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.

Looking for Boys and Girls Names That Are Cool Right Now?

Finding names that are cool right now isn’t easy. Why? Names come in and out of favor over time, so many names, previously thought to be cool have lost their appeal and now seem stale or dated. I’ve created a list of cool names from a variety of sources and put them on an interactive website (Ranker.com), so you can find names that smart parents, like you, think are cool right now. If you’re looking for cool names for your baby, check out the top-ranked names by clicking on the links, below. And, while you’re at it, take a few seconds to vote for any of the newest or up-and-coming names on the lists that you think are cool–to help other parents find names for their baby boys and girls that are cool right now.

12 New-And Rising Cool Names for Boys: Dante, Rhett, Connor, Django, Bronson, Teo , Raj, Kendo, Chance, Flynn, Turner, Harley

8 New-And-Rising Cool Names for Girls: Camila, Carmen, Coco, Harper, Luna, Mia, Mila, Summer

The Shorter Your Name, The Larger Your Salary: Research Report

I knew that women earned less than men and that people of color earned less than Caucasians. But I had no idea that people with long names earned less than people with short names. The research for this finding was reported by Daniel  Cronyn of The Ladders who crunched data from 6 million members to find out how names and income might be correlated. Here are some interesting findings as it relates to the length of names and salary:

-The Ladders found an inverse correlation between the number of letters in names and the salary those individuals earned.

-More specifically, they found that salary decreases $3,600 per year for every additional letter in your name. (For example, when you compare Bill vs. William there are three more letters in William than in Bill, so Bill can be expected to make about $10,800 more than William.)

-And, when they compared nicknames to given names (e.g., Chris vs. Christopher; and Debbie vs. Deborah) they found that people with shorter names earned more in 23 out of 24 (formal name vs. nickname) pairings they tested.

After crunching millions of numbers, I was very surprised to read The Ladders’ erroneous conclusion:“In conclusion, it DOES make a difference what your mother named you. So, to all prospective mothers, our advice is to keep Baby’s name short and sweet – your child will thank you when they’re raking in the money one day.” Wrong! They completely missed the point.

It doesn’t matter what your mother named you. It matters which version of your name you choose to go by at work. (If your mother named you Elizabeth, you will earn more money if you encourage your colleagues to call you Liz; and likewise for Stephen and Steve.)  To be clear, they proved that the version of the name you go by when you take a job affects your chances for success (as measured by your salary). People who “go by” their “formal” names, earn less than they would if they went by their (shorter) nicknames.

I can think of two practical reasons why women and people of different ethnicity, national origin or color earn less than men and Caucasians:

1) When men and women or people of different ethnicity, national origin or color take different kinds of jobs (e.g., field work vs. office work or clerical job vs. a management position) the comparisons (for research purposes) are not what you’d call “apples to apples.”

2)  But, when men and women or people of different ethnicity, national origin or color take the same kinds of jobs, the most likely explanation for a different salary is probably discrimination.

Before reading the research results (to the effect that a guy named Bill would earn more money than a guy named William), I would have guessed the opposite–thinking that William is a more upscale, professional-sounding name hence it is more likely to be used by a well-paid executive than Bill. But now that I know that research clearly supports the finding that men named Bill and women named Debbie earn more money than men named William and women named Deborah, I can think of a reasonable rationale to support that finding (which is the opposite of what I thought, originally).

Here’s my new rationale: People with shorter names earn more than people with longer names because shorter, more informal names are easier to pronounce and spell and are also more accessible to people throughout the company. More to the point, having a short, informal name helps you come across as more approachable and less stand-offish (whether you are a man or women; whether you are white or black or brown or yellow).

So, don’t thank your mother if she gave you a short name. Don’t curse your mother if she gave you a long name. Choose a short, accessible version of your name to use at work. That will help you get along with people at work and, based on the research findings, it is likely to increase your take-home pay.

FYI I found a post about The Ladders’ research report on Nancy’sBabyNames.com. It’s a great place to look for fascinating information and stories about names.

Latest Voting Results for “Cool Names for Girls” and “Cool Names for Boys” Just in Time for Holiday-Season Births

Here are the latest voting results for our lists of “Cool Names for Girls” and “Cool Names for Boys.” All the names marked with an asterisk have moved up since our last update. And, sources for each name are indicated in parentheses after each name. (I’m sure you’ll quickly notice that I’m doing  better at picking cool names for girls than cool names for boys, but that could change as more blog-readers vote.) FYI, I have listed  several up-and-coming boys’ and girls’ names which could dramatically change the composition of the both lists. (I hope you’ll enjoy viewing the new names I’ve added to both lists–from a variety of sources–and vote for the names you think are coolest.)

On the “Cool Names for Girls” list, names moving up since our last report were Catalina, Danica, Elena, Serena, Skye and Emilia. Altogether, there are 37 names to choose from on this list, including a new name I just added. Other names to consider that are just below the top ten include Gianna, Sloane, Tori and Ryann.

Cool Names for Girls (as of December 10)

  1. Annika (Bruce Lansky)
  2. Amelia (Bruce Lansky)
  3. Catalina* (Bruce Lansky)
  4. Cleo (Bruce Lansky)
  5. Lola (The Art of Naming & Nameberry)
  6. Danica* (Bruce Lansky)
  7. Elena* (Bruce Lansky)
  8. Serena* (Bruce Lansky)
  9. Skye* (Bruce Lansky)
  10. Emelia* (Bruce Lansky)

On the “Cool Names for Boys” list, the three names that moved up since our last posting were Finn, Dante and Levi. Altogether there are 48 names to choose from on this list. Names to consider that are just below the top ten include: Rio, Hudson, Wyatt, Kendo, Cliff, Flynn, Turner, Bronson, Harley, Connor and Nico.

Cool Names for Boys (as of December 10)

  1. Chase (The Art of Naming)
  2. Finn* (The Art of Naming & Nameberry)
  3. Hunter (The Art of Naming)
  4. Jett (The Art of Naming)
  5. Taj (The Art of Naming)
  6. Dante* (Bruce Lansky)
  7. Levi* (Bruce Lansky)
  8. Cruz (The Art of Naming & Nameberry)
  9. Dash (The Art of Naming)
  10. Matteo (The Art of Naming & Nameberry)

More than 225 people have viewed each of our two lists on Ranker. To find them, just click on the link I’ve provided. I’d like reiterate how easy it is to vote: Just click on the blue “thumb up” icon to cast a positive vote; or click on the red “thumb down” icon to cast a negative vote. It only takes second to cast a vote. It’s easy and fun. And it will help expectant parents looking for the latest cool names for their babies. Because our Ranker lists include names from Nameberry, The Art of Naming and from me, they are the single most objective (and up-to-the-minute) source of cool names you can find. What a great way to “shop” for names that your friends (and your child’s friends) will think are cool.