It’s the ultimate baby name dream: a name that’s stylish and appealing, yet undiscovered. In my Baby Name Wizard books I try to unearth these hidden gems. My “Why Not?” category lists names with the ingredients for popularity that have somehow slipped under the fashion radar.
I submitted the first BNW manuscript with its first Why Not list back in 2004. How well have those choices stood the test of time? Were my style forecasts prescient or off-target? I decided to run the popularity numbers and find out.
I’m happy to report that the original BNW did not lead readers astray. Of the 168 Why Not names, a full 100 have since risen significantly in popularity, while 47 have shown no dramatic change and only 21 have fallen. As a group, the names are up 283%. It’s fair to say that the list successfully identified untapped potential.
A look at the top 20 risers among the Why Nots is a good snapshot of contemporary style.
Trends spotted include:
- Double-t endings (e.g. Everett, Barrett)
- Smooth mini-names (Luna, Theo)
- Solid, compact surnames (Archer, Lincoln)
- British imports (Gemma, Callum)
But the swings and misses—the Why Not names that fashion has forsaken—are equally revealing. It’s now clear that I underestimated some style forces, including:
- Baby Boom Aversion. Back in 2004, I made the mistake of thinking parents might be ready to revisit select mid-century names like Jill, Janis, Ellen or Gail. No chance. Our own parents’ and grandparents’ name generations are tough sells, regardless of an individual name’s sound and associations.
- Cultural Conservatism. While American names have become more diverse, names from the British Isles still catch on most easily. The top-rising names were studded with English, Scottish and Irish favorites. The falling names, meanwhile, were heavier on Spanish (Graciela, Maribel) and Russian (Katia, Anton).
- The Power of the Trochee. Two syllables, stressed on the first, is a rhythm called a “trochee” in poetic meter. It’s the favored model for American names, one that draws parents in and can make an uncommon choice feel less risky. 70% of the fastest rising names were trochees, but just 35% of the fallers.
I’ve called the names that didn’t rise swings and misses, but you might just as well think of them as opportunities. After all, they are the gems that remain undiscovered after all this time. If you can see past the pull of fashion to the energetic confidence of Jill or the timeless dignity of Anton, you should have the field to yourself.