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.
Interesting — many of these are names that hit their heights in the 80s, and I suspect most of the people who vote on these lists or offered their suggestions to them are women who grew up in the 80s. A generation ago, a lot of these would’ve been out there. Are they sensible names simply in virtue of the fact that the people contributing to the lists grew up knowing a bunch of people by these names?
C in DC says
I would add Jessica to your list. My first cousin is Diana and her daughters are Amanda and Jessica. When the younger ones were named that in the ’80s, my grandmother was very dismissive of the names! She and her sisters were Helen, Ruth, Betty, and Doris — you couldn’t get more sensible than that in the 1910s!
Danielle is a favorite of mine — I totally would have included it here! I think some of my infatuation for the name comes from the movie Ever After. 🙂 I was surprised to see my name here too! Many of these do seem like 80s comeback names, but I still have a soft spot for Kimberly. I always hated the name Brooke because I went by the nickname Bree and people were always calling me Brooke instead. I also love Holly, Diana, and Audrey.
Dina Alejandra. I am Hispanic. Blah to my name. I hate it. Some people actually look at my name and thinks “Dina” (pronounced Dee-nah) says “Diana.” That’s always lovely. >.< (Though it would save me nearly 15 1/2 years of having to correct people if I had been named "Diana" instead.) Look at that, I ALMOST made it.
Though I am often called "Aly" by my family, so that makes my name a twinge cooler.
I LOVE Emily, and I can only think of one person I've met with that name, and that is my Civics teacher. ? I LOVE Cassandra, and what a coincidence that it is the first name of one of my favourite authors? ? Audrey sounds like such a lovely name~
How lovely. My little sister ends up on this list. Kimberly. HUH.
Thank you for including my name! However, I hate it: Lauren. I think the syllables sound chunky and there are no nicknames.
Genevieve seems like the odd one out, along with maybe Sabrina. But I love it!
Hmmm … there’s Ren/Wren for Lauren. Though I agree, Laurie/Lori isn’t the best option.
Genevieve is one of my absolute favorites, which makes me kind of sad to see it up here. A lot of the others seem kind of dated, I went to school with a lot of these names.
Sarah A says
I am so glad you included my name, Sarah, on your list. Its ‘international’ nature was the reason my parents chose it in the first place because it’s in both Arabic and English (as is my sister Hannah’s name). I actually have cousins named Sarah on both sides of my family! I also LOVE the history behind it, knowing it goes all the way back to the OT. And it never bothered me that there were always 3 or 4 other Sarahs in my class because my last name is very uncommon and hard to spell/pronounce so it’s a good balance. I’m actually one of those crazy people who loves my name so much I would give Sarah to any and all future daughters my husband and I might have 🙂 But alas, I’ll leave that tradition to George Forman.
Since I wrote that post, we have a new little neighbor called Sarah. It really does wear well!
Nicolette Sari says
Hmm I’m split I adore the name Emily…but Im a child of the 80s and every other girl I know is Emily….yet it still wasnt as big as the amoung of Jenifer/Jenni/Jenny/Jena/Jens I grew up with…especially sense they were all really named Jenifer…and one Jenipher.
I like a lot of these names, which is something I wouldn’t have said six months ago! My tastes are getting slowly more conventional, even though I still enjoy a good quirky name.
From this list, I like the following:
Audrey, Diana, Genevieve, Jenna, Johanna, Julia, Leah, Naomi, Natalie, Rachel, and Rebecca.
I could see myself actually using Audrey, Diana, Genevieve, Naomi, or Natalie.
I’m surprised to see my name on this list as I personally hate it and can’t see how it qualifies as sensible. It sounds very young, and the only feasible nicknames are Holl (pr ‘hole’) or Holls (pr ‘holes’) – both of which I can’t stand but can’t avoid either. There is also the irritating fact that Holly rhymes with many other words eg lolly, dolly, molly, trolley, wally, etc which probably add to the childlike feel of the name. One name I would suggest for this list would be Anna – it has been in use for centuries and still sounds current. If I knew nothing else about a person except that her name is Anna, I would not be able to guess her age. I definitely agree that Rebecca, Sarah and Rachel should be on the list. The others I have age-associations with, as naming trends in my country do not strictly match those in the US – eg Alison/Allison and related names are for the most part not found on people under 40, while I have noticed on TV that it seems to be relatively popular across ages in the US.
I’m also a Holly. While I have never really felt that my name fits me perfectly, I like it well enough. Everyone recognizes the name, knows how to spell it, and so on. I grew up without others with the same name around (I’m in my mid-30s), but now I’ve moved to another state and I’m surrounded by Hollys in my age group.
To Laura– I love the name Marisa, but especially because in Portugal, where I spent my exchange year, a single s makes for the pronunciation Ma-(R)EE-zah, which I think is gorgeous.
I really do love Audrey and Julia, but I’m not quite sensible enough to use them. Natalie is one I like best as Natalia (Natalie Wood’s birth name).
It’s funny seeing the names of two of my grandfather’s four sisters on this list (Leah and Audrey… though Leah was actually “Otye Leah”). I guess the names really do recycle themselves.
