Brooklyn’s Rise Brings Popularity as a Baby Name, But Locals Say Fuhgeddaboutit.

A highly readable article by Michael R. Sisak of Associated Press about Brooklyn (whose rise in appeal as a popular borough of New York seems to have produced an extraordinary rise in interest in Brooklyn as a place name for girls) provides an interesting new perspective on place names.

It turns out that Brooklyn has moved up in the popularity rankings from #912 in 1990 to the top 30—where it seems to have leveled off over the past three years. The strange thing is, according to Sisak:

“Of the 41 states where Brooklyn is now the most popular girl’s name beginning with B, New York is not among them. Real Brooklynites say naming your child Brooklyn is strictly for out-of towners.”

 Sisak tells the story of a girl named Brooklyn Presta who was born in Kansas and now lives in Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn Presta says her parents in Kansas were thinking unique, not New York, when they named her. Now 26 and living in Brooklyn, Presta says she often gets questions about whether she changed her name to fit her chosen borough. ‘It’s kind of crazy to be Brooklyn in Brooklyn, Presta says.’”

Apparently, Brooklyn is an appealing name for girls—as long as you don’t live there. If you live in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboutit. I wonder if that’s the case for girls named Madison who live in Madison, Wisconsin (or work on Madison Avenue) or girls named Charlotte who live in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

FYI, Madison is currently the most popular place name for girls. It rose from #627 in 1985 to #2 in 2001–a rise fueled by interest in the mermaid character played by Darryl Hannah in “Splash.” Twelve years later, the name is still among the top ten girls’ names, but it’s now #9.

Charlotte was ranked at #306 in 1984, the year “Splash” was released. And it was ranked #307 fifteen years later in 1999. That must have been when the “place-name” trend (popularized by Madison) caused parents to realize that Charlotte was a place name in addition to being a literary name (made famous by Charlotte Bronte, whose popular romance novel, Jane Eyre, was published in 1847). Since 1999, Charlotte has ridden the “place-name” trend all the way up to #11–and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charlotte hop into the 1014 girls’ top-ten list when it is published by SSA next May.

Speaking of the SSA popularity statistics, my recent article about the most rapidly rising girls’ names in 2013 mentioned fifteen girls’ names that were streaking up the list. (And because both Brooklyn and Madison both seem to have peaked, the place-name baton seems to have been passed on to names like Ireland, Milan, Phoenix, Asia, Dakota and Londyn, and others.)

P.S. I’d love to hear from you if you have a place name and you live or work in that place. Is your experience like Brooklyn Presta’s? Or is it different? In my most popular article about place names, I discuss places that sound like they would be appropriate as names for people and places that might not work well for people. But I didn’t discuss what it’s like to live in a place you’re named after. If that describes you, please write a comment.




Read this Humorous Article About New Jersey Place Names By Marian Mundy

I’ve never heard of Bernardsville, N.J. or the Bernardsville News, but they have a lifestyle writer named Marian Mundy who understands more about place names and baby naming than Nameberry and WaltzingMoreThanMatilda ever will.

I mention this because Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry recommended Detroit as an “unheard of name for 2014″ (she described it as “cool”). And because WaltzingMoreThanMatilda claimed (in support of Satran) to know a child named Detroit who loved his name. Question: if Detroit is an “unheard of name” how did an expert in Australian baby names know a kid named Detroit who loved the name which Satran had described as an “unheard of name” which implies that no one had ever used it?

Here’s what the commonsensical Marian Mundy wrote about a New Jersey place name, Camden: “The fact that they called the baby ‘Camden’ proves they don’t live in New Jersey. You have to wonder why anyone would name a kid after a rundown city on the Delaware.” In short, naming a child after the once-proud city of Detroit, now that it is contemplating bankruptcy and now that a leading Detroit museum is thinking about selling off its art masterpieces–is crazy.

Please, please, please, click on this link and read the Marian Mundy article. It is so outstanding I’m going to email her editor with this message: Marian Mundy deserves a raise and a bigger by-line. FYI, Mundy’s article is titled: “More Than a Few New Entries in the Baby Name Game.” It starts with a report about a detailed birth announcement that omitted the gender of the child and does a good job of turning that tragic event into one of the most amusing and perceptive articles I’ve read about names since the GQ article about baby naming by Drew Magary.

