Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Baby Names: Guidelines, Laws And A Dose Of Common Sense

You Named Me…What?
(By Drew Magary, GQ Magazine, July 2013)

If your name is your destiny (Destynee?), then judging from the dumb-ass, intentionally misspelled, needlessly apostrophe'd names we Americans are giving our kids nowadays—Jaxxon, Branlee, Scot't—we're raising a generation of meth heads. What can be done to stop this? Presenting GQ's rules for naming a baby in the worst baby-naming era in human history:
Congratulations, your wife/girlfriend/au pair is pregnant! A little bundle of colicky delight awaits you mere months from now. And one of the great joys of this period of anticipation is brainstorming all kinds of kick-ass names for your offspring.  But be warned: The power that comes with naming a child can be both intimidating and addictive, and we are currently in the throes of a child-naming crisis here in America. Seemingly rational people are naming their kids Baylynn, and Daxx, and Nirvana. Ethans are becoming Aythans. Marys are becoming Jazzmins. Wannabe elitist parents keep trying to one-up each other, as if a uniquely horrible name serves as some kind of guarantee against little Aston Martin growing up to be merely ordinary. Soon we'll be staring down an army of Apples, and the entire country will collapse upon itself. Each of us will get only a few opportunities (or if you're Antonio Cromartie, two dozen) to help in the fight against this encroaching apocalypse, so when your turn comes, please do your part by following a few simple rules.
  1. Do not invent a name. Most inventions fail. Many don't even make it past the patent stage. What makes you think a name you created out of thin air is gonna stand the test of time? There's a reason why "Jane" and "David" have hung around for so long. They're proven. They've been workshopped out in the field. That's not true of Kaydiss. You didn't even run it past a focus group. You're putting the responsibility for an entire new product launch on that poor baby's shoulders. That's a dick move. This also goes for any classic name that you deliberately mutilated. No one's gonna be dazzled that you took Christopher and turned it into Krystougher.
  1. Think real hard about whether or not a "cool" name is all that cool. Listen, I've been vulnerable to this, too—I had Duke and Rock on the list for my first son, because I'm an idiot. But I wised up, because you don't pick a name for the initial novelty of it. The name you choose needs to hold up for a long, long time. You may think naming your kid Ace will automatically make everyone think he's a fighter pilot, but the culture changes. It evolves. Names that sound kinda badass now become stale and tepid with the passage of time. If you're going to name your kid Ace, you might as well name him 1987.
  1. If you give your kid a kooky name, there'd better be a story behind it. "You see, we named her Veniss because she was conceived in a pensione outside Venice. But Tyler's grandmother just died and her name was Missy and we wanted to honor her memory. And then I thought…Veniss! Plus the name has Macedonian roots, and I'm Macedonian!"
  1. Don't abuse the letter y. It's not a real vowel. It's only a vowel when all the other vowels have been injured and you need to use the emergency third-string vowel. It's not some kind of all-purpose MEGAVOWEL that can be readily substituted for the real ones just because you think it looks cooler. Little Prysylla shouldn't have to grow up thinking her name was inspired by some kind of Croatian village. And another thing…
  1. Go easy on the "extreme" letters. I like x, k, and z as much as any competitive Scrabble player does. But these are children you're naming, not line extensions of Mountain Dew. The only reason to name your kid Jaxxon is if you really want him to grow up to be a Duke lacrosse player.
  1. Do not use double letters if you don't have to. Branlee. That's a real name. People have used it, just as they've used Kylee, Sandee, and thousands of other homemade names that deploy double e's and double n's wherever possible because…well, beecausee! It just looks betterr, doesn't it?! We're on the verge of triple letters. In two years, a Trissstyn will show up at your country day school and everyone's head will explode.
  1. Do not name your child after the following things:
    • A television network
    • An item in the Pottery Barn catalog
    • Some goddamn character in Twilight
    • A car
    • A type of New Age exercise method
    • Yourself
    • Food
    • Any celebrity baby. We already have one Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette. We don't need a second one.
  1. Consider whether that apostrophe is really necessary. It isn't.
  1. Think about the kid and not yourself. Are you giving this kid a one-of-a-kind name because you're fishing for cheap compliments? Do you want friends and family to be dazzled by your creativity? That's probably what's going on here, even if you can't admit it. A name shouldn't make a person. A person should make a name for himself. He has to go and earn it by fighting bears and seducing the wives of dictators. On his own. Without your help. So before you fill out that birth-certificate application, think hard about the person who's gonna be carrying around this name for life. Put yourself in the kid's shoes, and maybe, just maybe, you'll have the balls not to name her Brixie. 

