Name To Watch: Blythe

Blythe-original-croppedSometimes a name starts appearing in pop culture and I feel it is going places despite low birth numbers. Such is the case with Blythe. Not only do I feel Blythe is a solid up-and-coming name, I feel Blythe is a modern classic in the making.

This may seem like a hefty hypothesis, which I will attempt to support here, but of course I can never really prove since predictions are always a crapshoot. But I’m going to attempt to support this prediction and then wait and see…

Blythe’s Appearances

First let’s start with some qualitative data. Blythe has appeared in a few places both outside and inside the baby name blogosphere.

I’m going to start outside the world of name blogs, because I feel this is where the name gets its long-term potential, especially since one association is familiar to the next generation of baby namers.

The children’s show Littlest Pet Shop may suggest the name could appear on future grandchildren. Blythe Baxter is the name of the main character, a little girl who lives in an apartment above a pet shop. Blythe is the only one who can understand what the pets are saying.

Another lesser known association related to The Littlest Pet Shop are Blythe dolls. These are dolls from Japan with over-sized heads and eyes that change color with a pull of a string. Blythe dolls were created in 1972 and only sold in the U.S. for a year by a company that was later purchased by Hasbro.

In 2004 Hasbro introduced Blythe dolls as part of The Littlest Pet Shop toy line, which inspired the name of the main character in the animated TV series.

But I also feel Blythe is appealing to current baby namers. There are a couple of other strong associations. One is Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother, Blythe Danner and another is Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables.

Perhaps Blythe is a future “generational crossover” name that could be fashionable for at least two generations. Some examples are:

  • Deborah which seems imaginable on both Baby Boomers (ages 45-65) and Gen Xers (ages 30-45) and
  • Allison, imaginable on Gen Xers, Millennials (age 18-30) and present day children (under 18).

Perhaps this is some gutsy forecasting for a name that isn’t even in the top 1000, has never been in the top 1000, and was only given to 162 newborn girls last year.

But I have heard the name everywhere–so much so that I feel we are going to hear Blythe on baby name lists long before contemporary kids start having babies.

The name is already getting attention in the baby name blog world.

Blythe gets an impressive 4500+ keyword search results on popular baby name site Nameberry (at time of writing). In fact it’s getting close to 5000 search results. (These search results bring up how many times a name has been mentioned on Nameberry’s forums, members’ name lists, and blog, and are constantly changing as Nameberry bloggers and readers add more submissions.)

The name also appeared on Swistle Baby Names a few months ago–twice. Once when she mentioned it is as a name to consider and again when the blogger’s mom had asked about Blythe’s pronunciation. Apparently there are questions as to whether the TH is unvoiced like Ruth or voiced like Heather. With a one syllable name like Blythe, I find the difference between the voiced/unvoiced TH very subtle, and if the name continues to become more popular, I don’t think it will be much of an issue.

Blythe By The Numbers

Let’s look at a quantifiable measure, the name’s birth numbers for the past decade. FYI – Swistle took a sample of birth numbers from every 10 years going back to 1880, and I’m taking a sample from every year since 2002 to be consistent with the protocol I initiated with another recent name to watch, Clover. *Note these are real numbers of baby girls named Blythe each year, not Blythe’s rank.

Year # Newborn Girls
2002 74
2003 72
2004 75
2005 79
2006 65
2007 64
2008 77
2009 87
2010 85
2011 105
2012 162

 

The above table shows that the birth numbers for Blythe were at a plateau for most of the 2000s and even dipped slightly in 2006-7. The real jump happened just within the past couple of years.

If you check out Swistle’s table you will note a gradual increase in Blythe’s born since the early 20th century.

Prior to the 1920s-30s, Blythe did not have enough birth numbers each year to appear in the Social Security data, meaning there were fewer than 5 Blythes born each year.

The steadily rising birth numbers suggest the 2010 decade may be the decade for Blythe. Blythe very well may hit the top 1000 in the late 2010s. And I feel once Blythe hits the top 1000, it will stay there for decades due to the many strong associations–both old and new.

Blythe is going on the UBN Watch List report for next year. This report lists names that I’m watching, and is updated with each Watch List name’s birth numbers every year once the Social Security Administration releases the newest top 1000 baby names. New names are added to the report every year. The report just keeps getting better every year. 🙂

To receive this report, and other UBN updates, submit your email address below. *Blythe isn’t in the current Watch List report, which you will receive immediately once your subscription is confirmed, but it will be in the next report, which you will automatically receive once it comes out next year (unless you choose to unsubscribe before then).

