What, precisely, is this all about?
Every year, when the US Social Security Administration updates their popularity data, there are risers and fallers. Some names debut in the US Top 1000 for the very first time. Others return after an absence – sometimes decades and decades long!
Those new and returning names attract a lot of attention.
After all, names that appear in the US Top 1000 garner the lion’s share of attention. The list is widely circulated. People like me cover it 24/7/365. If you’re expecting a baby, it’s everywhere – even if that’s not immediately obvious to a first-time namer.
The revised list typically appears in May each year, and so by July? It’s time to have some fun with it.
I pick my favorites from the new and returning names, and you? You vote your way through them until we’ve settled on The Best of The New Names for that year.
Let’s take a quick peek at past champs – and how they’ve fared since their victories.
NEW NAMES SHOWDOWN: WINNING GIRL NAMES
A surname name with Shakespearean ties, Arden debuted for girls way back in the late 1920s. But it had been gone for decades and felt fresh, an Ariel-Lauren mash-up with plenty of on-trend appeal. Despite those positives, Arden left the US Top 1000 after 2019. Still, that could make this an opportunity for parents after the slightly literary, undeniably stylish, and nicely unexpected.
A favorite among name fans for ages, Elodie finally cracked the US Top 1000 in calendar year 2019. (The data for which is released in 2020, hence the year Elodie won the New Names Showdown.) A French form of the medieval Alodia, Elodie has climbed steadily, reaching #690 in 2022. It’s a sister for Josephine, an alternative to Eliza or Melody.
It seems like a logical successor to Emma and Ella. But Etta’s trajectory is similar to Arden’s path. Gone from the rankings for decades, returning in the 2010s, but not quite catching on. In this case, however, Etta had been common in the US through much of the first half of the twentieth century. It’s short for longer names like Henrietta, most of which are currently out of favor. Etta James – born Jamesetta Hawkins – links it to a musical legend.
The most recent addition to this list is straight out of Camelot. It rose to #913 on the 2022 list. Could Guinevere’s success herald a return to dramatic, extravagant names and an end to the more minimalist style we’ve loved for ages? It’s too soon to say, but it’s worth noting that this Welsh name has succeeded in the US before. It’s the predecessor of 1970s mega-hit Jennifer.
Sometimes a name debuts on the popularity list, retreats … and then surges forward again. That’s the story with Marlowe. After years on the fringes, a logical Harlow successor, Marlowe finally cracked the list, only to fall off again. But as of 2022, Marlowe was back and climbing, currently at #781. If Harlow and Monroe, Willow and Meadow, Cleo and Margot can succeed, Marlowe surely has a place on the charts.
Like Elodie, the French Sylvie was a name fan darling forever. It reached #436 in 2022, making this one of the most successful of New Names Showdown winners. It sounds like silver, but actually comes from an old Latin name meaning forest or woods. It’s cousin to Sylvia (of course), Sylvester, and Silas (via Silvanus), among others.
At #846, Zora has gained modestly in use since returning to the rankings. It followed favorites like Nora, Cora, and Aurora into wider use. But Zora also benefits from two other factors: first, the Z that propelled names like Zoe/Zoey up the charts; and second, the literary ties to Harlem Renaissance luminary Zora Neale Hurston.
NEW NAMES SHOWDOWN: WINNING BOY NAMES
Around the same time Archie Mountbatten-Windsor (now Prince Archie of Sussex) was born, we learned that Archie had returned to the US Top 1000. A casual-cool name with vintage style, Archie followed picks like Charlie (not Charles) and Jack (not John) up the US charts. They’re wildly popular in the UK, too. As of 2022, Archie stood at #377, a successful New Names Showdown champ indeed!
Last year’s champ points to our love of longer, more dramatic, old school names. Boosted by Hollywood A-lister Benedict Cumberbatch and a potential alternative to Top Ten Benjamin, this name has gone from American history villain to possible little gentleman name.
We love our rugged surname names, and Callahan feels like a prizefighter. With several meanings and origins, this Irish import caught on quickly, rising to #518 as of 2022. Built-in nickname Cal is a bonus.
A Scandi import that sounds like a Viking warrior, Leif also benefits from similarity to gentle nature name Leaf. (Though Leaf has never been used in significant numbers in the US.) Like Marlowe, Leif teetered on the edge for a few years. But as of 2022, the name ranked #841, and might rise higher still.
A gentle nature name, Shepherd is a preppy kind of buttoned-up choice. But it’s a religious name, too, from the image of Christ as shepherd, tending to his faithful flock. Many surname names have a history of past use, but Shepherd actually debuting in the US rankings entirely in 2016, setting it up to win the New Names Showdown for 2017.
Boys’ names ending in S are doing well. So are names with a connection the natural world and virtue choices. That makes Wells a slam dunk, right? Pretty much! Following the name’s debut in the 2017 data, the boy’s name Wells has risen to #466, an all-time high.
The very first winner of the boys’ New Names Showdown, Wilder has marched straight up the popularity charts, reaching #373 as of 2022. It’s a very twenty-first century name, a preppy hellraiser. Wilder is a legitimate surname name, a pick for outdoorsy parents, a choice for someone seeking a heavy metal vibe. Wilder is at-home riding a Harley in hiking boots to reach his favorite trailhead, on the weekend when he’s not working at a bank.