I am due with a baby at the end of September. My question is a little different since I think my husband and I have settled on names. (We don't know the sex of the baby so we have a boy and girl name picked.) I am curious if you have any thoughts or insight on "up and coming" baby names. You know the ones - they are out of the top 100 for years and then suddenly from no where start making huge jumps in popularity. The reason I'm asking is that we've basically decided on Evelyn if our baby is a girl. I love this name and loved that it was familiar but not common. Well, when looking at the past few years it's really jumped up the list! The social security website shows that it is #39 in popularity, but less than 1% of the total babies born. So how "popular" does it really make that name? Do you think a name that is trending up in popularity, like Evelyn, will likely make it to the top ten? Like I said, this isn't your typical question, but I thought it was something interesting to talk about. I'm sure this is something you've thought about, and I'd be interested in hearing your take on it.
I think there are some things to watch for:
1. The first is the most obvious: big leaps on the chart. Like, not just a steady increase in popularity (#100, then #95, then #90) but from not even on the chart to #800, then the next year to #400, then the next year to #200. FAST increases mean that most people don't know yet that the name is rising. I think of the name Isabella as the classic example:
It wasn't even in the Top 1000 from 1949 until 1990, and THEN look at it go! (Information and screen shot from the Social Security Administration.) We have friends who named their daughter Isabella in 2001, thinking it was a highly unusual choice---because in 2001, only hospital/daycare workers and SSA site fans knew how common it was.
2. Feeling like the name is a discovery. If the name feels like a dusty treasure, other people are probably feeling the same way. This happens especially with names that have been out of style for awhile---but WERE in style before: Henry, Oliver, Emma.
3. A smack of freshness. If the name has the feeling of surprise---but PLEASANT surprise---it's feeling that way to a lot of other people too. This happens especially with names that haven't been in style before, or have been in style for the other sex: Avery, Emerson, Cadence, Juniper, Braden.
4. A pleasing tie-in. I've mentioned before how people credit Charlotte's Web for their choice of Charlotte for a baby girl---but my guess is that most people thought of the name first and the tie-in second (otherwise I'd expect to see Fern and Wilbur likewise increasing in popularity). The tie-in is what pushed them from "What a great name!" to "Let's use it!" This is also what makes great-grandparent names appealing: the name is already coming back into style, and so it catches people's attention when they see in their family trees (and, as with Charlotte's Web, the names in the family tree that are NOT yet coming back into style go unnoticed).
Numbers 2 and 3 are very similar and have some overlap. One reason I separate them is that I think it's far safer to use dusty treasures than to use fresh smacks: if you were to use the name Henry and then it got to the top ten, it almost wouldn't matter because the name Henry has come and gone many times and is always a sturdy choice even if it's not in fashion. Whereas if you choose Madison or Caden, it could be a different story depending on what the name does in the future. This is the difference between a name that "gets popular" and a name that "gets trendy."
I SUSPECT that the reason Evelyn is coming into style is all the parents looking for alternatives to Ava and Eva and Ella and Emma, combined with Evelyn having a rhythm that happens to match other favorites Isabelle, Abigail, Emily, Madison, and so on. BUT, The Baby Name Wizard has talked extensively about "the 100-year cycle" (which is why great-grandparent names like Emma and Henry are so appealing while parent names like Barbara and Jerry aren't---until our grandchildren are choosing baby names), and although Evelyn has never gone totally out of style, it was last in the top ten in 1915. It's Evelyn's time again.
Considering Evelyn's enduring popularity (it hasn't even slipped out of the 200s since 1915), combined with it getting toward its 100-year mark, combined with what we can see it doing on the charts (not leaps, no, but a pretty fast upward climb after 50 years of not even being in the top 100)---I wouldn't be surprised to see it in the top ten soon.
On the other hand, I also wouldn't be surprised to NOT see it in the top ten. Because plenty of names go up, up, up---and then stop: maybe in the 40s, maybe in the 20s, but never getting to the top ten. The names find their exact balance of being popular enough to be familiar and well-liked by the general population, but not so popular to discourage people from using it.
In any case, I feel about Evelyn the way I do about the name Henry: if it DOES go top ten, you'll still have made a solid choice, not a trendy one.
Now, as to how popular a #39 name really is. If a name were evenly distributed across the entire United States, this would be pretty easy to figure out. At #39, the name Evelyn was given to approximately .28% of all baby girls, which means there are approximately 28 Evelyns per 10,000 girls born in that year. If a classroom has 30 children in it, and half are girls, there will be approximately 1 girl named Evelyn per 24 classrooms. Well, goodness, that's not bad at all! That's positively RARE. And yet, doing that same math tells us there's only 1 Isabella per 6-7 classrooms, and GOODNESS it feels more popular than that---not only because of all the Isabelles and Isabels we've failed to take into account, but also because of regional popularity differences: if some regions barely use the name at all for whatever reason, this makes for many more Isabellas in the other areas. And it'll be the same with Evelyns.
One of my sons has a name that was approximately as popular as the name Evelyn, the year he was born. But if I'd consulted the by state information, I would have seen it was in the top ten in our state. Evelyn is #100 in New Mexico, #98 in South Carolina, #96 in Rhode Island, #89 in Connecticut, #88 in South Dakota, #86 in Oklahoma, #83 in Florida, #81 in Pennsylvania---but #27 in Texas, #25 in California and Oregon, #24 in Illinois and Vermont, #23 in Colorado, #21 in Minnesota in Washington, #20 in D.C., #18 in Wisconsin. And in Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and West Virginia, it's not even in the top 100. So of course it depends too on where you live---and where you might move, and where SHE might move as an adult! (Do you feel like running screaming into the sea yet?)
There can also be odd little quirks: the name Noah was #24 in 1999 (approximately .73%) when my first son was born, which SHOULD mean there'd be about one Noah per 9 classrooms. And yet TWO school years, he's had two Noahs in his class, and I think only one school year had no Noahs. It's the SAME Noahs: the statistics show a nice even distribution, but it happens that there are two Noahs in his grade instead of the expected less-than-one Noah, and it happens he's been put into a classroom with one or both of them almost every year. The same could happen with Evelyns.
Er, I seem to have gotten a little carried away, but you've brought up one of my totally favorite subjects, and one I never get tired of talking about because there IS no way to predict these things, and isn't that WEIRD that there isn't??