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A Trip Through Elementary-School Names

Friday, April 13th, 2012

I’m currently visiting my aunt, uncle and three young cousins. Of course, the most interesting thing to me in their house is the elementary-school phone directory for grades K through 5. It represents actual proof of baby-naming trends — not just expert testimony about new name fads.

Below, some of the more interesting findings from my read:

Harry and Roxane (one n) in the same kindergarten class, Joanne in the first grade and Judith (hi Mom!) in the fifth grade. Proof that ’40s and ’50s names are not dead.

Jocopo and Kalena. Sorry, no idea about pronunciation or ethnicity.

The androgynous Tinley, Sami, Wells, Tyto, Cary, Ramsey, Reece, Kazio, Savi, Finian (2x), Sormeh, Kildee, Ailish, Joavan and Behrad.

Only two -aden/-ayson names: Aidan and Grayson.

Zaida and Ziza.

Unique spellings Pearse, Deniz, Rebekka, Clio (a little too close to an anatomical word for my tastes…), Caleigh, Calli and Lukas.

Indianola and Nola in the same first-grade class and Maya and Maia in the same second-grade class.

Victoria nicknamed Wren, Penelope nicknamed Nellie, Erik nicknamed Doc, Addison nicknamed Satchel, Isabella nicknamed Zara, Julia nicknamed Julia Belle, Thomas nicknamed Chandler and William nicknamed Frere.

…along with lots more fun. What about you? What’s interesting in your kid’s group?

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Name of the Day: Michaela

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Or Makayla… or Mikaela… or however you want to spell it. I met a girl with the latter spelling yesterday, and I just thought what an interesting name it is.

It’s most basic form is Michaela — a feminized version of Michael. On the Parents.com page for Michaela, our readers have suggested two alternative variations of the name: Machaela and Mikayela. No comment. Michaela is ranked at 392 in the US, down from a high of 100 in 1997. That’s the same year Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman — starring Michaela Quinn — starting airing in the U.S. It’s been in the top 1,000 with only a few breaks since ’67. Other similar versions in the top 1,000 are Mikaela (431) and Micaela (956).

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Similar but totally different name Makayla (or MaKayla; the rankings don’t differentiate) is ranked at — wait for it, name nerds — number 43! And it’s only been on the charts since ’89, meaning it’s basically risen meteorically ever year since then, with the biggest jumps in the early ’90s. I say it’s a totally different name because I really don’t know if it’s the natural evolution of Michaela, or if it’s simply a parent-created combination of trendy suffix “Kayla” along with a prefix that sounds like the trendy “Mck” (Mckenzie; Mckenna). Similar names to Makayla ranked in the top 1,000 include Mikayla (197) and Mckayla (614). Check out the Parents.com page for Makayla, and you’ll find a whole host of other user-generated spellings.

So, friendly readers, I’m asking for some help. How do you spell M…la? (I think we can all agree on those three letters). Are Michaela and Makayla the same name? And what the heck happened in the early ’90s to catapult Makayla up the rankings?

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Bruce Willis, Master Namer

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

In naming his new baby daughter Mabel, Bruce Willis adds to a what was a trifecta of perfectly kooky baby names. (Demi Moore deserves some of the credit, too, since she was a partner in naming the first three girls.) Willis gets extra credit for coming up with them before it was common practice for celebs to pick out-there names. Let’s take a look at his girls, from oldest to youngest.

Rumer Glenn Rumer, Moore and Willis’ oldest daughter, was born in 1988. She was named for the British author Rumer Godden. This is one of the first examples I’ve seen of a noun (other than a flower or attribute) used for a first name. (Ignoring the fact that rumor is spelled with an o.) It’s a risky name, since Rumer can have somewhat negative connotations, but I think it works. The rhythm and sound of the name is really nice, and Glenn adds some heft to what is a somewhat floaty-sounding first name.

Scout LaRue The middle daughter was born in 1991. I’m usually not a fan of capitalization within a name, but I don’t mind it here — there’s something about the sassy vibe of the entire name that makes it work.