25 Rules Of Baby Naming
(Posted by Julie Ryan Evans, Cafemom.com, January 31, 2012)

Naming your baby seems fun ... at first. Most of us start as little girls dreaming of the names we'll one day bestow upon our children. When you're actually expecting a child, however, you realize the enormous responsibility you hold in your hands.   While it's definitely a matter of taste in most cases, there are some real repercussions for kids with bad baby names besides the fact that they may hate you for them someday. A recent study even showed that less-than-desirable names can actually lower a person's self-esteem and make them lonelier in life. Yikes, talk about pressure.  To help with the task, here are 25 "rules" that all parents should at least consider to keep from giving your kid a bad baby name:
1. Don't name your child after food.  J.R. Martinez and Diana Gonzalez-Jones, who are expecting their first baby in May, recently told People magazine that they haven't settled on a name yet, but have ruled out two: "Salami" and "Apple Cider." Smart people they are, and we all should follow their cue -- if it's edible, don't name your baby after it.

2. Skip stripper names. No offense to strippers, but there are some basic rules to avoid giving your daughter a name that makes her sound destined for life on a pole.

 3. Avoid names that people hate. These will change from year to year, but Jayden and Neveah (Heaven spelled backwards) made the list of most hated baby names this year.

4. Think about your child's future email address. Peter Enis sounds lovely, until one day his company assigns him a work email address that becomes Penis@thiscompany.com.

5. Play the rhyme game to make sure that kids on the playground won't be able to.  Jinx, Stinks. Brody is grody. Nelly is smelly. You get the idea. Any questions, just run the name by an 8-year-old boy and see what he comes up with.

6. Avoid names with 8,000 different spellings. Caitlyn. Kaitlyn, Catelyn, Caitlin ... you get the idea.

7. Don't get all creative and make up a name. Stephania, Jolissa, Crystalina, anything you just create out of thin air or by combining more than one name should be avoided.

8. Consider your kid's initials. I was teased for being JAR growing up (Julie Ann Ryan), which was annoying, but not that bad. Ashley Suzanne Smith on the other hand might feel differently.

9. Don't forget monograms. You also have to remember that the first letter of the last name goes in the middle on monograms. Peter Grant Immerson ... think about walking around with that monogram on your sweater.

10. Try not to be Inspired by random things.  For example, the couple who named their baby after the Facebook "Like" button. Don't do that.

11. Don't be funny. Your kid's name isn't a joke. Harry Pitts may be funny to you, but your kid probably won't think so, and he'll likely be bigger and stronger than you someday.

12. Don't try too hard. Aristotle. Harvard. Yale. Einstein. Setting high expectations is one thing, but it's really too much pressure for any child to live up to their name in some cases.

13. Skip offensive names. Little Adolf Hitler is a darn good example of this.

14. Remember your baby will be a human not an animal. I love Alicia Silverstone, but Bear Blu is just all sorts of wrong.

15. Tame the fanatic sports fan in you -- or your partner. During the World Cup, we saw Fifa used. There are also reports of ESPN Montanna and Crimson Tide Redd. Team enthusiasm taken too far isn't fun for anyone.

16. Don't do the celebrity thing. Celebrities love to shock us with their bizarre baby names. Aleph Portman-Millepied (Natalie Portman's son) and Moroccan Scott Cannon (one of Mariah Carey's twins) are two of the doozies we saw last year alone.

17. Avoid names that a country would ban. We may have more freedom here in the United States, but the fact that a country would ban names like "89," "Mister," and "Messiah" is a pretty good indicator you might want to ban them from your use too.

