Friday, May 19, 2017

A History of "Sound" in the Naming Process

The Art of Naming explores the top popular names of 2016 and compares them to 1920 to analyze their sounds and letters
The very first thing that all name-searching parents do when they find a name is say it. Whether it is in their mind or out loud, pronouncing the name always comes first. How does the name sound when you say it? Do you like the sound of the name? Does it easily roll off the tongue or are there pronunciation issues that could cause the child problems in life? 

Many of these questions are answered subconsciously as we say and hear the name. And of course, this is going to vary greatly per person. What sounds like a lovely name to one person may not be attractive at all to another. But the question is, are there specific sounds in a name that are more mass-appealing than others? Do we, as a country, tend to gravitate toward certain sounds within a name? 

Take for instance the top 5 girl names of 2016. They all end in the letter A: Emma, Olivia, Ava, Sophia, and Isabella.  These are all very vowel-heavy names that easily roll off the tongue. Today’s parents are flocking to these feminine, vintage-sounding names for girls even though none of them, besides Emma, has ever had major popularity in the past. If you look at the popularity of these five names, you will see that they have all been in regular usage since the US began to keep records in the 1880s, but none of them have ever had this much success until now. So in a way, they are more modern than vintage. 

How do their sounds compare to their contemporaries of the past? 

The types of names that were most popular around the 1920s have a very different sound to them than the modern names we see today.  The top 5 girl names of 1920 were Mary, Dorothy, Helen, Margaret and Ruth. None of these end with the feminine letter A like today's popular names do. Comparatively when you pronounce them out loud, they feel "heavier" than the names of 2016.  

Let’s look beyond the top five. In 2016, twenty-one out of the top fifty girl names end with the A-sound, whereas in 1920, only nine out of fifty do. Those nine names are Virginia, Anna, Martha, Edna, Thelma, Clara, Emma, Barbara and Sarah.  Out of these, Anna (#51 in 2016) and Sarah (#57 in 2016) are very classic and timeless names. Emma has been one of the most popular names of the past couple decades, ranking at #1 in 2008 and again from 2014-2016. Clara (#99 in 2016) falls in line with the vintage names that work well today and are currently gaining popularity.  The other names, Virginia, Martha, Edna, Thelma and Barbara are still being used but they don’t have the same fresh and modern vibe that parents seek today. Why is that?

It is probably because they contain "heavier" and "more out-dated" consonants such as D, N, B, G and -Th, plus other factors like over-use within a particular generation which newer generations avoid. But, if you take a look at the consonants of the most popular names in 2016, you will see that they mostly include L, M, R, S and V. In fact, the letter L seems to be the most popular consonant. It appears in thirty of the top fifty names in 2016, but only seventeen of them in 1920. But on that note, the names Martha and Thelma should technically fit in with the modern names since they end with an A and contain some of the more popular consonants, right?

Unfortunately, no. The Th- sound is not currently deemed stylish. Thelma only had 32 births in 2016, and Martha had 389 for a ranking of #727. There are only two names in the girl’s top 50 of 2016 that contain a Th and neither of them starts with it: Elizabeth and Samantha. While there are indeed many names that contain the Th sound within the name for both boys and girls, there are only two female names in the Top 1000 that start with it: Thea, which is rising quickly (#290), and Thalia which ranks down at #809. On the boy’s side, there are only Thomas, Theodore, Thiago, Theo, Thaddeus and Thatcher.

In 1920, there was Thelma, Theresa, Theda, Theodora, Therese, Theo, Thomas, Theola, and Thora for the girls; Thomas, Theodore, Thurman, Thaddeus, Theron, Theo, Theadore, Thornton, and Thurston for the boys within the Top 1000 names.  This indicates that names that begin with Th- are a thing of the past. These names went out of style because the Th- sound became unfashionable over time, except for the timeless survivors such as Thomas and Theodore that are still in use today.

Some may argue that it has more to do with the style of these names since others with a similar “old” feel like Mildred and Doris, Bernard and Donald all went down with them. Style plays into it, definitely, but I think it has to do more with the individual sounds that make these names feel “old” to begin with. For instance, the letter D was rather popular in the past. Names of 1920 included Dorothy, Mildred, Doris, Gladys, Edna, Edith, and Gertrude within the top 50.  Today, Dorothy is at #652, and Edith at #488 but none of the others rank in the Top 1000.  In 2016, the only female names that have the letter D in the Top 50 are Madison, Addison and Audrey.

