Sunday Summary: Easter Sunday edition

by appellationmountain on April 20, 2014

Sunday Summary

Happy Easter!  For those observing the holiday, I hope you have a thoroughly enjoyable day.

The other day I came across a name in a magazine: Lynya.  Lynya had written an article in a prominent women’s magazine, so presumably her unusual name had not been a stumbling block to a successful life.  But I was struck by the name – was it pronounced like Linnea?  Or like Lydia with an n?  Maybe something like Mariah?  Distinctive, yes.  Easy to wear?  Maybe not.

Unusual names always spark that curiosity in me – was it a respelling, an invention, a smoosh?  And yet, even the most unusual name is still probably not truly unique.  That’s why I got a kick out of this post.  Scroll down to #3!

The post is meant for a laugh, but it is kind of horrible to imagine a world where no one shares the same name, isn’t it?  At first it seems great – no accusations of name theft, no pressure to stick with popular picks like Ava and Mason, no guilt over failing to pass down family names like Morton.  But it also means no honor names, no hero names, and a need to be far more creative than most of us can imagine.

Still, I was delighted when How Many of Me? informed me that I am the one and only Abby Sandel.  There are three of my husband, one of my daughter, and one of my son – except that’s not right, because he shares his first and last name with his grandfather.

Elsewhere online:

  • Vi Delores and Sy Reed.  Those are some seriously short first names.
  • Daphne, Olga, Victoria, Stella Moira Shearer wore some great names!
  • Some of these vintage nicknames are among my favorites.  I especially like Ike, Bess, Kit, and Lulu.
  • Captivated by this list of medieval names from Portugal.
  • Such an interesting story about Rafael becoming Rafferty because these Australian parents thought it was a better fit.  And Anna makes a good point about the sisters’ names, too.
  • Baby Name Wizard talks about the generational switcheroo. While there are certainly women of all ages named Abigail, it is so VERY popular now that I suspect my name can potentially cause that kind of reaction.
  • A very long list of noun names, culled from the Social Security Administration data, by Roses and Cellar Doors.
  • Tabitha was one of my favorite names for years, thanks to re-runs of Bewitched.  Nice to see her getting some appreciation on Baby Names from the Bible.
  • From the wayback machine: Leandra was the featured name in 2009, followed by Priya in 2010, Callahan in 2011, and Delta in 2012.  One year ago, the featured name was Tamsin.

Oh, that reminds me – today marks my two year anniversary of being at the new and improved site!  Still lots of work to do, but it’s good to be settled in.

That’s all for this week!  As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week.


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Isabeau, Bowen, Boheme: Getting to Bo and Beau

by appellationmountain on April 18, 2014

Bo iconThere’s something stylish about a short name nowadays, and the bright Bo has quite a bit of appeal.

Spelled Beau, the name feels like a Southern gentleman – but also has history as a feminine ending in France.  There were 39 girl Beaus and 1059 boy Beaus born in 2012.

Bo is less formal – more of a nickname – but 19 girls and 285 boys born in 2012 had just Bo put on their birth certificate.

I suppose it’s also possible to think about Bow, as in the weapon and the package trimming, and Clara Bow, too.

But what if this name strikes you as too brief?  No worries!  There are plenty of formal names, both mainstream and not-so-ordinary – that lead to the nickname Bo or Beau, for a son or a daughter.

Getting to Bo: Girls

Boadicea, Boudicca – A warrior queen who led her tribe to victory against the Romans before finally meeting her end, Boadicea appears in plenty of artwork and literature.  The historical figure’s exact name is in dispute, as is the pronunciation.  But there’s a case to made for a first syllable Bo, and she’s a fierce name for a daughter.  I like her best as an unexpected middleElizabeth Boadicea, maybe?

Boheme – Blogger Rebecca Woolf added this name to the list when she named one of her twins Boheme Shalom back in 2011.  Boheme was daring, even outlandish, to some.  For me, it was the same kind of head-smacking, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment that I had when I saw the birth announcement for her older daughter Fable.  The français Boheme with her operatic overtones is so lovely and dramatic and, well bohemian, but then Bo is such a friendly, accessible short form.