18. Think about your kid's future career. That name on a resume can and does make a difference studies say. Names like "Ish," "Congratulashayla," and "Pornwadee" make employers say, "Don't call us ..."

19. Don't get cutesy. You may have you heart set on Mercedes, but if you happen to marry someone whose last name is Driver, then I'd test drive some other names.

20. Skip the free brand endorsement. Fendi. Gucci. Cartier. Avoid the pompous and pretentious at all costs.

21. Don't give your sweet baby an evil name. Lucifer. Why even go there?

22. Don't name your kid after a pet. Sooner or later someone will tell you they have a dog with the same name as your kid no matter what it is, but going with something like King, Spike, or Bandit is going to up the frequency significantly.

23. Avoid adjectives. Trendy names are one thing, but the name “Trendy” is something else.  Yet, that’s just what soccer player Gabriel Zakuani chose for his son last year. Others to avoid: Heavenly, Splendid, Scenic.

24. Don't give your son a girlie name. I love Johnny Cash, but it's just cruel to give a boy a name like Sue, Leslie, or Marion.

25. Don't listen to anyone else. The truth is, someone is going to have a problem with absolutely any name you pick. Someone will have a bad association with it, find a way to make fun of it, or otherwise turn up their nose at your choice. So take these guidelines with a grain of salt, then name your baby whatever you damn well please ... well, almost anything.


Oh No, You Can't Name Your Baby THAT!

(By David K. Israel, Mental Floss, July 3, 2010)
Some countries have some very strict rules for what you can name your child.  In Denmark parents can choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names.  In Germany, you must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name.  Here in the U.S., you can name your kid almost anything, but that's not the case everywhere in the world.  Let's take a look at some countries with pretty strict or otherwise fascinating baby-naming laws.

1. Sweden
Enacted in 1982, the Naming law in Sweden was originally created to prevent non-noble families from giving their children noble names, but a few changes to the law have been made since then. The part of the law referencing first names reads: "First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name."  If you later change your name, you must keep at least one of the names that you were originally given, and you can only change your name once. 

Rejected names: "Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb111163 (pronounced Albin, naturally) was submitted by a child's parents in protest of the Naming law. It was rejected. The parents later submitted "A" (also pronounced Albin) as the child's name. It, too, was rejected.  Also rejected: Metallica, Superman, Veranda, Ikea and Elvis.
Accepted names: Google as a middle name, Lego.

2. Germany
In Germany, you must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name, and the name chosen must not be negatively affect the well being of the child. Also, you can not use last names or the names of objects or products as first names.   Whether or not your chosen name will be accepted is up to the office of vital statistics, the Standesamt, in the area in which the child was born. If the office rejects your proposed baby name, you may appeal the decision. But if you lose, you'll have to think of a different name. Each time you submit a name you pay a fee, so it can get costly.   When evaluating names, the Standesamt refers to a book which translates to "the international manual of the first names," and they also consult foreign embassies for assistance with non-German names. Because of the hassle parents have to go through to name their children, many opt for traditional names such as Maximilian, Alexander, Marie and Sophie.

Rejected names: Matti was rejected for a boy because it didn't indicate gender.
Approved names: Legolas and Nemo were approved for baby boys.

3. New Zealand
New Zealand's Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1995 doesn't allow people to name their children anything that "might cause offence to a reasonable person; or [...] is unreasonably long; or without adequate justification, [...] is, includes, or resembles, an official title or rank." Officials at the registrar of births have successfully talked parents out of some more embarrassing names.

Rejected names: Stallion, Yeah Detroit, Fish and Chips, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucy, Sex Fruit, Satan and Adolf Hitler
Approved names: Benson and Hedges (for a set of twins), Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Violence

4. Japan
In Japan, one given name and one surname are chosen for babies, except for the imperial family, who only receive given names. Except for a few examples, it is obvious which are the given names and which are the surnames, regardless of in what order the names have been given. There are a couple thousand "name kanji" and "commonly used characters" for use in naming babies, and only these official kanji may be used in babies' given names. The purpose of this is to make sure that all names can be easily read and written by the Japanese. The Japanese also restrict names that might be deemed inappropriate.

