There are more babies given names outside the top 1000 combined than babies given names in the top 10.
If group-think permeated our name culture, about 90% of babies would have a top 10 name, and parents-to-be would ask permission of friends and family before bestowing a name on their off-spring. Sounds boring at best and frustrating at worst – right?
Only a few centuries ago, this was the reality. Today people laugh at George Foreman naming all of his sons George . But a few centuries ago, families with everyone named John or Mary weren’t uncommon.
John, Mary and Elizabeth got their many nicknames out of necessity. Somehow there had to be a way to differentiate members of the family. There could be three sisters in a family, all named Mary. The oldest was called Mary, the middle was called Molly, and the youngest was called Polly.
Nicknames are still popular today, at least in the U.S., but needing them to differentiate between siblings is almost unheard of. The numbers suggest an increasingly more diverse naming pool. In 2010, fewer than 10% of boys and girls were given top 10 names compared to nearly 30% of boys and over 15% of girls given a top 10 names 50 years ago.
Even more telling: the relatively large number of babies given names outside the top 1000. In 2010, 21% of boys and 33% of girls (or a third of newborn girls) were given names outside the top 1000. Collectively there are more babies given names outside the top 1000 than names in the top 10. This beyond the top 1000 group has gotten bigger for both boys and girls through the years. In 2000 the percentages of boys and girls given names outside the top 1000 were 17% and 28% respectively.
While a more diverse name pool can be refreshing, this willingness to experiment does have a downside, namely some children are given impractical names for the sake of uniqueness. In some cases, creative names have gone wild.
When does creativity go too far? The practical, non-judgmental side of me says any name is OK as long as it is easy to spell and pronounce, but let’s be honest, learning that someone has named their daughter TinkerBell, while not difficult to spell or pronounce, makes me cringe. TinkerBell is simply not a name many people can take seriously.
I asked myself, what makes a name usable? My answer was, well the name must be name-like. Then I asked, what makes a name, name-like? I had to stop going around in circles.
Name-like creative names stand out in a good way. Not all creative names stand out in a good way. Some will cause your child too much grief. Today we are going to discuss which kind of creative names cause more grief than they’re worth, falling into the “too different” end of the spectrum.
There are three types of names considered off-limits:
- Names off-limits to all due to an overwhelmingly strong, often negative, association.
- Names off-limits to some individuals’ due to circumstances.
- Names off-limits to all due to cumbersome spelling and/or pronunciation.
Off-Limits: Names with an Overwhelmingly Strong Association
There are a few names, but they do exist, that our culture considers banned. But I always pause before putting a name on my banned list, and maybe banned is too strong a word, since names can be un-banned as the culture changes. The following names are still considered banned in modern times.
The Banned List:
- Adolph – negative connotations
- Oprah – association is too strong
- Madonna – association is too strong
- Kermit – association is too strong
- Lolita – negative connotations
- Rumpelstiltskin (and other names like it) – storybook connection takes away any serious credibility*
- Xerox (and other names like it) – commercial connection takes away any serious credibility*
* Some credibility killers, such as commercial and fictional associations can be diluted with other name-like qualities. A perfect example would be Moxie. While Moxie happens to be a soft drink brand, it is also very similar to Molly, which is considered a modern classic, and has a positive meaning, making it a good name candidate. But with Rumpelstiltskin and Xerox, there are no other name-like qualities.
Sometimes negative connotations and even stereotypes and associations lessen over time. One example is Delilah. Despite sounding beautiful, parents avoided Delilah for centuries since she was such a horrible character in the Bible. By 2010 parents disregarded the horrible Biblical character and named 1,655 babies Delilah anyway, ranking the name at #187.
Benedict is another name that has been historically banned, at least in the U.S., due to being synonymous with “traitor.” However, Benedict, as another way to Ben, has the potential to overcome its baggage.
These examples aside, if in doubt about a name feel free to contact us and we will weigh-in and share your dilemma with our readers.
Off-Limits: Names Unusable to Certain Individuals
Some names are unusable in a personal sense, meaning most people can use the name but it’s off-limits under certain circumstances. Most of the time, these names simply clash with the last name in a very big way.
This is very unfortunate, but a fact of life.
Examples of names off-limits to certain people:
- Silvia with the last name Silva.
- Oscar with the last name Mayer.
Off-limits: Names with Cumbersome Spellings and/or Pronunciations
Some names are too cumbersome to bear. Few can spell them or pronounce them. Sometimes these names are completely made-up, such as Jaliceah, which I just made up. Jaliceah looks pretty, but how do you say it? I haven’t a clue.
But most of the time these names are common names with the spellings altered to make them different. J’s are replaced with G’s and vice-versa. H’s are added where H never were before, and other letters are indiscriminately replaced, added or subtracted resulting in names that are very hard to read.
Some examples are Genipher (Jennifer) and Ahliveah (Olivia). With these names practicality has taken a backseat to creativity, leaving the child with a burden of a name. What’s worse is these names are only different on paper. In day-to-day conversations Ahliveah and Olivia both respond to ah-LIV-ee-ah.
But again, sometimes as the culture changes, formerly unpronounceable or difficult to spell names become familiar to the public.
One example is Siobhan, an Irish form of a Norman French variant of Jeanne. Until recently, few American’s could pronounce Siobhan (shi-VAWN), but as more parents become more adventurous with names, Siobhan’s pronunciation could become common knowledge.
And if you are thinking Siobhan at least has a history, making it worthy of public knowledge, consider Jaxson, the modern variant spelling of Jackson.
The origins of Jaxson are unclear, but Jaxson most likely began as a few people taking it upon themselves to switch the CK with an X. Jaxson became commonplace by piggybacking off of Jackson, and has become no less accepted than Sara as an alternative to Sarah or Elisabeth as an alternative to Elizabeth.
These examples are exceptions. Being a pioneer with exotic names and variant spellings is very risky. You can find a pioneering name that stands out in a good way.
How do you find these names?
In a couple of weeks, we will discuss how to find a creative name that won’t saddle your child with unnecessary baggage.
FYI – I’m planning to share some insights once the 2011 name stats become available from the U.S. Social Security Administration, which is supposed to happen today. The 2011 insights will go live before Part 2 of this series. Stay tuned.
Readers: When picking a baby’s name, how far are you willing to push the envelope? Multiple answers are allowed.