What’s in a Name? Answers to 7 Questions.

I recently answered some baby naming questions for Alicia at Bottle Poppin’ Mama.  Check out her questions below and feel free to leave one of your own in the comments.

  • How do you conduct your research in compiling this list of names?
  • What are your most popular Boys & Girls Names predictions for 2016?
  • What do you think of the gender neutral naming phenomenon?
  • How influential are celebrities/pop culture when it comes to naming children?
  • Why do you think we are seeing a resurgence of more classical names?
  • How do parents rate the importance of a unique name/unique spelling?
  • What is a good approach to deciding on a name for a child when family members can’t agree?

To read my answers check out “What’s In A Name?” at Bottle Poppin’ Mama.


These Are a Few of My Favorite Recently Popular Names

Every year we add the latest newly popular names to 100,000+ Baby Names, so people considering them for use can look them up and learn about their meaning and origin. Specifically, we add names which have gained enough popularity to be added to the Social Security Administration’s lists of the 1,000 most popular boys’ and girls’ names.

Many of the newly popular names are new variations of names already on the list, such as Lorelai, a variation of Lorelei. Some are familiar only to people who watch  certain TV shows, like Khaleesi, a name popularized by “Game of  Thrones”. (Needless to say, the problem with names like Lorelai and Khaleesi is that they are often difficult to spell and/or pronounce.)

Some newly popular names are place names, like Maylasia and Ireland. Some are the last names of celebrities and athletes, like Anniston, Lennon and Beckham. And some are combinations of two names that just sound good together, like Lillyana.

Just for fun, I thought you might enjoy a quick look at some of the most appealing newly popular names I’ve come across over the last few years. However, instead of giving you the precise origins and meanings I use in my book, I’ll just mention the reason I think some of these names might be of interest.

Newly Popular Boys’ Names Over the Past Few Years:

Baylor (the name of a great, Texas university)
Beckham (the last name of an English soccer star)
Dash (a name that implies speed and energy)
Nash (the name an old car brand and a game-theory expert featured in “A Beautiful Mind.”)
Ronin (a feudal Japanese samurai)
Rylee (a fun new spelling for Riley)
Tiago and Thiago (a Brazilian basketball star who plays in the NBA)
Xavi (a nickname for Xavier and the name a Spanish soccer star)

Newly Popular Girls’ Names Over the Past Few Years:

Anniston (the last name of the actress who played Rachael  in “Friends”)
Elliot (a boys’ name that’s now being used for  girls)
Everly (the last name of two famous brothers who made music in the ‘50s and ‘60s)
Henley (the location—on the Thames river—of a rowing race between Oxford and Cambridge)
Journee (the French word for day)
Juniper (an evergreen shrub whose aroma can be found in gin)
Lennon (the last name of one of the most famous Beatles)
Lillyana (a combination of two names that sound great together)
Malaysia (a country that has become a name for girls)
Oakley (a sporty and cool brand of sunglasses)
Sutton (an upscale street on Manhattan’s chic east side)

9780684039992 100,000+ Baby Names is available in stores and online.


What Guys Would Name The Baby If the Choice Were Up to Them?

Years ago I read an article about “names from the hood” in Business Week and learned that most of the unique, non-traditional names came from one-parent families. The  take-away message seemed to be that two-parent families are more likely to produce the kind of “sensible” names likely to please friends and family members and help junior get a job, too.

What caused me to think along those lines was an article in The Stir by Michele Zipp that listed 25 names guys would give their babies if the choice were up to them. Eighteen of the names listed seemed fairly likely to please family, friends, and personnel directors. But here are seven names likely to be vetoed by a spouse or partner for a variety of reasons:

Macho Name: Geronimo

Fantasy Names: Obi-Wan, King

Macho Place Name: Alaska

Self-Glorification (for the greater glory of the dad) : Junior

Wimpy Names: Felix, Mortimer

I would expect spouses or partners to veto or at least question some of the names I’ve listed above. So I was surprised that writer Michele Zipp had this comment: “Obi-Wan, Felix, King … great names in my book.” Are there any female readers who’d care to comment? Which of these names would you veto?

P.S. I found a funny quote about Felix and parked it in an article about the name Hugh Grant gave his son.

