Name trends can sneak up on you. They move bit by bit, shifting your expectations along the way. As time goes by, you might even forget that Penelope used to sound old-fashioned instead of trendy, or that you marveled at your first sighting of Jaxon-with-an-X.
Here’s your reminder of how name fashion has evolved in the past decade. These three trends have changed American baby naming during the 2010s, and will shape the sound of the American public for decades to come.
The three fastest-rising baby names of the entire decade have a lot in common:
#1 Daleyza (F)
#2 Kehlani (F)
#3 Cataleya (F)
All three are elaborate, celebrity-inspired girls’ names—and not one of them is based on any traditional name from any European language. The name Daleyza was created by singer Larry Hernandez and his wife; Kehlani is the name of an American singer; Cataleya was the lead character in the film Colombiana. Looking at the next 20 top risers, you’ll find more girls’ names along similar lines.
All of these multisyllabic creations step away from traditional American name sources. Some step into the world of fiction, or past earthly boundaries altogether. Cataleya/Kataleya, which earns two spots on the list, is a fantastical action hero, while Khaleesi and Daenerys refer to Game of Thrones’ “Mother of Dragons.” The most traditional names on the list are Ainhoa, a place name borrowed from Basque, and Elowen, a modern Cornish name that echoes Tolkien-esque fantasy names like Eowyn.
The names’ sounds and spellings make it clear that the departure from the everyday world is deliberate. With their complex rhythms, unlikely letter pairs like ZH and AE, and high Scrabble values, they cast off the limitations of naming tradition. The message is “anything but ordinary.” Notably, parents mostly took this ornate route to the message for girls.
The Raindrop Generation
The emergent sound of the 2010s decade was smooth. Vowels took the lead and consonants slimmed down to aerodynamic proportions, eschewing sharp edges or hard stops that would impede their flow. Hit names as classic as Amelia and as contemporary as Armani were built on this model, with no consonants but l, m, n, r, w and y. One of the hottest styles was “raindrop names,” smooth, glossy miniatures.
In prior American history, no “raindrop” name ever ranked in a decade’s top ten names for boys. In the 2010s raindrops swept the top spots, with #1 Noah and #2 Liam. They were far from alone. Take a look at the popularity of ten hot raindrop* names over the course of the decade, rising from 16,000 to 64,000 babies per year. (* Note that the s in Isla is silent.)
“Meaning” Names Spoke Boldly
For some names, meaning is style. In the 2010s, the rule of thumb for meaning names was “the bolder, the better.” Parents chose names to make their kids stand out, stand above, or make a statement.
The fastest-rising word-based names of the decade were exaltations like Legend (M), Royalty (F),and Messiah (M). The hottest category of homages was rock star names like Axl (M), Hendrix (M), and Bowie (M). Previously rare but mighty mythological names like Atlas (M), Odin (M), and Titan (M) entered the mainstream, and in brand-driven names, firearm tributes like Remington (F, M), Ruger (M), and Wesson (M) continued to rise.
Whether staking out cultural territory or just demanding our attention, these names don’t hold back. As with the otherworldly girls’ names, they reject the ordinary. But with this mostly male category, parents are pushing beyond human boundaries. In the process they’re redefining the nature of names, bringing the baby naming enterprise ever closer to the process of building a brand.
A Glimpse Ahead?
Together, the trends of the 2010s have worked to break down our preconceptions about names. Statistically, stylistically and conceptually, the notion of a “normal” name eroded. Parents broke down that barrier eagerly. When singer Fergie named a son Axl in 2013, you could practically feel a wave of delighted realization: “Oh! We can actually do that!”
The decade’s otherworldly names broadened our ideas of where names come from, while the bold word names broadened our ideas of what a name can be. But even the raindrop names subtly undermined convention. Noah was the first #1 boy’s name ever to end in a vowel, let alone the typically feminine-marking “a” sound. We enter the 2020s with boys’ names, for the first time, as trend-conscious as girls, and a growing group of parents targeting names with no predefined gender association.
The trend forecast seems to point to a wide-open 2020s. Baby namers, though, are a contrary breed. Don’t be surprised to see the beginnings of a counterwave, as the plainest and most traditional names become the most nonconformist style statements. Anne in 2029, anyone?