Vowel endings are poised to reshape the sound of male baby names
For the past two generations, American boys’ names have pointed in one direction: toward the letter N. The total dominance of -n endings from to Aaden to Zyyon has given the whole era a trademark sound. Now -n names show signs of declining and an intriguing group of letters is helping to pick up the slack:
A, I, O, U.
These four letters have been the four fastest-rising endings for American boys since 2016. Together they make up a clear set. They’re all the vowel endings that are typically pronounced rather than silent and not associated with nicknames. In other words, the vowel endings that most define a name’s sound and style.
While these endings, especially -o, are standard for boys in many languages, English boys’ names have always leaned blunter. Hard-consonant endings like b, d, k, p and t have traditionally been mostly male; vowel endings other than -o mostly female. But take a look at what’s happened to American names ending in -i over the past 50 years.
Boys’ names ending in -i have risen 25-fold. Previously an overwhelmingly female style, -i is now one of the most closely gender-balanced of all endings. The biblical names Levi and Eli are the leaders of the new -i pack, but the trend crosses styles and origins. Other recent fast-rising -i names include:
Gianni, the Italian short form of Giovanni
Dakari, from the Ndau language of Zimbabwe
Bodhi, the tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment
Kai, which has separate Hawaiian and Germanic origins
Remi, a variant of the French saint’s name Rémy
Armani, from the surname of designer Giorgio Armani
The rest of the vowel endings are similarly diverse. Some more rising examples:
Luka, a Slavic form of Lucas, popularized by basketball star Luka Dončić
Musa, the Arabic form of Moses
Jiraiya, a character in the anime Naruto inspired by a folklore figure with toad magic
Ira, a biblical name popular in 19th-century America
Koa, Hawaiian for “bold” and “warrior” and the name of the largest tree native to Hawaii
Santana, a Spanish surname adopted as a baby name after musician Carlos Santana
Hosea, the name of a biblical prophet
Keanu, Hawaiian for cool breeze/coolness, popularized by actor Keanu Reeves
Beau, from the French for “beautiful”
Tru, an adaptation of the word “true” and occasionally a nickname for names like Truman
Theo, short form of Theodore
Kenzo, a Japanese name and French luxury brand founded by designer Kenzō Takada
Mateo, Spanish form of Matthew
Cairo, the capital of Egypt
Milo, an old Germanic and English name
Lorenzo, Italian form of Laurentius/Lawrence
Kylo, from the character Kylo Ren of the Star Wars universe
Apollo, an ancient Greek god
All that these names have in common is sound. Together, they point to a more lyrical sound for American boys—and a further step away from English naming tradition. That distance is likely part of the appeal. Today, even parents who prefer traditional names avoid what they perceive as the “ordinary.” A sound that runs counter to expectations is one more weapon in the fight against ordinariness, and we’re likely to hear more of it.