Bonita – I almost put Bonnie on this list, but isn’t Bonnie a diminutive?  And can you nickname a nickname?  Well, I probably could.  But then I thought of Bonita, a retro, flirty name, the Spanish word for pretty. From Florida’s Bonita Springs to California’s Bonita Falls, there’s no shortage of places sharing this name.  A boyish Bonita could easily lop off the last few letters and answer to Bo.

Deborah – She’s in style hibernation at the moment, but classic Deborah could possibly lead to the nickname Bo.

Isabeau – Also spelled Ysabeau, she’s a rare French form of Elizabeth and Isabelle.  She’s getting some attention lately thanks to the Deborah Harkness All Souls trilogy, featuring powerful vampire matriarch Ysabeau, immortal vampire mother to Matthew.

Rainbow – Is this one too daffy for words?  More My Little Pony than actual human child?  I have my hesitations, but let’s say that Rainbow undeniably leads to this short form.

Getting to Bo: Boys

Abbot, Abbott – A handful of surnames include the right letter combination, if not quite the right sound.  File Abbot, Abbott, and Talbot under preppy possibilities that could lead to Bo.

Beau – Just Beau seems to stand on his own better than the two-letter version.  He seems all-boy to me, but Sarah Jane Morris and Ned Brower went with Beau Katherine for their 2014-born daughter.

Beauregard – He’s a surname derived from a scenic view – beau meaning lovely, and regard meaning to look at.  The first wave of baby Beauregards could honor Confederate Civil War General Gustave Beauregard, a Louisiana-born officer.  But I’m just basing on that on Gone with the Wind, where Ashley and Melanie really did name their son after the Ashley’s commanding officer.  The numbers suggest that Beau caught on later – inspired by the novel, the film, and later, The Dukes of Hazzard.

Boaz – He’s an upstanding fellow in the Bible, the husband of Ruth.  Plus his name means swiftness – a rather current meaning in our age of active names for boys.  He’s less expected than Noah, a smidge easier to wear than Nehemiah.

Bode, Bodie, Bodhi – After back-to-back baby Bodhis earlier this year, could this name be on the rise?  He’s most spiritual as Bodhi – awakened, from the Sanskrit.  But he’s a modern wearable in any of his forms.

Boden – There really is a Johnnie Boden, founder of the catalog/online retailer Boden and Mini Boden, a catalog I love as much for sharing the names of its mini models as its bright and cheery kids’ clothing.  It’s not quite like naming your kiddo Chanel, but Boden is definitely recognizable as a surname and a brand.

Bodhan, Bohdan – The Slavic name Bogdan means “given by God.”  In Czech, the ‘g’ becomes an ‘h’ and Bogdan becomes Bohdan – a reasonable way to get to Bo, with a rich heritage tie-in as well.  Similarly, I’ve come across a Sanskrit name, Bodhan, which could work equally well.

Bolivar – Looking for a hero name?  Simon Bolivar helped liberate South America from Spain.  Bolivia is named in his honor.  It’s originally derived from a place name, and many other places have been named in his honor.  Bolivar is also the name of Donald Duck’s dog, a large St. Bernard.

Bolton – Is this surname too tied to singer Michael Bolton?  Maybe … but he’s a place name-turned-surname, one that’s not far from popular picks like Dalton and Colton.

Bonaventure, Bonaventura – Originally a given name meaning good fortune, the Italian Bonaventura shifted to the surname spot, and became Bonaventure in French.  I appreciate his similarity to the word “adventure.”

Booker – Recently chosen by Thandie Newton for her son, Booker has a number of positive associations – the literary link, as well as early civil rights leader Booker T. Washington.

Boston - He’s a popular place name, and a possible way to get to Bo.

Bowen – I almost put Bowman on this list, too, but he feels clunky in a way that Bowen does not.  Football player Drew Brees has boys named Baylen, Bowen, and Callen.

Bowie – A hero name, thanks to David, and a sharp choice, thanks to the Bowie knife.

