2012 Spotlight Name Review – Part 2

room-spotlightThis is part 2 of the year-end Spotlight Name review. If you missed part 1, you can see it here.

The first part focused on general Spotlight Names, and this second part focuses on Spotlight Name series. These series spotlight names around certain themes. Below are lists of these names under each theme and a brief description of the theme. You will get a chance to vote on your favorites.

Boys are coded blue, girls are coded pink and unisex is coded green. ***Note: Each name links to the original post, but you may not be able to see the link because of the color coding. The links should still work.

Failure to Launch Names: Names that could have become popular for a certain decade but didn’t  (The decade the name failed to launch is in parentheses.)

Bettina (1960s)
Hillary (1990s)
Juniper (1970s)
Lara (1970s)
Mack (2000s)
Wallis (1930s)

Founding Father’s Names: Our Fourth of July special feature.


Great Grandparent Names: Names of real people’s great-grandparents and the stories behind them. If you want to submit the story of your great-grandparent’s name for consideration, feel free to contact us.


* Great Grandparent Update: The first great-grandparent for this series was my great-grandmother Lottie. From her only child, she had 8 great-great grandchildren when the post was originally launched. I just learned her first triple-great-grandchild was born. Yes, that’s three greats, and two greats for my 94-year-old grandmother.

There are now five living generations in my family. While this is amazing, the fact my cousin is now a grandmother depresses my 26-year-old psyche. I’m slightly consoled by the fact that she is nearly a decade older than me and had her daughter young.

Stealthily Climbing Names: Names that have stealthily hit the top 100 with little fanfare. This is our newest Spotlight Name series.


Unexpectedly Familiar Names: Names that everyone knows, but few are bold enough to use. 


Unfairly Dated Names: Names from the past that have something in common with today’s popular names. 


All of these are names I would love to see on someone else’s baby. As for which ones I would use on a baby of my own, I like Camila, Gregory, Mack, Lara, and Peter. Juniper is a name I never thought I would like, but has grown on me to the point that I might consider using it. I love April as a middle name with one of my favorites, Cecily. But I can’t take credit for that lovely combo—it was the name of late TV casting director, Cecily April Adams.

Readers: Which Spotlight Name Series are your favorites? Would you use any of these names on a child of your own? Which of these names are your favorites? (Multiple votes are allowed.)


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Unfairly Dated Names: Heather

Unfairly Dated Names are a subset of Spotlight Names most people don’t consider old-enough to recycle. Most of these names peaked around 15-60 years ago and are often typecast as parent and grandparent names. But their timeless and sometimes modern attributes make them stylish stand-outs for modern children. At one point these names were ahead of the trends, and likely will be again.

Unfairly Dated Name: Heather

Let’s play guess the year. We’ll step into our baby name time machine to a year when these contemporary favorites were under-appreciated:

  • Hazel ranked at #942 and would leave the top 1000 the following year.
  • Lily didn’t even rank in the top 1000.
  • Violet didn’t rank in the top 1000.
  • Willow didn’t rank in the top 1000, and had never been in the top 1000.

What year am I talking about?

If you guessed the year was 1975, you are correct. Sorry, you don’t get a prize, only the smug satisfaction of knowing you are a name-stat genius. Or maybe you are just a good guesser. Either way, your reward is smug satisfaction.

1975 was the same year Heather peaked at #3. This name for a small shrub was compared to top 1000 newcomer Juniper in the latest installment of our Failure to Launch series.

For those of you who are not familiar with the series, Failure to Launch names are names that had potential to become popular a few decades ago, but either remained uncommon or are just now getting popular. The series was created to prove that while specific names come and go, certain styles are timeless. It’s interesting to investigate why certain names are popular for certain decades, and not others that seemed to fit the styles of the time.

The Unfairly Dated names series was created to prove the same point, but focuses on names that were ahead of their time, that peaked a few decades before they were supposed to. Heather was ahead of its time. Heather qualifies as an Unfairly Dated name.

Heather was a popular botanical name at a time when botanical names weren’t in. They were even downright passe, but Heather was the exception. Why was Heather the exception?

Perhaps the -er ending it shares with the top 1970s girl name, Jennifer, inspired Heather’s popularity. Or perhaps the name’s Scottish and English origins made the name appealing. Scottish, English, and Celtic names are often considered stylish names today, but names with U.K. origins have been stylish for decades, only the specific names change with each generation.

Other names derived from Heather also peaked in the 1970s/80s. The Latin version, Erica, peaked about a decade later, at #31 from 1986 to 1988. The masculine version Heath also peaked in the mid-1970s, but didn’t get nearly as popular, reaching #181 in 1974.