And I’m curious if you agree with me that Blythe is a future hit name. Share your thoughts in the poll and comments.






Readers: Do you feel Blythe has potential to become a top baby name?

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Spotlight on: Jenna

Note: This post is running a day earlier than planned to celebrate actress Jenna Fischer’s birthday, which is today. The timing is a complete coincidence. Happy 39th Birthday Jenna Fischer!

Jenna Fischer

By The Heart Truth (The Heart Truth Fashion Show 2008)

Jenna was one of our cross-generational names, names that seem imaginable on a large age group, but aren’t imaginable on everyone. For example, Allison is imaginable on contemporary moms and daughters, but isn’t imaginable on contemporary grandmothers.

Jenna stood out among these cross-generational names because Jenna isn’t only imaginable on a large age group; Jenna also has a transitional style. Jenna almost seems like a hybrid of 1970s mega-hit Jennifer, and 2000s hit Emma .

Parents most likely turned to Jenna as an alternative to Jennifer, which was the top girl name from 1970 to 1984, and in the top 100 for a 50+ year span from 1954 to 2008. 1984, the year Jenna catapulted into the top 55, also happens to the last year Jennifer ranked #1.

Jenna never got nearly as popular as Jennifer, but was hardly uncommon. Jenna was one of those names that almost could have qualified as a fad name. It saw a huge increase in rank in a single year. The name rose over 150 places in 1984 reaching #54 from its 1983 rank of #215.

Jenna’s dramatic increase also reflects another sign of a fad name. It’s rise might be pinpointed to a single pop culture event, the introduction of Jenna Wade, a fictional character played by Priscilla Presley on the night-time soap Dallas, from 1983 to 1988.

Based on Jenna’s beginnings, the name could have fallen as quickly as it climbed, but that didn’t happen. Jenna stayed in the top 100 from 1984 until 2006, an over 20 year reign. In 2011 (the most recent year data is available), Jenna still ranked in the top 200 at #170, but is now declining. If Jenna exhibited signs of a fad name almost 30 years ago, what explains its staying power?

While the answers aren’t certain, one possibility is Jenna’s timeless style. Two-syllable girl names ending in A have been around awhile and have been fashionable since the late 1990s. One of the most successful of these names, Emma, has been in the top 10 for the past decade, and is certainly no stranger to top 10 territory, also ranking in the top 10 during the late 19th century.

Combining the “Jen” prefix that was popular 40 years ago with the timeless a-ending, Jenna has an appeal that’s not surprising. And “Jen names” aren’t as dated as they may seem, they just go through different incarnations. For example, Genevieve, which peaked at #76 in 1914 and 1916, is slowly coming back after a decline, reaching #232 in 2011.

One famous Jenna is Jenna Fischer, of The Office fame. Jenna Fischer was born Regina Fischer, but Jenna does not seem out-of-place on the 39-year-old. Regardless, her birth name is the name more likely on someone her age.

The year the actress was born, 1974, there were nearly five times as many girls named Regina as Jenna. That year Regina was given to 2,585 newborn girls, placing it just outside the top 100 at #113. Jenna, by contrast, was given to 468 newborn girls that year placing it at #418.

I would consider Jenna a modern name that is on it’s way to becoming a modern classic.

Jenna has a usage history that is somewhat uncommon. Jenna wouldn’t qualify as a revival name such as Emma. Revival names were somewhat popular, became uncommon, and then saw a comeback.

Jenna most closely fits the characteristics of a modern name, but has more history and steady usage than other modern names. Modern names were almost obscure until the past 20-30 years and then suddenly became common. But unlike other modern names, Jenna doesn’t seem in danger of becoming time-stamped or linked to one or two decades, like Jennifer.

Jenna had never been in the top 1000 (qualifying it as obscure) until 1971. After entering the top 1000, Jenna gradually climbed the chart and then saw a sharp climb in 1984 to #54. And then something amazing happened. Jenna didn’t zoom into the top 20 or suddenly fall back into obscurity. Jenna stayed in the lower top 100 for over 20 years, never ranking higher than #45 in 2001.

A name with a historical usage like Jenna is Bianca. Like Jenna, Bianca had never been in the top 1000 until the early 1970s, but stayed at a respectable rank for a couple of decades. Bianca never became as popular as Jenna, but both names could be considered modern names that are morphing into modern classics. Now that both names are outside the top 100, they could be considered underused modern classics.