Robert – He’s a steady classic, relatively underused in recent years – the masculine equivalent of Deborah on this list.  If you’re naming your son Robert, Jr. – or maybe Robert III – Bo becomes a way to shake up this venerable name.

Would you use Bo, Beau – or even Bow! – as a given name?  How ’bout a nickname?  Which formal versions would you consider?


Sian: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 17, 2014

SianShe’s more obscure than Jane, less familiar than Joanna.  But this feminine form of John could fit right in with stylish names for girls in 2014.

Thanks to Sian for suggesting her own name as our Baby Name of the Day.

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Zosia: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 16, 2014

ZosiaShe sounds clunky and modern at once, a name that seems like a name, but like nothing you’ve heard.

Thanks to Amanda for suggesting Zosia as our Baby Name of the Day.

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Siri: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 15, 2014

SiriShe’s the voice helping countless iPhone users answer an infinite number of questions.

Thanks to Angela for suggesting Siri as our Baby Name of the Day.

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Oliver: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 14, 2014

OliverOliverOliverOliverEditor’s note: This post was originally published on November 30, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on April 14, 2014.

From Charles Dickens to The Brady Bunch to a playground near you, this name has gone from literary to quirky to just plain everywhere.

Thanks to Lola for suggesting Oliver as our Baby Name of the Day.

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Sunday Summary: 15th of 2014

by appellationmountain on April 13, 2014

Sunday SummaryHappy Sunday!  The day is in the news as a celebrity baby name – again.  And so let’s start our post with Anna’s excellent defense of Sunday as a given name.

Elsewhere online:

  • Interesting to see the results of Nomes e mais Nomes site poll on favorite names.  Laura and Miguel came out on top, names that seem to be pretty mainstream.  It matches with my observations about this site’s annual March Madness competition – the more conventional favorites tend to win out.
  • E is for Epsilon.  And Evarista, my favorite on this list of ancient Greek possibilities at British Baby Names.
  • Surprises from the New South Wales Top 100 for 2013: Indie, Indiana, Piper, Aria, Willow, Zara for girls, and Jasper, Angus, Flynn, Nate, Luca, and Hugo for boys.  Some of those seem specifically Australian – but are any of those likely to be big movers when we see the US data?
  • Speaking of data, there’s been all this talk of how boys’ names ending in -n have exploded in recent decades.  To us name nerds, that’s old news.  But what is more interesting to me is the way that some ends in -n names can still feel fresh, even surprising: Sullivan, Stellan, Eben, Soren.  While others, no matter how rare, can feel tired, like Daxton or Raydin - on numbers alone, they’re quite unusual, but they don’t seem terribly distinctive, do they?  The latest Design Mom Living with Kids home tour reminded me of another name that I’d file in the still fresh category: Roan.
  • Oh, I love Laura Wattenberg’s observation that a little bit of magic helps an appealing name catch on – see Samantha, Willow, Elena and lots of names in between.
  • These names from fourteenth century Italy have me swooning.  There’s even an Altaluna.  And Isotta appeals to me, too, though I think she’s less wearable than some Isabella stand-ins.
  • From medieval Italy to the moon and beyond – have you seen this list of out-of-this-world names?  My favorites are Seren and Atlas.
  • Proof that kids named for movie characters – even villains – turn out okay.  Or, at least, that two boys called Darth grew up to be contributing members of society.  But – small voice - no, Jacob did not become the #1 name because of Twilight.  Jacob has been the most popular name for boys born in the US since 1999, when actor Taylor Lautner was about seven years old, and was not running around as a shirtless shapeshifter.
  • We haven’t stepped into the Wayback Machine lately, have we?  In 2009, the name I profiled was Astrid.  2010 featured Sven.  A very Scandinavian duo, right?  The Baby Name of the Day in 2011 was Darius and 2012 was Lotus.  Which reminds me – we went to see the cherry blossoms today, so I really ought to mention this post on Sakura.  But back to the Wayback for April 2013, when the name in the spotlight was Leif.

