A few weeks back, a reader named Caitlin emailed me a cool list of well-known names that were decreasing in usage. Her list included:
Andrew, now ranked 40th — lowest ranking since 1963
Michael, now ranked 12th — lowest ranking since 1942
David, now ranked 23rd — lowest ranking since 1924
She also generously told me that I could share her findings (thank you Caitlin!).
The names that intrigued me most were the “lowest ever” names: names that had been in the data since 1880, but that saw their lowest usage ever (in terms of rankings) in 2017. Three of the boy names on her list — Paul, Richard, Robert — were “lowest ever” names, so I decided start with these and search for others.
I checked hundreds of potential candidates. Many (like Andrew, Michael, and David) hit a low in 2017, but it wasn’t their all-time low. Many others (like Stanley, Alvin, and Clarence) hit a low recently, but not as recently as 2017.
In the end, I was able to add 15 names to the list:
Allen. Ranked 401st in 2017; peak was 71st in the 1940s/1950s.
Dennis. Ranked 544th in 2017; peak was 16th in the 1940s.
Edgar. Ranked 353rd in 2017; peak was 51st in the 1880s.
Edwin. Ranked 332nd in 2017; peak was 52nd in the 1910s/1920s.
Frank. Ranked 373rd in 2017; peak was 6th in the 1880s/1890s.
Gerald. Ranked 824th in 2017; peak was 19th in the 1930s.
Glenn. Ranked 1,288th in 2017; peak was 55th in the 1960s.
Herman. Ranked 2,347th in 2017; peak was 44th in the 1880s/1890s.
Jerome. Ranked 857th in 2017; peak was 93rd in the 1930s.
Jesse. Ranked 186th in 2017; peak was 37th in the 1980s.
Lloyd. Ranked 1,570th in 2017; peak was 51st in the 1910s.
Martin. Ranked 281st in 2017; peak was 62nd in the 1960s.
Marvin. Ranked 559th in 2017; peak was 44th in the 1930s.
Paul. Ranked 225th in 2017; peak was 12th in the 1910s/1930s.
Raymond. Ranked 293rd in 2017; peak was 14th in the 1910s.
Richard. Ranked 175th in 2017; peak was 5th in the 1930s/1940s.
Robert. Ranked 65th in 2017; peak was 1st in the 1920s/1930s/1950s.
Wayne. Ranked 816th in 2017; peak was 29th in the 1940s.
Interestingly, all 18 have spent time in the top 100. And one, Robert, is still in the top 100. (How long before Robert is out of the top 100, do you think?)
A handful of girl names also saw their lowest-ever rankings in 2017. I’ll post that list next week…
(The SSA omits spaces, hyphens, and apostrophes, so “Jerilou” here includes Jeri Lou, Jeri-Lou, and other potential renderings.)
Where did Jerilou come from?
Child actor Jeri Lou James, who was on TV primarily during the first half of the 1950s.
She was born Jerilyn Louise Kuehl in California in 1945. (Her birth name may have been inspired by celebrity baby Jerilyn Jessel.)
Jeri Lou guest starred on various TV shows, but the one show she appeared on regularly was The Dennis Day Show, which aired on NBC from 1953 to 1954. No doubt this is what gave Jeri Lou’s name enough visibility to see a temporary rise in usage.
These days, Jeri Lou James is Hon. Jerilyn L. Borack, a family law judge on the Sacramento Superior Court.
Both her acting career and her law career were inspired by the acting and law careers of her older sister, Sheila James (b. Sheila Ann Kuehl in 1941), whose best-remembered TV role was that of Zelda on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). Today Sheila Kuehl is a politician in California.
Which name do you like better, Jerilyn or Jerilou?
Next Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, 30-year-old identical (and alliterative) triplets Leila, Liina, and Lily Luik of Estonia are expected to run the women’s marathon. This will make the “Trio in Rio,” as they call themselves, the first set of triplets to compete in an Olympics.
In comparison, about 200 sets of twins have competed in the Olympics over the years. Here are some of the Olympic twins with similarly alliterative names:
Åke & Arne (Sweden) [not technically alliterative; see JJ’s comment]
Apple, Chlorophyll, Icarus, Kinky, Melon, Omicron, Smacker, Swallow, Winsome, Yoyo…the English names chosen by (or assigned to) native Chinese speakers are often not so great.
And, in many cases, they’re later regretted. Here’s what a Hong Kong business student Fragile Chan had to say about his English name:
“I started using ‘Fragile’ when I was 14,” he says. “I first encountered the word in my English class and I chose it as my name because I liked how it’s pronounced.”
Chan says his name makes it easy for others to remember him and it’s an easy conversation-starter when he meets new people. But in his experience, having an uncommon name isn’t always pleasant.
“I am tired of explaining my name to others when I need to introduce myself. Some people even mock me for having a ‘fragile heart’,” he says. Now Chan has decided to change his name to Nathan. “I would like to be less weird in formal situations,” he says.
One U.S. entrepreneur has created a site called Best English Name, which helps Chinese students choose more appropriate English names. Site-suggested names include “Davis, Max, Eli, and Riley” for males and “Elody, Ava, Jolie, and Ellie” for females. These are a lot better than Kinky and Melon, and style-wise they’re fairly appropriate for current teenagers.
But I think the best advice out there comes from Philip Guo’s blog post How to choose an English name, because it can be applied to any age group.
His main recommendation? Go to the SSA’s website, find the top 100 names for your birth year, and choose one from the list for your gender. He says:
You must choose your name from one of these 100 names. Even if you randomly choose a name (for your gender, of course), then congratulations, I guarantee that you have chosen a better name than most of your friends who tried to be creative!
