While we’re of the opinion that there is no such thing as a normal name, we do grudgingly admit that there are safe, sensible choices. These are names that will never prompt a stranger to say, “What an interesting name!” But neither will they cause someone to do a double take and say, “Umm … how do you spell that?”
This list could include such enduring classics as Elizabeth and Mary. But we’ve chosen instead to focus on names that have a more current feel. Many were not in use before the 20th century. Some may not remain viable options by the time your granddaughters arrive. But bestow one upon your child circa 2008 and odds are that it will wear well throughout her lifetime.
So if you’re searching for the elusive normal name, we’ve compiled 25 perfectly sensible, inoffensive, well-known names for your consideration.
1. Allison: While big sister Alice is the saintly, regal and literary classic, Allison has a bit more modern verve. Thought to be a pet form of Alice dating back to the Middle Ages, it entered the US Top 1000 in 1946. After Mia Farrow played Allison MacKenzie on TV’s Peyton Place beginning in 1964, the name entered the Top 200 – and has been there ever since. It was #46 in 2007. Next to trendy chart-toppers like Madison and Addison, Allison feels positively enduring. Alison is an equally valid variant. But steer clear of Allyson, Alyson, Allasin and so on – at least if you’re hoping for a sensible name.
2. Amanda: After spending the 80s and part of the 90s solidly in the Top 10, Amanda appears to be on her way out. Not only was the name popular, but it was inevitably chosen for the name of the Most Popular Girl in school on television and in movies. And remember Amanda Woodward on Melrose Place? Meow! Like Alyssa, this name has the potential to sound dated. But we think Amanda will remain a viable choice for girls in the near future for a few reasons. First, it sounds right when paired with Sophia, Olivia and other current names. But more importantly, unlike Alyssa, Amber or Brittany, it has long history to its credit – playwright Colley Cibber invented the name in the 17th century. In fact, it’s been in Top 500 since 1880. In 2007, Amanda ranked #112.
3. Audrey: Audrey raced up the popularity charts along with Shirley in the 1930s, but was clearly a runner-up; in the 1980s, it rose again, along with sound-alike Ashley. But while Ashley is dated and Shirley is a relic, Audrey remains fresh. Perhaps this is due to the lasting allure of actress, style icon and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn. Or maybe Audrey is just that rare name that never sounds out of step. As of 2007, Audrey ranked #51.
4. Brooke: In 1953, Brooke Marshall married Vincent Astor. As head of the Astor Foundation, her philanthropic legacy to New York is unquestioned. What’s more, her name (she was actually born Roberta Brooke Russell) entered the Top 1000 in 1953. But it would be another Brooke – Shields – who brought the name into the Top 100 in the late 1970s. Since then, it’s been used for plenty of fictional characters on the small and silver screens alike. It makes for a curious combination – while the sound could be gender-neutral and even a bit severe, it’s considered a comfortably feminine, frills-free choice. And while Taylor and Madison are trendy, Brooke is simply a solid and popular option. As of 2007, Brooke was #45.
5. Cassandra: While the sound calls to mind Anastasia, Lilianna, Arabella and other hyper-feminine names, this is a choice that is just shy of frilly. It could be because the nickname Cassie shouts “giddy-up, cowgirl!” Or maybe it’s because of the tragic myth of Cassandra. Apollo cursed the Trojan princess so while she’d see the future, no one would believe her predictions. In any case, this is the rare name that is undeniably pretty without being lightweight, and while it has history, doesn’t scream to have the title “princess” put in front. It’s a solid choice for a daughter. In 2007, Cassandra ranked #260.
6. Chloe: As popular as it has ever been, it’s worth noting that this 21st century chart-topper was also a common choice in the 19th century. Despite being at the height of popularity, Chloe feels like a name with some staying power. The smart and interesting actress Chloe Sevigny is a notable bearer of the name. Chloe even appears in the Bible. And unlike the rhyming Zoe, Chloe seems to be less vulnerable to creative respellings. To us, Chloe is another Amanda – while the name will drop out of the Top 100, it will never disappear from use. In 2007, Chloe ranked #16.
7. Diana: Given the adoration of the late Princess of Wales, it’s easy to imagine that her name would be the height of fashion. Not so – either in the UK or elsewhere. And yet the name has an impeccable pedigree, dating back to the Roman goddess of the hunt. It’s a possible alternative to Sophia, with it’s tri-syllable, ends-in-a construction. Diane was a baby boomer staple, and now sounds hopelessly dated. But this version of the name is appealing without being overexposed. At #107 as of last year, it’s even unlikely your daughter will share her name with a classmate.
8. Genevieve: She’s the patron saint of Paris and her name has been steadily used, in both France and the US. Like Cassandra, it’s the kind of name that is impeccably feminine but just shy of flowery. The nickname, Gen, has a simple charm, and the “G” gives it some energy that Jennifer lacks. In 2007, Genevieve ranked #344.
