The Kind of Name You Pick Says A Lot About You

Kiri Blakeley’s article in the Stir makes a lot of sense. I suggest you read it before you pick a name. Blakeley points out that the kind of name you choose says a lot about you. So it makes sense to think about who you are, so you can figure out what kind of names you’ll feel most comfortable with. In her article, Blakely lists seven different kinds of names and the kind of people who pick them.  Here’s a brief summary plus a comment about the kind of risk people run when they stick to their comfort zone, like glue.

Classic Names: People who pick classic names like William, Katherine, Michael and Emily have traditional values and don’t want to call attention to themselves or their children. They can’t imagine picking a silly, made-up name. Risk: the names you like may strike others as boring.

Grandma or Grandpa Names: People who pick names like Millie, Mary, Harvey or Eugene that were popular many decades ago, have good old-fashioned values and relationships that are built on strong foundations. Risk: the names you like may strike others as dated or out of style.

Family Names: People who pick names like your mother’s maiden name or your grandfather’s first name have strong family values and value close families. Risk: Family names have meaning within your family but others may not understand or appreciate them.

Made-Up Names: People who pick names like Pilot Inspektor, Moon Unit, Joeliana or Bethantony value creativity and have confidence in their own creations. Risk: It’s hard to come up with a creative name that doesn’t come across as silly or strange.

“Narcissistic” Names: People who pick names that come across as self-important like Beautiful, Awesome, Prince or Princess may have overcome great odds or hardships to  conceive or have a baby. They want everyone to know how grateful they feel. Risk: It may be almost impossible for your child to live up to the name.

Unisex Names: People who pick unisex names like Bailey, Kelly, Tyler or Jordan believe boys and girls are of equal value and should be treated fairly. Risk: People won’t know the gender of your child from his or her name, which may cause embarrassment or confusion.

Hipster Names: People who pick hipster names like Luna, Isla, Fallon or Ocean may come from hip urban areas like Brooklyn, Portland, San Francisco or Austin, where people shop organic and everyone knows the latest indie tunes. Risk: How will people from different walks of life relate to your child and vice versa?

Start your search for a name for your child by identifying your values and the kind of names you’d feel most comfortable with. This may save you a lot of time and effort. Keeping the risk factors in mind can help you avoid going to extremes. (For example, not all names used in your grandparents’ generation come across as outdated. Some, like Max, are making a comeback.)


Nameberry’s List of 100 Cool, Unusual Names Should Come with a Warning

In the last few weeks Babble released a list of 20 “cool and “unusual” names which had been selected by Nameberry.  I responded by pointing out that more than half of the names were silly, impractical, or unpopular for excellent reasons (which calling them “cool” didn’t magically eliminate). I think it’s extremely difficult to find any cool names that were selected for ten or less girls last year. But I didn’t publish a list of 100 “cool, unusual names” that were used on ten or less girls last year. Nameberrry did, in an article written by Pamela Redmond Satran.

I don’t see the point of these articles. Most of the names on their list seem to be unpopular for one or more very good reasons (which I will demonstrate below).  But Nameberry keeps publishing lists of supposedly cool names, so it must be working for them. I’ll single out twelve of the names from Nameberry’s latest list to demonstrate that referring to flawed names as cool doesn’t make them cool. I think you’ll agree that many of these names should be printed with a caveat: “Warning: These Names Are Unpopular for Good Reasons. They May  Cause Your Daughter Embarrassment, Teasing, Poor Self-Image or Frustration.”

Afra: If parents don’t keep Afra’s hair cut extremely short, she’s likely to be called Afro.

Blue: New York is my favorite city but it doesn’t work as a name for children. Blue is my favorite color, but it doesn’t work as a name for children, either. Why? Because blue has a strong association with “the blues” also known as “feeling blue” and “depression.” Why give your daughter a name that will be a “downer” every day of her life?

Carola: How should this name be pronounced: car-OH-la? carol-ah? or carol-ay (like Dallas Maverick shooting guard Monta, pronounced MON-tay, Ellis)? It’s a name that invites mispronunciation.