So a 15-year-old student (b. 2001) can choose from names like:
Isabel, Katie, Mia, Sophia, Zoe
Aidan, Chase, Isaiah, Jack, Noah
But a 40-year-old business-person (b. 1976) can choose from names that might be a better fit for his/her generation, such as:
Amy, Dana, Monica, Tina, Wendy
Chad, Dennis, Peter, Shane, Tony
Best of all, every top 100 list includes names appropriate for people of various ages. For example, these names were on both the 1976 and the 2001 lists:
Anna, Elizabeth, Michelle, Natalie, Sarah
Adam, David, John, Nathan, Victor
Guo’s other recommendations include ignoring name definitions entirely and sticking to the exact version of the name found in the top 100. He also suggests choosing a name that sounds somewhat like one’s birth name, e.g., the English name Shawn would work well for a Chinese man named Sheng.
Do you have any other good advice for people (Chinese people in particular) seeking English names?
At first glance, Guillaume always looks like gobbledygook to me. It’s the French form of William — that much I know — but it takes a few seconds for me to remember that it’s pronounced ghee-ohm, not not gwill-awm or gwee-awm.
And it’s not just Guillaume that trips me up. I find many other French names (Étienne, Edwige, Anaïs, etc.) equally tricky to pronounce.
So for those of us who struggle with French names, here are some simplified rules of French pronunciation, plus names to illustrate each rule.
This list is far from comprehensive, and my pronunciations are just approximations, but hopefully my fellow non-French speakers out there will find it helpful nonetheless.
French Pronunciation + French Names
AU: The vowel combination “AU” is pronounced like a long o.
Paul, in French, is pronounced pohl.
Margaux, a French form of Margaret, is pronounced mar-goh.
CH: The letter combination “CH” is typically pronounced sh.
Charles, in French, is pronounced shahrl.
D, P, S, T, X, Z: The six consonants “D,” “P,” “S,” “T,” “X” and “Z,” when at the end of a word, are typically silent.
Arnaud, the French form of Arnold, is pronounced ar-noh.
Denis, the French form of Dennis, is pronounced de-nee (remember the Blondie song?).
Lucas, in French, is pronounced loo-kah.
Louis, in French, is pronounced loo-ee (think Louis Vuitton).
…They’re not always silent, though. Here are some exceptions:
Alois, the French form of Aloysius, is pronounced ah-loh-ees.
Anaïs, a French form of Anna, is pronounced ah-nah-ees.
David, in French, is pronounced dah-veed.
Ë: The pronunciation of “Ë” (E with a trema) is like the e in the English word “bet.”
Gaël and Gaëlle are pronounced gah-el or gai-el.
Joël and Joëlle are pronounced zhoh-el.
Maël and Maëlle are pronounced mah-el or mai-el.
Noël and Noëlle are pronounced noh-el.
É: The pronunciation of “É” (E with an acute accent) is somewhere between the ee in “see” and the e in “bet.”
Noé, the French masculine form of Noah, is pronounced noh-ee.
Salomé, in French, is pronounced sah-loh-mee.
G: The consonant “G” is soft (zh) when followed by “E” or “I” but hard (gh) otherwise.
Georges, the French form of George, is pronounced zhorzh.
Guy, in French, is pronounced ghee.
H: The consonant “H” is silent.
Hélène, the French form of Helen, is pronounced eh-lehn.
I: The vowel “I,” and the forms Ï, and Î, are all pronounced ee.
Loïc, a French form of Louis, is pronounced loh-eek.
J: The consonant “J” is pronounced zh.
Jacques, the French form of Jacob, is pronounced zhahk.
LL: The letter combination “LL” is typically pronounced like an l.
Achille, the French form of Achilles, is pronounced ah-sheel.
Lucille, the French form of Lucilla, is pronounced loo-seel.
…But in some cases “LL” is pronounced like a y.
Guillaume, the French form of William, is pronounced ghee-yohm or ghee-ohm.
OI: The vowel combination “OI” is pronounced wah.
Antoine, the French form of Antony, is pronounced an-twahn.
Grégoire, the French form of Gregory, is pronounced gre-gwahr.
OU: The vowel combination “OU” is pronounced oo.
Lilou is pronounced lee-loo.
R: The consonant “R,” when at the end of a word, is typically pronounced.
Clair, the French masculine form of Claire, is pronounced kler.
Edgar, in French, is pronounced ed-gahr.
…When the “R” is preceded by an “E,” though, it is not pronounced.
Gauthier, the French form of Walter, is pronounced goh-tee-yay or goh-tyay (remember Gotye?).
Olivier, the French form of Oliver, is pronounced oh-lee-vee-yay or oh-lee-vyay (think Laurence Olivier).
TH: The letter combination “TH” is typically pronounced like a t (which makes sense, since “H” is silent).
Thibault, the French form of Theobald, is pronounced tee-boh.
TI: The letter combination “TI” is sometimes pronounced like an s or sy.
Laëtitia is pronounced lay-tee-sya.
W: The consonant “W” is pronounced like a v.
Edwige, the French form of Hedwig, is pronounced ed-veezh.
And finally, just a few more French names that I tend to have trouble with.
Anatole is pronounced ah-nah-tohl.
Étienne, the French form of Stephen, is pronounced eh-tyen.
Geoffroy, the French form of Geoffrey, is pronounced zho-fwah.
Ghislain and Ghislaine are pronounced either ghee-len or zheez-len.
Ignace, the French form of Ignatius, is pronounced ee-nyas.
Those aren’t too hard, right?
That’s what I tell myself…and then I come across Guillaume in the wild and my mind goes blank all over again. :)
If you know French and would like to add to the above (either another rule of pronunciation or a more precise pronunciation for a particular name) please leave a comment.
If you’re not a French speaker, here’s my question: Which French name gives you the most trouble?