9. Holly: If your daughter arrives around the Christmas holidays, Holly is a fittingly seasonal and festive choice. While Molly and Polly started out as nicknames, and seem a bit insubstantial as given names, Holly’s botanical backstory gives this moniker some extra heft. And Miss Hepburn strikes again – her portrayal of Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is doubtless part of the name’s enduring appeal. As of 2007, Holly stood at #339.
10. Jenna: While Jennifer is tied to the 1970s, this related name never reached such great heights. Today, the best known Jenna is probably first daughter Jenna Bush Hager. The fashionable alternative is Gemma. But we think that Jenna remains homespun and feminine, and right at home with Hannah. As of last year, Jenna was #103 in the Top 1000.
11. Joanna: While Joan is a medieval maiden and Joanne a baby boomer, the ends-in-a feminine version of John feels current. When compared to other Jo- names, it’s not as fashionable as the romantic Josephine, but neither is it as dated as Jolene, Joelle, Jodi and the rest of the group. In the Bible, Joanna was one of the women to discover Jesus’ tomb empty; in history, two Queens of Naples and one Queen Consort of England bore the name. One of our favorite Joannas is the protagonist of Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, The Stepford Wives – Joanna Eberhart almost discovers the nefarious deeds afoot in idyllic little Stepford. It’s a name that is nicely everywoman. Johanna is a possible variant. As of 2007, Joanna ranked #253 and Johanna #419.
12. Julia: She’s a patrician in Ancient Rome, a character in the works of Shakespeare, a river in Switzerland, a Catholic saint, a cooking legend and a Hollywood icon. The name is simply timeless. But somehow it retains a modern, current feel. Perhaps that’s because unlike Mary, Elizabeth and Anne, this name has never entered the Top Ten in the US. Julie is the cute nickname, which actually outranked the formal version for a time in the 1960s and 70s. Today, Julia stands at #34 and is the preferable version circa 2008.
13. Kimberly: While her fashion heyday was four decades back, there’s something about this choice that feels current – far more than other 70s hits like Kelly and Kristen. When compared to current K chart toppers like Kayla and Kaitlyn, Kimberly holds up well. Kim is a comfortably tomboyish nickname worn by noted actresses Kim Novak and Kim Basinger – though neither were born Kimberlys. It remains a sensible and safe choice for a daughter. In 2007, it ranked #53.
14. Laura: Laura calls to mind the Little House on the Prairie series – pigtails, tin lunch buckets, fields of wild flowers, hard work and simple pleasures. It’s the quintessential good girl name. Laura Ashley, the designer of pretty, floral print fashions and home furnishings, adds to this vibe, as does the modest Laura who inspired much of Petrarch’s famous poetry. Yet it’s not mired in any one historical moment, and we think that Laura also sounds strong, capable and yes, classically current. As of 2007, it was ranked #183.
15. Lauren: As Laura has fallen somewhat out of favor, Lauren has taken her place. It’s a more glamorous moniker, bringing to mind legendary actress Lauren Bacall and supermodel Lauren Hutton – who, at the age of 64 is still as gorgeous as ever. While it’s tempting to lump Lauren and Laura together, they’re simply two related but distinct choices. As the surname of designer Ralph Lauren (born Lifshitz), the name is synonymous with a privileged, polished American look – think riding boots, rep stripe ties, immaculately tailored jackets and a smattering of plaid. Lauren ranked #28 in 2007.
16. Leah: The Bible has given us many sensible choices, including Leah, Jacob’s wife and mother of Judah, from whom the Kings of Israel, including David, are descended. Despite having been in almost constant use throughout the 20th century, it’s hard to pin a persona on Leah. King of Queens actress Leah Remini is one notable bearer of the name. Frequently stuffed in the middle spot, Leah is a solid choice for parents seeking a name as honest as Hannah, but not as common. Standing at #68, Leah is popular – but not wildly so.
17. Melissa: Like Amanda, this choice was big in the 1970s. Also like Amanda, this name endures because it has history. In Greek myth, she saved her father, Zeus, and eventually ended up transformed into a honeybee for her efforts. Melissa appears on the map in Greece, Italy, Canada and the US. Melissa Gilbert played Laura Ingalls on TV’s Little House on the Prairie; Melissa Sue Anderson played big sister Mary. And the Allman Brothers Band recorded their classic song of the same name in 1972. More than 35 years later, it remains feminine and pretty, but far less common. As of 2007, it ranked #137.
