This blog has moved! Please join us over at!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Using a Name After Its Peak

Allyson writes:
What is your opinion on using names that may be on their way out? I tend to like fairly "normal" names in the top 100, if not the top 50. There has been a name I have liked since the mid-80s, when a friend of a friend had it. The name is Mackenzie. Back then it was really uncommon, barely in the top 500. It slowly saw a rise in popularity and peaked in 2001, and is now slowly becoming less popular (but still safely in the top 100). I still love this name and it is one of my top baby names for a girl.

I don't care all that much about how trendy a name is, I just care if I like it. But for some reason it bothers me that I would be using this name 10+ years after it was "in." Like naming a baby girl "Jennifer" even though she was born in 1995. I also think part of the problem is that Mackenzie seems more popular than it is or ever was...maybe because of the upswing of Kinley/Kenzie/McNames?

What do you think? It's one of the only girl names my fiance and I agree on...and even though I love LOVE it, I have a slight bit of hesitation due to it seeming like it's past its prime.


As a name hobbyist, I definitely notice myself reacting in the way you describe: I'll hear of a baby born in 2011 named, say, Madison and I DO catch myself BRIEFLY having a reaction that could be transcribed as "Really??" Which is an obnoxious reaction for me to have, for two reasons:

1. Because the name Madison is still in the Top Ten, so I should not be/act surprised that I would still be encountering them regularly---especially considering my DEEPLY-FELT baby-naming philosophy that The Top 10 is Not the Kiss of Death. I PUSH people not to rule out names just because of popularity; I feel STRONGLY that it's an issue that should be considered but shouldn't be some sort of arbitrary deal-breaker ("It's our favorite name in the whole world AND it's my beloved grandmother's name AND my grandmother passed away on the day the baby was born---but we can't use it because we're not using any name in the Top 100 and it's #96!").

2. Because that reaction is totally obnoxious in EVERY situation where a person who is a hobbyist acts all disdainful of other people's choices. I HATE when someone who likes fashion is all, "NOBODY is wearing that style anymore" or "MOM JEANS." I HATE when a celebrity magazine mocks a celebrity for re-wearing an outfit. I HATE when someone makes a scoffy sound because someone has the point-three version of an electronic device instead of the point-four version. I hate when ANYONE acts as if only the NEWEST COOLEST FRESHEST has any merit at all---and it only counts as "newest/coolest/freshest" if no one else has discovered it yet. I remember seeing some program on how colors are chosen for each new season of clothes/make-up, and one of the nasty design people said something like, "By the time you know it's in style, it's NOT anymore" and I thought, "Oh yes? Well then, screw that game." And normally I am much more of a lady with my language.

I think the newest/coolest/freshest is particularly damaging in the world of baby names, where, unlike a pair of shoes you can donate and replace, a child's name is permanent. We get so many emails here saying things like "Our first child's name was UNHEARD OF when WE used it, but now it's EVERYWHERE"---with the implication that other people ruined the name by using it, and so now the parents are unhappy with it, even though they used to love it.

No. No no no. Names should not be chosen with the "By the time you know it's in style, it's NOT anymore" method. Names can be chosen in many ways and for many reasons, but that one is sheer folly---not only because a child's name is not this season's fashion accessory nor a way to make the users seem cooler than other people, but also because it WILL NOT WORK. If a name is going to elicit a positive/admiring reaction from hearers, it will also be USED BY OTHERS. Soon it will be last-season's purse, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent that. I seem to have drifted far from your question, but I'm coming back to it now: even if you switch to something more cutting-edge than Mackenzie so that the Name Freshness Police will not react to it negatively, THAT NAME TOO will drift from usage and will elicit the "Huh. Another _____" response. There is no winning the freshness game, which is why it's such a high-profit industry.

If, however, the freshness-date thing continues to bother you, there are a few things worth trying. This is one of the reasons I like The Baby Name Wizard so much: by sorting names into categories, she gives us an easy way to find names that are similar to the names we like---but with changes such as "but more common" or "but starting with a vowel" or whatever it is we're shooting for. Looking up Mackenzie, I see she has it in the Last Names First, Androgynous, and Celtic categories, so that gives a starting place for looking for names you might find you like just as well. Kerensa? Madigan? Fiona? Catriona? Tierney? Finola? Delaney? Ellery? Emerson? Mckinley? Padgett? Kimberlin? Waverly? Berkeley? Kennedy? Hillary? Evanie? Paisley? Brinley?

But I think it's more likely that you would look at names in the same style categories and think, "Well, I DO like some of those---but not as MUCH." In which case, it boils down to deciding how important the issue is for you. Some names fall (for all sorts of different reasons) on the "I'm heartbroken I can't use it!" side of the line, and those names can make good middle names: you still get to use it, but you don't have to worry about other people's reactions to it. Other names fall on the "I'm disappointed about this aspect of the name, but my love of the name trumps it" side of the line. Most names have SOME downside (duplicating an initial, too common/uncommon, it's the other parent's second choice instead of first choice, it's similar to a pet's name, it's the name of a disliked former classmate, it's biblical/non-biblical and we wanted non-biblical/biblical, a friend just used a similar name for her daughter, it's a bit of a style mismatch with another child's name, the rhythm isn't great with our surname, it makes initials that spell something innocuous but we'd rather the initials not spell anything---the list goes on forever) and yet we use the name anyway because even with its flaw it's better than all the other names.

