Baby Name Inspiration: Jazz Greats

saxophon-guitarJazz music, once called “American classical music”, was born out of African-American communities in the south and has inspired other genres such as blues, pop music and R&B. Like the music, the names of many great Jazz musicians are sometimes quirky, offbeat, and yet also established.

Almost all the names have fashion clout. From the popular Ella to the unusual yet wearable Mingus to the more off-the-wall Thelonious, these names combine culture and style. (Boys names are coded blue, girls names are coded pink and unisex names are coded green.)

AlbertaAlberta Hunter
BennyBenny Goodman
BessieBessie Smith
BillieBillie Holiday, her given name was Eleanora Fagan
CallowayCab Calloway
CarmenCarmen McRae
CassandraCassandra Wilson
ChanoChano Pozo, his given name was Luciano Pozo Gonzalez
CharlieCharlie Parker, born Charles Parker Jr.
Cole/ Coltrane/ ColemanJohn Coltrane/ Coleman Hawkins
DinahDinah Washington
DukeDuke Ellington, born Edward Kennedy Ellington
EllaElla Fitzgerald
EllingtonDuke Ellington
Etta  – Etta James
FletcherFletcher Henderson, born James Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr.
FlipFlip Phillips. If Flip seems too casual for a given name, it could be a lively alternative nickname for Phillip, a name that might be more popular if not for the stodgy image of the assumed nickname, Phil.
KingB.B. King, his given name was Riley B. King. B.B. stands for “Blues Boy”
LouisLouis Armstrong
LuLu Watters, his given name was Lucius Watters
MilesMiles Davis
MingusCharles Mingus
OtisJohnny Otis/ Otis Redding (who might be considered more of an R&B singer)
ParkerCharlie Parker
PeggyPeggy Lee
RaineyMa Rainey, her given name was Gertrude Pridgett
RayRay Charles, born Ray Charles Robinson
StanStan Getz
TheloniousThelonious Monk

Considering most of these jazz greats were born in the late 19th and early 20th century—a time  popular for revival names—their fashion appeal is not surprising. Miles, a name that has always been familiar, and could be classified as an underused classic,  is at its highest rank ever at #115.

A couple of the boys names, Mingus and Thelonious have what could be the next suffix (-us). Billie is on our 1930s baby name list of names that are due to come back within the next couple of decades.

Some of the stage names were very memorable, most notably Dizzy Gillespie (born John Birks Gillespie), but would probably seem too strange for the birth certificate to most people. Some of the other memorable jazz names are not for everyone, but may appeal to the more daring among us. These daring, but not outside the realm of possibility, names include Calloway, Chano, Duke, Ellington, Flip, Mingus, Otis, and Thelonious.

This list is also a great source of inspiration for boys names, which often seem in short supply.

Readers: Which Jazz inspired baby names are your favorites?


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2012 Spotlight Name Review – Part 1

This two-part series recognizes all of Upswing Baby Names’ Spotlight Names from the past year. Some of these names were published in December 2011 shortly after Upswing Baby Names launched.

This is Part 1 which covers the original Spotlight names. In order to make the list manageable, these Spotlight Names series will be included in part 2:

Failure To Launch Names: Names that could have become popular for a certain decade but didn’t.
Founding Father’s Name: Our Fourth of July special feature.
Great Grandparent Names: Names of our Great Grandparents and the stories behind them.
Stealthily Climbing Names: Names that have stealthily hit the top 100 with little fanfare.
Unexpectedly Familiar Names: Names that everyone knows that seem too bold to use.
Unfairly Dated Names: Names from the past that have something in common with today’s popular names.

When I select a spotlight name, the goal is to find a name that doesn’t appeal to everyone but has some counter-cultural appeal or the potential to become mainstream within the next couple of decades.

Many of these names are surprisingly underused (such as Susanna), but not all of them. There are a few that are a bit out-there. I don’t expect Begonia to catch on soon, but with more name lovers flocking to Magnolia, I felt it deserved recognition. A couple are surprisingly popular. Emma was spotlighted, not because it’s underused, but because it is one of the few revival names that was equally popular (at least based on rank) the first and second time.