4 Baby-Naming Tips from Kristin Cavallari (Jay Cutler’s Wife; Camden’s Mom)

Kristin Cavallari (former star of “Hillls” and “Laguna Beach”) and hubby Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears QB) are expecting their second child. Feeling good about the name they picked for their first child, Camden, Kristin announced 4 baby-naming tips, via I’m happy to pass them along for your consideration:

  1. Focus on the overall sound of the name—and how it combines with your last name. (She and Jay picked Camden as the name of their son. It combines very nicely with Cutler.)
  2. Put a personal spin on the name. (She and Jay picked Jack–Jay’s father’s name–as a middle name for Camden.)
  3. Look for inspiration anywhere and everywhere. (One name she is considering for her second child came from a magazine; another name she likes is the name a friend gave to a dog.)
  4. Don’t worry about what others think. (They’ve gotten mixed reviews from friends on the names they are considering, but will pick the name they like best.)

As you can see, Kristin and Jay have a lot of confidence in their ability to find names anywhere and pick winners. However, I’d suggest a slight modification to her fourth tip. I think it’s a very good idea to test your best name ideas on friends whose judgment you respect. It helps to watch their eyeballs and their facial expressions carefully when you tell them a name.  And listen carefully to the reasons they give for liking or not liking names. That will help you evaluate their comments. As you probably know, I place a very high value on the “first impression” a name makes. It’s hard for friends to disguise a gut-level positive or negative response to a name if you are watching and listening carefully.

FYI, I like the name Camden Cutler too. Here’s why: Camden is a place name. (Unfortunately, Camden, NJ doesn’t have the charm of Paris or the beauty of Kauai.) However, Camden is the rare place name that sounds like a name that can work well for people—because it gives you Cam as a nickname. If you think about it, Camden is a shorter and punchier name than Cameron. (Remember, Kristin’s rule #1: “Focus on the overall sound of the name.”)

Place Names that Tell Where the Baby Was Conceived

Within the broad category of place names there is a very interesting subset: names that reflect where children were conceived. I didn’t know much about this subject before reading an article in the Timaru Herald, a New Zealand newspaper for which  Derek Burrows writes.

In his recent article, Burrows focused on American actor/director Ron Howard and his wife Cheryl whose four children bear middle names which memorialize where they were conceived. They named their eldest son Bryce Dallas, their twin daughters Jocelyn Carlyle and Paige Carlyle, and their youngest son Reed Cross. Three out of the four middle names require an explanation. It’s clear that Bryce was conceived in Dallas. But Jocelyn and Paige were conceived in New York City (in the borough of Manhattan). However, neither of those place names seemed to work as baby names, so Ron and Cheryl went with the name of the swanky hotel where the twins were conceived: The Carlyle. Using that logic, Reed’s middle name should have been Volvo, but that car brand didn’t work as a baby name either, so the Howards went with the name of the quiet street on which the Volvo was parked in Greenwich, Connecticut: Cross Street. (If you’ve never heard of that “celebrity lovers’ lane” before, you’re not alone.)

As you can see, picking the name of the “place” where their children were conceived simplified the middle-naming process a little. But if you consider all four middle names, you probably wouldn’t realize they all referred to “places” because only one was the name of a city. By contrast, one “place” was a hotel in Manhattan, and another “place” was a relatively unknown street in Greenwich that few people outside of the Howards, the residents of that street and the their local postman have ever heard of.

This process functions somewhat like names in Africa, where children are often named after the day of the week on which on which they were born (e.g., Friday) or the location where they were born (e.g. the house at the end of the road).   But it turned out to be more complicated than the Howards might have imagined when they kicked off the “conception place-name” theme with Bryce Dallas.

