Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.
We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!
I really like the name Maren for my daughter (due at the end of March 2018). It has been on our short list of about 5 names for quite a while. The other 4 choices are more traditional … Anna, Lillian, Maggie, Fiona.
I like Maren because it is somewhat unique. But how can I predict whether or not it will become trendy in the next couple of years? If Maren became the new Ava or Ella and there were 5 of them in my child’s class, I would be heartbroken! Should my fear of future trendiness lead me to go with one of my more traditional choices?
Perhaps there is no way to predict if a name will trend, but if there is some magic to it, please share!
Please read on for my response, and share your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Abby –
First, congratulations on your daughter!
The question you’ve raised comes up All. The. Time. There’s a constant search for sweet spot names. They stand out and fit in. They don’t feel invented, but they’re not traditional go-to choices, either.
And yet there’s an equal concern. When you do find something that feels fresh and novel, but not too out-there, will it be the next chart topper?
When I last wrote about Maren, I called it “fresher than Karen, less expected than Madison.” There are so many reasons to love this tailored name with ties to the sea. I do think it will continue to gain in popularity. But is it too popular for you too use?
First, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture, before we focus on Maren specifically.
Is this Baby Name the Next Big Thing: Data First
We’re lucky to have mountains of data at our fingertips. And yet, it can be tough to understand what the numbers tell us. It’s even harder to square the numbers with our personal experience.
Most names outside of the US Top 1000 slowly grow in use over many years. Let’s look at the names that most recently debuted in – or returned to – the US rankings.
They fall into a few general categories:
- They’ve teetered on the edge of the US Top 1000 for years. This is true of names like Jana. It was out for a while, but it never fell far. Antonia, too, is holding steady at the very edge of the Top 1000.
- They’re vintage names, finally ready for revival. Ramona, Maxine, and Mavis are all names that everyone recognizes, but few families were using for their children. But that has slowly changed, and over a decade or so, the names slowly gained in use until they were back in the Top 1000 most popular names.
- They’re brand new names, debuting for the very first time. While it doesn’t mean that the name is a new invention, it does mean that American parents have never used it in significant numbers. Last year, that included names like Sylvie and Calliope.
That last category sometimes produces the biggest surprises.
Why? Well, once a name debuts in the US Top 1000, it’s likely to get more attention. From people like me, who write about names, of course. But countless parents turn to the Top 1000 for inspiration, too – after all, the list is widely available, from the US Social Security site and dozens of others. This applies to all of the Top 1000 names, of course, but the new debuts often seem most likely to attract attention. Maybe that’s because parents gravitate towards the top half of the list, looking for that elusive name no one’s ever heard, but everyone is sure to love.
Is this Baby Name the Next Big Thing: How Many Ellas?
While we’re looking at data, let’s talk about precisely how often a Top Ten name repeats.
In 1948, nearly 33% of all boys received a Top Ten name. For girls, it was lower – but still around 25%. Today, those numbers have plummeted. Around 7.5% of boys receive a Top Ten name, and the same percentage is true for girls.
The outcome? While names do repeat, it’s tougher than ever to predict. When Jennifer peaked in the early 1970s, more than four out of every 100 girls was named Jennifer in a given year. Today, the #1 name is Emma is given to just slightly over one out of every 100 girls.
In other words, it’s possible that a girl born in 2018 will share the name Ella or Ava with other girls in her class. But it’s statistically unlikely. And five? That would be an anomaly. Names just don’t repeat often enough for that to happen anymore.
Now, what does happen is that children have very similar names. My daughter’s class includes girls named Layla, Lila, and Lorelei. That’s a lot of -la sound. But none of those names repeats. A better question might be: will my child’s name share sounds with lots of other names?
Is this Baby Name the Next Big Thing: Meteoric Rise
Names do not go from #971 to #3 in the space of a year.
Even the fastest rising names take years to catch on.
Everly, for example, debuted at #903 in 2012. By 2016, the name climbed to #107. That’s meteoric, by name standards! But it’s still well outside of the Top 100, and far from overused.
Madison debuted in 1985 at #627, but didn’t reached the Top 100 until 1993.
Nevaeh rocketed into the rankings at #266 in 2001, but even then, didn’t reach the Top 100 until 2005.
These are the white-hottest of the names, propelled by a mix of on-trend sound and popular culture.
Most names take far longer to arrive. A few other examples:
- Destiny debuted in the US rankings in 1975 at #837. Reached the Top 100 in 1994.
- Chloe debuted in the US rankings in 1982 at #853. Reached the Top 100 in 1998.
- Mia debuted in the US rankings in 1964 at #568. Reached the Top 100 in 2000.
- Avery debuted in the US rankings in 1989 at #976. Reached the Top 100 in 2003.
- Harper debuted in the US rankings in 2004 at #887. Reached the Top 100 in 2011.
- Aria debuted in the US rankings in 2000 at #957. Reached the US Top 100 in 2012.
- Willow debuted in the US rankings in 1998 at #854. Reached the Top 100 in 2016.
In other words, it’s likely that it will take any name that just entered the US Top 1000 around a dozen years to reach the Top 100.
Is this Baby Name the Next Big Thing: 8.11 Years
So let’s say a name is destined for the Top Ten. While I haven’t looked at this question specifically, it’s worth noting that it takes an average of 8.11 years from the time a name enters the US Top 100 until the time it peaks at #1.
While a very small number of names climb faster, the norm is somewhere around a dozen years from rediscovery to widespread popularity.
Is this Baby Name the Next Big Thing: Patterns
Fresh and novel names do seem to be most subject to quick rises.
The highest debuts and fastest rises are fueled by pop culture. Without a celebrity – or celebrity baby, fictional character, or other attention-grabbing event, few names rise as quickly as Willow (Smith), Harper (Lee), or Mia (Farrow). And, even then, it typically takes time – those dozen or more years – for a name to graduate from ripped-from-the-headlines to mainstream-favorite status.
Is this Baby Name the Next Big Thing: Back to Maren
So … let’s take this back to Maren.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have all of this information on data and patterns.
Interestingly, Maren feels like a fresh, novel name – but it’s actually teetered on the edge of the Top 1000 for a while now.
Maren was given to just under 300 girls in 2016. If it doubles when we see the 2017 data – which will come out in May 2018 – that means Maren will rank somewhere around the high 600s, about as common as Sutton or Esme.
Not a lot of other names sound like Maren. Other spellings are possible, but unlike the eight spellings of Madelyn in the current Top 1000, there’s really one Maren right now.
If it follows the fast-rising pattern of a name like, say, Harper, that means it will be around 2022 before it’s really, wildly common.
And even then, really, wildly common doesn’t mean that there will be five in her class.
Do I think Maren will continue to grow in popularity? Yes. It’s a great name! But do I think it will ever be so common that you’ll regret it? No. I think the worst case scenario is that your Maren will someday babysit a little Maren. Or she’ll become a pediatrician or a soccer coach or a photographer, and lots of her little patients/athletes/subjects will share her name.
But for now? Odds are that you are safely ahead of the curve. If Maren is your favorite name, then by all means, use it!
Readers, what do you think about Maren’s future popularity? And how far would you go to avoid the Next Big Thing?