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U and I, uu and ii

June 26, 2019 laurawattenberg 10 Comments

U and I, uu and ii

June 26, 2019 LauraWattenberg 10 Comments
Wii and JUUL packages

Aa is for Aaron, oo is for Cooper, ee is for Lee. Traditionally, that’s as far as doubled vowels go. The letters u and i just don’t double up in American English, in words or in names.

At least, they didn’t. In this, generation, ii names have taken hold. The number of American babies receiving a name with a double-i is up over 1300% since the start of the millennium.

Graph showing rise in popularity of ii names

Even that dramatic popularity curve doesn’t tell the whole story. As of the year 2000, the few ii names were linguistic imports, chiefly Hawaiian names like Kelii and alternate Arabic transcriptions like Maliik. Then parents’ quest for novelty met innovative brand names like the 2006 Nintendo Wii game console. Suddenly, ii was perceived as a bold spelling alternative for English names. Today, the top ii name in America is Journii, and other hot choices include Levii, Harmonii and Kiing.

Uu, though, has remained out of the running. But last year, the first-ever English-based uu name appeared in the statistics. Eleven boys were name Truu.

Other spellings of “True” also rose as baby names last year. You can also find various examples of the term “truu,” from a European brand of bottled water to a meme-ready spelling of true:

2 Chainz "TRUU" meme

But I think there’s another force behind the name’s emergence. Think back to the naming impact of the smash-hit Nintendo Wii. It wasn’t about direct namesakes (there are still no babies named Wii), but rather about spelling inspiration.

Can it be a coincidence that the first uu name emerged in the wake of JUUL, the ubiquitous e-cigarette brand? JUUL sales reached the $1 billion mark in 2018, up 400% from the previous year. Every young American knows the spelling and the pronunciation (“jool”). And now along comes Truu. It’s the first uu name, but if the ii experience is any guide, it won’t be the last.

LauraWattenberg
LauraWattenberg

Namerology founder and "Baby Name Wizard" author Laura Wattenberg is a globally recognized name expert, known for her scientific approach to understanding name trends and culture.

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10 Comments

  • Elizabeth T. June 27, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    There’s also Skyy (and Skyylar). A family member is named Jayy.

  • lucubratrix July 3, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    Alright, Laura, I really want to do a full blog response to this because I think there’s a lot more story here, in the 1950s specifically.
    From 1900-1920s I agree: Siiri, Niilo, Eiichi, Seiichi, Kiichi… Scandi- and Asian imports.
    But then, 1948, we have a MASSIVE debut with 30 girls named Vickii, which continues through the 1950s and most interestingly expands to Liisa, Tiina, Pattii, Lorii, Vickii, as well Williiam and Miichael, showing up for many years through the 1960s. Liisa really picks up some steam of its own through the 1960s, and by the 1970s we have Torii, Nikkii, Brandii, Kelii, Aliisa showing up. These aren’t foreign names, this is a ii trendlet that happened for over a decade, and I’m quite sure that a Vickii was responsible for launching it, and possibly prominent exposure a Liisa who was part of the first wave kept it going longer. I need to work so I cannot investigate this Vickii, but I think it needs doing!

  • lucubratrix July 3, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    It looks like the double ii trend also expanded to yy in 1958-1959’s Kathyy, Kimberlyy, Timothyy and Rickyy.

    There is either a bureaucrat with terrible spelling or a mini-trend to uncover! Mystery seekers, help me out!

  • lucubratrix July 4, 2019 at 6:29 am

    I solved it! This celebrity/entertainment magazine coverage of a beloved wife named Vickii absolutely fits the bill!
    http://www.otrr.org/FILES/Magz_pdf/Radio%20TV%20Mirror/Radio%20and%20Television%20Mirror%205301.pdf
    The author in question who is writing flattering things about his wife Vickii in 1953 had a popular radio show. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jack_Smith_Show His show moved to Hollywood in 1948, and I’m imagining that the media coverage of his wife Vickii was what launched the name. (She was a birth certificate Victoria, for what it’s worth, so this is a creative nickname spelling that went on to launch a name trend.)

