After taking a brief vacation from blogging, imagine my delight at receiving an invitation from Google Alert to read an article by Pamela Redmond Satran about names that don’t age well–and how to avoid that problem.
Satran starts by pointing out that names popular enough to show up on top-ten (boys’ or girls’) lists are likely to give your age away. I listed some girls’ and boys’ names with one or two decades of popularity. I made separate lists of names that had much longer periods of popularity—from 30 to to 59, 69, 89 or more than years of popularity. For example, Mary has 69 years on top-ten popularity lists on the girls’ side and boys’ names with 89 or more years of popularity on the boys’ side include Robert, John James and William. (Of those boys’ names, only William has been listed among the ten most popular names from 1900 through 2014.)
Girls’ Names with One or Two Decades of Popularity
2000 to 2014: Isabella, Sophia, Madison
1990 to 2009: Samantha
1980 to 1999: Jessica, Amanda, Sarah
1970 to 1989: Jennifer, Stephanie, Melissa, Nicole, Heather
1960 to 1979: Michelle, Lisa
1950 to 1969: Susan
1940 to 1958: Linda
1930 to 1939: Shirley
1920 to 1939: Betty
1920 to 1929: Doris
Girls’ Names with Three or More Decades of Popularity
1980 to 2014: Emily
1980 to 2009: Elizabeth and Ashley
1900 to 1939: Dorothy
1900 to 1969: Mary
Boys’ Names with One or Two Decades of Popularity
1990 to 2014: Jacob
1990 to 1999: Tyler and Nicholas
1990 to 2009: Andrew
1960 to 1969: Jeffrey
1950 to 1969: Mark
Boys’ Names with Three or More Decades of Popularity
1980 to 2014: Daniel
1970 to 2009: Christopher, Matthew
1950 to 2014: Michael
1940 to 1989: David
1930 to 1969: Richard
1900 to 1969: Thomas
1900 to 1959: Charles
1900 to 1989: Robert, John, James
1900 to 2014: William
I agree with Satran that when names which have been popular for a decade or two (or more) drop off the top–ten list they start showing their age and the age of anyone who acquires that name while it was still highly popular. But keep in mind that the title of Satran’s article is “Names That Age Well.”
Girls names like Mary, Dorothy, Doris, Betty and Shirley sound like great-grandmother names. Boomer names like Linda and Susan are now grandma names. On the boys’ side, Boomer names like Mark and Jeffrey are now grandpa names. But names like Charles, Thomas and Richard, though associated with great grandfathers, still tend to maintain a level of acceptability as what Satran calls “classic” (and I call “traditional”) names that “old-fashioned” girls’ names like Betty Doris and Shirley don’t retain.
In her article, Satran makes a case for using names that have “deep meaning,” by which she means
“the name of someone you loved and admired, the name of your favorite fictional character, the name of the lake where you spent every childhood summer. That deep meaning will resonate far more for you and your child than any swings of fashion.”
And I think she means that if you love your great grandmother Betty or Doris or Dorothy, that “deep meaning” trumps how old and arthritic or dead and buried those names now sound.
But parents who are picking names for their child rarely only consider one name. And when making the final selection, it would be folly to pick a name that has been passed down from generation to generation and has always been a source of embarrassment or teasing. Hand-me-down family names like Pierpont or Francis or Carroll or great-grandmother names like Doris or Mildred or Shirley are just as likely to frustrate your child as they bothered other relatives who got stuck with them (except perhaps the original Betty who was given the name when movie star Betty Davis was still popular). You don’t want your child to complain about his or her name to friends who share the sentiment: “What were they thinking (or drinking or smoking) when your parents made that inconsiderate choice?”
But what interests me most about Satran’s article is her queer notion that picking highly unusual names will help parents “sidestep” the problem of sticking their child with a name that won’t age well.
“Unusual names, which we might define (at least for American parents) as those that lie outside the Top 1000, can transcend time, especially if they’re not among those unusual names that seem poised to zoom up the popularity charts…The trick is to pick an unusual name that’s appealing yet sidesteps stylishness. Augusta and Delphine might qualify for girls, while Noble or Leopold might work for boys.”
I can’t understand how she or anyone can maintain that archaic names found in the “recycle bin” whose popularity is below 1,000–like Augusta and Delphine, Noble or Leopold–would be more appealing, attractive, comfortable to live with and age better than almost any other name you could pick out of a hat, blindfolded. In fact that’s just what Augusta and Noble sound like: names picked out of a hat on an unlucky day. To be more specific, why is Delphine more likely to “age well” than Delia, Delilah , Dulce or Diana? Why is Leopold a better choice to stave off aging than Leonardo, Leonard, Levi or Lorenzo? I don’t know and I don’t think Satran does either.
Here’s a thought to keep in mind when someone suggests a name that has a low (sub-1,000) popularity rank: If it’s a relatively recent name like Apple, Blue Ivy or North, the name could have a low popularity rank for two reasons: 1) Not many people have heard of the name. 2) People have heard of the name, but don’t like it. But if the name under discussion is one or more centuries old, like Delphine, Augusta and Leopold, the main reason for it’s low popularity is that people don’t like the name.
There’s nothing wrong with calling attention to out-of-favor old names to bring in the hope that people who hadn’t heard of them might like them. But Satran’s recommended names are very old, so it doesn’t make sense to say they will “age well.” They will always sound like very old names.