Laura, I wonder if your “Linda” problem is due to your generation? Linda was the #2 or 3 name about the time you were born, No? Because I’m a 41 year old Laura and have never been mistaken for anything else. I do have a contemporary Linda or two but nothing like the sheer number of them in the few years prior to my birth! 😀
There was a small infux of little Lauras in the mid 80’s. I remember as a teen, going to the mall and hearing “Laura!”, whirling around and seeing a toddler run to her mama. It was weird. But then, so was being a Laura born in 1967… there are quite a few of us. Nationally it was #15 that year, but I’ve only known four other Lauras, personally in my life, three others from school and another fellow mom in my neighborrhod now. But that’s it. It’s definitely strange.
My name is Laura, and I was not wild about it when I was a child, but have grown to appreciate it; however, I don’t care for Laurie or Lori. A couple of years ago I was waiting in line at the grocery store and asked the lady in front of me her new baby’s name. When she said “Laura” I was shocked as I didn’t think people named babies Laura any more!
One thing I have noticed is that I am called Linda a lot. Not by people I know, of course. Just this past week it has happened twice. Once at the doctor’s office when the medical assistant called me to the back, and then when a contractor returned my telephone call. It seems that people just see the “L” and assume it’s Linda. I have always wondered if that happens to other women named Laura, too. But, I’ve never thought to ask anyone.
My mother must have had a good ear for classic names, because my sister’s name is Julia. I am 53 and my sister is 46.
Regarding the name Melissa, I don’t care for it much, but named my older daughter Marisa, as I thought it was such a beautiful name. It was not at all common 25 or so years ago when I named her that, but it has become more common in recent years, especially with the spelling of Marissa.
My daughter has gone through being mis-called Melissa for years, just as I am mis-called Linda.
LOL, Emily – guilty as charged!
And you’re absolutely right – Emily might be #1, but she’s not Jennifer. Or Linda. Or Mary. The percentage of children receiving the most popular names has dropped over time.
(All this is US, of course.) In 1907, more than 5% of all newborn girls were named Mary. In 1947, the same was true of Linda.
By 1977, Jennifer was #1, and given to about 3.5% of newborn girls. Still very, very popular – but not quite as dominating as Mary or Linda in her day.
But in 1997, Emily held the top spot with 1.34% of the population. By 2007, she was still #1, but less than 1% – 0.1967%, to be precise – were given the name.
Sensible shifts from place to place, but it is true that chart-topping monikers are less problematic than they were a generation or two back.
A good list overall, but some names must be American – here in Britain I have never met or even heard of a Cassandra, Sabrina, Veronica, Leah, Audrey, Brooke or Genevieve!
And despite hearing of Emily’s popularity, in my entire life I have only met 4 other people with that name!
Funny, Allison, I have Aunts called Linda and Nancy – doesn’t everyone? So yes, I suspect in another twenty years, people will be embracing Boomer favorites again. Or, you know, calling their kids Xenon and Praxis. Anything is possible.
And Lola, I hated my given name, too. (It was Amy. Okay, it still is, but now I’m known by my middle name, unless I’m doing my banking.) I completely understand the resulting name obsession. And I object to Amy’s fresh-faced simplicity, so I understand your hitch about Laura. (Especially since I’m guessing we both grew up with Little House.)
My mother chose Amy because she had a long, exotic foreign name and wanted her kids to have simple, easy-to-say names. Which we all rather dislike. You really can’t win. 🙂
I actually almost put Amy on the list of sensible names, BTW. A couple of these – Melissa, Kimberly, Jenna, Amanda – couldn’t have been considered sensible in the 1980s, when they were dreadfully overexposed. But today, I’m willing to admit that time has marched on and many choices once done-to-death now sound familiar without being epidemic on playgrounds. I’d include Amy in that lot … and yes, Laura. Though like Amy, it doesn’t have much in the way of obvious nickname choices and that’s a drawback.
Disappellatia is a dreadful thing, isn’t it? There are cures, but sadly, not much in the way of prevention.
As a Laura who’s long hated her own name, I’m rather surprised to see it on this list. Classic it may be, but also frilly, fluffy and far too vowelly for me. In fact, my intense dislike of my own name is what made me into the name enthusiast I am today. I always wanted something more polished and urban than Laura. That pigtailed, fresh image has always bothered me. (Conversely, Lola doesn’t sound sexy to me, it’s a homey, comfortable & unfussy name). And whatever you do, don’t call me anything even remotely like Lori!
And as an answer to Allison, those “mom” names (Barbara, Janet & Linda [who are all contemporaries of mine]) will come back when WE are the grandparents. I keep a list of names I would have loved to use but got shot down for one reason or another for my kids (the boys in particular, they’re a bit older than 4!) so maybe I’ll get lucky and have awesomely named grandkids sometime soon!
Bless you. The “y” Allysons are the bane of my existence. Really pretty names, you can’t lose with any of them. I like Laurel better than Lauren, though. I’ve always thought Melissa was lovely, but I just couldn’t do it… seems like at least half the women my age are named Melissa or Jennifer.
Now that the “grandmother” names have come back (Sophia et al), I wonder when our mom’s names will start to sound fresh: can you imagine a baby named Nancy, Barbara, Janet, or Linda?!