  • lucubratrix July 4, 2019 at 6:31 am

    Interestingly enough, the media coverage following Jack Smith’s death refers to his spouse as Victoria, appropriate to the formality of the new era: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2006-jul-10-me-smith10-story.html

  • lucubratrix July 4, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Here’s more, earlier, magazine coverage of the Smiths’ Hollywood home, which includes Vickii by name and absolutely makes me think that Vickii’s arrival in Hollywood along her husband is what caused media coverage and thus the name to spike. The ongoing extent of the media coverage also explains why it was such an extended hit.

    Still looking into Liisa more, but calling it a victoriious night.

    • nedibes
      nedibes July 5, 2019 at 4:10 pm

      Excellent name sleuthing, lucubratrix! I agree, a national media celebrity’s celebrated young wife with a fresh take on an already-trendy name seems like a natural name-inspiration. Also, those radio fanzines are fascinating!

      On the Liisa front, I wonder whether there might be a Finnish connection. This is a Finnish and Estonian name, and I’m finding lots of Finnish women born in the 1870s-1880s by that name, so possibly some of the 1960s Liisas were namesakes, or a result of parents looking for a trendy name with a nod to their ethnic heritage? At least one of the younger Liisas that I’ve found in the US (an attorney born 1972-ish and profiled in the Wall St Journal in 1999) has a Finnish surname.

      Other possible Liisa inspirations: Liisa Linko was a celebrated Finnish opera singer, who sang at Carnegie Hall in 1959. That’s a long-shot, as I don’t think she ever attained great fame here. More likely: Liisa Suvanto was a designer who joined Marimekko in 1960, the same year that Jackie Kennedy made the company famous in the US when she bought six Marimekko dresses for the campaign. Suvanto’s name was attached to their line of wool dresses throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

      • lucubratrix July 12, 2019 at 2:54 am

        Great work, nedibes. While Liisa starts showing up in 1949, it’s probably a revival among the Finnish immigrant community upon finding the striking ii combination showing up in mainstream English contexts from Vickii Smith’s media coverage. Miichael and Williiam are the most interesting to me, because boys’ names are usually less prone to creative respellings… what was it that prompted the terminal cutesy -ie sound being spelled even cuter and Hollywood-ishly as -ii, to make the jump into respelling the internal i on those names? Was it Liisa?

        Here are the internal iis:

        yob1949.txt:Liisa,F,5
        yob1950.txt:Liisa,F,5
        yob1952.txt:Liisa,F,5
        yob1953.txt:Liisa,F,10
        yob1955.txt:Liisa,F,5
        yob1956.txt:Liisa,F,14
        yob1956.txt:Williiam,M,5
        yob1957.txt:Tiina,F,7 ** probably Liisa inspired
        yob1957.txt:Liisa,F,6
        yob1957.txt:Williiam,M,5
        yob1958.txt:Liisa,F,13
        yob1958.txt:Williiam,M,5
        yob1959.txt:Liisa,F,11
        yob1959.txt:Miichael,M,5
        yob1959.txt:Williiam,M,5
        yob1960.txt:Liisa,F,13
        yob1960.txt:Tiina,F,8
        yob1961.txt:Liisa,F,15
        yob1961.txt:Tiina,F,6
        yob1961.txt:Williiam,M,5
        yob1962.txt:Liisa,F,28
        yob1962.txt:Tiina,F,6
        yob1963.txt:Liisa,F,25
        yob1963.txt:Tiina,F,5
        yob1964.txt:Liisa,F,18
        yob1965.txt:Liisa,F,12
        yob1966.txt:Liisa,F,16
        yob1966.txt:Tiina,F,6
        yob1967.txt:Liisa,F,10
        yob1968.txt:Liisa,F,18
        yob1969.txt:Liisa,F,18
        yob1969.txt:Aliisa,F,5
        yob1970.txt:Liisa,F,14
        yob1970.txt:Tiiu,F,5
        yob1971.txt:Liisa,F,21

  • tp-b
    tp-b July 6, 2019 at 6:00 am

    Duolingo just released its Arabic course. Has had me looking at aa’s, ii’s, and uu’s all week.

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