Clementina: I suppose Clementine was too “popular” (because it was used by more than ten people) so they looked for an old-fashioned name that was even less “popular,” and they found one. Clementina is the diminuitive form of Clementine, so it’s appropriate either for use when Clementine is very young or if Clementine grows to womanhood and is less than 5 feet tall in her stocking feet.

Domino: This name calls to mind Domino’s pizza and one of my all-time favorite R&B recording artists, Fats Domino. Neither association will be much of a plus for your daughter.

Ginevra: This Italian name was the name Leonardo da Vinci chose for one of his paintings (“Ginevra de Benci”) However, it has rarely been used anywhere but in in Italy since then (except as the name of a young socialite F. Scott Fitzgerald met in college–Ginevra King). The name looks and sounds like a misspelling of Geneva.

Hebe: This is a very unfortunate choice, because hebe is pejorative term for Jews (like kike). How on earth did this name get past Satran?

Hero: Hero doesn’t sound like the name of a human being. Actually, it’s a literary term that refers to the protagonist in a work of fiction. And, the word, hero, also refers to a submarine sandwich (a long roll of French or Italian bread filled with a variety of cold cuts, meat balls, lasagna or hundreds of other possible fillings). No matter what the filling is, a hero sandwich does not provide either a feminine image or a healthy, nutritious image for your daughter. In fact, it brings childhood obesity to mind. If you like that idea, you could also name your daughter Sugary Softdrink (your last name goes here).

Kitty: It doesn’t take much imagination to picture friends and enemies calling her, “Meow! Here….Kitty, Kitty!” It’s hard to take someone named Kitty seriously. (You wouldn’t name your child Puppy, or Froggy, would you?)

Leda: In Greek mythology, Zeus took the form of a Swan and raped Leda. Now there’s a noble, inspiring image for your daughter to keep in mind every day of her life. (How could Satran have “picked” this name for inclusion on a list of “cool” names?)

Maelys: This Welsh name is particularly hard to spell and pronounce. What’s the point of including a name that will present annoying practical problems for your little girl every day of her life?

Timea: Here’s another puzzler: How do you pronounce this name: TIM-ee-yah? tim-MEE-ya?  timmy-AH? or TIME-ah? Any way you pronounce it, no one will know what the heck you are talking about.

I could go on; there are so many awful names on the list. The people at Nameberry seem to spend a huge amount of time scrounging through the “garbage dump” of worn-out, discarded, unpopular names looking for diamonds in the rough. If they said: “Here are some unpopular names that haven’t been used for years. Take a look, maybe you’ll get some fresh ideas.” Knowing the names are tainted, you might want to consider making some changes:

-If you like the idea of picking a color name, switch from Blue to Violet.

-If you think Kitty is too juvenile (or likely to cause teasing) switch to Catalina.

-If you think Maelys is too difficult to spell, change it to May, or Maya.

But if you believe Nameberry when they call the names “cool and unusual” you may make the mistake of giving your daughter a name that ten or less people in the U.S. find appealing enough to use.

By calling these discarded, outmoded, unpopular names “cool,” Nameberry is doing their readers a huge disservice. They are practicing a form of alchemy. (You may recall that alchemists claimed to have a secret process for turning base metals into gold and silver.)

Here’s Nameberry’s process: They sort through more than 10,000 names that were given to 10 or less girls last year. Pamela Redmond Satran picks 100 names she likes best and features them in an article in which she describes them as “cool and unusual” Then, as if by magic, 100 of the most unwanted names have been transformed into “cool names.” And the reason I call this a “disservice” is that so many of the names will be unpleasant for your daughter to live with for the reasons listed above.

I suspect Nameberry is one of the most successful sources of baby name punditry in the U.S. Just a few weeks ago I praised an article written by Nameberry’s Linda Rosencrantz, which brilliantly traced the evolution of nicknames from John to Jack and from Margaret to Peg. What a wonderful service to expectant parents!

