What Will The Kindergarteners Of Today Name Their Kids?
An investigation into the weird ways baby names change over time.
There’s no need to tell any of you how much the world of baby naming has changed in recent years, because you’ve surely seen it firsthand. Your child’s preschool class likely includes a Braydence or Percival or Cersei among the roughly 4,000 Liams and Olivias. Perhaps your kid has asked for a playdate with their new friend, Anubis, or you heard a mother call for little Glasgow on the playground. Possibly one of your friends recently had a baby, and you plastered on a smile as they described Fellon’s arrival. To most people, these selections border on... Tragedeigh (to invoke Reddit shorthand for a kid-naming disaster).
With the state of baby-naming now at this level of eccentricity in 2023, where might the culture find itself in, say, 2047, when our kids are having kids of their own? Are we destined to live in a nation of Zylns, Tryqxys, and McCharlies?
The Expert Says...
“Yes, some parents take liberties with spelling — and sometimes logic — to achieve a certain look or sound,” admits Sherri Suzanne, who’s served as a New York City-based baby-naming consultant for more than two decades. Suzanne helps future moms and dads comb through literature, history, global languages, geography, art, pop culture, and name meanings to find a handle that jibes with the parents’ sensibilities. One example: For a baby girl due to be born on December 25, Suzanne recommended the merry moniker Noella.
But Suzanne contends that even weird and wily names like those above have deeper roots than we think, following a long tradition of parents latching onto particular trends and suffixes. In the 1980s, -ie names were ubiquitous; I was a Katie among a vast array of Stephanies, Julies, and Melanies in school. Same for the -ly sound, which dominated for years: From 1965 to 1973, Kimberly was consistently among the top five most popular girl names in the country, followed by Ashley, which bounced around the top five from 1983 to 1998 (then again in 2000 and 2001).
“This is a very typical way that name trends proliferate,” Suzanne says. Just as homo erectus begat homo sapiens, Grace begat Graceleigh. “Emma and Emily will drive Emeline and Emery,” Suzanne continues. “Hudson and Grayson will drive Carson. These trends die down a bit when the marketplace of names becomes saturated but are quickly replaced by new trends, just like in fashion or design.”
The Era of Gender-Neutral Names
Which brings us back to the ultimate question: What will our grandkids be named? (To quote a particularly concerned Redditor, “Is everyone gonna pull an Elon Musk and put numbers in their kid’s name…? Are we going to have kids named xX_epicGamerBob_Xx????”)
Suzanne is far less worried. She expects a continued increase in gender-neutral names in years to come, which have steadily risen in popularity. “They’re used more nowadays than a generation ago and will continue to grow over the next decades,” she says. “Most of today’s gender-neutral names are borrowed from surnames — Carson, for example. But more and more are plucked from nature, like Ocean.” Others, she says, are general “word” names (i.e., nouns like Gray or Sailor) or “place” names (like Brooklyn or London).
A common adage holds that there’s a “hundred-year rule” for names: They come back into fashion a century after they first appear. Suzanne says there is some truth to this, but it’s a little more complex. “It’s not as if there is a rotating name list that refreshes every hundred years,” she says. “In fact, with each generation, many new names are introduced through pop culture: Books, movies, TV, news, sports, and more recently, social media are the richest source of new names.”
What’s Old Is New Again
Still, she predicts that by the time our babies are having babies, “names from the mid-to-late 20th century will feel fresh again: Deborah, Kathleen, Gary, Roger. Jennifer, too!” (Imagine your adult child handing you your first grandbaby. “His name is Brian,” he says. “I know, I know, it’s a little out there, but it just felt right.”)
But we have a while before the big naming hits of the ‘60s and ‘70s return, and for the moment, Suzanne says, we’ll likely keep seeing the reemergence of selections from a much older vintage.
“When it comes to dusting off antique names, we’ve only scratched the surface,” she says. “Over the next few decades, parents will rediscover names that have been long gone, like Dovie and Dessie and Roscoe.”
They’ll likely look abroad for inspiration, as well. “It’s already happening,” Suzanne says. “For example, familiar Italian exports like Isabella have been joined by Gianna and Alessia, which stayed on the other side of the Atlantic for a long time.”
The Bigger Picture
However it shakes out — whether your little one names their new addition Quiftopher or just, like, Jeff — you have to admit that the cultural phenomenon of baby naming is fascinating.
After all, what we name our child reflects who we are: the hopes we have for our kids, the things we really value, the kind of statement we want to make to the world. If we’re doing this whole parenting thing right, our kids will make the right call when it comes time to bring their own kids into the world. And on that day, we will be truly luckeigh.