To me, the name Mackenzie seems like a good candidate for ignoring a flaw. It started climbing up the ranks back in the 1980s, continued to climb in the 1990s---but then instead of taking either the "all the way to the Top Ten" fork or the "dropping back down rapidly" fork, it seems to be hovering pleasantly in the 40s-70s: nicely common, but not EVERYWHERE. And names such as Kenzie and Kinsley and Ainsley and Max keep the sounds sounding current. It reminds me of names such as Mikayla and Brianna and Bailey and Morgan: they've lost that smack of NEW! FRESH! DIFFERENT!---but they've taken off their coats and hats and seem to have settled in for a nice long visit. And if your tastes are like mine, you may be hoping to AVOID that new/fresh/different sound ANYWAY---knowing as we do how unlikely it is to be an enduring feature of the name.

On the other hand, one of my children has a name that had a path similar to Mackenzie's: when we used it, it had been quite popular for two decades and was finally drifting down in the ranks. But then instead of continuing to hover there, it has taken several LARGE steps down---and we've gotten the occasional reaction to the name that tells us we used it past its freshness date. It DOES bother me a little. Not a lot, but a little. It's not that I want to change his name (as with most names, it now seems to us it's The Only Name He Could Possibly Be), but I do wish it didn't have that one flaw. On the other hand, I feel like we were prepared for that when we used it, which makes a huge difference: I think it's only the people who go into such a thing unaware who are severely disappointed. You DO know about it, so if you choose to go ahead with it anyway, I'd predict that you'd have similar feelings to mine: still occasionally feeling a little disappointed that the name was past its peak when we used it, but loving the name anyway and not feeling like the issue is a HUGE issue.


Rachel said...

My cousin Jennifer was born in 1998. No one thinks it's weird. Use the name if you love it!

Leslie said...

I don't think of Mackenzie as being at all "past its prime." It's cute, it's used quite regularly, and you and your partner both love it. Sounds like a perfect choice to me!

Snoopyfan said...

My daughter's best friend is named Jennifer and she was born in 2003. When I met her as a 3 year old, I thought her name was refreshing! All the Jennys I know, except her, are in their 30's or older!

Anonymous said...

As someone who has been on the receiving end of a name past its prime (I could have been my mother's sister looking at our names!), I always caution new parents against choosing such a name. I get embarrassed when I introduce myself because of my name, and I have received odd reactions from people as well. My MIL has a similarly anachronistic name and gets weird reactions from people all the time. She sometimes introduces herself as George so that when she tells people her real name, it seems so much more normal that they're almost relieved instead of commenting about how her name is too old for her.

I think it's important in this situation, therefore, to consider who this decision will affect most: the child who receives the name. My grandma might think *I* have a perfectly normal name, but the people in my peer group don't.

There are names that I love that hit their peak when I was born that I will not use because I feel that strongly about this issue. If I didn't think it would hurt my mother to change my name, I would probably consider doing so.

That said, I don't think this particular situation is as bad as all that. Both my MIL and I were given names that hit their peak in the top 20 thirty years before our respective births, and while they were still in the top 250 by then, they were clearly on their way down. I don't think Mackenzie is there yet. Not only did it peak at a lower rank, it also has not dropped out of the top 100. I think in another ten years Mackenzie will be too far past its prime for me to recommend, but I don't think it's reached that point yet.

-Too Embarrassed to Share My Real Name

Megan said...

My husband and I were in a similar situation - I liked rarer names and he likes ones in the top 50, many of which do sound like more like "mom" names to me, becuase I went to school with kids named that. But then it hit me - do I like the sound of these names? Well, yeah, I do. Do we both love these names? Yes, finally, we both do! Then why should a number on some Social Security site keep us from using it?

I don't see Mackenzie as being past it's prime. It's still a cute, spunky name, to me. I have ran accross kids and teenagers, and heard about babies being named Mackenzie, and didn't think twice about it. I think this is one of those times you just pick the name that you both love. Swistle, you did a great job with the fashion analogy.

Giselle said...

If you are pregnant now, I think MacKenzie is still current enough. 10 or 15 years from now, I think it will be time stamped and odd.

Having a name that is associated with another generation can be strange though. My husband came home from church he was trying out and told me all about this woman named Ethel who had kindly shown him around and introduced him to everyone. I envisioned a white haired woman in her 70s or 80s. Imagine my surprise when I met her and she was a lively young brunette only in her 40s! Named Ethel!?!

Barb @ getupandplay said...

I say go ahead and use it. I was trying to think of a Jennifer/'80's type comparison to make until I read the comments and realized my own name kind of falls in this category. I am named Barbara after my aunt and I was born in 1982. It's a little anachronistic for someone of my generation but who cares?

Anonymous said...