18. Naomi: Nothing sounds quite like Naomi. Since 1880, this Old Testament name has never left the Top 500 in the US. Depending on your perspective, this either makes the name hopelessly out-of-step or a perpetually interesting, familiar and underused choice. Everyone knows the name, but most of us have to think a minute to call to mind someone with this distinctive moniker. The French version, Noemi, is an intriguing variant. But Naomi is the sensible option, especially for parents calling their sons by such Biblical choices as Elijah and Ezekiel. Last year, Naomi ranked #124.
19. Natalie: Like Holly, Natalie pays homage to the holiday season – the Latin natale domini means Christmas Day. But somehow this name leaps seasonal boundaries to sound just as right for your summer-born child. Many modern mothers grew up watching the character Natalie Green on TV’s The Facts of Life; our mothers grew up watching actress Natalie (born Natalia) Wood on the big screen. In the early 20th century, Natalie was fairly obscure, ranking #598 in 1901. But it has risen steadily through the years, and as of 2007, stood at #17.
20. Nicole: We’ll admit that we were divided. While Michelle is clearly dated, both Danielle and Nicole seemed like contenders for the Sensible Names list. Neither were ever quite as popular as Michelle and all are the feminine version of enduringly classic male names. Ultimately, we opted to put Nicole on the list because the softer “elle” ending of Danielle seems especially overexposed, with the current crop of Gabrielles and Isabelles on playgrounds everywhere, while the “o” in -cole remains more distinct. Hollywood powerhouse Nicole Kidman gives this name a very smart and glamorous edge. In fact, Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan just chose this name for her daughter. Nicola is a softer, more fashion-forward choice, but as of 2007, Nicole remains a respectable #87.
21. Rachel: As one of TV’s Friends, her layered haircut inspired thousands of American women; by the time the character called her daughter Emma, both names were quite fashionable. But Rachel has been a Top 200 choice for over a century, and other notable bearers of the name include environmentalist Rachel Carson and, of course, the Biblical Rachel. Instead of a fleeting TV-inspired pick, this is one moniker that, like Allison, is bigger than the character. As of 2007, Rachel ranked #60.
22: Rebecca: Like Rachel, Rebecca is a Biblical name that brings to mind more recent figures – the children’s novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, for one; yellow-haired puppy love interest Becky Thatcher in the Tom Sawyer series and the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca, adapted into an Oscar-winning movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. It was the 1938 movie adaptation of the children’s book, starring Shirley Temple, that propelled Rebecca into the Top 100. It remained in the Top 100 until 2006 – quite a run. Today, Rebecca stands at #105. Less popular than in years past, but still a well-known and well-regarded name.
23. Sabrina: Sabrina has been a Top 300 choice since the 1950s, tied to the eponymous movie starring William Holden, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn – her third link to our list! A name taken from Welsh legend, in the film – and the play upon which it is based – Sabrina recites the line of John Milton’s poetry that inspired her father to choose the unusual moniker. Sabrinas have appeared on the small screen as one of Charlie’s Angels and a teenage witch in the years since. Today, the name is ranked 197. It’s a feminine choice that sounds sophisticated and just a bit mysterious.
24. Sarah: One of the most international of names, Sarah appears in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Serbian and, oh yes, English, with virtually no alteration in spelling or sound. In fact, it’s currently a Top Ten name in Austria and Belgium and held the top spot in Ireland. In the US, Sarah was just as popular in 1880 as it is today, almost classing the name with such Biblical staples as Mary and Anne. Yet Sarah and Sara both feel current in a way that transcends their long histories. Perhaps it is because the name has never been worn by a monarch or queen consort. Maybe it is because Sarah sounds so honest and hard-working. The related nickname Sadie, on the other hand sounds impish and lively – and is sometimes bestowed as an independent name. As of 2007, Sarah ranked #18 and Sara #81.
25: Veronica: The final, and arguably the quirkiest name to make our 25 Sensible Names list, Veronica has always been in use, but manages to feel a bit off the beaten track at the same time. Saint Veronica – of veil fame – is the first notable bearer of the name. Throughout the 20th century, Veronica has remained solidly in the Top 300. Most recently, Veronica Mars solved crimes on television as a latter-day Nancy Drew. In the 1989 dark comedy movie Heathers, Winona Ryder played the only non-Heather Mean Girl, Veronica Sawyer; in the Archie comics, Veronica Lodge was the Mean Girl. But it was Veronica Lake, the 1940s screen siren with her curtain of blonde hair, that keeps the name so fresh. Like sensible Audrey, chart-topping Ava and starbaby Harlow, this name exudes an old-world Hollywood glamor that gives the name both roots and a great deal of verve.
Schwoo! It was a tough list to narrow down. Much thanks to Kayt, Emmy Jo and all the others who contributed their lists.
One final note: While Emily almost certainly deserves a spot on this list, we’re just not sure it’s sensible to choose a name that has been bestowed upon 20,000 to 25,000 baby girls every year for well over a decade. Check back in 2018, and she’ll probably be back in the rotation.