Rejected names: Akuma, meaning "devil."

5. Denmark
Denmark's very strict Law on Personal Names is in place to protect children from having odd names that suit their parents' fancy. To do this, parents can choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names, some for girls, some for boys.   If you want to name your child something that isn't on the list, you have to get special permission from your local church, and the name is then reviewed by governmental officials. Creative spellings of more common names are often rejected.  The law states that girls and boys must have names that indicate their gender, you can't use a last name as a first name and unusual names may be rejected. Of the approximately 1,100 names that are reviewed each year, 15-20 percent of the names are rejected. There are also laws in place to protect rare Danish last names.

Rejected names: Anus, Pluto and Monkey.
Approved names: Benji, Jiminico, Molli and Fee.

6. China
Most new babies in China are now basically required to be named based on the ability of computer scanners to read those names on national identification cards. The government recommends giving children names that are easily readable, and encourages Simplified characters over Traditional Chinese ones.  Parents can technically choose the given name, but numbers and non-Chinese symbols and characters are not allowed.   Also, now, Chinese characters that can not be represented on the computer are not allowed. There are over 70,000 Chinese characters, but only about 13,000 can be represented on the computer. Because this requirement is a new one, some citizens are having their name misrepresented, and some have to change their names to be accurately shown on the identification cards. 

Rejected names: "@": Wang "At" was rejected as a baby name. The parents felt that the @ symbol had the right meaning for them. @ in Chinese is pronounced "ai-ta" which is very similar to a phrase that means "love him."

How Khloe Became Queen
(By Laura Wattenberg, Slate.com, May 5, 2011)

Today, the Social Security Administration released its official list of last year's most popular baby names. The No. 1 names are the same as 2009: Jacob for boys, Isabella for girls. That doesn't mean naming style was standing still, though. The real action happens lower down the list, where names rise fast and, in most cases, fall even faster. What makes a name come or go? Naming a child is—or feels like it should be—a uniquely personal decision. And yet each name on the top 10 list represents the collective wisdom of a whole generation of parents. In other arenas of fashion, we know we're subject to commercial pressures. Clothing trends, for instance, are coordinated assaults on public taste. The colors you'll want to wear this fall were determined years in advance by professional colorists on behalf of manufacturers and retailers. But nobody advertises baby names. No one stood to pocket a dime when you named your daughter Isabella. You just felt, personally, that Isabella was the best possible name for your child. You and 22,730 other people.

Media exposure plays a part in naming decisions, but the influence of celebrity names is not as straightforward as it might appear. A minor reality TV personality like Talan Torriero (Laguna Beach) or Jaslene Gonzalez (America's Next Top Model) can win more namesakes than a Taylor Swift. It makes surprisingly little difference whether the person or character in question is likable, let alone a role model. A demonic child like The Omen's Damien or The Exorcist's Regan can inspire more namesakes than a swoon-worthy hero like Twilight's Edward. This year's top naming style-maker was Maci Bookout, an unwed teenage mother from the reality show Teen Mom—Maci was the fastest rising girl's name, and Bentley, her son's name, rose fastest for boys. (Remember the Freakonomics theory that names trickle down the economic ladder? In fact, the hottest name trends are consistently populist affairs.)

So a naming phenomenon—a name that spontaneously captures the hearts of thousands of parents—can't be chalked up to a single celebrity's status. Instead, it usually arises from a mix of powerful factors, including historical naming patterns and phonology. As a case study, let's take a close look at Khloe, the fastest rising name of the past five years. In 2005, Khloe was just an oddball spelling of the fashionable name Chloe. It didn't even crack the list of America's top 1000 names for baby girls. Last year, however, Khloe was No. 42 on the SSA's list of girls' names, bestowed on 5,369 babies. That's more than Katherine, Rachel, or Brian, and a 21-fold increase in just five years. What made thousands of American parents seize on the name Khloe?