However I don’t think that calling unpopular, unused, and unwanted names “cool” is a wonderful service to anyone (and it may eventually damage Nameberry’s credibility). I have provided you with a link to Pamela Redmond Satran’s complete article so you can look at all 100 names used by less than 10 people last year and contemplate how many of the rarely-used names would be a pleasure for your daughter to use and how many are likely to impress your friends. (FYI,  Nameberry defines a “cool name” as one that will impress your friends.)

Calling unwanted names “cool” doesn’t make them “cool.” But it may trick some Nameberry fans into giving them to their daughters. Unfortunately those fans are most likely to figure out they were tricked after they announce the names, when their friends say, “Really?” or “You must be kidding!”

Last week I wrote: “Has Nameberry Lost It’s Cool?” It has been one of my most popular recent articles. Now, I’m not the only person who wonders whether Nameberry knows the difference between awful, unwanted names and cool names.

What Are the Top-Ten Cool Names for Girls and Boys? Check Out the Early Voting Results.

I started thinking about “cool names” when I visited a website called The Art of Naming.  They had a list of “Cool Names for Boys” and a list of “Cool Names for Girls.” Some of the names seemed cool to me. And some of them didn’t. So I picked about 10 girls’ names and 10 boys’ names I thought were cool—in an attempt to figure out which names really are cool (in the opinion of people like you).

Next, I went to, which is famous for their lists of “Cool Names” for both girls and boys. I picked about 10 girls’ names and 10 boys’ names that I thought were cool from their lists and added them to the new list of names I was creating for a consumer research project I had in mind.

Finally I spent about an hour brainstorming cool girls’ names and cool boys names. I came up with about 10 more girls’ and boys’ names that seemed cool to me. That gave me more than 30 girls’ names and 30 boys’ names I could upload on to find out which names, if any, people who care about names would think are cool.

Although more than 160 people have “viewed” each of my Ranker lists, only 13 people took a few seconds to vote for “cool names for girls” and only 15 people took a few seconds to vote for “cool names for boys.” Even though the sample size is very small, I have already learned a few interesting things.

1. Of the top-ten “cool names for girls,” only one name (Lola) came from either The Art of Naming or Nameberry. All the other top-ten names came from my brainstorming session.

2. But of the top-ten “cool names for boys,” all ten of the names came from The Art of Naming’s list of “cool boys’ names” and three of the names were also on Nameberry’s  list of “cool boys’ names.” Hence, none of the top-ten “cool names for boys” came from my brainstorming session.

That said, here are the top-ten cool names for girls and boys from Ranker. Notice that the source of each name is indicated in parentheses:

Top Ten Cool Girls’ Names

Rank Name (Source)

1. Amelia (Bruce Lansky)

2. Lola (The Art of Naming, Nameberry)

3. Cleo (Bruce Lansky)

4. Catalina (Bruce Lansky)

5. Annika (Bruce Lansky)

6. Maya (Bruce Lansky)

7. Tori (Bruce Lansky)

8. Sloane (Bruce Lansky)

9. Emilia (Bruce Lansky)

10. Skye (Bruce Lansky)

Top-Ten Cool Boys’ Names

1. Chase (The Art of Naming)

2. Hunter (The Art of Naming)

3. Finn (The Art of Naming, Nameberry)

4. Hudson (The Art of Naming)

5. Wyatt (The Art of Naming)

6. Taj (The Art of Naming)

7. Cruz (The Art of Naming, Nameberry)

8. Matteo (The Art of Naming, Nameberry)

9. Dash (The Art of Naming)

10. Ryder (The Art of Naming)

I’m planning to keep my list of cool names up on Ranker so I can update you as voting changes the top-ten rankings. If everyone who reads this article uses the links I’ve provided to vote on Ranker, we’ll all know a lot more than we do now. And, don’t forget, Ranker enables all voters to add names as well as vote. So, if you can think of a cool name that’s not on the list, please add it when you’re voting.