I have a name that was very common in my mother's generation (only 20 years older than me). It's fine now as an adult- I actually love my name. It's feminine and classic. But, as a little girl it was the pits. Everyone else was a "Jen, Lisa, Sarah, Melissa" and I had a mom name without a nickname.

-ma in pa

liz said...

In my sister's class in grade school were three Jennifers, including my sister. One of them had the last name, "Mackenzie" so that's what everyone called her.

My sister was called a deliberate mispronounciation of our last name.

So Mackenzie as a name will always be linked to Jennifer in my mind.

kimma said...

Am I alone here? I don't think Mackenzie is dated/past its prime. The fact its still in the top 100 surely indicates that a lot of families still love and use the name. Plus, as Swistle points out it falls into both the surname and androgynous categories, both of which still seem to be very popular overall.

If you love the name and hubby agrees to it use it.

If the bigger issue is that YOU have tired of it having loved it for so long, then you should start to consider other names.

Phancy said...

My name was top ten from 1935 to 1955 and highest at #6 in 1950. I was born thirty years later, named after my grand mom ( born 1920). Frankly, I didn't love having a name that was basically shared with people my mom's age. I always felt like it was an "old" name, but actually minded it worse as I neared my late 20s. I still get people who are surprised by my name. Maybe it was cuter on a kid than on a thirty-something?
All that said, I don't think Mackenzie is past it's prime yet, but agree that things might be different in ten years.
Oh, my name is Nancy

Patricia said...

Here's a comparison of the long-term popularity of Jennifer compared with that of Mackenzie:

And here's a ranked list of the girls names in the 2010 SSA Top 1000 when spellings are combined. In this list Mackenzie (the most popular spelling of the name) ranks 35.

In a list of combined spellings for 2009, Mackenzie ranked 41, so combined spellings of the name gained 6 places between 2009 and 2010.
Rank 41: 7,808 total; Mackenzie 3,874; Mckenzie 2,044; Makenzie 1,890;

Nameberry authors say of the name:
Gender: F
Origin of Mackenzie: Scottish, "son of Kenneth"
Mackenzie's Popularity in 2010: #69
Scottish name Mackenzie means "son of the comely one". Originally inspired as a a girl's name by eighties TV actress Mackenzie Phillips, parents, including Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling, have flocked to Mackenzie -- once only a male name -- as well as other Mac choices.

On the other hand, in a Baby Name Wizard blog about an informal study of which names were most often mentioned as disliked in online baby name discussions, Mackenzie ranked #4:
"4. Mackenzie (13). Often presented in a group with other Mc- names, which several posters described as "low class." "

Thus, the name is still being widely used and very well liked by some parents. But the downside is that others have a poor image of the name. (Perhaps that's because Mackenzie's Phillips has not been a positive role model.)

Karen L said...

Great post, Swistle! That is all.

millennialkelly said...

Although Mackenzie is not my style for reasons related to the general style of the name, I don't think it's too dated.

From those I've talked to with such names, I think that in general having a name more common for your parents' or grandparents' generation is a love/hate relationship: Depending on the individual you either like having a name that sets you apart from your peers, or you dislike having a name that makes you sound older. (The experience is similar to my own experience and my observations with guys who have names that are more common for girls but still legit for boys; either you like how the name is more unique on a guy like I do, or you dislike sharing your name with females. My name is Kelly and I'm a guy by the way.)

Anonymous said...

While Mackenzie may be past its peak, it still feels contemporary & of this generation. If you were suggesting Brittany or Tiffany, I would take exception! If you are still concerned, perhaps you could give her a middle name that you love enough that you'd be okay with her choosing to use her middle name as a first when she gets older. (We did this with our son - though we love his first name, it's been suggested it's a "feminine" male name, so we gave him a "masculine" second name that we both love, just in case!...)

Bethtastic said...

I'm conflicted on this general topic...
I'm married to a guy named Harold. And he's 37. Not 73. He hates it. And I think that might be an understatement.

At the same time, we named our daughter Tara. And she's 6, born in 2005. The only other Taras we know were both born in 1975, which lands the names squarely in the "my parents generation" category for her. We love her name, and I hope she always does, too.

That being said, McKenzie doesn't feel outdated to me. Not one bit.

But really, there aren't a lot of names that top Harold on a 30-something guy...

Anonymous said...

Swistle I love your blog! It is my new addiction. You write what I'm thinking but don't know how to say, lol. :)

Carolyn said...

@Bethtastic-my best friend's name is Tara (she's 29) and even within our generation, she's often commented on how uncommon her name seems to be. And she (and I) love it. I'm sure your daughter will love her name as well.

I like Mackenzie because it is a familiar, popular name that has not reached oversaturation. I felt like saying REALLY?? when I heard about yet another Katie growing up. Now I feel like there isn't one name that has reached oversaturation, luckily.

Alice Wills Gold said...

I don't think I am the one that should answer this question.

My girls name are Abigail, Sophia, Isabella, and Caroline. The oldest three have been in the TOp 10 since I used them.

But I swear I had the name before Twilight. All of these names have been on my list since i was very young.