The short answer, once again, is reality TV, that most reliable source for today's fastest rising names. Khloe Kardashian is part of America's most ubiquitous reality TV family, and over the past four years she has co-starred in four different TV series. But here's the rub: Khloe's two sisters, Kim and Kourtney, have enjoyed just as much publicity but haven't had the same meteoric effect on baby names. The number of babies named Kourtney only doubled over the past five years, and the number of Kims and Kimberlys actually fell. So again: Why Khloe? The first place to look is generational trends. Parents today want names that feel fresh. Kimberly was one of the hottest names of the 1960s and '70s, and so by the time Kim Kardashian hit our TV screens, the popularity of that name had already fallen dramatically. Kourtney and Courtney didn't peak until the '90s—so they were a little less stale, but still well past their zenith. Chloe, though, was still on the upswing. Its popularity was rising every year, leaving the name well-balanced between fresh and familiar. And it provided an opportunity for creative spelling. Starting the name with a "K" gave it new appeal for parents with creative, contemporary tastes in names. (K is the consonant of choice for these namers, the types who choose Kamren over Cameron.)

OK, so Khloe's rise was pegged to Chloe. But why was Chloe rising in the first place? To start with, it was an old and familiar name that had never been common. It therefore appealed to traditionalists, but unlike old favorites like Helen and Kathy it didn't trigger the dreaded "mom" or "grandma" associations. That's the same recipe that has worked magic for other formerly rare names like Olivia and Gabriel. Chloe's sound matters, too. The single most powerful trend guiding current name choices is a fondness for vowels. The more a name is packed with long, strong vowels (and not clusters of squishy consonants, like Myrtle or Elmer), the more likely it is to appeal to parents. Look at the long A in Ava, the O in Noah, the E in Ethan. The name Chloe packs two long vowels into two short syllables. Other names in that select family, like Zoe and Eli, have also flown up the popularity charts.

So in short, celebrities may influence naming trends, but in the end it's more about the name than the fame. Parents will only pick up on a name if it has a sound and style they're ready for. A tweak of an already hot name, like Khloe for Chloe, or Miley for Riley and Kylie, is the easiest sell. But herein lies a cautionary tale for Khloe.

The fastest rising baby name of 2008 was Aaden. The ingredients were perfect. Aiden was already the sound of the decade, with 41 different Aiden rhymes among the top 1,000 boys' names. Then, in 2007, the creatively spelled variant Aaden hit reality TV in the form of one of the Gosselin family's sextuplets on Jon & Kate Plus 8. The double-A spelling was eye-catching and promised a first place in any alphabetical lineup, ahead of even Aaron and Aaliyah. A popularity spike followed.

But in 2010, the fastest falling name in America was, yes, Aaden. The name was brought down by the very factors that fueled its rise. Reality-TV fame is fickle, and in this case, the all-too-public dissolution of Jon and Kate Gosselin's marriage left the public disillusioned. Alternate spellings, too, prove volatile. They're the first to fall when the root name passes its peak. And a rapid rise out of nowhere seldom bodes well for long-term naming power. In names as in stocks, the faster they rise, the harder they fall. Khloe has seen a longer, stronger rise than Aaden and may buck the trend. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if a generation from now Khloe stands as a crystallized moment in naming style, a name that takes us back to the days when Kardashians—and K's, and vowels—were kings. Or queens. Or kweens.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2292955/