The Howards probably didn’t consider the fact that as kids grow older they find it harder to imagine that their parents “made out” when they dated and had s*x on their honeymoon (and, quite likely, when they dated). Tell teenagers about their “frisky” parents and you’ll hear them say: Lalalalala!” or “TMI!” or “Don’t go there!” or “Yuck!” Kids don’t like to hear their parents talk about what they did in hotels or Volvos or in the back seat of a stretch limo in Dallas (I’m just guessing here, but that scenario seems to fit the Howards’ M.O.)

In Nigeria, parents don’t memorialize where they conceived the child. They memorialize the day or location of the child’s birth. Notice their focus is on the child. But the place where the child was conceived is more about what the parents were doing in that location. In other words, picking a name that memorializes the place where the child was conceived is a sexual ego trip for the parents. It’s likely to embarrass the children at some point in their lives; but it’s unlikely to produce names that “go well together” for the children (judging by the middle names Ron and Cheryl Howard gave their  kids).

Middle names serve a number of useful purposes: to provide a back-up name in case the child doesn’t like his or her given name; or to honor members of the family or maintain family traditions. But when parents have more than one child, using a theme of some sort (like choosing biblical names or Italian names or names that start with a particular letter) can simplify the naming process (by eliminating all names that don’t fit the theme) and can help parents find names that “go well together.” (To find out more about naming siblings, see my post on that subject.)

Unfortunately, middle names that memorialize sexual relations between parents don’t accomplish most of those functions. And in the case of the Howards, “place-names” would be a unifying theme but Dallas, Carlyle, and Cross don’t particularly “go well together”–even after you find out what the theme is.

It’s hard to avoid reading about celebrities who have picked names for their children which are widely regarded by the general public and the media as “crazy” or “weird” or “outrageous.” Pundits, like me, often attribute excesses like North (West), Moon Unit and Apple to certain celebrities’ “ego-tripping” mindset. I suspect that naming your baby after the place where he or she was conceived is another form of self-indulgence. I wouldn’t call it “crazy” or “weird” or “outrageous.” But I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to come with great middle names, either.

How to Find Charming, Uncommon Names for Your Baby

If you’ve decided against selecting a time-tested traditional name for your baby, here are some ideas for finding cool, uncommon names in odd places (like a travel guide, a restaurant menu, a TV commercial or an art museum). Although picking an uncommon moniker for your child increases the risk of winding up with something that creates a “What were you thinking?” or “You must be kidding!” response, you just might discover a name that turns out to be highly memorable and appealing—thus earning you credit for your creativity and daring.

If you’re willing to pick a safe middle name in case Eureka or Ypsilanti are judged a flop as soon as your friends and relatives see the birth announcement, choosing a cool, unique name for your child can be a big plus for both the child and the parents. Your son Hudson and your daughter Monet may be the envy of all their classmates (as well as their classmates’ parents who will want to meet the pair who picked those charming names).

How do you find charming names like that? Follow this three-step procedure:

  1. Look for names in odd places: a world atlas for place names, TV commercials or print ads for brand names, art museums for art names, menus or cookbooks for food names and baby-name books for uncommon forms of common names, bird or flower guides for nature names. (Did you know that 100,000+ Baby Names has more than 600 lists of names to help parents generate cool, off-the-beaten-track ideas?)
  1. Once you’ve come up with a list of names that are worth considering, spend some time thinking about what they would be like to live with (for your child and for you). Try to narrow your choice down to a few “keepers.”Of course, there’s one more step—putting whichever names you like together with your last name (and any middle names you’re considering) to see how they all sound together. Don’t forget to check out the initials too. Some initials are just plain cool, like P.J., J.P., or K.C. Cool initials give your child another great fallback. It’s like having another middle name—without the clunkiness of actually having two middle names.

Now let’s take a look at a variety of potential names to see if we turn up any you’d call “charming.”

Place Names

For Boys: Chad, Frisco, Hudson, Reno, Rio and Santonio

For Girls: China, Georgia, India, Kenya, Siena, and Skye, Virginia

Practical Considerations: Most of these names are recognizable enough to be quite easy to spell and pronounce. Most of them also paint a picture (that is, either charming or memorable—or both). I can imagine a difference of opinion about the “charm factor” for China, India, Kenya, Hudson and Reno. But I doubt many would find Rio, Siena, Santonio or Frisco problematic with regard to charm.