These are some of the best kinds of names, in my opinion. They aren’t terribly common, but aren’t rare either. They manage to fit-in, yet seem less likely to experience a surprising jump in popularity. These names have already weathered a dramatic popularity jump, and managed to be no worse for wear.

Readers: What do you think of Jenna?

Photo credit: By The Heart Truth (The Heart Truth Fashion Show 2008) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

8 Names That Bridge Generations

Four-GenerationsMy Mom has friends named Barbara. I have friends named Amy. My Mom and I both have friends named Deb. Deb (or Deborah, Debra, Debora, etc.) seems imaginable on anyone between 35-60. This is a large age range for a feminine name, since feminine names are known to date more quickly than masculine names. I double-checked the Social Security name stats to see if this was all in my head.

As expected, Deborah was a top name for my Mom’s generation, peaking at #2 in 1955. Deborah’s popularity started to fall throughout the 1960s and 70s, but the name remained in the top 100 until 1977.

Deborah entered the top 100 in 1947. Three short years later, it hit the top 10 in 1950. This is a name that climbed quickly, and was slow to decline. But the name did decline, and in 2011 (the most recent year data is available) only ranked at #807.

Granted, Deborah didn’t rank nearly as high for my generation as it did for my Mom’s generation, but I expected Deborah to rank higher than it actually did in the mid-1970s. In the early part of the 1970s the name was no longer in the top 20, but was still in the 30s, but after 1974 the name left the top 50 and begun its decline, leaving the top 100 before the decade was through.

In 1975 Deborah ranked at #86. But the name felt more common than a #86 ranking suggests. And for my generation, a name that ranked around Deborah’s vicinity didn’t normally seem that common.

A ranking of #86 may seem common by today’s standards, now that parents prioritize unique names, but in a time when unique names weren’t prioritized, a #86 ranking normally would have seemed reasonably uncommon.

To give further perspective, in high school I had a friend named Anna, which ranked at #79 in 1975. Her name felt somewhat uncommon (certainly not unfamiliar, being a name that was popular on earlier generations, but unexpected on my generation) yet her name ranked slightly higher than Deborah that year. And Deborah felt like the more expected name on someone my age.

Why is that? If you are a big-time name fanatic like me you probably already know the answer, but for the benefit of everyone else, the answer lies in nicknames and alternative spellings. Most Deborah’s automatically became Deb, and so did most Debra’s.

For all practical purposes, Debra was almost as popular as Deborah, peaking at #2 in 1956 (the year after Deborah peaked at #2), and remained popular for almost as long, not leaving the top 100 until 1975. In 1975 Deborah ranked at #86 and was given to 3,417 newborn girls; Debra ranked at #115 and was given to 2,443 girls for a total of 5,860 girls. Most of these girls would become “Deb”. While proving exactly how many Deborah’s and Debra’s became “Deb” is difficult, the numbers suggest “Deb” was more popular than Anna as a call name for someone born in 1975, despite the similar rankings for Deborah, Debra, and Anna.

There was another name that had a ranking similar to Deborah that same year, Allison. I also knew an Allison in high school. I remember her name didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but was just different enough. In 1975 Allison ranked at #89 and was given to 3,352 newborn girls. 1975 could have been a pivotal year, the year Deborah was in decline while Allison was on its way up.

The 1970s was when Deborah passed the torch to Allison. By 2011, Allison ranked at #40. It has been in the top 50 since the 1980s, and has stayed in the 30s and 40s for nearly three decades.

Allison may be the more successful name. Allison didn’t have the high peak and trough of Deborah. Allison appears to have hit a plateau, and Allison may have more staying power and eventually become a modern classic while Deborah has since become dated.

There are a few things that could upset Allison’s winning streak, and cause Allison to eventually join Deborah in the dated ranks: the growing popularity of the similar Alice (at #142 and trending upwards), and the similar, and already popular Addison (at #13 and slightly past its peak of #11 in 2007 & 2010). On the other hand, the fashion clout of Alice and Addison could suggest Allison still has an appealing style. We will have to wait and see.

But besides a different downward trajectory, Deborah and Allison have some things in common:

  1. Both rose to popularity quickly.
  2. Both have multiple spellings (Deborah has Debra, Debora, etc., and Allison has Alison, Alisyn, etc.).
  3. But most importantly, both names are imaginable on a large age group.