Rank Male name Female name
1 Jacob, Isabella
2 Ethan, Sophia
3 Michael, Emma
4 Jayden, Olivia
5 William, Ava
6 Alexander, Emily
7 Noah, Abigail
8 Daniel, Madison
9 Aiden, Chloe
10 Anthony, Mia
11 Joshua, Addison
12 Mason, Elizabeth
13 Christopher, Ella
14 Andrew, Natalie
15 David, Samantha
16 Matthew, Alexis
17 Logan, Lily
18 Elijah, Grace
19 James, Hailey
20 Joseph, Alyssa
21 Gabriel, Lillian
22 Benjamin, Hannah
23 Ryan, Avery
24 Samuel, Leah
25 Jackson, Nevaeh
26 John, Sofia
27 Nathan, Ashley
28 Jonathan, Anna
29 Christian, Brianna
30 Liam, Sarah
31 Dylan, Zoe
32 Landon, Victoria
33 Caleb, Gabriella
34 Tyler, Brooklyn
35 Lucas, Kaylee
36 Evan, Taylor
37 Gavin, Layla
38 Nicholas, Allison
39 Isaac, Evelyn
40 Brayden, Riley
41 Luke, Amelia
42 Angel, Khloe
43 Brandon, Makayla
44 Jack, Aubrey
45 Isaiah, Charlotte
46 Jordan, Savannah
47 Owen, Zoey
48 Carter, Bella
49 Connor, Kayla
50 Justin, Alexa
51 Jose, Peyton
52 Jeremiah, Audrey
53 Julian, Claire
54 Robert, Arianna
55 Aaron, Julia
56 Adrian, Aaliyah
57 Wyatt, Kylie
58 Kevin, Lauren
59 Hunter, Sophie
60 Cameron, Sydney
61 Zachary, Camila
62 Thomas, Jasmine
63 Charles, Morgan
64 Austin, Alexandra
65 Eli, Jocelyn
66 Chase, Gianna
67 Henry, Maya
68 Sebastian, Kimberly
69 Jason, Mackenzie
70 Levi, Katherine
71 Xavier, Destiny
72 Ian, Brooke
73 Colton, Trinity
74 Dominic, Faith
75 Juan, Lucy
76 Cooper, Madelyn
77 Josiah, Madeline
78 Luis, Bailey
79 Ayden, Payton
80 Carson, Andrea
81 Adam, Autumn
82 Nathaniel, Melanie
83 Brody, Ariana
84 Tristan, Serenity
85 Diego, Stella
86 Parker, Maria
87 Blake, Molly
88 Oliver, Caroline
89 Cole, Genesis
90 Carlos, Kaitlyn
91 Jaden, Eva
92 Jesus, Jessica
93 Alex, Angelina
94 Aidan, Valeria
95 Eric, Gabrielle
96 Hayden, Naomi
97 Bryan, Mariah
98 Max, Natalia
99 Jaxon, Paige
100 Brian, Rachel

Note: Rank 1 is the most popular, 2 is the next most popular, etc. List comes from Social Security Administration’s list of registered names for babies.


Your Baby Is Unique, But Her Name Isn't
(By Laura Wattenberg, Washington Post, May 2010)

On Friday, the Social Security Administration announced that Jacob and Emily were the top baby names of the decade. These classics may seem like reassuring signs of continuity across the generations. Don't believe it for a second. Over the past generation, the way we name babies has changed radically. Look through the rest of the top 100 names of the decade, and you will find names that were essentially unknown a generation ago, such as Brooklyn and Nevaeh ("heaven" backward). You will find formerly exotic names that have become commonplace (Xavier, Aaliyah) and formerly male names that have become female (Addison, Riley). On the boys' list, you'll find six different names rhyming with Aidan. But what you won't find are the English classics Edward, Margaret, George and Anne. In 2009, even Mary -- the most popular name in the history of the English language -- fell out of America's top 100 for the first time.

The new variations, more than Jacob and Emily, are the names that define this era, an era marked by an unprecedented desire to give our children names that are different, even rare. We're all in this battle against popularity together, whether we realize it or not. I've lost count of the parents who have told me that they just happen to have a taste for names that aren't too common. Rich and poor, black and white, red state and blue state, we're all bound by a shared desire to be nothing like one another. Baby names are a heartfelt expression of parents' deepest hopes for their children. This makes them a kind of fossil record of Americans' thoughts, values and dreams at a given point in time. You can see it with specific names, such as Liberty, which spiked in 1918 (the World War I armistice), 1976 (the bicentennial) and 2001 (the Sept. 11 attacks).

