It’s one of the primary reasons why parents regret their baby name choice. It’s what forces your daughter to be known as not simply Riley, but Riley J., or even Riley J. with brown hair.
It’s super-popularity, and while it’s great for homecoming royalty and small businesses, it’s not such a good criteria for a baby name.
The truth is, any name — even one that’s unique and underused for now — is just one pop culture blowup, one viral phenomenon away, from being trendy.
All it takes is a new character on a hit show, or the release of a movie with your “obscure” baby name as the main character, or a major celebrity giving birth and using the name (we’re looking at you, royals) and suddenly it’s everywhere.
(Case in point: this article featuring a regular dude named Taylor Swift whose name was fairly unique until the female Taylor Swift, five years his junior, burst onto the music scene.)
When you get down to it, it doesn’t even make much sense to be freaked out about your kid’s name being too popular. What are we afraid of? Do we feel like a name that isn’t “special” enough is going to mean our kid won’t be special?
News flash: Our kids are going to be who they are, regardless of what we call them. Naming your child Xavier Yanni Zephyr won’t safeguard him against being ordinary, and history has known plenty of extraordinary Elizabeths and Roberts and Michaels.
But if you want to safeguard your kid against the potential perils of having a popular name, at least a little bit, there are a few crucial steps to take, and things to consider, before putting it on the birth certificate.
1. First, check the SSA.
I’m talking about the Social Security Administration, who tracks the most popular baby names every year. Your most basic search can be done here, where you can not only see the most popular names in the U.S., but track changes in those names from year to year, and decade to decade.
2. And double-check your state.
You can also check the most popular names in your state on the SSA website, and this is definitely worth doing — because what’s popular in the rest of the country might not be as widely used in your region.
3. Consider the spelling.
While the SSA does a great job of tracking name popularity, there’s one thing worth mentioning: it doesn’t include all the spelling variations of each name. So while it will tell you that Jaden, for example, is #223 on the list, it doesn’t take into account all the Jaidens, Jaydens, Jaidons, Jadyns, etc.
So, even if the spelling of your child’s name is lower-ranking on the popularity charts, that doesn’t mean it’s rarely-used. If your preferred baby name has a lot of potential spellings, look them all up, and then decide.
4. Consider the nicknames.
Some names just lend themselves well to nicknames — kinda like how everyone will want to shorten Robert to Rob or Christopher to Chris. So while you may name your daughter Emmaline (currently #896 on the popularity chart), she’ll likely end up being called Emma (currently #1). See the problem here?
5. Is it gender-neutral?
Unisex names are where it’s at these days, but that gives you something else to think about when choosing a baby name that’s “wearable” for any gender: not only could your son Rowan run into other boy Rowans, but a ton of girl Rowans, too.
6. Does it sound like a popular name?
When society at large dubs a name “too popular,” it’s only natural that people start finding different-but-similar alternatives. So if you like Ava, but decide to go with Aya or Eva, just be aware that many other parents are going to do the same, bolstering the “alternative” name’s popularity too.
7. Ask the Internet.
As with anything else … Google it! Do a quick Internet search and you can get a pretty good idea of a name’s popularity, especially in pop culture.
Are there a bazillion hits, so many pages full of references to that name that you can’t possibly go through them all? Or are there just a handful? That should tell you all you need to know.
Also, there’s a cool Baby Name Popularity Predictor hosted at Time.com, thanks to Virginia Tech statistician Christopher Franck, who used historical baby name prevalence to develop the tool.
It’s a few years old (and just for fun, obviously), so take it with a grain of salt, but it’s neat to play around with, and does give you some idea of where your preferred name might be headed.
If you love a name, you should use it, no matter how popular it’s perceived to be. Having an uber-popular name isn’t such a bad thing, anyway: there are good things about it too.
Besides, whether your kid’s name makes him one of three in his class, or he never meets another soul with his unique moniker, one thing is guaranteed … he’ll probably complain about it at some point anyway.
From popular to virtually unheard of, browse thousands of names in Scary Mommy’s baby name database!