On the whole, very little changes year to year when it comes to baby naming trends. Rather, subtle shifts in name choices occur slowly over a couple of decades. So what’s hot today is pretty much the same as what was hot the previous year. It really takes about 20 years to notice more pronounced transformations in naming fashions. So you tend to see more defining characteristics for each new generation. In the 1950s, most favored boy names were still the conventional James, Robert and John – but those mid-century baby boys also included Gary, Larry, Ronald and Donald. For girls, the definers were much more fashionable for the day: Linda, Patricia, Barbara, Nancy and Susan topped the list (although Mary and Margaret were still used heavily, too). By the 1970s, we saw a radical shift with girls to names like Jennifer, Lisa and Kimberly. For boys, parents continued to stay with old favorites like Michael, James and David. Fast forward to the 1990s, and we again see stylistic changes in girl names: Jessica, Ashley and Brittany. As we neared the end of the 20th century, boy names opened up a little beyond the perennial favorites John, James and David. Names like Christopher, Joshua, Ryan and Justin begin to diversify the list. So what are the defining names for the 21st century so far?
In 2011 it was revealed that Sophia upset Isabella for the coveted #1 spot on the female naming charts. Emma is still #3 (just like last year). Rounding out the Top 10 for female names in order of popularity are Olivia, Ava, Emily, Abigail, Madison, Mia and Chloe. What do all of these names have in common (with the exception of Madison)? Old-fashioned charm and/or dainty sophistication. We are still wondering when Madison might hop on the waterskis with The Fonz and jump the shark, though. No offense, Madison, but you have been lurking on the charts forever it seems, obviously testament to the strength of your appeal (Addison is now following your example). Yet Madison does stick out like a modern sore thumb amidst these other ultra-feminine, conservative gals.
What about the boys? Well, American parents are slower to change their tastes when it comes to boy names (or at least they’re less likely to deviate from the norm). Historically, boy names have gravitated to the traditional classics while girl names have had a greater frequency of change over the years. Although we are definitely seeing parents loosen up when it comes to naming their little guys. Jacob is still the #1 boy’s name in America (after an impressive 13 year consecutive run). Other time-tested names made the 2011 Top 10 list for boys: William, Michael, Alexander and Daniel. The Biblical names Noah and Ethan are also all the rage. When it comes to the 21st century, though, we see some unique identifiers. The surname Mason is now #2 in America (thanks Kourtney!), but he also follows the enormously fashionable trend of using surnames as forenames. Then there’s Aiden (an Irish name that is actually spelled Aidan in Ireland, but that’s beside the point, apparently). Aiden has become so wickedly popular that he’s currently spawning some head-scratching alterations: Aaden, Aden, Aidyn, Aydan, Ayden and Aydin. The name ultimately comes from an Old Irish personal name Áed (or Aodh) meaning “fire”, apropos since Áed was the Irish mythological god of the underworld. Aidan is ultimately a modern diminutive and so means “little fire” (pretty cute if you can get past the "hell" god part). Also on the list is Madison’s brother-in-arms Jayden who may be close to overstaying his welcome. We shall see.
But were there any striking changes to the list in 2011? Well, yes, this is something the Social Security Department now tracks, i.e., significant movements in a name’s popularity, either up or down the charts. There were a few stand-outs this year. For girls, the name that had the largest jump in popularity was Briella (as in Gabriella). She jumped a whopping nearly 400 positions on the charts (from #891 to #497)…why, you ask? Briella Calafiore is yet another break-out reality TV star; a fun-loving, buxom blonde hairstylist from Style Network’s Jerseylicious. But before you roll your eyes back into your head, let’s put this in perspective. While the name saw a huge jump on the charts, it’s still a low-usage name. The name did double in usage, but only went from about 300 baby girls a year to 600 (that’s not a whole lot). And given the show’s viewing demographics, we can safely guess new mothers of baby Briellas are between 18 and 25. Other female names which showed remarkably favorable increases in usage are Angelique (probably owing to German tennis player Angelique Kerber’s success at the 2011 U.S. Open); Mila (thanks to Mila Kunis); Elsie & Olive (riding on the wave of antique classics); and Bristol (as in Palin). The female name which took the hardest hit on the charts from 2010 to 2011 is Brisa (the Spanish word for “breeze”). She’s another casualty of names that come onto the charts with a vengeance and then decline in popularity just as quickly. American parents are also apparently tiring of “D” names because the other female names which dropped significantly in usage were Dana, Desiree and Denise. Kimora is also showing signs of wear, which goes to show you: naming children after reality TV stars have, like the reality TV stars themselves, a relatively short shelf-life. See our section on pop-culture influence and super trends.
The male name Brantley went gang-busters in 2011 (from position #736 in 2010 to #320 nationwide last year), thanks to country music star Brantley Gilbert who had a #1 hit with “Country Must Be Country Wide” in 2011. The singer-songwriter was born in Georgia where, incidentally, Brantley is a Top 100 favorite boy’s name (it’s also a Top 100 in other country-music-loving states Alabama and West Virginia). Coincidence? We think not. How do you explain the big jump in usage for the name Iker, though? That one is easy, too. Iker Casillas is a popular Spanish footballer (that’s European for soccer); he was the goalkeeper for the Spanish National Team who, as captain, led Spain to the 2010 World Cup championship. He’s also a stone-cold fox which helps. By the way, Iker is a hugely popular name in the Catholic countries of Spain and Catalonia today. It means “visitation” in Basque, in celebration of the visit between the Virgin Mary (then pregnant with Jesus) and Elizabeth (who was simultaneously pregnant with John the Baptist). Other boy names which have seen vast improvements in usage? Maximiliano, Archer, Declan and Atticus. The boy names which are fast going out of style are Brett, Jamarion, Shaun and Jaydon.
When viewing "middle-of-the-pack" names on the list (those which show relative moderate popularity) we can still see the same on-going overall trends of distinct American style. They can best be summed up by the following:
1.) American parents can’t seem to be unique enough. They have a knack for constantly inventing new names or radically altering the spelling of traditional names. Unique is unique until it’s not unique anymore. How far will they go to be different? Heaven spelled backwards (Nevaeh) is the perfect example of this.
2.) American parents simple adore using surnames as first names today (a trend that really started to take off in the 1990s). Mason, Logan and Jackson top the list for boys in 2011; while parents of daughters favor Madison, Addison and Taylor.
3.) American parents are influenced by pop-culture today more so than ever before. Names of celebrity babies, names of reality TV stars, and names of superstar athletes all factor significantly onto the charts.
4.) The Old Testament is replacing the New Testament as parents are drawn to names like Jacob, Noah, Ethan and Elijah. Girl names like Abigail, Hannah, Leah and Sarah are now more popular than Mary.
5.) Parents are into the flowery "-a" ending for their baby daughters. A whopping 30% of the Top 100 girl names in 2011 end in "a". Plus, parents are opting for more syllables. Sophia is more popular than Sophie. Isabella over Isabelle, Gabriella over Gabrielle, Camila over Camille and Julia over Julie. Pretty soon they’ll change the name Chloe to Chloea.
6.) More and more Spanish names are dominating the charts as the Hispanic-American population increases.
7.) Other more subtle trends include an on-going interest in Celtic inspired names, names with literary references, musically-inspired names, vocabulary word names, and place names.
By and large, there’s no one single defining characteristic of the American naming styles other than the style of…well, quite simply…anything goes.