That’s all for this week.  As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week!


John, Mary, and 63 More: The Most Popular Baby Names of All Time

by appellationmountain on April 11, 2014

Mary Cassatt Sleepy Baby 1910What are the most popular baby names of all time?

It sounds like a straightforward question.  Except that there are different ways to measure usage.  Are Steven and Stephen two names or one?  Are we talking about the percentage of the population receiving a given name, or the name’s numerical ranking?  On percentages, today’s #1 name is far less common than the #1 name from a few decades back.  Speaking of decades, what’s your time frame for popularity – this year?  The past twenty years?  Or all time?

Here’s one measure that seems fairly objective: the US Social Security Administration provides a chart showing those few names that have ranked in the US Top Five at some point since they started tracking these things in 1880.

It’s an elite group, to be sure.  As of 2012, only 42 girls’ names have ever risen that high, and just 23 boys’ names.  Call it another indicator of greater volatility and daring in naming our daughters.

The era matters.  Amy, Barbara, or Betty would be rare on a child in 2014, even though they were once ubiquitous.  Mason might feel novel, but that’s likely because he’s only recently entered the elite five.

Names that I’ve written about have links in blue.

The Most Popular Baby Names of All Time: Girls

AbigailCall her a one-hit wonder.  Abigail broke into the Top Five just one, in 2005.

Alexis - Dynasty is over, and all of the Alex- names are slipping.  Could Alexis go back to the boys?

Amanda - She was a favorite in the 1980s, but she still feels wearable in 2014, a literary coinage likely to make a comeback … eventually.

Amy - A mini name from the 1970s, Amy wouldn’t be out of place in our Zoe-Ava age.
Angela - More enduring than Nevaeh.

Ashley - An 80s name par excellence.

Ava - Hollywood glam meets moder minimalism.

BarbaraWith a long history of use and international appeal, she’s a classic that our granddaughters and great-granddaughters might embrace.

Betty - I’m still waiting for Mad Men’s former Mrs. Draper to inspire namesakes.

Brittany - The famous Ms. Spears is Britney, and she’s made this name feel more pop star than French place name.

Carol - Feminine forms of Charles like Caroline and Charlotte are white hot, but Carol is still rockin’ bell bottoms on The Brady Bunch.

Deborah - The Biblical heroine is stuck in style limbo.

Debra - Believe it or not, both spellings of this name ranked in the Top Five in the 1950s.  Shades of Aidan/Aiden.

Donna - Oh, Donna.  Ritchie Valens crooned her name, and she became one of the most popular names of the 1950s and 60s.

Dorothy - She went somewhere over the rainbow in The Wizard of Oz in 1939, and landed in Miami as one of The Golden Girls by 1985.  Today she seems ready for revival, a three syllable, ends-with-y name that would wear well.

Emily - A Top Ten name since 1991, Emily leans literary – think Dickinson, Bronte – and has a long history of use.

Emma - Relatively rare when television’s Kate Allie debuted in 1984 – she was Kate’s teenaged daughter – Emma entered the US Top Ten in 2002, the same year Ross and Rachel gave the name to their baby on Friends.  Thanks to her classic style and Jane Austen heroine ties, Emma remains a favorite.

Hannah - An Old Testament name with a homespun feel, Hannah ranked in the Top Ten from 1995 through 2007.

Heather - A 1970s staple, the mother of Harper and the forerunner of many a creative botanical name.

Helen - She ranked in the Top Ten from 1891 through 1934, second only to Mary in a few years.

Isabella - In the early days of a revival when Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise gave the name to their adopted daughter in 1992, Elizabeth’s equally royal cousin skyrocketed to the Top 100, and has been in the Top Ten since 2004.

JenniferShe was everywhere in the 1970s, the default name for a generation of girls.

Jessica - As Jennifer faded, Jessica became the it-girl J name of the 1980s.

Joan - Another Mad Men name, once worn by the heroic Joan of Arc.  Less popular than Jane today, but still a possibility.

Judith - Jude is big for boys.  Judy is a Jetson.  But Judith is an Old Testament heroine, a classic name still fading from use today.

