It's a given: More parents opt for unusual baby names

Name Nerds main




Maybe you knew that Jacob and Emily were the most popular baby names of 2000. Or that Tyler and Elizabeth were 10th on the list. But what ranked at, say, number 828? (Colt and Princess) or 913? (Prince and Patience).

That's according to the Social Security Administration, which compiles an annual list of America's 1,000 hottest baby names (called "Acturial Note #139" and posted on the administration's Internet site).

Each year, newspapers and baby magazines publish the top 10 names on the list, derived from Social Security applications for newborns. Few ever examine its lower reaches, a repository of alternate spellings (Katelynn, 234); ethnic names, (Diego, at 137) and once-trendy names that have plummeted in popularity (Donna, number eight in the 1960s, now 669.).

But if you're looking for tomorrow's top 10, this is the place to be. Its where you'll find up-and-comers like Jaden (158 for a boy and pegged to be the next "Jason"); resurrected Victorian names like Sadie (252), and a cluster of East Coast-city names on the verge of replacing the Southwestern names that now top the list--favorites such as Austin (23).

Believe it or not, the names of the future include Trenton (181 for a boy) and Camden, which, at 163 for a boy, is even more popular than the girl's name of Brooklyn (178). All three monikers have been climbing the list for the past few years.

But in a world where Destiny (24) and Trinity (73) are in the top 100, is any name surprising anymore?

No, say experts. Parents today are far less likely to give their children names in the top 10 than parents of the past, says Pamela Redmond Satran, co-author of "Beyond Jennifer & Jason" and last year's "Baby Names Now."

"There's been a huge movement over the past few years to find names that are more unusual," says Satran, a Montclair resident. "When I was little, everyone was named Kathy, Susie, Linda and Patty. Growing up with that cookie cutter naming sensibility, people wanted something different."

You could call it "Revenge of the Michaels."

That's what led Mike Shackleford, a former actuary with the Social Security Administration, to start compiling the list in 1996.

"It started when my wife got pregnant. Being a Michael myself, I didn't want my child to have a popular name. I thought what a good public service it would be if the whole country had access to this information. It might save countless kids the pain of having a popular name."

Shackleford, in fact, was so annoyed by the ubiquity of his name that he rejoiced in 1999, when Jason toppled Michael from its three-decade reign at the top of name for boys.

He'd like to think that maybe he had a small hand in that. "All the media exposure has cast more attention on the subject. And I'm glad. That was my goal all along, to inform people about what the common names where," says Shackleford, who now runs a Web site called "The Wizard of Odds," which figures out the odds on casino games.

Norah Burch, a secretary at Harvard University, is another crusader against run-of-the-mill names. The home page of her Internet site ( features two newborns begging, "Please don't name me Kaitlyn" and "Please don't name me Tyler."

"I get a lot of e-mails from irate moms of 'Kaitlyn,'" she says unapologetically. "I don't know how to respond to them."

Burch, who is from upstate New York -- "the 'Destiny' capitol of the world," she claims--publishes a list of the top 1,875 girls' names of 2000. It's derived from the Social Security list, but reconfigured so that alternate spellings of a name figure into the ranking. On her list, Kaitlyn -- with its many different spellings -- is number two for girls, although it ranks #31 on the Social Security list. (Zarina is 1875 on Burch's list).

Burch's site, a quirky mix of trivia and testimonials, includes lists of hurricane names, popes, constellations, presidential moms, James Bond characters and a roster of "Titanic" steerage passengers (John and Mary are number one on that list.)

One of strangest names Burch has encountered on the Social Security list was Nyquil for a boy. But she's stumbled across plenty of other weird ones. In 1998 alone, there were girls named Henna, Timber and Whisper. For boys that year, she found Eros, Gehrig, Chukwuemek and Rowdy.

"I'm amazed at how many girls every year are named Treasure or Princess. There are actually quite a few," says Burch, who had her name legally changed from Amy to her middle name as a teen.

"If you're ever going to hate your name, you're going to hate it as a teenager," she explains.

But most people, she believes, grow to accept their names -- even when they're common as dirt.

"If you talk to people named Patty or Susan with really boring names, they'll say, 'Oh, I was the only Patty in my neighborhood growing up.' They like their names. I think people come to terms with their name eventually, no matter what it is."

Sidebar: Trends in Unusual Names

Soundalikes: According to name expert Pamela Redmond Satran, co-author of "Beyond Jason and Jennifer," many of today's unusual baby names are simply attempts to vary more common names. Hence, Ashley (number four on the list of popular baby names) becomes Ashlyn (179), and Brandon (13) becomes Braden (206).

Brand Names: The fad for kids named after luxury items, i.e., Lexus (680 for a girl), began with that staple of the 1980s, Tiffany, says Satran. Current faves are Armani (655 for a boy, 765 for a girl); and Alize--a nod to the French cognac of the same name. (In French, "alize" means "gentle trade wind.").

Surnames For First Names: It began in the 1980s with ultra-WASPY names like Porter and Carter, says Satran. The trend now includes Payton (165 for a girl), Dawson (168 for a boy) and Braxton (343). Satran has even been hearing Irish, Italian and Latin surnames used as first names.

Place Names: The list of hot names is filled with southern and western locales: Dallas (314 for a boy) and the girl's name of Aspen (572). But two Jersey cities also make an appearance on the boys' name list: Trenton (181) and Camden (367). "As these other place-names get too popular, people bring it down to earth," said Satran. "In my mind, 'Trenton' has much more character than 'Sierra' " (514 for a girl).

Word Names: Parents are getting tired of names all together and using nouns and adjectives for their kids. On the 2000 list are baby boys named Sincere (847) and baby girls named Diamond (164); Heaven (344) and Unique (905).

© 2001 The Star-Ledger. Used by with permission.