If You Want Your Child to Be a Movie Star: Names to Consider

When I started reading this article, I thought it would instruct readers how to come up with ridiculous, outrageous, notorious names similar to the names that typically score high in “The Worst Celebrity-Baby Names of the Year” polls. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Instead, the extensive research project written-up by Amanda Dobbins for Vulture.com went in the opposite direction. Apparently Dobbin’s research didn’t indicate that actors with silly names like North West, Blue Ivy and Apple win awards. Movie stars most typically have names with these characteristics:

-Movie-star names are most likely to start with a “J” like Jeff (Bridges), Jude (Law) and James (Franko); Julia (Roberts), Judi (Dench) and Jodie (Foster).

-Male movies starts are more likely to have one-syllable names; female movie stars are more likely to have two syllable names.

-Catherine (Keener and Zeta-Jones) is more common among movie stars than either Katherine (Hepburn) or Kate (Blanchette, Hudson, Beckinsale and Winslett).

-Robert (Benigni, De Niro, Downey, Jr., Duval and Pattinson) is the most versatile name for male movie stars.

-Many female movie stars have unique, two-syllable “M”-names (like Meryl, Mia, Mila, Mira and MoNique)

-Helen (Bonham Carter, Hunt, Mirren) is also a common name for female movie stars.

-Actors with names starting with a “Z” like Zach (Galiafinakis) and Zooey (Deschanel) aren’t likely to win awards, but they do make money.

-Don’t name your child Xander. (There are no award-winners whose names that start with an “X.”)

I enjoyed reading the research report about the names of movie stars, but I’m not sure the statistical distribution of movie star names (e.g., by first letter or the number of syllables) is statistically different than the statistical distribution of names by first letter or number of syllables for the general public. (For example, a quick look at the top-ten Boys’ names by decade indicates that J is, by far, the most common first initial for all boys born in the first two decades of the 21st century and all 10 decades of the 20th century.

But, apart from a strong run by Jennifer and Jessica in the 1980s, the most common first initials for women over the last 50 years seem to be “M” (Mary and Michelle), “S” (Sarah, Samantha, Stephanie and Susan) and “E” (Emily, Emma and Elizabeth).

Here’s a question I’d like to ask Amanda Dobbins:  Why on earth would you want your child to become a movie star? Here’s a good reason to guide your child towards another career: If your child becomes a movie star, that would increase the odds that your grandchildren would wind-up having ridiculous, outrageous celebrity baby names.

January 2014 Rankings: Names That Are Cool Right Now

Names that were cool last year, may not be cool this year. These are the names that cool right now. (Note: names marked with asterisks moved up from the rankings in 2013.)

Cool Names for Boys (as of 1/20/14)
1. Finn* (Sources: The Art of Naming, Nameberry)
2. Nico* (Source: Nameberry)
3. Levi* (Source: Bruce Lansky)
4. Chase (Source: The Art of Naming)
5. Matteo* (Sources: The Art of Naming: Nameberry)
6. Taj (Source: The Art of Naming)
7. Hunter (Source: The Art of Naming)
8. Dante (Source: Bruce Lansky)
9. Bronson* (Source: Bruce Lansky)
10. Connor* (Source: Bruce Lansky)

Other Cool Boys’ Names  to Consider: Rio, Rhett, Django, Turner, Cliff, Theo, Flynn, Raj

Cool Names for Girls (as of 1/20/14)
1. Annika (source: Bruce Lansky)
2. Amelia (source: Bruce Lansky)
3. Catalina (source: Bruce Lansky)
4. Cleo (source: Bruce Lansky)
5. Skye* (source: Bruce Lansky)
6. Danica (source: Bruce Lansky)
7. Ryann* (source: Bruce Lansky)
8. Elena (source: Bruce Lansky)
9. Lola (sources: The Art of Naming & Nameberry)
10: Serena (source: Bruce Lansky)

Other Cool Girls’ Names to Consider: Sloane, Harper, Mia, Luna, Mila, Carmen, Camila

If you want to know which boys’ and girls’ names are cool right now, click on the links to see all 48 girls’ names and 52 boy’s names, listed in rank order. Take a second to vote for the names you think should be ranked higher and against the names you think should be ranked lower. You’ll be doing a big favor to other expecting couples looking for names that are cool right now.