Names didn't always go in and out of style, though. In England, John, Mary, James, Elizabeth and the other royal favorites dominated for centuries. But in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, in a world of newly mobile populations and mass communication, name fashions bloomed. Victorian ideals of womanhood swept in floral and gem names for American girls, such as Lily and Opal; a pre-WWI Germanic fad gave us a generation of Gertrudes and Hermans. In the 1960s, a new cultural emphasis on individuality started us down the path we're on now. More and more, parents wanted their children's names to stand out, not fit in. Fewer and fewer children were given names in the top 25, and as the years went on, the No. 1 name in the country represented fewer and fewer babies. (While the '70s powerhouse Jennifer seems ultra-common today, it never came close to the heights of earlier No. 1 names John and Mary. As for Jacob and Emily, they wouldn't have even cracked the top 10 in John and Mary's heyday.)

Then, in the mid-1990s, two forces turbocharged the dramatic diffusion of American baby names that we've seen over the past decade. The first was the Internet. Online life altered parents' basic concept of name individuality. People started to think about names in the context of unique usernames and e-mail addresses. A century ago, one Amelia Jenkins might live a few towns from another Amelia Jenkins, and they would neither know nor care. But on the Web, we're all next-door neighbors. Prospective parents of an Amelia Jenkins now type the name into Google or Facebook and freak out. They find dozens of Amelia Jenkinses. The name is "taken." The second big change came courtesy of Michael Shackleford, an actuary in the Social Security Administration who in 1997 took it upon himself to tally up and publish online a list of the most common names on newborns' Social Security number applications. In past generations, parents were left to guess (often unsuccessfully) at name trends and popularity. Now, there is an official ranking.

The result of all this has been a sort of reverse arms race, with parents across the country desperate to make sure that their chosen name doesn't come out too near the top. Half a century ago, 39 percent of all babies born in this country were given a name in the top 25. Today that number is down to 16 percent. The trend cycle is speeding up, too, as parents patrol for the new and the different, staying alert not just to a name's current popularity but also to which way it is trending. Names rise fast, but they also fall fast. Miley/Mylee was one of the fastest rising names of 2007 and 2008; by 2009, it was one of the fastest fallers.

In eras past, name choices were aimed at an audience of family or community. We named babies after relatives, for instance, to honor them and to please those who loved them. Today, we leave the homages to middle names and approach naming more like an exercise in branding: We're trying to position our new entry to give it the best possible advantage in life's marketplace. That means standing out. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to uniqueness. We may like the idea of distinctive names, but our tastes are as alike as they ever were. Even parents with different name sensibilities are influenced by the same underlying name fashions: Vowels, especially long vowels, are good -- think Owen and Ava. The -n ending is also good, as in Kaitlyn and Mason. But clusters of consonant sounds are bad. (Sorry, Gertrude and Herman.)

Most important, names common in your generation or your parents' generation are out. If you live in a community of educated, affluent, older parents where traditional names still dominate, you might have missed the whole Mylee phenomenon. Yet even traditionalists increasingly insist on novelty, and this means digging into the archives. Your schools are surely full of traditional names that were neglected in recent generations, such as Noah and Sophia, and even faux antiques such as Ava and Olivia, formerly uncommon names that (thanks to Ava Gardner and Olivia de Havilland ) sound more old-fashioned than they actually are.

So what happens when the irresistible desire to be different meets immovably similar tastes? You end up with those six names that rhyme with Aidan in the top 100 names of the 2000s, and 38 of them, from Aaden to Zayden, in the top 1,000. The irony is that classic English names such as George and Edward, Margaret and Alice -- the names that used to be standard-bearers -- all have distinctive sounds. They aren't prisoners to phonetic fashion; each of them sounds instantly recognizable. Contemporary names, by contrast, travel in phonetic packs. More than a third of American boys now receive a name ending in the letter N. (In decades past, the most popular boys' names were more evenly split between a number of endings, including D, L, S and Y.) Call it lockstep individualism. Instead of a classroom with two Williams and two Jameses, today we have one Aydin, one Jaden, one Braedon and one Zayden -- not to mention a Payton, a Nathan and a Kaydence. In our rush to bless our children with uniqueness, we've created a generation that sounds more alike than ever.

Laura Wattenberg is the creator of the Web sites babynamewizard.com and namecandy.com.

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