'Dick' and 'Jane' go bye-bye as baby names
By STEPHANIE DUNNEWIND / The Seattle Times
At 2020 graduation ceremonies, expect to hear a lot of Jacobs and Emilys in the roll call, and be on the lookout for Ethans, too.
Jacob and Emily remain firmly planted as the most popular baby names in 2002, according to Social Security card applications.
Madison, Hannah, Emma and Alexis round out the top five for girls. Michael, Joshua, Matthew and Ethan complete the top five boys list. (The Social Security Administration ranks each spelling of a name individually, which is why names such as Caitlin also spelled Kaitlyn, Katelynn, etc. don't show up higher.)
Even the most popular names aren't as common as in the past.
"For the last 15 years, the percentage of people getting the most popular names has gone way down," says Cleveland Evans, a professor of psychology at Bellevue University in Nebraska, who studies naming trends and is the author of Unusual and Most Popular Baby Names
. "For the first time in history, the top 50 names account for less than 50 percent of the boys being born each year. And for girls, it's less than 40 percent."
Blame our individualist streak: "As life becomes more homogenous, as every town has all the same chain restaurants, we find ourselves compelled to set ourselves and our children apart," Dr. Evans says.
Experts cite several reasons for the trend toward unique names:
A more informal society
means people use surnames less frequently, making first names more important in terms of identity.
The Internet makes it easier
for people to find out the most common names and also to seek out unusual ones.
There is less familial pressure
to name babies for relatives and ancestors.
Weird and unusual spellings
have increased in popular culture, from band names to company monikers.
Still, Dr. Evans thinks most people misuse the term "unique," because they really don't want a made-up, one-of-a-kind name. "What they really want is a name everybody likes and everybody has heard of but no one has."
A particular sound or syllable will become popular, and then a slightly different version will work its way up as a replacement, Dr. Evans says. Jennifer was hugely popular in the '70s and early '80s, followed by Jessica in the late '80s and early '90s. Currently, that can be seen in Emma (No. 4, up from No. 125 in 1991) as an alternative to Emily (No. 1 since 1996). Linda Rosenkrantz, co-author of Cool Names for Babies
, says she sees an upswing in O names with Olivia and Owen (or O-ending names such as Milo).
Creative names are more common and accepted in the black community, Dr. Evans says. Thus the trend in black names with idiosyncratic punctuation, such as apostrophes, middle capitals and hyphens.
But a name associated with a particular group for a few generations can eventually gain wide popularity. For example, before World War II, Michael was a predominantly Irish name, Dr. Evans says. Since 1950, though, it has been one of the most enduring, with years at No. 1 and never dropping out of the Top 10.
Now Ms. Rosenkrantz expects formerly "ethnic" names such as Isabella, Sophia, Javier, and Leonardo to be picked up by parents without Spanish or Italian heritage.
Sports stars, celebrities and characters from books and movies can cause a spike in name popularity. Though many parents don't specifically name their children after a certain star, they might hear a name and think, "Hmm, I like that."
Thus, Trinity (from The Matrix
) boomed in 1999-2000; Madison as a girl's name probably dates back to the movie Splash
. "But people aren't going to name their baby after Jennifer Lopez, because that's not different enough," Dr. Evans says.
Names with less history as first names Brittany or Crystal, for example tend to be more faddish and associated with a particular time period, Dr. Evans says. He found that well-educated families preferred to "revive something old" rather than go with newer options.
Indeed, Cool Names for Babies
dubs one category "bobo" names preferred by the "bourgeois bohemians," folks who "have good taste but disdain convention." Popular in upscale nursery schools, names such as Abigail and Aidan are "classic as well as cool, embodying style along with history."
Ageism against women means certain girl names can't come back for three or four generations without being considered "grandma names," Ms. Rosenkrantz notes. "A name really has to disappear off the radar; then it might come back. Most parents naming their daughters Grace have no associations because they've never known a Grace."
Only two girl names have held spots in the top 50 names for 100 years: Elizabeth and Katherine/Catherine. But nicknames changed, so a Katherine was probably called Kit, then Kathy and now Katie. "They're the same name on the birth certificate, but that's not what they're all called in real life," Dr. Evans says.
While girls are still more likely to have creative names than boys, that's becoming less true, with more Bradens and Jadens. "You never saw those before," Ms. Rosenkrantz says. Two celebrity names she predicts to become hot are Heath and Ashton. For girls, she sees a push toward old-fashioned names such as Julia, as well as glamour-girl names such as Ava and Audrey.
As for cutting-edge names, Ms. Rosenkrantz looks to New York, where parents now opt for color names such as Fuchsia and Aqua. She even has a nephew named Cerulean (that's sky blue, for the uncool).
And go figure: Oscar has ditched its garbage-can image. "When you first think of Oscar, it sounds totally uncool," Ms. Rosenkrantz says. "But Hugh Jackman's baby is named Oscar. And now I know three baby Oscars. It can switch with the snap of a finger."
Kids no longer face social scorn for unusual names, though some names such as Rebel, Rocket and Racer (what Spy Kids
director Robert Rodriguez named his three boys) may just be so cool it puts too much pressure on kids, Ms. Rosenkrantz says.
So while kids may tire of explaining odd spellings, "very few kids are getting beaten up because of their name," Ms. Rosenkrantz says. "It's just a different naming climate."
UP-AND-COMING NAMES FROM DIFFERENT AREAS
Mather (tied for No. 5 in Hawaii)
Hunter (No. 3 in Wyoming, West Virginia)
Logan (No. 3 in North Dakota)
Isaiah (No. 3 in New Mexico)
Caleb (No. 4. in Oklahoma)
Isabella (No. 4 in Florida)
Grace (No. 2 in Minnesota)
Jasmine (No. 5 in Hawaii)
Alondra (No. 2 in Puerto Rico)
Genesis (No. 4 in Puerto Rico)
Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, authors of Cool Names for Babies
(St. Martin's Press, $9.95) offer these tips for picking a "cool" name.
"Cool" usually means unusual
, not just nontraditional. "You have to go pretty far beyond the mainstream to find names that are truly cool."
Go with a foreign name
, a category that is "vast and almost uniformly cool." One way is to search the Web for overseas name sites. Or even namelike foreign words such as Lilla ("lilac" in Italian).
Invent a new name
that doesn't sound too weird by changing the first letter of a traditional name, such as Aidan to Jaden or Tyler to Zyler. Or drop letters or syllables to create shortened names, such as Priscilla to Cilla or Malcolm to Colm.
The Social Security Administration's Popular Baby Names page
ranks the top names around the country, gives the top five by state and allows visitors to type in a name and see how its popularity has changed during the years. A key caveat is that different spellings of similar names are not combined.
offers a database of 6,500 names and meanings, as well as lists of names by certain categories, such as celebrity names and those appearing in the works of Shakespeare.
lets visitors search baby names by sex, ethnic origin, number of syllables and starting and ending letter, plus create customized name polls to send to family and friends.