Food and Spice Names

For Girls: Brie, Cinnamon, Ginger, Olivia, Pepper, Saffron and Sage.

For Boys, Herb, Huckleberry, Macintosh, Oliver and Sage

Practical Considerations: Olivia and Oliver are variations of Olive and both make a positive impression and work well as names, as does Brie for girls. Ginger and Pepper both create a “spunky” or “spicy” impression for girls.  Sage is more of a gender-neutral name which can work equally well for either gender. Herb is a rather old-fashioned name and, of course, the “H” isn’t silent. In my opnion, the shorter variations of Huckleberry (Huck) and Macintosh (Mac) work better for boys than the longer versions.

Color Names

For Girls: Amber, Blanche, Cinnamon, Cocoa, Ebony, Ginger, Ivory and Raven

For Boys: Russell, Rusty

Practical considerations: Color names can be a blessing when you’ve put off picking a name until you are cradling  the baby in your arms. Color names can help you describe your child’s most striking physical attributes (such as hair color and complexion) in a name that can break a tie and “seal the deal.” (Notice that several spice names also work as color names.)

Brand Names

For Boys: Chevy, Harley, Levi, Lincoln and Stetson

For Girls: Chanel, Kia, Macy, Mercedes and Sierra

Practical Considerations: Most people are familiar with these brand names, so spelling and pronunciation aren’t likely to cause problems. However, these brands will probably appeal to people on different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, in different parts of the country, and with different tastes. Chanel, Mercedes and Lincoln are more upscale; Macy appeals to the broad middle; Levi, Stetson and Sierra appeal to folks who may live out west or enjoy country-western music; Chevy is an “All-American” brand and Kia is a zippy brand that appeals to folks with modest bank accounts or with a “green” sensibility.

Ten or twenty years ago, many parents who shopped at Wal-Mart and Target chose Tiffany as a name for their bouncing bundle of joy, perhaps to project a more upscale image. You don’t need a 7-figure income to pick a million-dollar name.

Art Names

For Boys: Calder, Jasper, Hockney, Leonardo, Raphael, Rockwell, Sargent and Stuart

For Girls: Hartley, Mona Lisa, Monet and Stella

Practical Considerations: There’s a risk in choosing an “arty” name that won’t be immediately recognizable to most people. However, many of the names on the list above are familiar to most people. Who has not heard of the Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Monet’s water lilies, Calder’s colorful mobiles, Norman Rockwell’s poignant illustrations for “The Saturday Evening Post” and Georgia O’keeffe’s mesmerizing close-ups of flowers and iconic southwestern images.

Alternate Forms of Common Names

For Boys: Geo (a short form of George), Lucky (a familiar form of Luke), Rafa (a short form of Raphael), Ringo (a Japanese name meaning “apple”)

For Girls: Nita (a short form of Anita and Juanita), Rita (a short form of Marguerite and Margarita), Cielo (a Spanish form of “Heaven”), Colette or Cosette (French forms of Nicole)

Practical Considerations: Most of these names are easy to spell and pronounce. Both French names (Cosette and Collette) make a literary or arty impression. Cielo not only sounds beautiful, it means “Heaven” in Spanish. And Nita is like Rita, a short Spanish form of names ending in “nita” or “rita.” The boys’ names are mainly short forms of names that are more religious, arty or stodgy. Most are informal and fun. Of course, it may be hard to imagine Ringo, Rafa and Lucky as classical composers, Ph.D. candidates or members of a prestigious law firm.

Last Names of Famous People

For Boys: Beckham, Lincoln

For Girls: Anniston, Lennon, Harlow

Practical Considerations: Here’s a way to find charming, uncommon names. I recently added Anniston, Lennon and Harlow to 100,000+ Baby Names when they landed on the top-1,000 girls’ list. Ditto for Beckham when it landed on the top-1,000 boys’ list. Lincoln, of course, is the last name of a famous president which just moved onto the top-100 boys’ list at #95. It’s not exactly “uncommon,” but it’s not too common, yet, to use. Did you notice that Anniston is not exactly spelled the way actress Jennifer Aniston spells her last name? Parents who selected it for their daughters presumably added the extra “n” so Anniston could function as an updated version of Ann, a girls’ name that has been used in English-speaking countries for centuries.