Karen - This tailored, Scandinavian spin on Katherine was most popular in the 1950s and 60s.  If not for that fact, she’d fit right in with Madison and other tailored names for girls in 2014.

Kimberly - If she hadn’t been so popular in the 1960s and 70s, Kimberly would be a hit today.  Instead, baby girls are answering to Everly and other three-syllable, ends-with-y names.

Linda - Lovely Linda, once the name of a generation – today, firmly in grandmother name territory.

Lisa - Once a pet name for Elizabeth, today Lisa Simpson stands on her own.  It was a reasonable choice for 8 year old Lisa Simpson when the character debuted in 1987.  The Simpsons don’t age, but fewer and fewer girls have been named Lisa with every passing year.

Madison - This street name made a Splash when Darryl Hannah’s mermaid-in-New-York decided it was the name for her back in the 1984 hit.  Fast forward to 1997, and Madison made the Top Five, more popular than her predecessor, Allison.

Margaret - She’s a venerable classic, a Top 100 staple from 1880 into the 1980s.  With names like Eleanor and Beatrice on the rebound, I’m cheering for Margaret to reverse her slide.

Mary - Long the top name and undisputed #1, today she’s fading fast.  And yet, meet a little girl called Mary and it feels both classic and fresh.

Melissa - Pretty Melissa doesn’t quite feel out of place on a baby in 2014, fitting right in with Gabriella and Cecilia, too.  In fact, she still ranked #177 in 2012, showing that she’s been more resilient than many a former Top Ten.

Michelle - Once a Beatles song, she’s now firmly in mom – and First Lady – territory.

Olivia - A member of the Top Ten since 2001, Olivia still belonged to the Top Five Fraternity as of 2012, inspiring respellings, like Alivia, and the rise of similar names – Olive, I’m looking at you!

Patricia – Once an absolute staple, Patricia has faded to the edges of the Top 1000.  Nowadays, Trish is the other carpool mom, Tricia is your great aunt, and Patsy is a country legend.  She’s passed the shamrock to other Irish names, from Erin to Maeve, but here’s guessing she’ll be back around the same time Barbara and Deborah reappear.

Ruth - The numbers don’t show it yet, but Ruth seems to be on the verge of a comeback.  And why not?  Her heyday was the 1910s and 20s, meaning that the hundred-year rule should favor this vintage, Biblical gem.

Samantha - She made a few appearances in the Top Five back in the 1990s, and like Alexandra and other elaborate names from that era, is just starting to wane.

Sandra – Sandra broke into the Top Five just once, in 1947.  Wholesome actress Sandra Dee was popular in the 1950s and 60s – if you’ve ever seen Grease, you’ll recognize the name.  Today you’re far more likely to meet a baby Alexandra – or really, any form of the name other than Sandra.

Sarah - Rarely has she left the Top 100, and her appearances in the Top Ten have been frequent.  Call her almost as classic as Elizabeth.

Shirley - The Ashley of an earlier generation.  Blame Charlotte Bronte for putting Shirley on the list of possibilities for girls. The famous Miss Shirley Temple helped cement her place as a 1930s baby name favorite.

SusanI’m a fan of Susan – not Susie or Sue, but the tailored, spare Susan.  With Biblical and botanical ties, she’d be a hit today, if only she hadn’t been a hit before.

The Most Popular Baby Names of All Time: Boys

Alexander - Alexander appeared in the Top Five just once, in 2009.  This name has an enduring, classic sound that ensures he’ll never feel dated.

Andrew - Preppy, polished Andrew had a good run.  As of 2012, he still ranked in the Top Twenty, the same place he’s been since 1979.

Charles - The future king of England answers to this name, and he’s having a real moment in 2014 – though his Top Five streak was in the 1920s.

Christopher - After years as understudy to Michael, Christopher has also faded into dad name territory.  The entire clutch of names – Christina, Kristen, Christa, even Christian - are slipping out of use, though I think Christian retains a certain style, thanks to his ‘n’ ending.

