But mostly, what makes a name hot is some combination of factors that catches fire in the moment.
Our hottest baby names for the first half of 2013 are:
Azariah -- There are 23 figures named Azariah – pronounced a-za-RYE-a or a-za-REE-a – in the Bible and Jewish history, including a king, the grandfather of Ezra, and a guardian angel. While traditionally male, the name has ranked in the past few years at the bottom of the Top 1000 for girls only, with both the Azariah and Azaria spellings. Interest in the ancient Hebrew name is up 120 percent on Nameberry.
Bear – Compared with Wolf, say, or Robin, Bear may seem an unlikely animal name to find popularity for babies, but views of Bear are up nearly 100 percent on Nameberry this year versus last. Influences include the Discover Channel's Bear Grylls, football coach Bear Bryant, and celebrity babies Bear Blu, son of Alicia Silverstone, and Buddy Bear, son of Jamie Oliver.
Declan – The hottest boys' name on our site, views of Declan are up nearly 600 percent over last year. A saint's name that may mean "man of prayer," Declan is popular in Ireland and Number 143 in the US, amazing for a name that debuted on the Top 1000 only in 1998. It gained visibility as the real first name of Elvis Costello and more recently as the name of one of the lead characters on television's Revenge.
Ellison – Is Ellison the new Allison? Views of the surname-name, a patronymic that means son of Ellis, are up over 100 percent on Nameberry the first half of this year versus last. Interest in the name is highest for girls, with Ellie the stylish, accessible short form, while for boys Ellison might honor Oracle founder Larry Ellison, a notable collector of Asian art.
Emrys – Another name for the wizard Merlin, Emrys – pronounced em-riss – is a Welsh boys' name attracting nearly 120 percent more interest this year over last. But while traditionally male, some American parents may judge the sound of the name appropriate for girls, a fresh entry to the popular Emma and Emily family.
Francine – Why is interest in the name Francine up nearly 650 percent this year over last? Is it the relationship to Francis, the singular name chosen by the new pope? Or is the world just ready for the return of this Frenchified name, off the grid since 1987? Or maybe everyone just loves Francine, gal pal of cartoon's Arthur, another up-and-coming former old person name.
Huck – With the name Finn a bona fide hit, can Huckleberry be far behind? Well, yes – in its full form, Huckleberry is slightly ridiculous, but Huck is cute, irreverent, a modern day Hank or Chuck. Views of Huck are up 124 percent.
Irie – Irie is the Jamaican term for perfect peace and contentment, a sentiment that was turned into a female name in Zadie Smith's novel White Teeth. Irie, which bears a resemblance to both Iris and Irene, is up nearly 400 percent in the first half of 2013.
Larkin – This Irish surname name, which means rough or fierce, ranked in the Top 1000 for boys from 1880 until 1909, then fell off the official scope more than a century ago. . But now interest in the name Larkin, which has a surname feel and relates to birds, is up 117 percent. In 2012 it was given to 55 girls and 20 boys, proving its unisex appeal.
Lincoln – Barack Obama may have won reelection in 2012, but Lincoln was arguably the president of the year, the subject of an Oscar-winning film and renewed appreciation. Baby namers have leapt on the Lincoln bandwagon, with views up over 100 percent for the first half of 2013, some undoubtedly inspired by actress Kristen Bell's choice of Lincoln for her baby daughter.
Margo, Margot, and Margaux – If there's a single baby name on this list that we'd bet would continue to warm toward wider popularity as opposed to blazing brightly only to flame out, it's Margo in all her variations. We personally have met a handful of stylish babies named Margo and see it as a quirky classic that feels new without being flashy. After peaking in the 1940s, Margo and sisters dropped from sight in 1989. Views of all forms of the name are up over 100 percent for 2013 over 2012, partially inspired by the feisty character in Despicable Me.
Milan – Italian city name Milan, well used as a first name throughout Europe for boys though given more often to girls in the US, is up nearly 150 percent for the first half of this year. That's partly thanks to its choice for her son by singer Shakira and partly because of its relationship to other stylish Mil names: Mila, Milena, Milo, and Miles, for instance.
Nara – Nara is a Japanese place name as well as the surname of well-known artist Yoshitomo Nara. Nara is also a Celtic name that means happy and is attracting 168 percent more views for the first half of the year thanks to its same-but-different feel: It's like popular names Sara and Mara, but still feels new.
Oakley – This fresh entry to the boys' Top 1000 after an absence of nearly a hundred years can also work for girls. A surname-name that means oak wood or clearing, Oakley can be shortened to the sturdy boyish nickname Oak but also carries the feminine –ley suffix and relates to heroine Annie Oakley. This new nature name winner attracted 150 percent more views in 2013.
Sacha – The Sacha spelling of this diminutive of Alexander is directly connected to Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen, whose name has attracted 400 percent more views in the first half of this year over last. The Sacha spelling definitely makes the name more masculine, with an equal number of girl and boy babies – 16 each – named Sacha in the US in 2012. By contrast the Sasha spelling used by the First Daughter was given to 687 girls versus only 26 boys.
Need more name advice? Check out our Baby Name Finder for some suggestions!