September 27, 2013

Baby names that would sound trendy but not lame

I've been digging through baby name data again on the Social Security's interactive site, and one thing that causes such distraction when you're coding the data is how irritating so many new names sound. Check out the top 1000 names for 2012, for instance.

"Pretentious" is the first word that comes to mind -- Dalton, Princeton, Colton, Jayden, Hunter, Archer, Aubrianna, Mackenzie, Harper, Brooklynn, Aurora, Arabella, ad nauseam.

What makes names trendy is primarily their sound-shape ("phonotactics"). Today's trendy names have lots of vowels compared to consonants, male names all end in unstressed -n or -r, and other sound-based regulations. Within this primary constraint, parents are more free to choose a name from the Old Testament, a cosmopolitan city, a Celtic surname, an elite school they hope their kid will get into, and so on.

Sadly, even the non-pretentious names that seem to be taken from pop culture, allude to the culture of the Millennial era -- Ryker, Dawson, Cullen, etc. It would be nice to find some more down-to-earth references that are more wholesome and All-American, while still fitting into the primary constraints on sound shapes.

I'm pretty sure your daughter would be the only Lauper or Brinkley at school, and your son the only Delorean or Halen. (And if you didn't get that son you were hoping for, you can always name her Haylynn too.) Girls' names are always more innovative, for better or worse (usually worse). So why not...

Brianarama ("ah"), or
Breannarama (with the stressed vowels as in "Anne")

If you're going to scar your kid by picking their name from pop culture, it may as well be something cool.


  1. Some interesting graphs on baby names over time I found via Gelman. The site also has graphs on the most "trendy" as well as "poisoned" times.

  2. How about D'Brickashaw?

  3. Why are such trends "irritating"? Name change has been occurring for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Our languages are volatile, always shifting. Check out the lectures/books of John McWhorter for a good primer on linguistic shifts.

  4. Read before you spazz out. What's irritating is not "change" but the form it's taking -- Colton, Princeton, Dalton, Aubrianna, Aurora, Sophiabella, etc.

    Pretentious, saccharine, overly adorable, bombastic, and emo.

  5. breannarama really made me laugh out loud


  6. Madysinn (Madison) always makes me wince. Geez, there's going to be a 60yr old woman with this name one day. The poor woman.

  7. It's gonna be a trip when there are 60 year-olds named Tracy, Kimberly, and Jenny.

    One good thing about being born and coming of age during a cool period is that some things will stick with you for life, like your name and your voice. A 40 year-old Kimberly still has her cute and informal name, knows how to laugh, and probably still has some nice inflection in her voice, and is more likely to have a breathy rather than a creaky-croaky voice.

    Madison was born sounding distant and formal, and will appear that way even when she should be living it up as a youngster. She can't or won't smile and laugh, has a monotone voice, and frequently slips into creaky-croaky voice.

  8. Even more obnoxious than Madison is Addison. It's like, "Gee, Madison is already pretty popular... I know, we'll just lop off the first letter, and it'll be new!"

    There's a real passive-aggressive arms race thing going on with that -- mutating a single sound basically kills off the original name. "Oh that's the pre-mutation version -- well, that'll sound so old when there's that new version floating around now."

    It's like that person who bids $1 more than someone else on the Price is Right.

  9. Jayden and Brooklynn are prolish rather than pretentious. I can't imagine anyone from the upper middle class or above (perhaps except in the entertainment business) giving their children those names. Dalton, Colton, Archer and Hunter at least sound like they could be family names, though obviously for most people who choose them they are not.

  10. Aurora has considerable provenance, dating back to at least the Renaissance. It also shortens nicely to "Rory."

    If it has any hint of pretentiousness about it that would stem from the 19th century, when the name was given to two princesses; one real, one fictional.

    I don't think it has any more place on this list than would April or Charity.

    Other than that, I'm with you.


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