Lately I read a book that I enjoyed… mostly. Not completely. It was set in modern-day (smartphones and internet), and the 30-something main character was named Roger. That really bothered me. While it wasn’t impossible that someone born in the early 90s would be named Roger, it’s much more likely he’d be an Eric or a Cody. I powered through until we got a new character introduced to us. She too was about 30 years old, and was named… not Emily. Not Megan. Not Kayla. Nope. Barbara. In a book that featured pixies, wizards, and a magic house, these out-of-time names most jarred me out of my supension of disbelief.
If you understand why, then you too must be a name-nerd. And if you are a name-nerd, welcome to my overlong name-discussion post!
Recently, I came across this article suggesting the Top Ten Name Trends for 2022. I’ve observed that as far as naming trends go, experts have close aim, but not dead-center. If you want to find someone who hits the name trend in the bullseye, find a young couple who think they’ve discovered a new and exciting name for their to-be-born child. A thousand other parents will have discovered exactly the same name at exactly the same time. This is how we end up with Jennifer and Jason in the 80s, Olivia and Tyler in the 90s, Madison and Braeden in the 2000s, and Charlotte and Aiden in the 2010s. (And, for good measure, Roger and Barbara — #22 and #3 in 1945, respectively.)
Anyway, let’s go through this entertaining article, shall we? It provides 10 categories of up-and-coming names, and I provide commentary on them all.
1. Playful Names. Some parents forget they aren’t naming a doll. Lucky, Bee, Ziggy, and Ozzy are cute on toddlers, or even as a bubbly high school nickname, but might be hard to take seriously on an adult. “Contact your local realtor, Lucky Jones, for all your real estate needs!” That said, I do kind of like Teddy, Gigi, and Trixie.
2. Escapist Nature Names. Although I love the concept of these names, I’d still balk at using a lot of them. Sometimes giving a child a name like Ocean or Woods is just an invitation for mean kids to, well, be mean. On the other hand, there’s a real dearth of good nature names for boys, and I think Ridge and Reef are good options. I do find it annoying that Sequoia is labeled as a girl’s name, when the original Sequoia was a man who developed his Cherokee language into a written form. Not that girls can’t be named for him; but boys should be too.
3. Bridgerton-Inspired Names. These names are taken from the Neflix show/book series that I didn’t watch or read because romances annoy me. As far as I can tell, the stories are set in a fantasy version of “Jane Austen times” where women can reasonably expect to marry dukes and they all have beautiful names. These names, in fact, remind me a lot of the way Twilight picked out the trendiest names from the early 20th century — “trendy” as in “not at all trendy in their time.” The names on this list are frothy and smell of lilac: Hyacinth, Cressida, Portia, Rupert, Theo. I think Euphemia and Prudence are both horrid, but I doubt I’m going to be consulted. DJ and I seriously considered Genevieve and Phoebe for our girls; that’s how forward-thinking we are.
4. Nonbinary Names for Boys. As Sparkler pointed out, “nonbinary” and “boy” are mutually exclusive. What they meant was “gender-neutral.” I’m all for it. An annoying aspect of our naming culture is that as soon as a name is thought of as a “girl” name, it’s no longer an option for boys. One of the most crushing disappointments of my young parenthood was when I realized that Avery was no longer a “boy’s name” and I couldn’t use it for a son. Twenty years later, I have to ask, why is this even a thing? (I know why.) To heck with that. Boys need good options and there’s no good reason they can’t share the same name as a girl. Of this list, I like Holland, Indigo, Winter, Shiloh, Honor, and Wren.
P.S. Dear 2002 SJ, You were right; Avery is a great name.
5. Spirit and Soul Names. This is the 2021 incarnation of the old virtue names like Faith and Charity, and the neo-spiritual names like Destiny and Promise. I tend to find these names both lightweight and showy, like a sequin-covered jacket that doesn’t actually keep you warm. But others are welcome to lik them, even though I reserve the right to raise my eyebrows at a kid named Psalm or Righteous. I know of a child named Galilee and it’s cute on her, and I think that True would look good in a novel. I just don’t really love any of the names on this list.
6. Names Ending in S. This category intrigued me most. As a culture, we do tend to gravitate to certain endings in any given era. Think of all the names you know that end with -a or -en. I’m interested to see if there is a rise in names ending in -s. They certainly sound posh, I’ll give them that. Perhaps a bit too high-gloss for someone who named her own sons very solid, even stolid, names. But even I considered Hollis. I like Wells, Rhodes, and Hollis, and I could see a certain type of family carrying Ignatius and Osiris with aplomb. I’m not crazy about Banks or Collins for girls… but I guess according to my passionate rant in #4, I have to admit them as options. Darn intellectual honesty.
7. Retro Nostalgia Names. Maybe this is what that author was going for with his Roger and Barbara! (He wasn’t. He just didn’t take the time to google baby name lists according to birth year.) I confess, I don’t like any of these names very much. They aren’t retro and cool to me; they’re just stale because as a kid I grew up hearing these names on, you know, adults. Younger people don’t have that strong an association, though. I’ve heard kids with the names Frank, Hank, Gus, Etta, Ellie, Mae… oh, and also Ellie Mae. I don’t like them much but I figure I’m likely to have grandkids with these names so I’m getting used to them.
8. Next Wave Musical Names. These names range from fairly standard (Aria) to imaginative (Sonnet) to downright startling (Strummer?). As with Spirit and Soul names, these have a high gimmick factor to me and I don’t love them. However, I have to admire the inclusion of Solo, which is both musical and a Star Wars reference — double gimmick!
9. Punchy R Names. This was another category that interested me from a “sound” standpoint. I myself like short names beginning with R — my first heroine in my first real novel was named Ria. (Well, okay, that was her nickname. Her whole name was… was… look, I was 17, okay? Why bring this up?) I like several names on this list, including Reed, Ren, Rox, Rowe, Rome, Rumi, and Reeve. A pregnant friend is considering using Rue as a middle name. I don’t think all of these options make great names, but I like their sound. Rye and Roux, however, edge pretty close to the line between innovative and silly.
10. Euro Chic Names. Here’s the thing about taking a name from another culture or language: it might not be the chic choice you think it is. I once met someone whose family emigrated to the U.S. from a South Asian country when she was very young. Her grandmother said, “Look, if we put an extra letter on the end of her name, it’s a flower in English!” So she grew up as Tulip. She embodies the name well and I’ve stopped thinking of it as odd… but it is odd, because for some reason we just don’t use that flower as a name. So when I see a list of names whose context I don’t understand, I’m skeptical. That said, this list has some nice-sounding names like Tova, Stellan, and Viggo. I know of a child named Petra. I’d be tempted to use Cosmo simply because of my lifelong love for the movie Singin’ in the Rain, in which the sidekick Cosmo Brown was way more interesting than the heartthrob Don Lockwood.
And those are my thoughts on the whole thing! Ha ha. That was a joke — I could write another equally long post on this topic. I won’t, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts.
Names are both highly personal and highly public. It’s a parent’s choice, but a child’s identity. Your name can say a lot about your background, your subculture, your parents’ class aspirations… or maybe none of those things. We tend to look at new trends with suspicion, while utterly accepting past trends without question. (Ever taken a look at names from 100 – 120 years ago? I had a great-uncles named Jewell and Bobby Blair, and great-aunts named Zethel and Gundine.) All in all, it’s endlessly fascinating to me.
Yet for all my decided opinions, I have to remember a foundational truth: all names are, ultimately, made-up sounds that we’ve deemed acceptable to apply to people. And that gives a lot of latitude for which names people can choose to bestow on their children.