Babies Are Named for Fathers, Not Mothers, In America’s Southern and Western States Where “Honor” and “Reputation” Are Important Values

In an article published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Ryan Brown and his collaborator Mauricio Carvallo studied the connection between names and cultural values. They discovered that naming babies after fathers was a common practice in Southern and Western states while naming babies after mothers was rare either in the South and West—or anywhere else.

They discovered that strong values associated with honor and reputation are associated in the South and West with naming babies after fathers (patronyms)—but not mothers (matronyms). If there’s a tradition of patronymic naming in your family, you might want to read what Brown and Carvalllo found to explain that phenomenon:

 “For men in a typical honor culture, the kind of reputation that is highly prized is a reputation for toughness and bravery,” Ryan says. “For women in a typical honor culture, the most valued reputation is a reputation for loyalty and sexual purity.”

Brown and Carvallo also found that States in the South and West tended to have higher patronym scores than did states in the North. And those same states ranked higher in indicators of honor ideology — such as execution rates, Army recruitment levels, and suicide rates among white men and women…After 9/11, the use of patronyms increased in culture-of-honor states. And similarly, people who were asked to think about a fictitious terrorist attack were more likely to say they’d use patronyms if they also strongly endorsed honor ideology.

Has Nameberry Lost Its Cool? You Be the Judge.

Nameberry has a new list they call “20 Cool and Unusual Names.” I’m listing some of those names below, so you can consider whether any of the names would be “cool” for your baby girl. FYI, I found Nameberry’s list in an article on Babble by Aela Mass, a woman who couldn’t stand her given name when she was young. I can’t imagine why a woman whose unusual name had caused her grief would promote Nameberry’s latest list of unusual names, most of which don’t strike me, remotely, as “cool.” Here they are. What do you think?

Aliz: If you replace the “z” with a “ce,” you’d have a classic girl’s name. If you leave it as is, you have what looks and sounds like a “mistake.”

Aberdeen: Nice name for towns in Scotland, Australia and South Dakota (and for a Scottish football team);  but not so much for a baby girl.

Amorie: Amory Blaine was the protagonist of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Amorie is the female form. It’s not as bad as Aliz, Neri or Tulsi. But, if you’re looking for a name that means or implies “love,” why not go with Amy? You might recognize these song lyrics,  “Once in love with Amy. Always in love with Amy.”

Bette: This name was cool back when Bette Davis was a major movie star—in the late 1930’s and 40s. Now the name seems neither cool nor unusual. “Dated” would be a kind way to describe this name.

Blanche: This name was probably cool back when “A Streetcar Named Desire” was on Broadway (in 1948).

Carlisle: There are probably hundreds (or thousands) of towns with this name in English-speaking countries. It’s a nice enough place name, but I don’t think it sounds much like a girls’ name. In fact, it sounds more like the last name of the guy who coaches the Dallas Mavericks. (Rick Carlisle.)

Christabelle: Poor kid, she’ll probably be called Jingle Bells or Christmas Bells her whole life.

Eulalie: It’s a name-book neighbor of many other laughably uncool and seldom-used names (for good reason) like: Eunice, Eudora, Eufonia and Euphemia. How can a laughable name possibly be cool?

(Up to now I’ve gone name by name down Nameberry’s list. But I think you get the point, so lets skip to the strangest four names left on Nameberry’s “Cool and Unusual” list.)

Neri: She’ll be called Neri Christmas until she gets tired of the “joke” and converts to Judaism. (Jews are more likely to tease someone named Haman.)

Reeve: This was the surname of one of the worst Superman impersonators ever, which makes it appropriate for girls how?

Sula: I found this information from the Babble article helpful, “this name hasn’t been on the charts since the early 1900s.” It’s comforting to know this strange name has been kept out of circulation for years. And Nameberry wants to bring it back; why? I have no idea, but it will make the day of some high school jerk who can amuse himself by calling her “Sula Does the Hula” and watching her face turn beet red, before she starts crying.

Tulsi: I guess Tulsa wasn’t unusual enough; so Nameberry picked this rarely-used combination of letters (and called it a “cool and unusual name”).

