devastated to find any of them becoming (gasp) popular.
Then we can dig into the nitty-gritty of what is really going on in the American baby naming scene. What has been of greatest interest to me over the past few years is the ever-growing trend toward sneaky-popular rhyming uni-names. For the boys, it is summed up in the -ayden trend. You can read about it here and here from the Baby Name Wizard herself, or here and here from a friend and fellow name enthusiast of mine. There are (are you ready?) thirty-eight names that rhyme with Aidan in the boys’ chart alone this year ( plus seven in the girls’). Most of them are alternate spellings of Aidan, Jayden, Hayden, Brayden, and Caden, but Zayden is also there, and this year for the first time Raiden has also graced the charts with his presence.
Please don’t misunderstand, most of these (will you forgive me if I don’t include Zayden and Raiden in this category?) are fine, upstanding names. I know a few young Aidens and a couple of little Haydens and they are lovely young chaps with good sturdy names. I understand the appeal. What I don’t understand is why you would want to name your son Aydin or Haiden, and yet 325 and 257 couples did. Here is my thinking on the matter, for what it’s worth. If you want to name your son Aidan, you should probably just name him Aidan. It’s a popular name, but it’s a great name, and I’m honestly not tired of it yet. You might want to consider Aiden, since it is now the more popular spelling. That makes sense, too. But if you name him Aidyn or Aydin or Adin, what does that gain him? He will still likely hear Aydin S. called across the schoolyard when he’s in trouble, and when he is asked how to spell his name, as I often am, he will not be able to simply say “with a y”, because with *so* many variant spellings, people can no longer know where the y should go. That’s all I’m saying.
Today I finally got a chance to sift through the girls’ list and see if I could find a similar mega-trend. My gut told me it would either be the -aylies or, thanks to Ms. Cyrus’s name and two of its spelling variants debuting this year, the -ileys. I actually ended up with five separate but related rhyming sets: the -ayleys (22, not including near-misses like Hallie, of which I counted 6), the-ileys (12), the -aylas (17), the -aylyns (14), and the -aydens (7). That’s seventy-eight names altogether, again, many of them fine names.
But here’s where the “sneaky-popular” comes in. If you name your daughter Emily, the number one name in the land for several years now, chances are you already have some idea that this is a popular name. But you haved loved it forever and ever and, by golly, you’re going to use it anyway. In fact, an Emily today, statistically speaking, will not face the same bleak situation as the Jennifers of the 1970’s or the Lindas of the 1950’s. A little less than 1% of babies born last year were named Emily. That’s nothing compared to the nearly 4% of babies named Jennifer in the 1970’s or 4.5% named Linda in the 1950’s. Names are just much more diversified these days. Emily is only about as popular now as Nicole and Christina were the year I was born, and that sort of popularity, for a name you love, is totally worth it.
But if, on the other hand, you chose Kaylee, which is safely down at 36 on the charts, you might have felt pretty confident that you’d chosen a more unusual name. Maybe you even wanted to use Emily but didn’t, because it was just too popular. Imagine your surprise when you hear “Hailey!”, “Kayla!” and “Kaelyn!” being called out at the playground all around you. In fact, the -aylee names alone nearly double the number of Emilys when combined. This, I think, is a fact parents should know when they make their naming decisions. (Anybody want to employ me as a name analyst? I’m all yours!) I’m not of the opinion that spellings should be combined in the SSA data. As any mom of a Michaela will tell you, McKayla is a *completely* different name. I guess I’m just trying to encourage parents-to-be to do their homework a little more thoroughly, and maybe save themselves from disappointment down the road, and perhaps save their children some frustration too (“Yes, that’s Jodi with an i, like Jedi…”).
So, how did your favorite names fare this year? Any other observations about the list?
(On behalf of my mother, sister, and husband, thank you for enduring this post and letting me get all this off my chest so that I can leave them alone about it already!)