This is the last part of our series examining whether the names on the personalized items in the Pottery Barn catalogs are really fashion-forward names, as the theory suggests.
Each part of the series focuses on names sampled from past years, going back to 2010.
Past installments of this series were:
- Part 1 which focused on 2010 (Names were examined from the Autumn 2010 catalog)
- Part 2 which focused on 2011 (Names were examined from the Fall 2011 catalog)
- Part 3 which focused on 2012 (Names were examined from the Fall 2012 catalog)
And this is part 4, which focuses on 2013.
These guidelines might seem repetitive to those of you who have followed the series, but for the benefit of those who missed parts 1-3, here are some guidelines we used to color code and classify the names.
Names used for girls are coded pink, boys are coded blue, and if the gender is undetermined (or cannot be assumed) the name is coded green.
For example, Chloe is always assumed to be a girl’s name, even if the decor in the catalog is unisex or even traditionally masculine. For a traditionally unisex name like Taylor, the gender is determined based on the decor in the catalog; depending on whether the decor is traditionally male, female or unisex, the name will be color coded accordingly.
Based on when each name peaked, each name is categorized as:
- Current (on trend for the catalog year)
- Traditional (never out of style)
- Down-market (dated)
- Up-and-coming (ahead of trends)
- Original (unknown or invented)
Notes about 2013 names:
- Since the Social Security Administration has not released the popular baby name data for 2013, the names in the 2013 catalog will be categorized as Current, Traditional, Down-market, Up-and-coming or Original based on their rankings leading up to 2012.
- For parts 1-3 (2010 – 2012) of this series, the samples were taken from the fall catalogs, but for part 4 (2013) the samples are taken from the summer catalog because the fall catalog was not out when the sample was taken. There was a Fall Gear Guide but it was a little smaller than a seasonal catalog and didn’t have as many names.
I’m really excited about the summer 2013 catalog because it has more names than the fall catalogs from 2010 – 2012. There were a couple of names I had to omit because I could not read them online due to either poor image resolution, the letter color blending into the background pattern, or both.
Names from the Summer 2013 “The Best of Summer” online issue:
These names from the Summer 2013 catalog are at their peak based on 2012 Social Security data:
Name from the Summer 2013 catalog that have been fashionable for at least a couple of generations:
Names from the Summer 2013 catalog that statistically were on the decline in 2012:
*Anne might be considered traditional, but I had a hard time putting it in that group because it has been in steep decline these past couple of decades. Twenty years ago, Anne left the top 200 and about five years ago it left the top 500. Anne looks like it might be turning around (it has risen to #561 from its lowest rank ever of #606 in 2010). But it’s a little early to classify Anne as up-and-coming.
Now we are getting to the exciting part. The following lists of names are either up-and-coming or original and ahead of their time. If Pottery Barn predicts name trends, these lists should be the longest.
These names are on the rise and seem fashion-forward:
And here are that names that are completely original in 2013–so uncommon they aren’t on many people’s radar:
*As a nickname for the traditional Michael, Mikey may not come across as original, but as a given name it is rare. If statistics on nicknames (which are very difficult to track) were available, Mikey would probably be considered down-market (Mike seems like the more common nickname), but I can’t prove that and I had to count nicknames as if they were given names.
Insights from Pottery Barn Kids from 2010 to 2013
Here’s how the Pottery Barn catalog names compare from each year to the next based on my samples:
- The one consistent finding is the decline of traditional names each year.
- For 2011 and 2012 the up-and-coming names group grew and then shrunk back down in 2013.
- Every year, the original names were always the smallest group, never exceeding 9% of names in the sample catalogs.
- Every year, the size of the “original” group could be artificially inflated by nickname-names. These names are rare as given names but could be common nicknames. Since data on nicknames is not available, these names had to be classified as if they were given names.
- Almost every year, the down-market names were among the largest group, except for 2012 when down-market and up-and-coming names were tied as the largest group.
- These names appeared in the catalog every year: Blake and Riley
- Alex appeared every year except 2011 which had Alexa
- Patrick appeared every year except 2011
- One of the most original names, Penn (given to 46 newborn boys in 2012), appeared in both 2012 and 2013
Based on these findings, Pottery Barn more likely follows the trends than sets them. While there was an increase in up-and-coming names, the increase was not sustained in 2013 (based on the sample) and the number of truly off-the-grid, completely original names remained small each year, especially when nickname-names are excluded.
I speculate that Pottery Barn tries to represent the mix of names found among the general population, which represents their customers. For marketing purposes this might be a smart strategy.
One thing to keep in mind is that Pottery Barn Kids doesn’t offer products limited to babies and toddlers, but also offers products for older kids, probably between the ages of 5-12. (PB Teen is marketed to kids over 12.)
Older kids were most likely given names that were current or up-and-coming when they were born 5-12 years ago, but might be down-market at the moment. This probably explains the large number down-market names.
Imagine you are a typical Mom of a 10-year-old. You are looking at the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. What kind of names would you expect to see?
I would expect to see mostly names of my child’s peers. Even some of the names that seem very dated now, could be more popular on a 10-year-old than you might expect.
For example, Jennifer appeared in the 2010 and 2012 catalogs. At first I wondered if Pottery Barn’s marketing people were being renegades, purposely picking a dated name like Jennifer to be ironic.
And then I checked Jennifer’s popularity back in 2002, over 10 years ago. Jennifer was still in the top 30 back then, ranking at #28! There were 8,537 newborn girls named Jennifer in 2002. This is similar to the number of newborn girls named Avery in 2012. There were 8,272 newborn Avery’s and it ranked #13.
This means there is a good chance some Pottery Barn Kids customers have 10-year-old girls named Jennifer.
Recurring names such as Alex, Blake, Patrick and Riley made me wonder why Pottery Barn reused these names. I began to wonder if Pottery Barn used names of real people for their catalogs.
Some people think the names come from the most popular names requested by customers for personalized items.
My opinion is the names are most likely a mix of Pottery Barn employees’ kids’ or grand-kids’ names (which would explain an unusual name like Penn appearing in more than one catalog), and names most requested by customers.
The next question is: How did Pottery Barn get this (inaccurate) reputation as a baby name trend setter? The answer could be complex and that is a topic for another day.
Readers: Where do you think Pottery Barn gets the names they use for the personalized items in their catalogs? (multiple selections are allowed)
Image Credit: Pottery Barn Summer 2013 Best of Summer