We’re not the first to say that the Social Security Administration’s Top 1000 name list can lead a parent astray. While it is a fabulous tool, and worth every nickel of my tax dollar, like any data set, it requires some interpretation. About a week after it first came out, we posted our Top Ten list, based on the idea that adding up variant spellings changes the rankings considerably.
If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll now see a new widget on the right-hand side titled “Box.” There’s a handy little tool called box.net that allows users to upload and share files. If you’re so inclined, you can now download our Revised Top 100 and a side-by-side comparison of the official SSA list versus our revised version.
Or, if you’re not so data-obsessed, just read on for a few of our observations.
While the biggest reveal for us is that Emily is not necessarily the top name in the nation, a few other interesting points emerged:
- It’s old news to many, but a name with variant spellings is always more popular than it first appears. The flipside is that names with fewer opportunities for creative respellings are actually less common. Hailey and Kaitlyn both make our revised Top Ten; Hannah dropped to #13.
- We could compress even farther. Our initial impulse was to group Kayla and Kaylee, Lily and Lillianna, Alexa and Alexandra. But some of your comments made us think the better, and so we’ve tried to use a conservative approach to clustering. Still, even our Revised Top 100 doesn’t show a complete picture of how often certain same elements are repeated. Lillian drops, but Lilianna skyrockets; if we opted for the most condensed grouping possible, it would probably be a Top Ten name.
- Certain spellings lead to more than one pronunciation, complicating the clusters. Is Myah pronounced like Maya? Or is she Mia? The first gains while the second falls in the Revised Top 100, but exactly how much is impossible to say without interviewing every single mother of the ambiguously spelled.
Admitting our flaws, we nonetheless declare these names the Biggest Gainers in the ApMtn Revised 100:
- Kaelyn rises a staggering 242 spots!
- Carly rises by 171.
- Callie rises by 162.
- Elena rises by 119.
- Camryn rises by 117.
- Jayden rises by 103.
Of course, that brings most of these names into the Top 100. There are still many more Kaitlyns (over 15,000) than Kaelyns (just about 4,000). But Kaelyn isn’t the obscure name that her #337 official rank implies. By our calculations, she’s a comfortable #95.
Other names with double-digit gains include Christina (up 77 spots), Keira (77), Juliana (73), Danielle (72), Jada (59), Liliana (58), Katie (47), Jordan (45), Camila (45), Peyton (44), Layla (41), Valeria (41), Madeline (39), Arianna (38), Adriana (37), Jacqueline (35), Kaitlyn (34), Aaliyah (30), Maya (28), Mackenzie (28), Kylie (25), Gabrielle (22), Rebecca (22), Riley (21), Zoe (16), Hailey (15), Makayla (14), Aubrey (13), Katherine (12), Brianna (11) and Jasmine (11).
The drops are not nearly as dramatic, but the following names posted double-digit plummets: Julia (fell by 24 places), Audrey (23), Kimberly (22), Alexandra (21), Brooke (21), Taylor (21), Andrea (21), Alexa (19), Morgan (19), Jessica (19), Jennifer (18), Nevaeh (17), Victoria (17), Kayla (16), Lauren (15), Faith (15), Lillian (14), Angelina (14), Nicole (13), Samantha (12), Sydney (12), Destiny (12), Avery (12), Alexis (11), Mia (11) and Claire (10).
For parents aiming to avoid referring to themselves as Emma J.’s mom or Hayley-with-the-two-y’s dad through the school years, a few lessons emerge:
- Don’t just check the name as you expect to see it spelled – even if you think there’s obviously a proper spelling. We know the mom of a school-aged Madeleine. Since their surname is French, she couldn’t contemplate any other way to spell her daughter’s name. But as it happens, Madeline and Madelyn were far more popular spellings at the time – and Madalyn and Madilyn have become increasingly popular, too.
- Planning on using a nickname? Consider other given names that might share it. In Madeleine’s case, she shares her nickname Maddie with Madison (and Madisyn, Madasyn, etc.) So not only are there a lot of variant spellings for the name itself, the nickname feels extremely common. The same holds true for Lily, Lexi, Addie, Katie and a few others.
- Accept that even if you use the dominant spelling of a name with variants, you’ll have to reinforce that expectation over and over – and over – again. Victoria and Samantha can rest easy. But choose something like Elena – one of our personal favorites, and the most popular spelling – and you may well find yourself opening birthday cards and party invitations to Alaina, Elaina and Alayna. People have expectations about how names are spelled, based on their own backgrounds, experiences and preferences, and often don’t stop to think about whether they’re right or wrong.
- If you choose an unusual spelling or a name of recent coinage, accept that it might be a headache. Name obsessed as we are, we have been known to mangle a name, especially one that we rarely we see written. An old friend’s wife has the unusual moniker Kylene. At least we think that’s the proper spelling. Or is it Kyleen? She once confessed that even her aunts and cousins get it wrong, and, nice person that she is, she doesn’t correct anyone. We recently discovered that we’ve been misspelling our neighbor’s daughter’s name wrong. She’s Mylah, not Myla. Ooops.
- Recognize that the trickiest situations are those when two spellings are quite close to each other. Peyton and Payton are shared by about 5,000 girls; nearly half are Peyton-with-an-a and half Peyton-with-an-e. Similarly, Arianna and Ariana differ by only an extra n. Even a straightforward name sometimes contains unexpected hassles.
- Know that the original spelling is not always the most popular. Once upon a time, we loved Caitlin and Michaela. Today, they’ve been far eclipsed by Kaitlyn and Makayla. It doesn’t matter that the original versions are very different; name your daughter Michaela, and realize that insisting “We spelled it the right way” won’t help most people write your child’s name properly.
- Names that are gaining in popularity are also often gaining variant spellings, making for a double whammy. Jessica’s days at the top of the charts are dropping, and so parents choosing this name are less likely to make it “different” by spelling it Jessika, Jessykah or Jezikah. But Kaelyn rises so much precisely because most of the individual variants are gaining, too.
To be perfectly honest, all of this reinforces our long-held opinion that while it’s not a big deal to be “Sofia-with-an-f” or “Juliana-with-one-n,” names with more than two possible spellings are almost always more trouble than they’re worth. We make a few exceptions – we’re quite fond of Katharine Hepburn’s spelling, for example, and despite the possible headaches associated with Elena, it remains a favorite.
The Revised Top 100 isn’t any more perfect than the original list, but it’s a useful exercise – and parents contemplating choosing a name like Callie or Maya would do well to check both.