Heather first hit the top 1000 in 1935, and slowly climbed and hit the top 100 in 1967. Once Heather hit the top 100, it soared. Within five years, Heather would reach the top 10 and stay there from 1972 until 1980 and would return from 1983 until 1987. Heather stayed in the top 100 until 1998, resulting in a three decade stint in the top 100.

Once Heather left the top 100 it dropped steeply, falling to #707 in 2011. Heather will probably exit the top 1000 within the next couple of years. This is another lovely name that suffered from overuse. Heather is the perfect strong yet feminine name. The shrub inhabits rocky, seemingly inhospitable terrains, and turns them into areas blanketed in pretty, yet anything but delicate, pink-purple flowers. To those who like Hazel, Juniper, Magnolia, and Willow, remember Heather paved the way.

Readers: What do you think of Heather?

Photo credit: macro image / fields of heather

Unfairly Dated Names: Gregory

Unfairly Dated Names are a subset of Spotlight Names most people don’t consider old-enough to recycle. Most of these names peaked around 15-60 years ago and are often typecast as parent and grandparent names. But their timeless and sometimes modern attributes make them stylish stand-outs for modern children. At one point these names were ahead of the trends, and likely will be again.

Unfairly Dated Name: Gregory

Firmly a “dad” name today, this dashing choice has been in decline the past few decades. Gregory peaked in the 1960s, making Gregory not just a “dad” name, but possibly a “dad to teenagers” name or even a “granddad” name.

Most of these dads and granddads had a name that was inspired (either directly or indirectly) by the late Gregory Peck (born Eldred Gregory Peck). The name’s peak coincided with the height of the actor’s film career.

The name saw big leaps in the 1940s. In 1944 Gregory Peck appeared in his first two major films, Days of Glory and The Keys to the Kingdom. For the latter, he was nominated for an Academy Award. That same year, the name ranked at #152 and leap to #96 the following year.

In 1962 Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. That same year, Gregory reached its peak at #21. The name held that same spot the following year, probably as a result of many pregnant woman watching To Kill a Mockingbird and the Academy Awards that year who didn’t give birth until the following year.

Inevitably most of these dads and granddads, many with a name influenced by the actor, became “Greg” reminiscent of Greg Brady. The nickname, which seems so natural to the baby boomer generation, also takes away a little of the name’s luster.

Gregory with the nickname Greg has a similar pattern to other former boy hits:

  • Timothy (Tim) peaked at #11 in 1966 and 1967
  • Zachary (Zack) peaked #12 in 1994 (Zachery peaked at #167 in 1993 and Zackery peaked at #316 in 1996)

Say these names together, Gregory, Timothy, Zachary and notice the similarities: the y-ending, the three syllables, the stress on the first syllable. And of course all of them are easily shortened. It’s a pattern that hung around for nearly thirty years, and is still somewhat fashionable. Zachary was still in the top 100 last year at #64. Timothy was at #123.

And where did Gregory rank? At #279. This is a good rank for Gregory, making it still familiar but not overused.

For reasons not exactly known, To Kill A Mockingbird has influenced such current name choices as Atticus (#462), and Harper (#54 for girls and #607 for boys), both of these are dramatically going up in use. Other names from the novel, Scout and Nelle (the author’s given name; Harper was her pen name and middle name), are surprisingly outside the top 1000, but with their current styles have potential to get there soon. Being the name of the man who played Atticus, Gregory is indirectly in this class.

Despite impressive literary associations, many modern parents might strongly associate the name with the fictional Gregory House from the Fox TV show, House. The character is expectantly middle-aged with a cantankerous personality, not an image that usually inspires baby name choices. The Gregory House image is not strong enough to permanently ruin the name, however, given its long history.

Gregory has Greek origins, and its usage is mostly English. It is derived from the Greek gregoros, meaning “watchful, alert”. Gregory has been somewhat common since the middle ages, being the name of royalty, religious leaders, and several popes. Gregory has only left the top 1000 a few times in the late 19th century, but until it had begun its climb after World War II, it was slow to hit the top 300s, which happened in the 1930s.

Around the time the name hit the top 300s, it did see a gradual climb about 10 years before Gregory Peck hit the scene. In 1934 Gregory hit the top 300 at #298 and climbed to #152 in 1944, the year before the actor’s breakout roles. Like modern hit names Mason and Emma, Gregory was already making a slow climb when the entertainment industry supercharged its popularity.

Like other “unfairly dated” names, such as Amy, Gregory is a name with solid history that is simply returning to its natural respectable place after a popularity explosion. That makes Gregory a good choice today. Masculine, intelligent, sporty, and refined.