Here is the list of Spotlight names. The names are in alphabetical order. Boys are coded blue, girls are pink and there aren’t any unisex names. I feel Perry could be unisex, but that is my opinion, not a belief that is universally recognized. ***Note: The names link to the original post, but because of the color coding you may not be able to see the links, but they should work. You will get a chance to vote on your favorite Spotlight Name.


I can’t help but share some of my personal feelings on these names. I appreciate all of them, and like all of them on some level, but would only use a few of them on a baby of my own. Sometimes even the ones I would use I can’t really use for practical reasons; they might clash with my last name, as an example.

Here are the ones I would actually use: Amos, Bianca, Effie, Ferdinand, George, Huey (as a nickname for Hugh), Martha, Susanna, Thaddeus.

Here are ones I absolutely love, but wouldn’t have the guts to use just yet (that could change): Aloysius, Elihu, Geraldine, Petula

And I’m surprised parents aren’t flocking to Rhea and Susanna.

Your opinion is what I’m really interested in. Share your thoughts in the comments and vote in the poll to help me decide which of these have the most potential.

Readers: Which ones would you use on your (real or hypothetical) baby? Which spotlight names are your favorites? (Multiple votes are allowed.)

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Baby Names That Go Back To 1066

A Plaque from Norwich Castle, built by the Normans after the conquest.

A couple of weeks ago we featured names of the Pilgrims. Today we are featuring names of another group of travelers that go back even farther than the Pilgrims. I am talking about vikings. Most of their names will be familiar.

The pivotal year was 1066. This is the year the Normans, a group of Vikings, conquered England. They were led by Duke William (later known as “William the Conqueror”) who defeated the king Harold at the Battle of Hastings. King Harold died by an arrow shot through his eye.

The impact of this event was profound and far-reaching. The modern British monarchy are descended from these people. The Normans legacy survives today in the Modern English vocabulary and given names.

Many Old English names were replaced with Norman names. However, not all Old English names disappeared. Edith is an example of an Old English name common among the Anglo-Saxon royalty that survived the Norman conquest.

Consequently, I was unable to confirm other medieval names, such as Amable, Eleanor and Griselda, names I would have loved to include, came from the Normans. Nevertheless, Norman names are extremely prevalent in English-speaking countries. If you are from an English-speaking country, chances are someone you know or even you have a Norman name (or a name that was derived from a Norman name).

These names have long been associated with royalty. There is a good chance Prince William and Kate will use a Norman name for their first child. Or maybe they will break with tradition if allowed (I’ve heard the Queen traditionally approves royal baby names).

Most authentic classics that are not Biblical originate from the Normans, such as Robert and William. (Fun Fact: Robert is the only former top U.S. boy name that was not Biblical.) Up-and-coming revival names, Alice and Matilda, which have already become very popular in other English-speaking countries also belong to this group. But even among these established favorites are some surprises.

Take a look (boys are blue, girls are pink and unisex are green):

Bernadine – the feminine form of Bernard
Darcie – from the Norman place-name “from Arcy”
Henrietta – a feminine form of Henry
Joyce – from the Norman male name Josce or Josse
Sidney – possibly from the Norman place-name “Saint Denis”, but was not used as a given name until the 18th century

Most of these names are reassuringly familiar with a stately style. For the newest heir to the British throne, I would love to see a compromise between traditional and daring with one of the less common but still familiar Norman inspired names such as Bertram or Millicent. Cecily is in my top 5 (and fights for the top spot with Opal). A Princess Cecily would be sweet. Time will tell.

One thing is almost certain: Many of these names will still be stylish in 2066.

Readers: Would you pick any of these names for William and Kate’s baby? Which Norman names are your favorites? (multiple answers are allowed)


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Highly Sought Names: Underused Classics

Underused classics are ideal names for many parents. They are familiar, yet they are not heard everywhere. They are stylish, yet ageless. They seem to fit several golden means.

As I have said before, few names are what I consider authentic classics. Authentic classics are names that have been consistently popular for decades or centuries, that have stayed in the top 50 (or close to it) since 1880 the earliest year baby name rankings are available from U.S. Social Security Administration. The advantage of authentic classics is that they are never dated. The disadvantage is they hardly seem original.

Underused classics share an advantage with authentic classics, that they age well. They also share the same easy-wear quality and cross-cultural appeal, yet they stand out more. It’s no wonder many current top 20 names were underused classics 20-30 years ago.

