Remember when celebrities cornered the market on eccentric baby names? Not anymore. As the millennial generation enters the parenting years, unusual baby names are becoming, well, not so unusual.
“There’s definitely been a total revolution in naming,” says Laura Wattenberg, a baby name trends expert and author of a blog (babynamewizard.com/blog) and book, “The Baby Name Wizard.” “Millennial parents are the first generation to grow up in the new naming world. Over the course of two generations, the goal has shifted from having kids fit in to having them stand out.”
Case in point: Mary was the most popular girl name for 41 of the past 100 years. The thinking of parents back then (if they thought about it much at all) probably went something like this: Mary was a fine enough name for your great-aunt, your cousin and your neighbor, so it’s good enough for you.
But these days you’d be hard pressed to find a Mary in any kindergarten classroom. Many parents today desire a name that stands out from the crowd, whether it’s a thoroughly unconventional moniker (as in Journey, Thunder or Splash), a traditional one dusted off from the archives (think Clementine or Milo) or a common name with a unique spelling (like Eryne or Mykel).
According to Wattenberg, the internet has had a profound effect on the selection of children’s names. “We’re used to usernames and the idea that the name should be a unique identifier in the world,” she explains. Online access to baby name statistics has also been a game changer. “As soon as you start ranking things, people get competitive. But it’s this funny competition where nobody wants to be number one.”
Karen McConnell, owner of Starlight Starbright, a Folsom-based online children’s boutique, has observed the need-to-be-different phenomenon with the parents she encounters. “Names really do mean a lot more than I think they did before,” says McConnell. “They’re more of a way of identifying ourselves not just as a person but as a digital entity.”
McConnell adds that “in an age where we’re all connected, I think the different names are not so much a hindrance. They’re not going to be the weird kids in school.” But others are not so sure. As Carolee Neronde, owner of The Moppet Shoppe children’s boutique in midtown Sacramento, puts it, “When there is an odd name, we all kind of roll our eyes.”
Indeed, writer Tiffany Beveridge has become an online sensation by skewering hipster baby names and the cult of ultra-stylish parents on her popular Pinterest board, My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter. Beveridge chronicles with caustic humor the life of her fictional daughter, Quinoa, her au pair, Fontanelle, and her trendy friends, Chevron, Hashtag and Orzo.
Snarky fun? Sure, but don’t try it on friends or relatives, warns Wattenberg. “It’s really easy to make fun of names that seem silly, but these are heartfelt choices, and parents are deeply wounded if the names are criticized.”
So take this sensible advice: If you have strong feelings about what to name a baby, have your own.
20 TRENDING BABY NAMES
(that Grandma may or may not love)