Of course, I understand that Nameberry is mainly interested in the “fads and fashions of names.” So, on some level they provide entertainment by reminding us that baby-naming trends rise and fall, like hemlines. But some of their recommendations are so bizarre, in an uncool way, I think they’re as ditzy as Apple, North (West), Blue Ivy and Moon Unit.

Nameberry is extremely clever at discovering which stars and starlets are behind big changes in the Social Security Administration’s top-1,000 popularity rankings. By contrast, I look at fast-rising names like Major, King, Messiah and Prince and warn parents to avoid these “pompous titles” which their kids can’t possibly live up to. We’re doing two different things. And both are valid. But when Nameberry labels a list of names “cool and unusual,” they need to stock that list with cool and unusual names. If most of the names seem either common or uncool or both, they haven’t done what they set out to do.

But what bothers me more is when they use the word “cool” to describe names more likely to be a burden than a pleasure for children to live with. That made me wonder what Nameberry means  by “cool”? On their website, Nameberry uses this line to introduce their list of “cool names”: “Baby Names All Your Friends Will Think Are Cool.”

That definition is OK with me. But can you imagine any of your friends becoming jealous because you picked Aliz, Neri, Reeve, Sula or Tulsi for your baby girl before they could give one of those awful names to their baby girl?

“Everyone is Obsessed With Baby Names” in Glasgow, Scotland

In a column published in the Glasgow Evening Times, Rachel Loxton writes about a friend of hers who is pregnant.

Rachel’s friend is starting to deal with “bump touching,” (Friends see the bump. Friends touch the bump.) But there’s another, more troubling issue: “Everyone is obsessed with baby names.”  “If another person gets upset over a baby name…I like, I’ll scream.” Rachel’s comment. “When it comes to baby names prepare to be judged. Everyone has an opinion and they’re not afraid to say it.”

Apparently author Katie Hopkins has been on TV promoting her book (The Class Book of Baby Names)–which essentially boils down to criticizing parents who give babies names Katie Hopkins thinks are “down market” (Brit-speak for “lower class”).

I realize I could be accused of the same thing, but my targets are usually celebrities or fans who try to mimic celebrities’ self-indulgent behavior. I advise parents to pick names that will work well for their children; rather than names that call attention to the parents’ need for attention (e.g., by naming their children North (West), Moon Unit, or Pilot Inspektor).

If the theme of baby-naming stress in Scotland strikes a chord, you might want to check out an article I wrote about Katie Hopkins a few months ago, when she was causing “baby-naming stress” in Ireland.

List of Celebrity Surnames Recommended by Nameberry as Given Names Is Another Half-Baked Idea

Nameberry’s Linda Rosenkrantz has written another article about naming trends that is worth a look. She suggests that ever since Patricia Arquette and Nicole Richie selected iconic Hollywood movie star Jean Harlow’s surname as their daughters’ first name, the idea of using celebrity surnames as first names has come into fashion.

So now Rosenkrantz has provided a list of what she calls her “nominees for the best celeb surname possibilities.” Which creates the impression Rosenkrantz has sifted through long list of celebrity surnames and is recommending these names.

Before I comment about the list of recommended celebrity surnames, I’d like to briefly discuss place names that may or may not work well as baby names.

Some place names don’t seem appropriate for use as baby names. (Monongahela is one place name that would make any baby given that name an “unhappy camper.”)

Some place names are commonly given to babies, so it’s not so hard to understand that the name London or Boston might refer to a baby girl or boy as well as to a city. But when you hear London and Boston mentioned on an airport PA system, It’s possible that a guy named Boston may have left his lap top in the security area. So the possibility for confusion still exists.

Some place names started as names for people, like Georgia and Charlotte. Other names, like Virginia, and Caroline (Carolina) have been used for babies for centuries, so confusion isn’t a problem. And those place names work very well for people.

Likewise, some of the surnames Rosenkrantz recommends are already names (e.g., Moss is a nature name; Slater is a trade name; and Bowie honors American frontiersman, Jim Bowie.) So they’re not terribly confusing–precisely because they don’t owe much of their appeal as names to celebrities like Kate Moss, Christian Slater, and David Bowie.