There are two types of underused classics:

  • Steady Underused Classics have consistently stayed at a respectable rank, but never became extremely popular. (Since 1880 these names ranked between 100 – 400, but never reached the top 100.) Example: Felix.
  • Retired Authentic Classics are experiencing their first period of real decline after decades (or possibly centuries) of high use. Example: Mary.

The only downside to these names is that they are so appealing, they will probably not stay underused for long. But even if these names become more popular, they won’t likely become date-stamped fad names. These are the names that could gradually become the next modern classics or revival names within the next few decades.

If these names appeal to you, here are some lists. Boys are color coded blue, girls are pink and unisex names are green.

Steady Underused Classics
Carmen (on girls)
Dallas (on boys)

Retired Authentic Classics
Aliceis not back in the top 100 yet, but appears to be headed there.
Jesse (on boys)

As Usual, Some Names Barely Made The Statistical Cut

These names on the steady underused classic list didn’t perfectly fit the statistical criteria but were close enough:

  • Carmen (on girls) ranked outside the top 400 in the 1880s-1890s, but hasn’t ranked lower than 400 since 1899.
  • Dallas (on boys) fits the criteria pretty closely, believe it or not. This seemingly modern, and uniquely American name has mostly stayed between the 300-400 rank from 1880 to 2011. It did spend some time outside the top 400 in the 1960s, and dipped to its lowest point at #456 in 1967.
  • Malcolm has been outside the top 400 since 2000, but had never ranked below 400 before 2000 and appears to be on the rebound. It reached #498 in 2011 (an almost 100 place increase since 2009).
  • Marcus could almost be a retired modern classic, except it hasn’t spent enough time in the top 50.
  • Naomi is an example of an underused classic that is on its way up. The name was at its lowest rank slightly below the top 400 in the late 1960s. After reaching its low point, Naomi began its gradual climb. It entered the top 100 for the first time in 2010 and ranked at #93 in 2011.
  • Wesley has consistently ranked between 100-200, except for some peak years in the 1970s and 1980s when it ranked between 60-100. The name has never hit the top 50; it reached its peak at #66 in 1977.

As always, fitting names into strict categories based on trends proved challenging.

Honorable Mentions

There were even more names that seem worthy of mention that fell too far outside the consistent top 100-400 requirement for steady underused classics and top 1-400 requirement for retired authentic classics.

Underused classics on their way down.

Anne left the top 400 for the first time in 2005, around the same time Anna was climbing. The alternative Ann ranks even lower than Anne and could soon leave the top 1000 (it was #995 in 2011).

Surprisingly Anne never reached the top 50; it just missed it, peaking at #52 in 1915. Even more surprising is that Ann was once the higher ranking name, peaking at #28 in 1936. Perhaps the combined popularity of the two spellings is what makes Ann(e) seem like a retired authentic classic.

Claudia left the top 400 for the first time five years ago in 2007. In 2011 it ranked at #609. Before then it ranked between 100-400, reaching its peak at #111 in 1952. Claudia appears as though it is about to begin its first real decline, but still feels like a good underused choice for 2012.

Marie, the default middle name, had been an authentic classic at one time, residing in the top 50 from 1884 to 1945. It left the top 400 over a decade ago in 2001, and has been steadily falling ever since. In 2011 it ranked at #598. Currently Marie in the first slot manages to seem respectable, and at the same time, elicits surprise.

Names that technically never fit the criteria, but still feel like underused classics.

There are names with historical trend patterns that don’t officially qualify them as underused classics. They have always (or almost always) been in the top 1000, and have spent a bit of time in the top 400 in recent decades.

They feel like they have been around awhile and have a timeless sound, yet based on statistics these names don’t fit the definitions of other classics either. They aren’t authentic classics because they have never reached anywhere near the top 50 since 1880. They aren’t modern classics, because they would have had to reach the top 50 within the past two to three decades.

  • Bridget peaked at #112 in 1974, and hit its lowest point at #957 in 1930.
  • Daphne peaked at #266 in 1962, and hit its lowest point outside the top 1000 for most of the 1880s, and dipped below the top 1000 for a few scattered years here and there until 1939.
  • Hope didn’t reach the top 400 until the 1950s, but has been in the top 1000 all but one year (1888), and has been in the top 300 for almost 20 years, never falling below #310 since 1992. It has yet to climb into the top 100. It peaked at #143 in 1999.