While Deborah is imaginable on any female between 35 – 60, Allison is imaginable on any female between newborn and 40. Anyone can imagine an Allison with a Grandma Deb, and the Mom could be Allison or Deb.  My generation is where the two names overlap.

I like to all these “cross-generational” names. Often these names become modern classics, names that aren’t imaginable on the grandparents, but equally imaginable on parents and their children. But sometimes, such as with Deborah, the names do hit their decline and eventually become dated.

Here are some other cross-generational names. Maybe you and your parents (or you and your kids) have friends with these names:

Allison (or Alison, Allisyn, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1974 – 2011
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 40

Brian (or Bryan)

  • Years in the top 100: 1947 – 2009
  • Imaginable ages: 15 to 50*

Cynthia

  • Years in the top 100: 1945 – 1993
  • Imaginable ages: 30 – 60

Deborah (or Debra, Debora, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1947 – 1976
  • Imaginable ages: 35 – 60

Eric (or Erik, Erick, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1950 – 2010
  • Imaginable ages: 10 to 50*

Jenna

  • Years in the top 100: 1984 – 2006
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 30

Kyle

  • Years in the top 100: 1974 – 2008
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 40

Megan (or Meghan, Megyn, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1975 – 2007
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 40

* I feel I owe an explanation for why I can’t imagine Brian on anyone under 15 or Eric on anyone under 10 despite these names being in the top 100 as recently as 2009 and 2010. I can’t really give a good explanation. The imaginable age ranges are based solely on my perceptions, and you may disagree with them. Feel free to disagree with the age ranges.

Readers: Can you think of any other cross generational names?

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3 Signs Of A Future Fad Name

What do baby names and mullets (the out-of-date hairstyle shown in the picture) have in common?

This comparison came into my head when I read this article on The Baby Name Wizard blog, What Can Middle School Teach Us About Baby Naming.

This article compares middle-school students’ desire to fit yet also stand-out to modern parent’s desire to name baby something universally appealing and yet unique. The analogy really resonated with me. Laura Wattenberg, the author, lists three middle-school lessons that can be applied to baby-naming, with the last lesson resonating the most with me: Smart is Cooler Than You Think.

This lesson concludes that life is not a 24-7 party, but rather there is time to be fun and carefree and time to be smart and serious. Ms. Wattenberg explains how as an adult she has grown to appreciate “situational style”, that’s sexy on the weekend and smart come Monday. She closes her observations with these words:

Rather than choosing a party-all-night name, or going crazy with the spelling, why not give your child the flexibility of a smart, serious name with a nickname that walks on the wild side?

These words reminded me of “business in the front, party in the back”, the catch phrase used to describe mullets, the hairstyle hugely popular in the late 80s/ early 90s, The front is short (business); the back is long (party).

I doubt mullets were what Ms. Wattenberg had in mind when she wrote those words, especially considering Lesson 2 is: Don’t Be A Slave To Trends. How many men (and possibly women) do you know who regret their mullets? Somewhere in a landfill are ditched middle school portraits from 20 years ago. People are praying these ditched photos aren’t resurrected by some old classmate with a scanner and a Facebook account.

Changing a mullet is as simple as a haircut, yet changing a name isn’t that easy. The problem is knowing if you have stumbled upon a “baby name mullet” before you give it to your offspring. Compounding this problem is that few names are trend-proof, except for authentic classics like Elizabeth.

Unfortunately for those of us whose tastes don’t include the authentic classics, there’s always the risk of becoming a slave to trends. Being someone who embraces new names, I’m not immune. I’m sure I would really like Madison if it hadn’t become so overused.

While there is no foolproof approach, here are some signs you might love a “baby name mullet”:

1. Until recently the name had been obscure and then it suddenly surged in popularity

This is when a name had never been in the top 1000 (since 1880 the earliest year data is available) and then debuts highly in the top 1000, usually above the #700 rank.

There are always exceptions, but here are some names that debuted highly, that many people either consider dated or will consider dated soon.

Here is an example of a name that recently debuted highly in the top 1000, that is in danger of going the way of the mullet:

  • Isla debuted at #622 in 2008. It ranked at #268 in 2011. For what its worth, I love this one too.

While a lot of parents try hard to find a name that has never been in the top 1000, that can be risky, as the above examples show. At least with a name in the top 1000, you have some past trends to go on. Past trends can be invaluable for spotting fad names.