Finally, don’t be surprised to discover that some of the recommended names may not work well as names for little boys or girls because they don’t come across as recognizable names for people (like Monongahela).

With that introduction, here are some comments about how Linda Rosenkrantz’s recommended list of celebrity surnames are likely to work for your children:

Alba–Comment: Rosenkrantz points out that Alba (like Blanche and Jennifer) means “white.” Alba reminds me of bland Melba toast—rather than a charming name for a beautiful baby girl. I’ll leave it to you to discern if it sounds like a first name for a beautiful girl or nothing in particular.

Aniston–Comment: Rosenkrantz suggests Aniston might work as a variation of Ann. And because Jennifer Aniston is sooo popular (thanks to her long-time association with “Friends”) this idea could work; but the idea seems fairly far-fetched.

Bello–Comment: Although Bela means “beautiful,” Bello brings to mind a loud, unpleasant noise often associated with movie battle scenes or a blazing fire in a barn full of cows. An association with beautiful Maria Elena Bello won’t save this name. It sounds awful.

Bettany–Comment: Bethany is a fine traditional name; I wonder why Rosenkrantz thinks parents will switch to Bettany, which suggests a girl named Bethany who has become addicted to gambling.

Blanchette–Comment: Blanche is a traditional girl’s name that means “white” (like Alba and Jennifer). The “ette” ending in French suggests a young female. So Blanchette might work as a diminuitive pet name for a baby girl but may not be appropriate for an adult woman.

Bowie–Comment: David Bowie was Christened “Davy Jones.” But for career purposes, he selected a new surname, Bowie, to honor frontiersman Jim Bowie (and, perhaps, the Bowie knife). If you’re into guns and knives, the name could work. But not so much because of the association with David Bowie as with Jim Bowie.

Moss–Comment: The name Moss is a nature name which may create the impression of a meek and mild (aka shy and quiet) little boy or girl. But Kate Moss doesn’t add a lot to the appeal of this name on a day-to-day basis.

Paisley–Comment: Paisley is a cute name that refers to a particular kind of Scottish fabric design (which could be described as having “lots of squiggles”). The name has positive connotations (particularly for a girl’s name) before you add Brad Paisley into the equation. For me, this is the best of the bunch, but not because of the association with Brad Paisley as much as the appeal of those squiggles.

Slater–Comment: Slater is a trade name which refers to someone who earns a living as a roofer. Not the most glamorous or charming name I can think, of although it works OK because it’s a real name; but not because of the association with Christian Slater.

Tatum: Comment: Google “Tatum” and you get actress Tatum O’Neal and actor Channing Tatum. Tatum O’Neal legitimizes “Tatum” as a first name for a girl. I’m not sure what the hunky Channing Tatum does for the name. Does he turn it into a name for a boy? I have no idea. Seems like a confusing idea to me. I’d stick with the Tatum O’Neal association and use the name for a girl.

Winslet–Comment: I love the name Kate and would recommend it in a heartbeat. But although Winslet may be the surname of a very talented actress, it may not come across to most people as a recognizable first name for your daughter.

Urban–Comment: Urban is a name chosen by 8 popes. Pope Urban VI was listed as one of the “10 Worst Popes.” He was quoted as complaining that “he did not hear enough screaming when his Cardinals were tortured.” So Urban doesn’t strike me as a great moniker for your son (despite Keith Urban’s good looks). The word “urban” refers to a bustling and possibly crowded and dirty and crime-ridden “city” environment. Why burden your son with that name?

As you can see, Linda Rosenkrantz’s list of celebrity surname recommendations includes some OK ideas and some questionable ideas. (For me, the surname that works best is Paisley—not because of the association with musician Brad Paisley, but because of the association with unique and charming Scottish designs.)

Jumping on the celebrity bandwagon isn’t always a useful way to find a charming, endearing name that will work well for your child. And you run the risk of being teased as a “celebrity groupie.”