Sunday SummaryThere’s always talk about names that set our kids up for success.

I get it.  Heck, I’ve said it.

While they were still in utero, I imagined my children introducing themselves by their names as adults.

Successful adults, of course.  Not adults in a parole hearing.

And yet, I’m always surprised at the actual variety of names in use, and how many successful people have names that don’t necessarily scream “future district attorney” – at least, not to the parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

I had the good fortune to graduate from a small, selective private school.  Every one goes to college, and most of the graduates go to Very Good Colleges.

It’s fair to assume that parents who go to the trouble of enrolling their children in such a school would be thinking about the same kinds of things when their children were born – how will this name sound on a judge, a heart surgeon, a chief of staff, a CEO?

My alumni magazine arrived last weekend, complete with a list of the Class of 2014.  75 kids total.

The most common name?  Katharine, if you count Catherine and Kathryn – four members total.  As in the saint.  And queens, and lots of other distinguished figures.

I was reminded of John Green’s title: An Abundance of Katherines.

Solid names for boys repeat, too: two each of John, Alexander, Michael, and James, as do girl standards Emily and Elizabeth.

There were also trendier names: Madison, Jasmine, Kyle.  A Kira and a Keira. A handful of non-Western, but familiar, choices: Priya, Madhav. And some stand-outs – including Arden and Prometheus.

Mix it all together, and I think you can say this: it’s tough to go wrong with a conservative classic.  But it’s wrong to assume that those are the only names destined for success.  And when we talk about success, how, precisely are we defining it?

Because I’m absolutely sure that there are lots of ways to be happy, productive, successful, good people that don’t require a buttoned-down name.

Elsewhere online:

  • A very important Public Service Announcement via Nancy: the Social Security Administration data we rely on for tracking the popularity of baby names is not, well, very reliable.  Prooffreader has the skinny on all of the various problems, but here’s the upshot: the data is gathered from individuals who register for a Social Security number.  The numbers weren’t introduced until 1935, and it was 1986 before they were required for newborns for tax purposes.  I’ve come across people older than me – 50-something and up – who have discrepancies on various official documents.  (One name on a driver’s license, another on a passport.  Or, more commonly, a baptismal certificate and driver’s license with different names.)  It’s much less of a possibility post-1986.  As Prooffreader points out, a boy named Harold might have registered his name as a 45-year old adult – at which point, he might have registered himself as Harry, if that’s the name he’d used all those years.
  • Speaking of data, this is a clever idea.  But I’m not sure it makes any sense.
  • This, on the other hand, is one of my favorites – Scrabble values of popular names.  Bonus: here’s how to pronounce Zzyzx.
  • The Motherlode asks the question: Whose Last Name? The comments are fascinating.  The way we think about surnames is changing … or maybe it’s that we’re thinking about surnames, and that’s a change.
  • And more on the same topic, this time from Duana.
  • Lots of Fall name lists have been popping up this week!  I love the sound of Harvest from Bree’s round-up.  And look, Channary is on her list!  Channary is a Cambodian moon-inspired name used in The Lunar Chronicles.
  • What do you think of Priscilla?  Alexia Mae has me convinced that the nickname Rilla makes her very wearable.
  • I love the look of Annaë, with that lovely accent tréma – better known as an umlaut.  I think it should be said ahn ah EE, but maybe I’m making this up in my brain?  None of the reliable online pronunciation sites have it listed, and Meilleurs Prenoms lists only Annaé.  It looks like both are an attempt to import Hanae, the Japanese name made famous by designer Hanae Mori.  And nope, I can’t find a consensus on how to pronounce Hanae, either …
  • The title of Anna’s post made me swoon: Odette and Raphaelle!
  • A Wilhelmina, a pair of Ottilies, and an Albertine?  Love that clunky-cool British style.
  • More parents are choosing double noun names.  In this round-up from For Real, there’s Aria Miracle, Ember Dawn, Heavenly Angel, and Journey Treasure.  I tend to think that one noun name is probably better – though the more history of use, the less I notice it.  (Journey Treasure leaps off the page, but I read Ember Dawn twice before I realized it was a double noun choice.)  Are you hearing more of this, too?

One last very important notice – I’ve found a fabulous techie designer, and she’s hard at work unravelling the comments conundrum.  No definite ETA on the comments restoration, but it’s underway.

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

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I’m learning the Japanese language and Hanae is pronounced like Ha-nah-ay. I prefer just Hana for easier pronunciation, despite it having a totally different meaning (Hana means flower, favorite, or nose, depending on the kanji, but as a given name, most people use the former)

    I’m glad the comments are back too. The only way I could read them for a while was in my email, thanks to the email notifications and sometimes my email wouldn’t load so then I wasn’t able to.

  2. Hanaé is pronounced roughly ah-nah-AY. Where did you find Annaë? It seems like a riff on Danaë, which is pronounced (roughly) danna-ee. In French it would indeed be Annaé (as Zoé, Chloé and Danaé) because the diacritic ¨ is not used the same way in French as it is in English. There are a few names where there is more than one common spelling (e.g. Maély and Maëly) but as far as I know it doesn’t work to do that with a vowel that is not followed by a consonant.

  3. Oh joy! comments!

    I have noticed the double noun theme, but mostly in American birth notices; it doesn’t seem quite so prevalent elsewhere. Here I tend to notice the double nouns as two middle names, like Eloise Verity Rose, for example, rather than as a first name and middle.

  4. I have definitely noticed a rise in double noun names and I don’t understand it. Perhaps because my married name is a noun I am more sensitive to it than others???

    I also would pronounce Annaë the way you would. Sounds beautiful, but I would not dare use it for fear that people would pronounce it ah-NAY

    Here’s hoping the comments reappear soon!