Tallulah Belle Willis and Moore’s final daughter, born in 1994, has a perfectly pretty name. The sing-songy quality is really nice, and has an almost playful feel to it. Sometimes too much of one letter in a name (in this case, l) can sound funny, but it works in this case.

Mabel Ray On April 1st, Emma Heming gave birth to Willis’ fourth daughter. In naming her Mabel, he again bucked the celebrity trends — this time, by going with something relatively normal. It’s certainly old-fashioned and uncommon (it’s never been in the top 1,000 names), but — unlike his first three works — was actually considered a name before he used it. I’ve loved this name for a long time, and am glad to see it getting some high-profile usage.

What do you think? Are Willis’ names cool, or just weird?

Image: DFree / Shutterstock.com

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Mad Men Names

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Mad Men, one of TV’s most popular shows, came back last weekend after a long hiatus. For me, of course, this begs the question: How popular are Mad Men names? It’s a period drama set in the 1960s, so the names are pretty distinct. Let’s take a look at some of the main character’s names:

Don Don Draper’s name was most popular in the early’30s — which makes sense, since that’s likely the time around when he was born. It’s been falling ever since, and left the top 1,000 names in 2001. Perhaps an updated version could be Donovan: That name was ranked 176 in 2003, and today is just barely out of the top 200.

Betty Don’s former wife has another 1930s-esque name. It was ranked second for a number of years, and fell off the charts in 1996. Interestingly, the full name Elizabeth was less popular during Betty’s heyday, but has been in or near the top 10 since 1980.

Pete If the stats mean anything, Pete’s full name is likely Peter. Though it’s not as popular as it was in the mid-1900s, Peter is one of the few Mad Men names that’s still relevant today. In the last name survey, it ranked number 192.

Peggy This pet form of Margaret was most popular in 1937 (ranked number 31) and fell off the charts all the way back in 1989. Full form Margaret is also much less popular than it once was, but remains firmly in the top 200.

Roger Roger currently ranks number 511, down from a peak of 22 in 1945. This shows pretty clearly that parents aren’t too interested in the name — not even a double dose of endorsement, from both Mad Men and tennis star Roger Federer, is helping the name climb back up the charts.

Joan Different name, same story. Joan fell off the charts in 1993, and peaked at number five in 1931 and ’32. While J names are popular today, Joan is not a part of the trend.

In conclusion… Even a show as popular as Mad Men isn’t enough to bring back names that are basically dead. While old-fashioned names are very popular right now, Mad Men is still to recent to be considered fashionable — the names strike images of older aunts and uncles, not great-grandparents. Perhaps in 25 more years we’ll be seeing little Bettys and Dons, but for now, they just don’t make the cut.

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Name of the Day: Barak

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

That’s Barak, not Barack. Like Derek, but with a b.

I encountered this name when my best friend got on Match.com. She set up a date with a boy named Barak, and we sat together trying to figure out how she could get around having to pronounce his name when they met. Three years later they’re gorgeous newlyweds, and we all know that rule: Derek, but with a b.

Here’s what Barak had to say about his unique name:

“I have a bunch of older siblings, and all of them have more common names — Eric, Steve, Tim, John, Sarah. My parents just ran out of names they really liked, so they had to dig a little deeper.

“It’s a Hebrew name. I like that it’s a real name, that people have had before. Even though it’s unique, it’s not made up.

“Growing up people never knew how to say my name. Then when Barack Obama became president they’d say, ‘oh, Barack like the president,’ and they’d pronounce and spell it wrong.

“For better or worse, it’s always a conversation starter. The first minute is always about my name. On the downside, if I walk into a room and quickly say my name to three people, they all want to talk about it. When I was younger if I went to a party and knew I’d never see the people again, I’d just tell them my name was Derek — it was easier than spending ten minutes talking about my name.

“When I was younger I thought it was more trouble than it was worth, but now that I’m older I like it. I prefer a name that’s a little more unique.”

What do you think? Do you plan to give your child a unique name? Do you have a unique name? How do you feel about it?

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