Laura Wattenberg’s “Magic” Formula Is a Sensible Approach to Screening Names

Today I’m writing to praise an idea from Laura Wattenberg, of Baby Name Wizard fame, who has come up with a “Magic” mathematical formula to find names that are both timeless  (because have a “long and steady usage history”) and fresh (because they currently have an above-average popularity ranking in comparison to their average historical popularity ranking ). This mathematical model makes a good deal of sense, although calling this statistical approach to screening baby names “magic” and/or “alchemy” goes a little too far.

But I have to hand it to Laura Wattenberg: when her “Magic 40” names (that were popular 40 years ago in 1972) are compared with a “Control Group” that were equally popular in 1972 but were not selected with the “Magic” formula) many of the “Magic 40” names seem fresher in comparison with  the equally popular “Control Group” names. (I’d swap Diana for Veronica in a heartbeat and I like both Christine and Elizabeth.) What do you think?

“Magic 40 Names                  “Control Group Names

Rebecca                                     Mary

Christine                                   Elizabeth

Maria                                          Stacy

Rachel                                        Stacey

Amanda                                     Leslie

Veronica                                    Diana

Victoria                                      Valerie

Sara                                             Laurie

Now that I’ve praised Wattenberg’s approach as sensible, I have an admission: when I looked at her list of 28 “Magic” girls’ names and 37 “Magic” boys’ names, I had an immediate gut-level negative response to about 1/4 to 1/3 or more of the recommended “Magic” names, which seemed either dated or clunky or unattractive for a variety of reasons. OK, here’s one: naming your boy Prince is an awful idea even if he is a prince–in which case his name would be Prince Prince. Here’s another: does Adelina call to mind “Sweet Adeline” a barbershop quartet that was popular about 100 years ago (or so)?

I’m guessing you may also be less than enthralled with some percentage of the “Magic” names for your own reasons, and your dislikes are probably different than mine. But if you’re looking for names that are “cool,” “trendy,” “clever,” “chic” and  “dazzling” (which will make your baby-shower guests sick with envy), the “Magic” formula doesn’t do that particular kind of magic.

In case you’re curious, here are some of the “Magic” names I’m not wild about. What do you think–are they “cool” or do they come across as “clunky” (unattractive for a variety of reasons)?

Cool or Clunky?                                   Cool or Clunky?

Magic Boy’s Names                        “Magic Girl’s Names

Cyrus                                                      Adelina

Prince                                                     Coral

Asa                                                         Phoebe

Rocco                                                    Ivory

Dominick                                              Aurora

Abraham                                               Amalia

Augustus                                               Libby

Hugo                                                     Audrey




Even though I wouldn’t recommend 25% to 33% of the “Magic” names, I think it’s a productive way to quickly screen a large number of names down to a smaller pool of names worth looking at more closely. I hope you can see it gives me pleasure to praise other baby-name experts. In recent posts, I’ve been critical about the practicality of several lists of (TV character and “on the rise”) names from Nameberry. But I think they do a great job of connecting sudden upticks in the popularity of certain names with pop-culture events—about which I am often unaware. Reading their posts makes you feel informed about the fashion aspect of baby naming.)

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