Thousands of parents have solved the problem of choosing a baby name by making one up. While the lists of the most popular baby names in 2017 show familiar choices for most of the 679,106 newborns, a significant number of parents decided to go their own way and give their child a unique name.
Latest figures for England and Wales show there were almost 43,000 babies registered with a name like none other. Some of these names are rarities from yesteryear or from other cultures but often they have been created to give a son or a daughter a distinctive name.
It would be nice to give you some examples but the Office for National Statistics withholds these names ‘to protect the confidentiality of the individuals’. The stats stop at names chosen three times where alphabetically Zymal clocks in last for girls and Zyren for boys.
Sarah goes but Hunter charges in
At the other end of the spectrum 2017 was a fairly standard year with Olivia and Amelia unchanged at the top while Isla and Ava moved a place. Emily dropped down to five. Below her, Poppy came in and Jessica dropped out. Among the boys, Oliver, Harry and George held their top three places with Leo the only new entry in the top ten as Thomas dropped down.
Elsewhere the lists show some interesting trends. Parents of girls who had been taking inspiration from nature – flowers and seasons for example – are looking to the sky. Aurora came shining into the top 100 for the first time and Luna moved up 30 places to 48.
Alas poor Sarah, we must bid her farewell from the top 100 for the first time in more than 110 years. On the brighter side, the alternative spelling Sara continues to make her way up the chart and now sits at 82. Penelope is back in favour with a rise of 460 places since 2007 that puts her just outside the top 50. Other improvers include Aria, Orla, Bonnie and Hallie.
Hunter was highest riser into the top 100 for baby boys, coming in at 78. Ralph at 98 is another new entrant. Arthur continued his rise to 19 while Arlo, who was nowhere ten years ago, is at 42.
Parents in Northern Ireland show no signs of breaking with current trends when it comes to choosing names for their babies. For the fifth year running Emily tops the list of most popular girls’ names while James holds the top spot for boys that he first took in 2015 when he edged past Jack.
Logan, in at number ten, is the only newcomer in the boys’ top ten while for girls Isla at four and Charlotte at nine both make their top ten debut.
The details come from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and will be followed later this month by the lists for England and Wales.
Scotland released its 2017 figures early – by not including December – and these showed that Jack held top spot for the tenth successive year followed by Oliver, James and Lewis. For girls, Olivia held on to first place with Emily second and then Isla and Sophie. Harris was the only new entry to the boys top ten and Aria the only newcomer among the girls.
Northern Ireland top ten
Girls: Emily, Grace, Olivia, Isla, Anna, Sophie, Ella, Amelia, Charlotte, Sophia
Boys: James, Jack, Noah, Charlie, Jacob, Harry, Thomas, Daniel, Oliver, Logan
You can’t keep a good name down – that seems to be the message from the Nameslink top 20 list of best selling cards. Our survey covers the five years since Nameslink was set up and it shows that some names are well represented, long after they slipped down the new babies popularity chart. Stalwarts like John, Peter, Helen and Andrew for example. Mary is another, she came in at 21.
Jack has just moved to the top of our chart and he figures in the top ten list of favourite baby names. Laura, by contrast, is our second best seller and that must reflect an earlier vogue as she is down at 150 in the new baby list.
The comparison for Kate is perhaps a little unfair as the name sits at 452 in the baby chart although many girls called one of the varieties of Catherine are shortened to Kate among family and friends.
So, here’s our top 20 that reflects an interesting mix of traditional and presently popular names. The figures in brackets show the position in the official chart of new baby names 2016.
The Nameslink Top 20
1 Jack (4) 11 Freddie (17)
2 Laura (150) 12 Helen (622)
3 George (3) 13 Harry (2)
4 Sam (24 Samuel) 14 Michelle (352)
5 Kate (452) 15 Ben (32 Benjamin)
6 Oliver (1) 16 James (12)
7 Emma (53) 17 Olivia (1)
8 John (120) 18 Sophie (14)
9 Peter (188) 19 Andrew (209)
10 Tom (9 Thomas) 20 Sarah (96)
Pictures: Laura Kenny, Olympic cycle champion and Jack Nicholson, Hollywood star – both feature in our cards for Laura and Jack. Kenny picture: Cycling Weekly
Most people it seems grow up to appreciate an unusual first name – but not when it comes to ordering coffee at Starbucks or other outlets. As their turn comes at the counter something simple keeps the busy queue moving. A feature based on responses to a New York Times article showed that Fadi was often misunderstood as Fatty – so he calls himself John at coffee time. Shasta has settled for Ruby as her counter name while Vanessa Angelica goes by her grandmother’s name Stella. Seems that when time is pressing and the urge for a coffee is strong a lot of us choose to become Mary or Mike until that skinny flat white is safely in our hand.
