Latest Posts



Twitter Feed

A Paean to Common Names

August 5, 2021 laurawattenberg 3 Comments

A Paean to Common Names

August 5, 2021 LauraWattenberg 3 Comments

What makes names so powerful? A recent thread on tumblr offered one answer, based on connection. Some excerpts:

“u ever think abt how some names have been used for centuries, millenniums even…like how many times has the earth heard a mother calling, ‘alexander!’…how many times have the stars caught a lover whispering, ‘freyja’…how many times has the ground we’ve walked on and continue to walk on felt vibrations of a friend excitedly yelling, ‘mary!’”

“#names are so amazing because everyone’s name is *theirs* but that name has been used thousands of times by so many people but right then and #there it is *their* name #and theirs alone”

This discussion surprised me because it runs opposite to the naming zeitgeist. The idea that perennial popularity is a font of beauty and power is one you simply don’t hear today. Typical social media posts about popular names look more like this:

Or this, about souvenir mini-license plates with names on them:

"Absolute goal in life to make sure my kids' names would never end up on one of those."

Yes, an unusual, intriguing, individual name can be a lovely gift to a child. But I don’t even have to tell you that. This is 2021, so you probably feel the pull of unusual names instinctively. It’s an understanding that we arrive at without coaching, one that we experience as highly personal: “I happen to prefer unusual names.” Yet it’s also a generational characteristic, a product of our times. (Not unlike “I’m just feeling worn down right now” a year and a half into a pandemic.)

I often have to reassure parents that popularity isn’t disastrous. “Don’t talk yourself out of a name you truly love,” I’ll say. “Were Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Taylor less individual just because they had common names?” “Remember that ‘popular’ just means well-liked.”

The tumblr thread goes further. It reminds us that a name can be extraordinary not despite its steady use, but because of it. The connection of a shared name can extend around the world and across generations, honoring our shared humanity.

In other spheres of life, we’re able to appreciate the appeals of both the fresh-and-new and the tried-and-true. A brand-new item can be innovative and exciting; an antique can be warm and full of heritage. Novel experiences can expand our horizons; repeated experiences can become cherished traditions. Our holiday celebrations are enriched by the knowledge that they are shared by countless others, past and present. Perhaps we can learn to view popular, traditional names with the same generous spirit.


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.

All posts


  • A Silver Spork August 8, 2021 at 6:18 am

    “Michael Jordan” is, on its own, such a generic name – but even so, it’s so tied to the basketball player than when I recently drove past a billboard with “Michael B. Jordan” plastered on it, I did a double take, and my wife had to explain to me that yeah, there was this actor, and he needed the B. there to distinguish himself. So not only did Michael Jordan make a name for himself despite his common name, he made a name for the name too!

  • Monica Jo August 11, 2021 at 10:00 am

    I always liked my name—not unheard of but not too common back in the 50s, and was annoyed when there was another Monica in my sphere. Then the 90s happened.

    I still like my name.

    When I was young, I imagined I’d give my children distinctive, uncommon names. As I got older, the charm of “normal” names became clear to me. You can always give yourself an exotic nickname if you’d like.

  • Penny in Australia August 11, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    So often when I read these posts I’m reminded of a tweet that still haunts me…

    “Asking for someone’s name is weird… Basically: “What noise should I make to get your attention?”.

    I’m a huge name enthusiast and I think about that a lot!

  • Leave a Reply

    I accept the Privacy Policy