Revisited Spotlight Name: Martha

In memory of Rob’s grandmother, Martha, who passed away on April 14th at the age of 94, I am re-running the Spotlight I did on her name a couple of years ago. 

Memere

Rob’s family photo. His grandmother, known by the French MeMere (pronounced Mem-may) is in the center, back row. This was a French Canadian potato farming family that lived in Maine when the picture was taken.

 

Martha can be the polished, sophisticated business woman. Martha can be the girl next door. If you’re looking for a cute nickname there’s Marty, but Martha is great on its own.

Martha has much credibility. The biblical name also happens to be the name of the US’s very first, first lady.

Martha’s time for a revival has almost passed. She peaked in the 1880s, around the same time as other modern revival names, like Anna and Emma, that have been popular for almost a decade already. Anna has already begun to decline.

However, parents may not have grown tired of the 1880s yet. For proof, see Alice and Clara’s recent rise: Alice jumped 28 places in 2010, ranking at 172, and Clara has climbed steadily the past decade, ranking slightly ahead of Alice at 167.

Update: Both names continue to rise, though Alice is now slightly ahead of Clara. Most recently (in 2012), Alice ranked at 127 and Clara ranked at 136.

Yet Martha continues to decline, dropping over 300 places the past decade, ranking at 697 in 2010. Update: In 2011 Martha dropped to 763 and then rebounded slightly. In 2012 Martha ranked at 730.  I’m not sure why this is, but I’m not really concerned with why, but rather I want to draw attention to an underused gem.

Like many names that appeal to parents, Martha can have many faces. In addition to the first-First Lady, there’s:

  • Model-turned-stockbroker-turned-entrepreneur, Martha Stewart
  • 80’s MTV personality, Martha Quinn
  • Fox News personality, Martha MacCallum
  • And finally, Martha Plimpton who may not be a household name, but whose face would be recognized from several movies, notably The Goonies and Beautiful Girls. Currently she has a regular role in the hit Fox comedy, Raising Hope (another fantastic name).

My husband’s grandmother is Martha, and there’s a good chance many of today’s parents have a grandmother, great-grandmother or great-aunt Martha. The name stayed close to the top 30 until around World War II.

I had briefly considered Martha as a middle name had our son been a girl. But its hard to say if Martha could have ended up on another birth certificate in our family.

When I first mentioned Martha as a potential middle name to Rob, his response was, “Like in Martha Washington. That’s cool.”

When he started nixing every girl name on my list, I thought despite my dislike of alliteration with our M last name, perhaps Rob would agree to Martha as a first name.

When I mentioned Martha again, his response was, “Martha? Isn’t that sort of old?”

And that is the most likely reason Martha is still on the decline; she is still seen as “old” to many modern parents. Why some great-grandmother names are seen as charmingly vintage while others are seen as dusty relics is sometimes a mystery.

Consider this though: Martha has more history and stability than early 20th century flash-in-the pan Gladys. While Gladys still ranked lower than Martha in 2010, I had met a little Gladys at my daughter’s library playgroup. The other parent’s reaction to Gladys on a little one was positive.

Update: Despite the positive reactions Gladys got in my daughter’s library playgroup a few years ago, the numbers don’t suggest Gladys is about to turn around anytime soon. Gladys has been outside the top 1000 since 2000, and its birth numbers have continued to drop. Martha appears to be the name more likely to come back, which (in my opinion, anyway) is a bit of a relief. 

Personally, I would much rather see a little Martha, a name that has the same classic charm as Anna and Emma. Adding even more potential, those stylish Brits appreciate Martha, ranking her at 85 in 2010. As mentioned in my post on nickname names, the UK trends are sometimes a precursor to US trends.

Update: In the UK, Martha has since risen to 77 in 2012. 

For those looking for something a little more exotic and spunky there’s Marta with origins in several European countries, including Spain, Portugal, Poland, Norway, and Italy. Marta was also one of the children in The Sound of Music.

Before I began to consider Martha, I had turned to Marta three or four years ago. Martha still seemed a bit dusty to me at the time. However, after realizing the appeal of Martha, I like that name even more than Marta now.

From what I learned from Rob’s relatives at his grandmother’s funeral this past Monday, Martha was an incredibly hard worker; she was a farmer, a seamstress and cooked everything from scratch. She was in good health. She didn’t have an easy life, but she had a good life. I like Martha even more today than I did when I wrote this a couple of years ago. 

Readers: Perhaps at some point I will run a new poll on Martha later, but for now the original poll on Martha can be found on the original Spotlight on Martha.

Reader Q&A: Is Elliot Going To The Girls? Part 2 of 2

ElliotvsElliott

Reader Jennifer reached out to me because the name she is considering should her unborn child be a boy has gained popularity with girls in recent years.

The name in question, Elliott (spelled with 2 Ts) is almost in the girls’ top 1000 and the variation Elliot (with one T) had already hit the top 1000 a couple of years ago.