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about a survey at a prestigious US university that revealed that our names can have an astonishing social impact. The results showed that a name gives a clue to a person’s age, likeability (or lack of it), competence and aptitude for a job.
Some 500 students at Syracuse University, New York were given a list of names and told to rate them according to the impression they made. They were also asked: ‘Imagine you are about to meet Samantha. How competent/warm/old do you think she is when you see her name?’
New Scientist was among the respected publications that looked at the survey results and published a list of the perceived warm and competent names and gave others that were supposed to reflect low levels of warmth and competence.
At Nameslink we believe that everyone’s name is special and we’re sceptical of the supposition behind the survey. For a start, the students were mostly young and they were being asked to pass judgement on a list of names drawn from the past 70 years. Of course, there’s no surprise that a name like Dorothy or Ernest will trigger a sense that the person will be old. These names have not been popular for decades. But when it comes to the other attributes there’s a huge difference between filling out a survey in a classroom and meeting the real Dorothy in person. That’s when we are more likely to form a realistic opinion of someone.
Some names carry a touch of class traced back to the aristocracy while others are palpably more modern. There’s always been a bit of snobbery about choosing names where some are thought to be more common. Nameslink won’t go there because we have found in our research that every name has the potential to produce fascinating characters. Names move in and out of fashion.
The image that any of us creates about the holder of a name will probably have more to do with types of person we know. If we meet an aggressive character called Sophie that will colour our feelings about the name even though according to stereotype Sophie denotes a soft and warm personality.
So we don’t think much of the Syracuse survey. What, for instance, do names such as Julie, Isabel, Alice or William, Liam, Peter tell us about the people with those names. Not a lot.
And for those people who really don’t like the name their parents gave them the solution is simple. Just change it for something else. For day-to-day purposes there’s no need to go through any formalities – just tell your friends that from now on you want to be called Larry or Lulu. Who knows, throwing off an unpopular name might even bring on a personality change.
We’ve noted in an earlier post the growing interest in adopting traditional surnames for first names. Now thanks to a Nasa space probe, comes a string of fascinating opportunities for parents who want to follow writers with epic scientific imagination and set their children on a route to a distant future.
After a consultation process around the world, the International Astronomical Union (AIU) has chosen from fiction a dozen names that it has given to craters, valleys and mountains on Charon the largest moon circling the faraway planet Pluto.
One way or another we’re familiar with Charon – more usually Sharon – and of course Pluto was collared by Walt Disney as a cartoon dog.
Now the surname Clarke, with or without a final e, may get a first name booster from space exploration as a mountain formation on Charon has been titled Clarke Montes in honour of Arthur C Clarke, scientist and sci-fi author of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Clark already has a link to the extraordinary thanks to Clark Kent, otherwise Superman – and Clark is rising in the list of boys names.
If you’re really into the concept of future space travel you just might be ahead of the curve by choosing names like Butler or Nemo for a son or Dorothy for a daughter who will go places.
They’re in the list of new names for physical features on Charon published by the AIU based on images sent back to Earth by Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Here they all are:
Argo Chasma named for the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts during their quest for the Golden Fleece.
Butler Mons honours Octavia E. Butler, science fiction writer whose Xenogenesis trilogy describes humankind’s departure from Earth and subsequent return.
Caleuche Chasma named for the mythological ghost ship that travels the seas around the small island of Chiloé, off the coast of Chile.
Clarke Montes honours Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer and futurist whose novels were depictions of space exploration.
Dorothy Crater recognizes Dorothy Gale’s adventures in the magical world of Oz.
