Naming In The News

What's New in Names

Now, Dakota and Paris, kindly give your seats to Patience and Prosperity. The old place names are out, values and family in as baby-branding evolves.

February 18, 2009 — By Natalie Pomilio

Abington, Pa. - Any day now, Baby Boy or Baby Girl Young will come bouncing into the world, joining three older sisters at their family's Abington home. Then parents Jodi and Trevor will have to make a crucial decision: What do we call this one?

"By the time you've named a couple of kids, you kind of know what your style is. Ours is 'unusual classic.' All of the kids have a family name in their names and we definitely like nicknames," said Jodi Young, 31, who believes her name and others of her generation are devoid of meaning, probably picked from a book. "We want it to have a good solid history as a name." So Philippa Violet, 4, Romilly Alice, 3, and Beatrix Joanna, 18 months, will meet either their new sister, Juniper, so named for Young's aunt, or brother, named Simon or Barnaby or Angus or something entirely different. For certain, his middle name will be in honor of one of his grandfathers, Merit or Hopkins.

A name is like a brand. The product is your baby. So it's no wonder parents fret and fuss as much as a newborn when it comes to choosing one. "Over the past generation, naming children has almost become like launching your child into life's marketplace and trying to give them the advantage," said Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard and creator of the popular babynamewizard.com.

With the country involved in two wars and experiencing an economic downslide and people feeling generally anxious, some baby-name experts predict that 2009 will bring more family names as people seek comfort and cocooning in hard times. Names with built-in values - Hope, or Honor, the name of actress Jessica Alba's baby - will also be popular.

"We are going through a lot of stress and strain," said Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University. "We need inspiration. I see people thinking along those lines. I see inspirational names and family names. When we're down, it makes sense that people turn to family, hold on to each other, and emphasize your family life."

Diane Prange, chief linguistics officer at Strategic Name Development in Minneapolis, expects to see more Promises and Prosperitys born in 2009. "We think Chance is going to be important," said Prange, whose company develops product names. "Like 'Give me a chance in this society.' "

The move to more spiritual names isn't new: It began after Sept. 11, 2001, and has grown ever since, said Pamela Redmond Satran, who coauthored Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now, and keeps track of name trends on www.nameberry.com. Since 2001, names like Faith, Grace, and Patience have risen steadily in the popularity ranks.

"People are looking for names that have some deeper meaning," Satran said. "For some, it's an ethnic name. For some, it's a family name or a place name that has significance. For some, it's a deeper, spiritual quality."

Wattenberg said it would be incorrect to think that tough economic conditions have a consistent effect on naming. History shows us that during the Great Depression, for example, tough times brought peppy names when "instead of inspiration, people were looking for relief," Wattenberg said. A taste for nicknames with a fun feel - like Roxie for a girl and Jackie for both sexes - was a continuation of the Jazz Age, she said.

And the names Fannie and Freddie aren't being shunned because of their economic connotations: "No one was using those names to start with," Wattenberg said.

One nice benefit of picking names in a depressed economy: It costs nothing. "I think it's become something that people are investing more and more time and energy in," she said. "It's free and it lasts forever. I think that parents are increasingly aware that it's fun to look for the right name but it's also important. It's also something totally in your control."

Names evolve, falling into and out of favor. At one time, androgynous names seemed cutting-edge as a generation of Jordans and Sidneys arrived. Twenty years ago, place names like Paris and Dakota seemed exotic.

Now some people are pushing the envelope even further, choosing other gender-neutral and more offbeat place names for their offspring. Celebrities often mirror the trends: Babies recently born to famous parents have been named Story, Sawyer, and Brody. (Two girls and a boy in that mix.) Imagine a Hollywood "Born in 2008" playgroup that includes Bronx, Egypt, and Rio.

Having a president with a decidedly ethnic name will also inspire others to take risks. Actress Lisa Bonet and her boyfriend recently dubbed their son Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa. Already, Satran said, Michelle is coming back into fashion as a first name, and Barack is being given as a middle name around the world. She expects Sasha and Malia to enjoy a good run in coming years. (However, there's nothing to indicate that George flourished during the eight-year Bush administration.)

At the very least, Wattenberg said, having a president with such a unique name may give expectant parents more room to be creative.

"It gives you something to say to your in-laws who say, 'Oh, no one will take him seriously with a weird name like that,' " she said.