Readers: What do you think of Gregory?

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Unfairly Dated Names: Peter

Unfairly Dated Names are a subset of Spotlight Names most people don’t consider old-enough to recycle. Most of these names peaked around 15-60 years ago and are often typecast as parent and grandparent names. But their timeless and sometimes modern attributes make them stylish stand-outs for modern children. At one point these names were ahead of the trends, and likely will be again.

Unfairly Dated Name: Peter

Who was your favorite Brady? Peter was my favorite Brady. Greg and Bobby weren’t nearly as cute. Peter aged better than his brothers. Yes I had a crush on Peter Brady.

Let’s get something out-of-the-way. At 13 I wasn’t crushing on the then 30-something actor Christopher Knight who portrayed Peter Brady. I was crushing on the fictional Peter Brady in syndication. Yes, I know Peter Brady never aged, but Christopher Knight aged. I can only assume Peter Brady would have aged like Christopher Knight. Ahem. Now on to Peter, the name.

Peter is charming. Peter is a non-religious Biblical name that after years of common use has lost most of its Biblical connection. The diminutive Pete embodies quaint masculinity just like other classic diminutives, Jake and Hank. Peter is everyman.

Like its counterparts John, Paul, and Mark, Peter blends into the background, overlooked by most contemporary parents. For this very reason, Peter is unlike names of the moment. For those who want a different, yet classic name, this makes Peter a treasure.

Last year, Peter ranked at #197, its lowest rank ever, and has been steadily declining since its peak in the upper 30s / low 40s over half a century ago. Interestingly, Peter never really hit a dramatic peak, but rather just started to decline over the past three decades.

Before the 1980s, Peter was consistently popular, never reaching the top 30, but barely leaving the top 60* until 1987. (1880 is the first year data is available.) These numbers suggest Peter is a consistent performer with staying power.

Like George, Peter has become a part of our cultural lexicon. There is the nursery rhyme, “Peter, Peter pumpkin eater”. There is the exclamation, “For Pete’s sake!” The name is also a children’s book staple, appearing on Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Considering Peter’s solid history, Peter’s meaning is fitting, derived from “petros”, Greek for “stone” or “rock”. In the New Testament, Peter is a translation of “Cephas” meaning “stone” in Aramaic. Cephas was the name Jesus had given Saint Peter, who was originally named Simon. Besides the Apostle, Peter was the name of a couple of other Saints and Russian tsar, Peter the Great.

Like other ancient names such as John and Elizabeth, Peter has several forms, in several languages. These foreign variations may hold more appeal to the modern parent.

There is the Greek Petros; the Latin Petrus or the Basque Petri (for those who can overlook the petri dish association). There is also, of course, the French Pierre, which is exotic, yet familiar to most Americans. There is a feminine form, Petra, also the name of an ancient city.

Peter is very similar to the now stylish Porter, an occupational surname revival name. Peter still ranked higher than Porter last year, which ranked at #450 but while Peter is gradually trending down, Porter is trending up. Porter’s usage history is a lot more dramatic than Peter’s. Porter peaked over a century ago just outside the top 200s, declined to its lowest point mid-century (outside the top 1000) and is positioned to reclaim, possibly surpass, its former popularity.

Peter has a similar sound to Porter, but has a less volatile usage history, its recent decline notwithstanding. While Peter is not an occupational surname, it shares the -er ending found in many other fashionable occupational surnames, such as Carter, Fletcher, and Miller. Peter is the perfect unfairly dated name because it’s trend-proof and also happens to be more unique than it has ever been – usage-wise. These qualities make Peter a great choice in 2012, a pleasant surprise on a newborn boy.

The only legitimate drawback, in my opinion is the unflattering slang connotation for Peter, but I still feel that term isn’t nearly as unfortunate as that nickname for Richard. Anyone concerned about suggestive slang, can use the diminutive Pete on its own. Some days I actually prefer Pete as a given name as a fresher alternative to Jack.

*Note: Peter was at #62 in 1904 & 1905 and #61 in 1934.

Readers: Which form of Peter do you like the best?

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Unfairly Dated Names: April

Unfairly Dated Names are a subset of Spotlight Names most people don’t consider old-enough to recycle. Most of these names peaked around 15-60 years ago and are often typecast as parent and grandparent names. But their timeless and sometimes modern attributes make them stylish stand-outs for modern children. At one point these names were ahead of the trends, and likely will be again.