Nature Names

For Boys: Ash, Clay, Cliff, Forrest, Jasper, River, Robin, Sage

For Girls: Gale, Heather, Ivy, Lily, River, Robin, Sage, Stormy, Violet, Willow,

Practical considerations: Here’s another effective way to find charming, uncommon names. In the process of compiling a list of boys’ and girls’ nature names I noticed that this category provides an excellent source of gender-neutral names.

I hope that reading this post motivates you to consider other off-the-beaten-path name categories such as: literary names (e.g., Webster)  sports names (e.g., Kirby)  and celestial names (e.g. Orion).

© 2013 Bruce Lansky, © 2015 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

Place Names That Work Well as Names for People

Place names usually fit into three categories. The first category covers most place names: They probably wouldn’t work well for people. For example, Monongahela (the river in Pennsylvania), Sheboygan (the town in Wisconsin) and Georgetown (the neighborhood in Washington, D.C.) aren’t names you’re likely to hear in a kindergarten classroom. The first two names lack the romantic appeal of Paris, the charm of Siena, or the “trendy” image of Brooklyn. They’re also rather long and hard to spell. Georgetown is easy to spell and has appeal—it’s a cool, upscale neighborhood (and outstanding university)—but the suffix    (-town) makes it less appropriate as a name for people.

The second category contains place names that are often used for people—even though they still sound more like names for places. Brooklyn is one example and London is another. Both are gaining in popularity as baby names, though they may not seem as appropriate as, say, India or Georgia. Of course, perceptions can change over time. “Indiana Jones” is probably the reason Indiana is considered an acceptable name for people. Before the movie, few people thought of Indiana as a person’s name. For that reason, I think it’s in that mezzo-mezzo (or comme ci, comme ca) category—it might sound cool to some people, but not to others. Ditto for Boston and Denver.

That brings us to the third category, place names that seem to work easily and well for people. By that I mean, they’re quickly recognized as baby names and don’t cause most people to think, Are you talking about a city or a girl? They’re usually short and sweet and many of them (like Charlotte and Virginia) were names for people before they were place names. Here are some examples:

Names of Countries:
For Girls: India, China, Kenya
For Boys: Cuba, Chad

Names of States and Provinces:
For Girls: Alberta (Canada), Dakota (U.S.), Georgia (U.S.)

Names of Cities and Towns:
For Girls: Charlotte (North Carolina), Florence (Italy), Madison (Wisconsin), Savannah (Georgia), Siena (Italy), Sydney (Australia), Skye (Scotland)
For Boys: (San) Diego (California), Frisco (Colorado), Reno (Nevada), Rio (Brazil)

Names of Bodies of Water:
For Girls: Bristol (Bay), (Lake) Louise
For Boys: Hudson (River and Bay), Nile (River), Rocky (Mountains)

Two observations:

1. I think you can easily see the difference between the names in the third category (place names that work well for people) and the names in the first category (place names that don’t).

2. I hope you can see that the names in the second category (place names commonly used for people that are kind of, sort of, pretty good for people) don’t work quite as well as the names in the third category.

I want to encourage you to think about the difference in suitability of place names for people—and what factors make them work (or not work). Does the place sound like a name for a child? Does it make a positive impression? Will it lead to teasing? Is it easy to spell and pronounce?

My son, a travel writer, was born in the U.S. and now lives in Sweden. When thinking of names that would make a positive impression in both countries for his three daughters, he selected place names that were easy to spell and pronounce, and familiar to people in both countries, and they’ve worked very well.

So if you’re thinking of picking up a globe, spinning it, and finding a city, state, country, body of water or group of mountains for your child’s name, keep in mind that most place names don’t make comfortable, charming, cool names for people. And clunky place names, like Turkey or Greece (even though you may love visiting those places) could turn out to be a bad trip for your baby.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.