With that said, a popular name is not necessarily a fad name. The advantage of many top 10 names is that they got there gradually, and have a solid history. For example, Olivia (#4) has always been in the top 1000, and while Olivia is popular, it is not a fad name.

This isn’t to suggest all top 10 names are safe. One of the above examples, Madison, reached the top 10 and is still there. Other than a high top 1000 debut, Madison exhibits another characteristic of a fad name; its popularity can be traced to one event, which leads us to the next sign of a future fad name:

2. The name’s popularity is directly linked to a prominent pop culture event.

For Madison that event was the fantasy movie, Splash, of course. Splash came out within a year of Madison’s debut in the top 1000. But the event doesn’t have to be a movie.

The event could be a famous person using an unusual name for their offspring. Such was the case with Nevaeh, which was invented by a Christian rock musician within a year of its debut in the top 1000. Or the event might be a newly famous person with an unusual name.

Besides a high debut in the top 1000 triggered by one event, what Madison and Nevaeh have in common is once they got to the top 1000, they zoomed up the charts. But what about names that debuted highly and never zoomed up the charts. I found one example:

  • Ainsley debuted at #481 in 2001 and over the past decade has plateaued in the 300-400s. It ranked at #363 in 2011.

Whether or not Ainsley becomes a fad name depends on how quickly the name climbs in coming years. Based on past performance, Ainsley could continue its gentle climb, but names have been known to gently climb and then suddenly skyrocket. This could happen to Ainsley considering Ainsley’s trendy style as a Scottish surname, and similarity to past hit name Ashley. And this leads us to the last sign of a future fad name:

3. The name has a trendy style.

There are some styles that are susceptible to becoming fads. Some of these styles include: Irish/Scottish/Celtic surnames, names with certain vowels, and modern creative names. This isn’t an all-encompassing list, and not all names with these styles are doomed to go the way of the mullet.

A rule of thumb is if you found a name with a trendy style that also exhibits at least one of the other two signs, this is a red flag. Generally speaking a fad name will exhibit at least two out the three.

When These Signs Come Together

A name that just entered the top 1000 a couple of years ago and exhibits at least three, possibly four of these signs is Iker.

About ten years ago, most American parents probably couldn’t imagine a little Iker. This statement isn’t completely irrefutable, but consider that in 2002 there were only 21 boys named Iker, and the similar sounding Ike is still overlooked by most American parents. And consider that it meets all three signs of a fad name:

Sign 1. Until recently it had been obscure and then it surged in popularity.

Iker entered the top 1000 only a couple of years ago at #646 in 2010. The following year, it rose to #379.

Sign 2. Its popularity can be traced to a single pop culture event.

Iker Casillas led Spain to a World Cup victory in the summer of 2010 (in Soccer or Football if you are outside the U.S.).

Sign 3. It has a trendy style.

Names with the long I sound, such as Isaac are popular now. Boy names with the -er ending, like Archer, are also becoming more popular.

Please don’t hate me if you love Iker.

As with any other set of name rules, these aren’t hard and fast rules, only guidelines. You can ignore these rules if you find that name that exhibits these signs, but you know the name suits your style, and feels like your baby.

And there are some exceptions. Samantha is a big one. It exhibits at least two of the three signs. It had been absent from the top 1000 for decades, and then returned at #473 in 1964, the year the show Bewitched premiered on TV.

But few would consider Samantha a fad name. Samantha has been around awhile and has become a modern classic. One thing that differentiates Samantha from names like Isla and Iker is that it had been at the bottom of the top 1000 before, from 1880 to 1902. Another thing helping Samantha is that after a few years of rapid growth, its growth slowed down and it gradually hit the top 10 in 1988, twenty years after its top 1000 debut, and its decline has been slow, still ranking at #17 in 2011.

Samantha’s previous history in the top 1000 is something it has in common with Archer. For this reason, Archer could avoid going the way of the mullet. Archer returned to the top 1000 at #681 in 2009 after a long absence. In 2011 it ranked at #447. It had spent some time at the bottom of the top 1000 from 1880 to 1889.  Whether or not Archer becomes a fad name depends on how quickly Archer climbs (and then falls) and how long Archer sticks around.

These rules were designed for parents who would regret inadvertently giving their child a fad name. If you are one of those people and you happen to like Isla and/or Iker, you have been forewarned.

Readers: What names do you feel are in danger of becoming fad names? These signs are nebulous with names like Ainsley and Archer. Will Ainsley and Archer go the way of the mullet or become modern classics like Samantha?

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