Kubrick Mons honours film director Stanley Kubrick, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey tells the story of humanity’s evolution from tool-using hominids to space explorers and beyond.
Mandjet Chasma named for one of the boats in Egyptian mythology that carried the sun god Ra across the sky each day, one of the earliest mythological examples of space travel.
Nasreddin Crater is named for the protagonist in folktales told mainly through the Middle East.
Nemo Crater named for the captain of the Nautilus, the submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870).
Pirx Crater named for the main character in short stories by Stanislaw Lem, who travels between the Earth, Moon and Mars.
Revati Crater for the main character in the Hindu epic narrative Mahabharata, widely regarded as the first in history (circa 400 BC) to include the concept of time travel.
Sadko Crater recognizes the adventurer who travelled to the bottom of the sea in the medieval Russian epic Bylina.
International Astronomical Union https://www.iau.org
When it comes to first names, there’s a strong case for saying that Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan is the most influential person in the world. Since her first Oscar nomination for supporting actress in the 2007 film Atonement her movie profile has shot up. This year she’s been the face – and the star – of Lady Bird, a heavily promoted film for which she won a Golden Globe for best actress and won an Oscar nomination as an unconventional teenager on the verge of adulthood. She was also Oscar nominated for another international hit film Brooklyn as an Irish girl torn between love and family loyalty.
So what’s this got to do with names? Well, Saoirse meaning freedom and pronounced either Seer-she or Sair-sha has been on the rise just about everywhere in the past decade. It’d been a popular name in Ireland for a long time but seldom travelled beyond Irish families living abroad. Now she’s in the Irish top ten and has broken into the US top 1000 for the first time. In England she’s leapt 436 places to reach number 387 – a sure sign that Saoirse’s getting noticed.
Some Irish names have travelled well for generations such as Sean and Aisling but these are in decline in the UK along with one-time favourites Siobhan and Liam. So, is the Irish vogue over? Not so much over as shifting to Saoirse – thanks to the sweet acting skills of Lady Bird.
Girl babies have a greater chance of being given a name that breaks with tradition. Flowers, nature, seasons, cities and emotions all contribute to what sociologists call the ‘originality gap’ compared with names for boys. Showbiz parents especially are willing to experiment. David and Victoria Beckham have brought Harper back into popularity while Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have named their daughters North and Chicago.
More and more parents have picked up on the idea of giving their children traditional surnames as first names. Statistics from various parts of the world in the past couple of years show a range of family names becoming popular as given names. This trend is running alongside an established move towards biblical names, especially for boys, and flowers and nature, mostly for girls.
Lawrence and Alexander have for years been interchangeable as first names and surnames. Now there is a rush to promote family names to the forefront, especially for boys. Perhaps it’s the influence of mothers keen to give prominence to a maiden name or a name prominent on their side of the family. Or maybe these are names that just sound manly. Whatever the reason, the evidence is clear.
Mostly it’s a boy thing both in the US and the UK. The latest official list for England and Wales shows some sharp risers with seven surnames in the top 100 first names: Harrison, Mason, Riley, Harvey, Tyler, Jackson and Ellis. Making rapid progress into the top 150 are Cooper, Parker, Bailey and Cole.
The rise of Harper for girls is one of the few examples of a female name/surname making it big while Harlow and Quinn are rising more modestly up the female chart.
Few people use their middle name on anything other than application forms and a few other official documents. Seldom when making introductions. Most of us have them, but how did we get them?
Here’s a guesswork guide to the person in the middle.
- Throwback to the days when children were given additional name of a saint
- A compromise between parents who can’t agree
- Maintains a traditional family name or mother’s maiden name
- Gives the child a choice to make a change
- Sounds important when using just the first letter as in Donald J Trump
Technical note: You can abandon a middle name, simply by not using it on application forms.
Historical note: Queen Victoria insisted that the name Albert was used as a middle name by her descendants, if not a first, in memory of her much-loved husband Prince Albert who died aged 42.
Their eldest son, Edward VII, was named Albert Edward and known as Bertie to his family. Their other sons all had Albert as a middle name and King George VI (great grandson of Victoria) was given Albert as a first name and was also known in his family as Bertie. On becoming king he chose to use his fourth name. Prince Harry has Albert as one of his middle names.