In the first part of this series, I compared Elliot (with one T since that spelling is in the top 1000 for both genders) to three gender crossover names that have gone to the girls: Addison, Ashley, Aubrey.

See Part 1 here.

The comparisons with Addison and Ashley were encouraging for those who feel Elliot should stay on the “blue team”.

Addison and Ashley were never very popular on boys and spent a lot of time outside the boys’ top 1000, unlike Elliot which has been in the boys’ top 1000 for about a century.

This suggests Elliot has a solid history on the boys’ side to keep it there.

However, the findings with Aubrey weren’t as encouraging–unless you prefer Elliot on a girl.

While Aubrey was never very popular on boys, it had never left the boys’ top 1000 until 2009, when it suddenly took off on girls.

Almost a century ago, Aubrey was more popular on boys than Elliot.

Could Elliot go the way of Aubrey?

Watch my take.

My opinion is just my opinion. I would love to hear from readers on this.

Readers: In your opinion, is Elliot a boy name, girl name or unisex name?

Reader Q & A: Is Elliot Going To The Girls? Part 1 of 2

elliot-graphI love when readers give me ideas for UBN.

Recently Jennifer reached out to me with a concern that the name she is considering for a possible son is gaining popularity on girls.

Will Elliot (or Elliott) Become The Next Ashley?

I did do a post on the subject of gender crossover names that looked back in time: Whoa! These Were Once Boy Names! 

But I haven’t done a forward-looking post on gender-crossover names yet. Watch my take on the subject*:

Readers: What do you think? Will Elliot/Elliott go to the girls?

Update: Part 2 is now available here.

Never miss an update. To get notified for the second part of this series and get other updates, including stuff I don’t share on the blog, enter your email address below.






* This was originally going to be a standard written post until I was nearly finished writing and creating graphs and saw all the graphs and decided this was another opportunity for a video post. See my first one here

Because I didn’t want to wait until Rob could tape me during daylight hours to get this out to you guys (the lighting in our house at night is hardly ideal for video), I experimented with my webcam. I think for the next one, I’m going to ask Rob to tape me because he did a great job.

Name To Watch: Wilhelmina

Supermodel Wilhelmina Cooper

Supermodel Wilhelmina Cooper

Wilhelmina may seem impractical. For one thing, it is impossible to spell.

Could a name like Wilhelmina zoom up the baby name charts?

Maybe five years ago I would have scoffed at that possibility.

But the baby name tide may be turning.

The top baby girl names in America are very different from Wilhelmina.

Look at these names in the top 100 and see if you can spot what they have in common:

  • #3 Isabella
  • #4 Olivia
  • #23 Amelia
  • #49 Arianna / #74 Ariana
  • #73 Gianna
  • #91 Aria

Besides all ending in A, they are all heavy on vowels and mostly stem from Romance language such as Spanish or Italian. (Although Amelia is actually a variation of the German Amalia and German isn’t a Romance language, it’s a Germanic language.)

Names from consonant-heavy Germanic languages, the most widely spoken being English and German, were seen as fusty and frumpy by Americans for the past few decades.

Wilhelmina is considered a German name making it very different from names that were sought after in recent decades.

In recent decades, the sought after names were the lovely, lyrical, liquid sounding names from Romance language, especially for girls. Names like in the above list.

This wasn’t always the case. At one point Germanic names were fashionable among Americans. Some Germanic names that were popular during the Victorian era include Bertha (which peaked at #7 in the 1880s) and Gertrude (peaked at #22 in 1906).

American parents may be ready to welcome these names back into nurseries and pre-schools.

But I don’t think Bertha and Gertrude will be among the newest wave of Germanic names to hit the top 1000 within the next decade.

Well… OK… Gertrude may have potential with cute nicknames, Gertie and Tudy.

Cute nicknames aside, I believe the newest hot Germanic names will include Greta (one of UBN’s first Watch List Names), Otto (another Watch List Name) and now:

Wilhelmina

Wilhelmina is the feminine form of Wilhelm, a German variation of William.

While overlooked for many years, dismissed as being perhaps too consonant-heavy, from 1880 (the earliest year baby name stats are available) until around 1900, Wilhelmina ranked in the 200’s. The name declined through the early 20th century, left the top 1000 in 1953, and has yet to return.

But I feel the name has a shot to re-enter the top 1000 within the next few years.

There are two reasons I believe this.

  1. Within the past year, Wilhelmina became a minor celebrity baby name, the youngest daughter of 90’s teen idol Taylor Hanson and his wife Natalie.

    The Hanson’s other daughter was given super-breakout name Penelope, which has come back in a big way, rising almost 300 places in a five-year span from #409 in 2007 to #125 in 2012. This indicates that the family knows name fashion.