Unfairly Dated Name: April

First there was May, then there was June, and then there was April? That order doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t the order according to the calendar. This is the order these months peaked as given names. April, while coming before May and June chronologically, is the most modern of the three as a given name.

May is a classic vintage name that peaked in 1880 (the earliest year data is available) at #57. May steadily declined and left the top 1000 in 1962. It has not returned yet, but its pattern suggests May is a prime revival candidate. The Mae spelling returned to the top 1000 in 2010 and has increased at a respectable pace from #982 in 2010 to #803 in 2011.

June peaked thirty-five years after May, at #39 in 1925. It was in the top 1000 from 1880 to 1982, and has since returned in a big way in 2008. June was one of the fastest rising names in 2011 climbing over 80 spots to #470.

And then April was next. April peaked almost fifty-five years after June and nearly a century after May at #23 in 1979.

April has a one-step-removed personal connection for me, as possibly the sister I never had. Had my brother been a girl, he could have been named April. He was born in April, in the late 1970’s, coinciding perfectly with the April boom.

April is a relatively modern name. Before the 1940’s few girls were named April. The name first entered the top 1000 in 1939 and hasn’t left yet. April was still more popular than June in 2011. April was at #395 compared to June at #470. But while June is dramatically trending up, April is steadily trending down.

Mainstream parents might get more excited about May/Mae or June, which have both been out of style long enough to seem fresh again. If you are looking for an edgy name, you might dismiss April as too 70s. Perhaps you prefer April’s French counterpart, Avril or more unusual months, January or September.

April is one 1970s / 1980s name I could root for. May/Mae and June’s comeback could jumpstart a resurgence in other months as given names. Eventually I can even see January and September entering the top 1000 for the first time for girls, and possibly boys too. Let’s not forget the masculine August, which never left the top 1000 and is gradually trending up, ranking at #398 in 2011.

If a calendar month trend develops, April may be among the last of that group to resurface since it peaked so recently, and so high (just missing the top 20), perhaps classifying April as a “mom name.” Regardless, I feel parents choosing April for babies born in 2012 are actually ahead, not behind the trends. A resurgence in month names could cause April to rebound in the next decade or two, sooner than other names from the 1970s.

There is another reason I feel an April born in 2012 would fit-in. There is another indirect connection between April and other fashionable names. April could be derived from the Latin “aperire” meaning to open, possibly referring to the opening of flowers. After all, “April showers bring May flowers.” Botanical names have been popular for the last decade and show no signs of slowing down. April’s connection to “spring flowers” make it an indirect botanical name.

I imagine Fawn as a good sister for April. Fawns are born in the spring. Both names have a nature feel, and a retro-hippy style. I also really like April paired with Twila, one of our astrological names. The repetitious A, I, and L in April and Twila makes the pair cohesive without matching too much. When I enter April in Nymbler up-and-coming names like Felicity, Laurel, Poppy and Prudence come up.

As is often the case, I looked to Nymbler for help coming up with brother names for April. Boy results for April are all over the map. Among Nymbler’s suggestions for boy names, there are both unusual choices like Birch and Octavius and mainstream options like Benjamin, Jack and William. The conclusion I drew from the boy results is that April is a versatile name, which can work in its favor.

The only downside I see to April is that a couple of actresses in the adult entertainment industry have chosen it as a stage name. There is adult film star April Flowers, and April March, an exotic dancer born in the 1930s. Regardless, I wouldn’t worry too much about the stage names. Since the name was reasonably popular not too long ago, chances are you know of at least one April who is not in the adult entertainment industry. If it helps, I didn’t even know who April March was until I started researching people named April for this post. I included this information to help name-hunting people make decisions with eyes wide open. When April is heard, I don’t think “adult entertainment industry” immediately comes to most people’s minds.

There are a few fictional April’s on TV, including Dr. April Kepner from Grey’s Anatomy, and April Rhodes from Glee. There is also April Green from Jericho, a show from 2006-2008 that Rob and I just discovered on Netflix. As an aside, we have watched Jericho every night and highly recommend it.

An amazing real-life combo I recently discovered is April in the middle for Cecily April Adams. She was an actress and casting director and the daughter of Don Adams, a sitcom actor from the 60s, and singer Adelaide Efantis. Before her untimely death from cancer in 2004, she was a casting director for That 70’s Show. Cecily is one of my personal top 5 favorites and I really like the Cecily April combo.

Like one of our other “unfairly dated names,” Amy, April is good for a family where the dad-to-be is in a time warp, obsessed with the 70s/80s names from his past. April is not unimaginable on a person born in the 2010s decade. No matter what decade is on the calendar, April is youthful and full of color.

Readers: What do you think of April?

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