For the boys, the D’s tended to be on the end of popular names in 1920 such as Edward, Richard, Harold, Raymond, Donald, Howard, David, Fred, Leonard, Alfred and Bernard within the Top 50. Out of these, only Fred and Bernard have fallen out of regular usage while the rest are within the Top 1000 today. This goes to show that the sounds that work for boys might not always work for girls and vice versa. For example, naming your son David today is a great idea but naming his twin sister Doris might not be. 

Many of the sounds that seem "out-dated" today have a great chance at once again sounding fresh in the coming decades. This doesn't apply for all names across the board, but once some of these names have had enough time to cycle back around, they will regain usage again. This is often referred to as the 100-Year-Rule or the Great-Grandparents Rule which states that the new young generation of parents will find that names from roughly 3 generations back are appealing, whereas names from their parents' and grandparents' era are still too associated with that time and not quite fashionable yet.

There are exceptions, of course, and plenty of classic names that stand the test of time by appearing strongly throughout all generations. What do you think? What other observations have you made about the history of sound in the naming process? How much is dictated by these sounds and how much is due to trends and preference? Share your thoughts below!

Saturday, May 13, 2017


We took a look at all the names ending with the letters -my in the previous post. Today we'll pull one of those from the list and get to know it better. I chose Jeremy,  which may feel a bit dated to many of you but it still deserves usage today.

The Art of Naming - English form of Jeremiah - Hebrew name meaning Yahweh has uplifted

Jeremy comes from the name Jeremiah, it is the Medieval English version of it. Jeremiah comes from the Hebrew name יִרְמְיָהוּ (Yirmiyahu) meaning "YAHWEH has uplifted". Jeremy was occasionally the form used in England in place of Jeremiah since the 13th century. It wasn't until the Protestant Reformation that Jeremiah gained more common usage.

Interesting related diminutives include Jez, Jezza, Jem, Jemmy, Jere and Jerry.  Other languages and cultures offer interesting choices such as the Finnish Jorma, Jarkko, and Jarmo; or the Biblical Greek Ieremias, the Biblical Hebrew Yirmiyahu, and the Biblical Latin Hieremias.  The French favor Jérémie and the Spanish use Jeremías.

Jeremy itself works internationally without being "translated". It has ranked at #445 in France recently, #390 in the Netherlands, and #497 in England and Wales. Canada, Australia, Belgium and Switzerland also have the occasional love for Jeremy.

In the US, Jeremy didn't gain usage until 1923, but was nearly always in the Top 1000 after that, starting in the 1940s. It peaked in 1977 in the US, which may make Jeremy feel most associated with the 1970s and 1980s. That's a valid feeling because it was suddenly very popular for only that short amount of time. It only had 641 births in 1968 but received a high of 21,012 by 1977 which labeled it as the 15th most popular name in the country.

Today, it is still finding itself ranked at a respectable #174 as of 2015, which means 2,380 boys were named Jeremy in that year. It is a solid, "alternative classic" name. It is biblical-based and very versatile over multiple languages which means Jeremy will always be around, even though it isn't as popular as it once was.

What do you think of this name? Do you know any children named Jeremy? If you're considering it, here are some sibling name ideas and middle name ideas:

Sibling Name Ideas:
Sisters: Amanda, Bethany, Danielle, Lydia, Nicole, Sabrina, Tabitha
Brothers: Aaron, Gerard, Joshua, Mitchell, Ryan, Samuel, Zachary

Middle Name Ideas:
Jeremy Brian
Jeremy Daniel
Jeremy Noah
Jeremy Oliver
Jeremy Tobias
Jeremy Zachariah

As a Middle Name:
Andrew Jeremy
David Jeremy
Ian Jeremy
Matthew Jeremy
Seth Jeremy
William Jeremy

Which  names would you pair with Jeremy? Share your thoughts below!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Happy Name Nerd-oween! The 2016 Baby Name Stats Are Here!

As you may know, the Social Security Administration has released the list of 2016's most popular baby names. It covers the Top 1000 in the site, but more names beyond that are also available for download.

Emma has ranked at #1 four times now. The first time was in 2008, and now she's been ruling the chart for 3 years straight (2014-2016). Will Emma continue her reign again next year? If not, which name will steal the crown? I think Olivia will rise to the top in the next year or three.

As for the boys, Noah replaced the long-running Jacob in 2013. This is Noah's 4th year in a row being #1. How much longer will it remain at the top? If it dips next year, which name would replace it? My bet is on Liam.