Daniel - He of the lion’s den, the heroic Daniel has been a go-to choice for generations.

David - Another enduring classic, though a David born today is more likely to use his full name instead of the once automatic Dave.

Ethan - He’s got Colonial cool, thanks to Ethan Allen, but this now-popular pick was obscure until the 1970s.

Jacob - Long the top name in the US – well before anyone had ever heard of Twilight, heck before Taylor Lautner was even born -  the Biblical Jacob remains friendly and accessible.  He’s likely to give up his #1 spot this year, but that doesn’t parents have written him off.

James - Among the most classic of names, truly trend-resistant, he ranked in the Top Five from 1880 through 1980, and has never left the Top 20.

Jason - Big in the 1970s, Jason grew up, married Jennifer or Jessica, and named his kids Jacob and Ava.

Jayden - Jason is the forerunner of lots of today’s popular names, including nouveau coinage Jayden – one-part Biblical, one-part Pinkett-Smith.

John - Like Mary, John has fallen.  Long the undisputed #1 name, surname form Jackson is now more popular than the original.

Joseph - Do you know Joe?  Chances are you know three or four, and their ages range from little boy to senior citizen.  Along with James, one of the most enduring choices for boys.

Joshua - He was a mega-hit from the 1980s into the early 2000s.  The Old Testament name has a long history of use, but he’s definitely been at his most popular in recent years.

Mason - The descendant of Jason and Michael, an accessible surname name, and one of the biggest challengers to Jacob for the #1 spot.  Mason debuted in the Top Five in 2011.

Matthew – The names of the twelve apostles are pretty solid go-to choices.  Well, maybe not Bartholomew.  That’s a little obscure.  But Matthew works marvelously.  He peaked in the 1980s and 90s but remains wearable today.

Michael - Angelic Michael held the #1 spot from the 1950s into the 1990s.  While he remains an unassailable classic, he also feels a little more overused than many of the 65 names on this list.

Nicholas – The alter ego of Santa Claus, Nick darted into the Top Five just once, in 1999.  So while he’s slightly tired and fading quickly, Nicholas remains a perfectly reasonable pick for a son in 2014.

Noah – For most of US naming history, Noah was a relatively uncommon choice.  On the heels of Joshua, Noah cracked the Top Five in 2011, and crept up to #4 in 2012.  If the new Hollywood blockbuster starring Russell Crowe as the arc builder fares well, could Noah climb farther?  Hard to say, but Crowe did wonders for Maximus.

Richard – The saintly, regal Richard deserves the title classic – but these days, a newborn Richard is almost certainly an honor name.  He’s been fading since the 1940s.

Robert - A former #1 name, Robert has fallen out of favor in recent years, but I’m inclined to group him with Matthew – a classic that still feels wearable in 2014.  I wouldn’t call a little boy Bob, but Rob or Robbie seems rather charming.

Tyler - What happens to the formerly trendy?  If you’re Tyler, you crack the Top Five in 1993, and fall to #50 by 2012.  That’s still plenty respectable – and signals that lots of parents are still naming their sons Tyler!  But I’d expect Tyler to be a teenager.

William - The future King of England, once granny and dad make way.  Like James and Joseph, there’s something truly enduring about William.  And like Robert, his nicknames have morphed over the years.  Once upon a time, every William was Billy.  Now, you’d probably expect a little guy with this name to answer to Will.

Which of the most popular baby names of all time is your favorite?  Are there any that you would still use, despite their former (or current) popularity?  Are you more likely to avoid names that were once popular, or do you only consider current use?


Dorothy: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 10, 2014

DorothyThis former favorite went over the rainbow as a Kansas farmgirl, and retired to Miami in the 1980s.

Thanks to Jennie for suggesting Dorothy as our Baby Name of the Day.

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David: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on April 9, 2014

DavidBowie, Beckham, Spade, Letterman, Duchovny, Gilmour, Grohl, Lynch.  There’s no shortage of notables answering to this classic.

Thanks to Maia for suggesting David as our Baby Name of the Day.

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