If you’re wondering about the sources listed, I started both lists with around 30 names gathered from two websites:  The Art of Naming and Nameberry. I added some names I thought were cool, too. I had a hunch that many of the “cool names” listed on other websites had gone stale and seemed dated.

For a while I seemed to have better intuition about where and how to find cool names for girls than I have about finding cool names for boys. But that’s starting to change. For the very first time, I have four names on the boys’ top ten. I’m starting to get a handle on where to look for new cool names that are going to move up the lists.

So visit our Ranker.com pages to find cool names for your next baby, and while you’re there help your online “neighbors” by voting for the coolest names and against names you think are losing their cool.

Research Report: Parents Confuse Their Children’s Names More Often When The Names Sound Alike

According to a new study from the University of Texas in Austin, parents are more likely to confuse their children’s names when the names sound alike. That finding sounds fairly commonsensical to me, so I read deeper into April Flowers’ article about the study on Red Orbit to find out more.

Reading a little more, I found that by “names that sound alike” Zenzi Griffen PhD of U.T. Austin and Thomas Wangerman, PhD, formerly of Georgia Institute of Technology meant: sibling names that start with the same letter like John and James and sibling names that have a similar ending like Amanda and Samantha.

Ouch! Although I advise parents not to pick names that sound too similar, like Jaden and Braden or Emma and Ella, I admit my post called “Naming Siblings” suggests a variety of “themes” or strategies for making sibling names sound compatible… (if you think I’m procrastinating, you’re probably right)… including the idea of picking names that start with the same letter.

Many years ago, I named my son Doug and my daughter Dana. I rarely confused the two names. Neither did my wife. The kids fought like cats and dogs and we could always tell them apart in the heat of battle. One was shouting “She hit me first!”And the other was shouting “He hit me first! (If you think I’m using humor to pretend I’m not feeling defensive, you’re probably right.)

But all kidding aside, it’s easy to admit parents are more likely to confuse John and James (or Johnny and Jimmy) when calling the kids to the phone than would be the case if the brothers were named, say,  Zenzi and Thomas. Of course if Zenzi and Thomas were brothers I’d be amazed. Not only do their first names reflect no common theme, neither do their last names.

So instead of procrastinating even more, I’m  going to take my medicine like a man, learn my lesson, and mix my metaphors while continuing to play for time before I bite the bullet and revise my “Naming Siblings” post to make sure everyone who reads the article is advised to name one of their children Hehitmefirst and the other child Ididn’tdoit which should solve almost every problem.

The names will be thematically related but they won’t sound alike. Unfortunately those names are not perfect. Both kids sound like idiots. It isn’t easy to find perfect sibling names, but a good place to find some ideas worth considering is my revised “Naming Siblings” article.

Common Jewish, German and North-American Surnames Explained

I just had to share this fascinating information about the most common Jewish surnames by Bennett Muraskin with you. But before I proceed any further I need to point out that many of the names Muraskin refers to as “Jewish” such as Schmidt, Bayer, Weber, Ackerman and Snider, (which could have been a prominent “white shoe” law firm that refused to hire Jews back in the 1940s and ’50s, but isn’t ), are also common names in Germany, North America and in other English-speaking countries around the world. In other words, there’s no reason to believe that the names Muraskin refers to as Jewish were or are now used exclusively by Jews.

In his Slate article, Muraskin comments on the history of Jewish surnames and then provides the origin and meaning (etymology) of hundreds of common Jewish surnames. Here is a quick list of famous Americans (and a few fictional characters, just for fun) whose surnames are mentioned in Muraskin’s article (followed by the meaning of their surnames in parentheses): Senator Joe Lieberman (lion or from the tribe of Judah), songwriter Irving Berlin (from Berlin), Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter (from Frankfurt, Germany), scientist Albert Einstein (mason), folk singer Art Garfunkel (diamond merchant), Brooklyn Dodgers’ slugging center-fielder Duke Snider (tailor), Jerry Seinfeld’s” manic friend, Cosmo Kramer (shopkeeper), “The Odd Couple’s” fastidious Felix Unger (from Hungary), comic actor Adam Sandler (shoemaker), prominent Canadian tycoon whose family owned a leading liquor company for generations, Edgar Bronfman (distiller), music/entertainment tycoon David Geffen (wine merchant) and rock ‘n roll producer Phil Spector (school inspector).