What do you think of the top 2? Here's the rest of the Top 20 as well:

Names on the rise include:

One notable thing is that Elijah joined the Top 10 for the first time ever. Other names to watch include Oliver, Charlotte, Amelia and Evelyn.
  • Oliver is up 7 ranks, It didn't join the top 100 until 2009 and now it is on the verge of breaking into the Top 10. It ranked at #12 in 2016, so I would guess that it will land at either #9 or #10 next year. (With sister name Olivia taking #1 for the girls). What do you think?
  • Charlotte which is up by 2 ranks over 2015 and is definitely on the rise. Charlotte could be a contender for the Top 3 in the next few years.  
  • Amelia has been steadily rising since joining the Top 100 in 2004, hitting #11 now in 2016. 
  • Evelyn once ranked at #10, but that was way back in 1915. At #12 in 2016, she could make a run for the Top 10 soon.
Names on the decline include:

Aiden (down 3 ranks)
Jacob (down 3 ranks)
Alexander (down 3 ranks)

Madison (down 4 ranks)

Beyond the Top 20:

Every year, there are names that suddenly have major popularity boosts from one year to the next. These are fascinating to look at, but they don't always result in becoming "the next big name". However, if you want to avoid following the trends, it's good to know which names are being most-used by the masses. Here are the Top 10 names that climbed the most ranks:

And going the opposite direction, there are also names that lose favor in mass. Here are the Top 10 names that declined the most from 2015 to 2016:


Clearly America has grown tired of the Caitlin/Katelynn crowd. What do you think of those?

What other interesting stats did you see? Share any information that stood out to you the most! 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Names Ending with the Letters "-my"

These names end with the letters my.
We're halfway through our collection of names ending with the letter -y. We've seen plenty of common and rare names along the way as we've cruised through the alphabet.

Next we will explore the few but interesting names ending with the letters -my.

This series doesn't always feature a plethora of name options since these endings are more on the unusual side, but that's the beauty of it. How often have you stopped to think about names ending with these specific letters? Perhaps never.

However, if someone is looking for that exact sound or letter combination with a sentimental purpose behind it, this list is sure to help.

Take a look at the list below and share your thoughts in the comments. Can you think of any names that could be added?



Be sure to check out the rest of this series, too! You never know when you may need a specific name with a specific sound.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


This name is a fast-rising modern Greek name for girls. It was featured in this week's list of gorgeous Greek names and we will learn more about it here.

Penelope is a Greek Name for Girls that is very popular in the US today.

The usage of the name Penelope dates back to Homers Odyssey. In the story, she was the wife of Odysseus who had to stand strong against suitors while he was in Troy.

As far as the origin and meaning go, it was possibly derived from the Greek  πηνελοψ (penelops) which refers to a kind of duck. However, it is also possible that Penelope is taken from  πηνη (pene) which means "threads" and  ωψ (ops) which means "face" or "eye". With those combined, Penelope is sometimes listed as meaning "weaver".

As a name in America, Penelope has been in use since records began in 1880 but it wasn't steadily used until 1909. It ranked well from 1935-1975, but left the Top 1000 until 2001. It was majorly trending upward from then on, hitting the Top 100 in 2013. As of 2015, it ranks as the 34th most popular name in the country.

If this is a name you are considering, here are some middle name ideas and some sibling name ideas for Penelope:

Sibling Name Ideas:
Sisters: Amelia, Camilla, Delphine, Lydia, Olivia, Theresa, Veronica
Brothers: Anthony, Damian, Evander, Lucas, Orion, Reuben, Theodore

Middle Name Ideas: 
Penelope Catherine
Penelope Hazel
Penelope Kate
Penelope Joy
Penelope Sybil

As a Middle Name:
Anna Penelope
Diana Penelope
Iris Penelope
Thea Penelope
Zoe Penelope

What middle name would you pair with Penelope? Share your thoughts on this name in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Gorgeous Greek Names for Girls

Last week we took a look at boy names that are either diminutives of ancient Greek names, or have had their spellings more Latinized or modernized over the years.  Now it's time to look at the feminine name choices. Many of these have been in use for a long time whether or not the wearers realize their Greek origins. Greek names tend to be very versatile. They easily cross bridges into several cultures and languages, allowing nearly anyone to use them in one form or another.

Here are some of the best Greek names I could find that would work beautifully on modern girls. Which of these do you like best?
Little girl with flower


Can you think of any other names that would fit this category? Share your favorites!


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