Underused Classics are some of my personal favorites. They fall under the “different but not too different” category perfectly. No wonder these names often graduate into hot revival names, meaning any names on these lists could become the next Elijah, Emma or Sophia.

Readers: Which of these names do you consider underused classics? (multiple selections are allowed)

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Great-grandfather Names: Raymond

My great-grandfather with yours truly.

There were a lot of people at my great-grandfather, Raymond’s, funeral. He had a lot of friends. When he was alive, he never had to deal with comments about the 90s sitcom. He passed in 1989 nearly 5 years before Everybody Loves Raymond hit the air. Unlike my Great-grandmother, Lottie who died long before I was born, I knew my great-grandfather Raymond.

But I didn’t really know him. I only got a glimpse into the man he was on his last visit. During this visit, he was very animated talking about riding in the back of some horse-drawn carriage with his brother who fell off and got a nasty gash on his head. Somehow my great-grandfather made that mundane story seem compelling. At that moment, I could see why my Dad was very close to his grandfather. A couple of months after telling that story, he died.

He died in December right after he came inside from one of his favorite activities, chopping firewood. He told my great-grandmother he didn’t feel well and then collapsed. We think he had a heart attack.

My great-grandfather Raymond was boisterous, energetic and a terrific storyteller. He had an appetite. During my great-grandparents’ most memorable visits, my family lived in the Pittsburgh area, and nearly every time they visited my parents would take everyone to Eat-n-Park. Eat-n-Park is a Pittsburgh-originated restaurant chain now with locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia known for their smiley face cookies. Back when my family ate at Eat-n-Park over 20 years ago, they only had locations around Pittsburgh, and were a part of Pittsburgh’s culture. My great-grandfather loved that place. He made several trips to the brunch buffet.

I’ve been told he was also the sportsman who loved hunting and fishing. And he was a talented athlete. As an adult he played on some amateur baseball league. He was a pitcher. I recently learned one of his accomplishments was striking out Nellie Fox, a Major League Baseball player, before he was a Major League Baseball player. Honestly I had never heard of Nellie Fox, but learned he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, and when my Dad told me the story, I could tell he was impressed with this feat.

I’ll post my awkward 80s photo just for a chance to show off my great-grandfather’s sneakers. From left to right: my brothers Alan and Tony, my great-grandfather and me.

One of my great-grandfather’s happy moments was witnessing a family friend, Sid Bream, the son of his good friend, become a major league baseball player. Sid Bream played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 80s when we lived in that area, and going to one of Sid Bream’s professional games was one of the highlights of my great-grandfather’s life.

I’m not sure of his exact birthdate, but I believe he was around 73 when he died, which would make his year of birth 1916, three years before Raymond peaked at #14. The name gently declined after its peak in 1919, but held on to the top 20 through most of the 1930s, and stayed in the top 50 until 1967. In 2011 Raymond ranked at #234. This would make Raymond an underused classic today. Being the name of several Saints gives the name some clout.

Raymond wavers between cool and fusty depending on who you ask. Ray is cool, but the “mond” half is very stuffy. The cool-factor must have outweighed the fusty-factor to Jack Nicholson who gave the name to his son born in 1992.

Its usage is mostly English and French, but Raymond’s origin is German, from the Germanic Raginmund. Since my great-grandfather was of German descent, the name is fitting. The meaning is roughly “wise protector” and I believe my late great-grandmother who rarely left his side and was inconsolable after his death would agree the meaning is fitting too.

My husband Rob considered passing on the initials he shares with his father (Rich/Richard), but we couldn’t find an R name we both liked for our son. After the fact, I realized we could have passed on Raymond, but I just didn’t love the name. All is not lost though. My son’s name, Paul, is a family middle name, and it all started with my great-grandfather, Raymond Paul.

Readers: If you would like to share the story behind your great grandparent’s name, please feel free to contact us. Your submission could be a featured guest post on Upswing Baby Names. You are welcome to include a photo, but please note that we will not publish recent photos of living great grand parents. We are thrilled to receive childhood or young adult photos if they are available. If a photo is not submitted, we will search Flickr for a photo relevant to the name.