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These Name Endings Point to the New Shape of Girls’ Names

September 10, 2019 laurawattenberg 6 Comments

These Name Endings Point to the New Shape of Girls’ Names

September 10, 2019 LauraWattenberg 6 Comments
Photo of flowing river
Image: mandritoiu/Adobe

In the world of names, style starts at the finish. Trendy name endings made Arlene, Irene and Pauline the shape of the 1920s, Sheri, Kari and Lori the shape of the 1960s, and Tiffany, Stephanie and Bethany the shape of the 1980s. And the name endings setting the standard today? They point toward a new shape, as fluid and sinuous as a stream.

Meet the two hottest name endings for American girls, -lani and -mara. The popularity of names with those endings rose by a combined 130% from 2014 to 2018, and parents’ creativity with the sounds is boundless.

Last year, 134 different names ending in -lani were given to five or more girls. They include traditional Hawaiian names like Mahealani, celebrity names like Kehlani (after the one-named singer), and innovations like Nylani. Top risers include the classic Leilani and the ultra-liquid Alani and Milani.

Graph of rising popularity of LANI names 2014-2018

The rise of the -mara names took place mostly on the contemporary side of the style spectrum. (The longtime -mara leader, Tamara, actually declined in popularity and is now at its lowest point since the 1930s.) The two names making the biggest leaps were Amara and Samara. Amara, which is used in multiple languages and cultures, was boosted by a singer and reality tv star who goes by the stage name “Amara La Negra.” Samara, meanwhile, is the name of the murderous ghost girl at the center of the Ring horror movies. That makes the name the latest addition to the long line of hits inspired by demonic movie kids. (Damien, Adrian, Regan and Gage say “hi.”)

Graph of rising popularity of MARA names 2014-2018

Beyond any individual name, the endings speak to a fashion direction. They are distinctly feminine, in a style more elegant than cute. With their luxuriant flow and vowel endings, names like Noelani and Zamara provide a counterpoint to the compact androgyny of recent hits like Peyton and Taylor.

That is not to say that androgynous names are on their way out. Rather, it’s another sign that name style is gravitating to extremes—any extremes. Extra-long, or extra-short. Ultra-feminine/macho, or strikingly androgynous. The new target is anything that makes an impact; anything but ordinary.

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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6 Comments

  • Kayeff
    Kayeff September 10, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    I don’t watch horror movies so I didn’t know the modern Samara inspiration and that name felt like it belonged more with Tamara than Amara. I know several Samaras born in the early-to-mid 1980s and that’s where the name feels like it belongs. If I meet a young Samara, she’d be mentally categorized with the 3-5 year-olds I know named Britney, Jessica, and Stefanie.

  • Jamie
    Jamie September 12, 2019 at 11:27 am

    I’m curious about the stress on the -mara names. Besides just “already having had its day,” could the first-syllable stress be part of the reason Tamara isn’t benefitting from the rise of -mara names? If I had a little Amara on a class roll or something, I’d probably assume either “a-MA-ra,” all three with the same vowel (like the Spanish verb “amar” with an -a ending), or “uh-MARE-a.” I’d have to be told if it was “AM-ah-ra.”

    Relatedly, I know a little Am@ris* in real life, which might be influencing my take on these names.

    *symbol for letter to make it un-googleable

  • LauraWattenberg
    LauraWattenberg September 12, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Jamie, that’s a great point about the stress patterns. Tamara can be pronounced either way, and I’d bet that first-syllable stress dominated more in the days when Tamara was chosen as a route to the nickname Tammy, whereas second-syllable stress is probably more common today.

  • nedibes
    nedibes September 18, 2019 at 4:30 pm

    One of my fonder name-related memories is seeing my high school assistant principal practicing name pronunciations for graduation. Her biggest challenge: three girls all named Tamara, pronounced TAM-ruh, TA-mǝr-Ruh and tuh-MAHR-uh, respectively. That pronunciation ambiguity definitely put me off the name (and we didn’t even have a fourth classmate pronounced tuh-MARE-uh!).

    Laura, I’m curious how the -liana and -lynn names are trending now. Those seem like really strong sounds of the last decade or so. Both are pretty distinctly feminine, but -liana is definitely in the more unabashed, lush fantasy-princess style whereas -lynn feels more streamlined and down-to-earth.

    • LauraWattenberg
      LauraWattenberg September 19, 2019 at 1:32 am

      The -liana names have risen enormously, though the rise seems to be tapering off. Two spellings each of Eliana and Liliana in the top 1000 girls’ list is as “liquid” as it gets!

      As for the “lynn” names, almost a thousand different names ending in -lynn or -lyn registered in the girls’ statistics this year. I’ve jokingly thought of making a “Beat the Lynn” widget where you have to come up with a pronounceable -lynn name that ISN’T in use. 18 girls named Kopelynn, 13 named Preslynn, 20 named Zeplynn….

      • nedibes
        nedibes September 19, 2019 at 7:22 am

        Wow, Kopelynn? I think that game sounds pretty fun! I might have predicted Zeplynn, given my high school friends’ obsession with Led Zeppelin…in a couple of years, those babies can wear light-up shoes and hair clips and be LED Zeplynns :).

        On a related note, my kids’ friend who is one of the many variants of Kaylynn recently started going by just Lynn–makes me wonder if this grandma-name might make a comeback ahead of schedule as a nickname as the many -lynns grow up, or if she’s an anomaly.

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