In this post I will provide a brief summary of Muraskin’s Slate article. Let’s start with a little history. Jews living in Eastern Europe didn’t have “last names” until they were compelled to do so by the countries in which they lived–a process that began in the 17th century and ran through the 19th century. Until that time, they were known as, e.g., “Isaac son of Abraham” or “Sarah daughter of Rachel.” When  compelled to take surnames, many Jews chose names that memorialized: their fathers’ or mothers’ names; the name of the town their family came from, their occupation, the name of a tribal or local animal or the name of a tree or flower prominent in their neighborhood. Here’s a quick summary of the different kinds of names they chose, complete with examples.

Patronymic Names: A common source of Jewish surnames was the father’s name. Names like Mendelson (Mendel’s son) or Abramowitz (Abraham’s son) reflected this tradition.

Matronymic Names: Many Jewish surnames memorialized the family’s mother. Names like Gold or Goldman referred to the mother’s name, Golda (in effect Golda’s children), Pearl, Pearlman or Perlman referred to the mother’s name, Pearl (in effect, Pearl’s children), ditto for Glick, Glickman or Gluck (in effect, Gickl’s children).

Place Names: Many Jewish surnames indicated where the family came from. Here are a few examples: Heller (from Halle, Germany), Frankfurter (from Frankfurt, Germany), Rappoport (from Porto, Italy), Pinsky (from Pinsk, Russia), Gordon (from Grodno, Lithuania), Bloch (foreigner), Unger (from Hungary), Weiner or Weinberg (from Vienna), Horowitz (from Horovice in Bohemia), Oppenheimer (from Austria)

a) Craftsmen: Stein or Steiner (jeweler), Fleishman (butcher), Sandler (shoemaker), Goldstein (goldsmith), Ackerman (plowman), Spielman (musician), Schmidt (blacksmith), Miller (miller), Wasserman (water dealer)

b) Merchants: Kaufman (merchant),  Wechsler (money changer), Zuckerman (sugar merchant), Garfinkel/Garfunkel (diamond merchant), Kramer, (shopkeeper),

c) Occupations Related to Clothing: Snider or Schneider (tailor), Weber (weaver), Kirshner or Kushner (furrier)

d) Medical/Health Occupations: Aptheker (druggist), Feldsher (surgeon)

e) Occupations Related to Alcoholic Beverages: Bronfman (distiller), Weiner (winemaker), Geffen (wine merchant)

f) Religious occupations: Cantor or Singer (cantor), London (scholar), Resnick or Reznik (ritual slaughterer), Spector (inspector of schools) Rabin or Rabinowitz (rabbi or son of the rabbi)

Personal Traits: Fried or Friedman (happy), Krauss (curly hair), Roth (red hair), Schwartz (black hair or dark complexion), Stark (strong), Springer (lively), Gross or Grossman (big), Klein or Kleinman (small), Scharf or Scharfman (smart)

Hebrew Names: The two most important groups of Hebrew Names derive from two leadership “families” you had to be born into: Cohen (the priestly class), whose contemporary surnames are: Cohen, Cohn, Kahn, and Kaplan,  and Levi (the class of religious functionaries) whose contemporary surnames are: Levy, Levine, Levitt, Levenson and Lewinsky

Animal Names: Adler (eagle); Lieb, Liebowitz, Lefkowitz or Loeb (lion); Hirsch, Hirschfield, Hart or Hertz (dear or stag); Taub or Taubman (dove); Wolf, Wolfson or Wolfenson (wolf); Baer, Berman, Berk, or Berkowitz (bear); Einhorn (unicorn)

Nature Names: Applebaum (apple tree), Mandelbaum (almond tree), Kirshbaum (cherry tree), Rose or Rosen (rose), Bloom (flower), Wald/Vald (woods)

Hebrew Acronyms or Contractions: Baron* (son of Aaron), Katz (righteous priest), Sachs/Saks (descended from martyrs), Segal (second-rank Levite)

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about the meaning and significance of some of names Muraskin identified as Jewish, but many which are also common in Germany, North American and in English-Speaking countries throughout the world. If you enjoyed this summary, please click on the link I have provided above to read the entire Slate article, which contains a lot more examples than I’ve been able to fit into this summary.

*for example ben (son of) Aaron contracts to Baron.