  2. Wilhelmina is gaining popularity on parenting site BabyCenter.

BabyCenter has its own baby name rankings separate from the official US Social Security rankings, and if a name ranks higher with BabyCenter, that is a good sign it could climb the Social Security list within the next year or two.

On BabyCenter, Wilhelmina ranks at #393 for 2013, and has risen the past couple of years.

Wilhelmina’s birth numbers in the US show a promising upward trend the past four years. But considering that the birth number had been stagnant until recently, these birth numbers don’t suggest that Wilhelmina will likely hit the top 1000 next year.

Year # of Newborn Girls
2002 21
2003 18
2004 14
2005 19
2006 15
2007 31
2008 23
2009 28
2010 41
2011 54
2012 63

 

Generally a girl name must have about 250 births—give or take—in any given year to make the 1000th place on the Social Security list. That means Wilhelmina’s birth numbers would have to almost quadruple to put it in the top 1000 next year.

Nevertheless, Wilhelmina has the makings of a fashion star. First there are the wide choices of nicknames: Wilma, Willa, Willy, and Mina.

Then there is Wilhelmina’s four syllables, something it has in common with mega-hit name Isabella, and rising-star Cecilia.

Wilhelmina has earned a place on the UBN Watch List Report, a list of names I add to yearly and track every year.

To get the latest Watch List Report (and get on the list to receive the next Watch List Report, the one which will have Wilhelmina) become an UBN email follower by submitting your name below.

As an UBN email follower, you will also get updates on names ahead of the curve and other stuff I don’t share on the UBN blog.

 






Image credit

Resources:
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/508379/Romance-languages
http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/romancelanguage/a/050611-Romance-Languages.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_languages

Names From America’s Last Frontier

The Alaskan Flag

The Alaskan Flag

Jewel, the Folk/pop/country singer, may have a name that seems a bit earthy-crunchy to some people, but her name isn’t off-the-wall by modern standards. To the public, a name like Jewel doesn’t seem any more original than other nature names like Summer and Skye.

This might be largely thanks to the singer. Many may forget that her name seemed unique when she first entered the public eye 20 years ago.

Jewel was one of those names that was never very common, but was surprisingly on the lower end of the popularity chart over a century ago. It peaked in the 200’s from 1898 to 1936 and then declined. By mid-century Jewel fell off the charts completely, leaving the U.S. top 1000.

If not for the famous namesake, the name may have drifted into obscurity, but Jewel did launch her name back into the public consciousness, and as the singer’s career took off in the 1990’s, her name found its way back to the popularity charts.

However, Jewel’s newfound notoriety wasn’t enough to push her name into the same mega-hit status as her songs. As a baby name, Jewel only made the top 200 once—not in the 1990’s—but, back in 1904. The highest the name ranked in the 1990s was at #557 in 1999. The name is still in the top 1000, however, and in 2012 was at #809.

Now that Jewel’s homesteading family in Alaska has their own reality show, the names of her family members, some of which may seem more unusual than Jewel’s, have gotten some publicity.

The singer’s life seems almost mythic with stories about her growing up in Alaska in a cabin without any plumbing. This lifestyle is the focus of the Discovery Channel reality show, Alaska: The Last Frontier.

Jewel’s family continues to live a counterculture lifestyle and they share counterculture names. The main characters are Jewel’s father, the family patriarch, Atz Kilcher, his son Atz Lee, Atz Senior’s brother Otto and his son Eivin (sounds like Ivan).

But names of the main characters aren’t my favorites from the show. Although I admit to having a soft-spot for Otto, the name’s not new to me. Otto is on UBN’s Watch List Report, which you can download here.

Here are the names I feel have promise.

Etienne – is absolutely lovely. He is the 9 year-old son of Atz Lee and his wife Jane. While this name (pronounced ay-TYEN) has a lovely rhythm and sounds nothing like popular U.S. boy names, it has familiar roots. You see, Etienne is nothing more than the French form of mid-century favorite Steven.

Stellavera (Stella+Vera) – is Atz and Otto’s sister. Combo names are once again fashion-forward and Stella is heading into the top 50, at #62 in 2012. Vera is the less popular of the two, but at #500 is climbing quickly. With both names being stylish, why not combine them and double the style? The resulting Stellavera has a rhythm similar to mega-hit Isabella. This is one of my favorite combo names.

Sunrise – is perhaps a bit wacky and beats out Jewel in the hippy department, but there’s just something sweet and alluring about this name. This is another sister of Atz and Otto. I’m not sure I could bring myself to name my child Sunrise, but I like seeing it on someone else, even a middle-aged woman.

This family has lived in Alaska for four generations, starting with Yule Kilcher who set up a subsistence farm in Alaska when he fled Switzerland to escape the Nazis in 1936. Eventually Yule Kilcher became a delegate to the first Alaskan Constitutional Convention.

The Kilcher family is full of unconventional enterprising people with unconventional enterprising names.

Readers: Which Alaskan frontier name is your favorite?

Photo credit