“Everly” is hot…”Beverly” is not. It’s a one-letter difference between fashionable and fusty.
If you’re sensitive to style, you’ll prefer Everly. It fits with today’s trends far better than Beverly does.
But if you’re someone who isn’t concerned about style, or prefers to go against style, then you may not automatically go for Everly. In fact, you may be more attracted to Beverly because it’s the choice that most modern parents would avoid.
If you’ve ever thought about intentionally giving your baby a dated name (like Debbie, Grover, Marcia, or Vernon) for the sake of uniqueness within his/her peer group — if you have no problem sacrificing style for distinctiveness — then this list is for you.
Years ago, the concept of “contrarian” baby names came up in the comments of a post about Lois. Ever since then, creating a collection of uncool/contrarian baby names has been on my to-do list.
Finally, last month, I experimented with various formulas for pulling unstylish baby names out of the SSA dataset. Keeping the great-grandparent rule in mind, I aimed for names that would have been fashionable among the grandparents of today’s babies. The names below are the best results I got.
In 1995, researchers Herbert Barry and Aylene S. Harper invented a way to score personal names to determine how “male” or “female” they sounded. Names with positive scores on the scale were more female-sounding, and names with negative scores were more male-sounding.
+2 points if the accent is on the 2nd or later syllable (Elizabeth)
+2 points if the last phoneme is unstressed and schwa-like (Sarah)
+1 points if the last phoneme is some other vowel sound, not a schwa sound (Melanie)
+1 points if the accent is on the 1st of 3 or more syllables (Emily)
-1 points if the name has 1 syllable (Mitch)
-1 points if the last phoneme is S, Z, F, V, TH, CH, ZH, or DZH (James)
-2 points if the last phoneme is P, B, T, D, K, or G (Jacob)
-2 points if the accent is on the 1st of 2 syllables and the name has 6+ phonemes (Robert)
The authors looked at Pennsylvania baby names from 1960 to 1990 and discovered that the average phonetic gender score for girl names and boy names had become more “female” over time.
Several years ago, linguist Anika Okrent used the same scale to analyze national baby name data from 1880 to 2013. She noticed the same trend — stretching back to 1950 and continuing until today.
Her theory is that the shift was essentially fueled by shifting trends in boy names. As names like Donald gave way to names like Elijah, the result was an overall rise in the average phonetic gender score for boy names. This in turn triggered a corresponding rise in the average phonetic gender score for girl names “in order to maintain the gender distinction” (i.e., Janet giving way to Olivia).
If you do a Google search for the name Bruno Banani, you will get the German underwear company of that name. But it’s also the name of the first Winter Olympian from Tonga. Born Fuahea Semi, the Tongan rugby player and luger went by Bruno Banani to court sponsorship from the company. It was part of a deal endorsed by the Tongan royal family to enable the athlete to afford training in Germany with the world’s best lugers. The company insinuated that the name was just a coincidence that led to the sponsorship, but that story unraveled quickly. It wasn’t “just” a hoax; Semi legally changed his name to Bruno Banani. The International Olympic Committee decided that even though using a sponsor’s name is in bad taste, Banani is the name on his passport, so he will be the lone athlete representing Tonga at Sochi in the luge event.
From the NYT obituary of Pitcairner and Bounty mutineer descendant Tom Christian:
There are no automobiles on Pitcairn, and the island’s rocks and cliffs bear names redolent of long-ago tragedies: “Where Dan Fall,” “Where Minnie Off,” “Oh Dear.”
Besides his daughter Jacqueline, Mr. Christian’s survivors include his wife, the former Betty Christian, whom he married in 1966 (like many Pitcairn couples, they are distant cousins); three other daughters, Raelene Christian, Sherileen Christian and Darlene McIntyre; and six grandchildren.
So when I signed up for my son’s preschool, I told them my name was Penelope Trunk. My husband had a fit. He told me I was starting our new life in Madison as an insane person and I cannot change my name now.
But I explained to him that it would be insane not to change my name now. I am way better known as Penelope than Adrienne. And my career is so closely tied with the brand Penelope Trunk, that I actually became the brand. So calling myself Penelope Trunk instead of Adrienne Greenheart is actually a way to match my personal life with my professional life and to make things more sane.
At first it was a little weird. For example, we were driving in the car one day and my son said, “Mom, who’s Penelope Trunk?”
But now it feels good to be Penelope Trunk. No more having to figure out what name to give where. No more pretending to be someone, sometimes. No more long explanations and short memories of who calls me what.
Before heading to Quito, an Ecuadorian friend warned me about the importance of social class, saying “It’s a really big deal over there.” Although I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, after being here for 8 months, I realize that her statement certainly holds true. Though subtle, I hear class-related conversation almost every day.
Like the United States, social class influences several aspects of your life. Examples include neighborhood, appearance, education, and even your last name. However, unlike the United States, there is little social mobility. People born in the lower class will usually remain there for the rest of their lives, tending to give a sense of superiority to many members of Ecuador’s upper class.
During Christmas dinner, a member of my host family revealed that she was pregnant. The entire family was excited, and immediately began suggesting baby names. After someone suggested a name, my host mom scrunched up her face in disapproval and replied “¡Suena como nombre de taxista,” or “Sounds like a taxi driver’s name!” Everyone laughed. Apparently the thought of the baby, a member of Quito’s upper-middle class, having a name fit for a “lowly” taxista was absurd and comical. These kinds of assertions are not extremely uncommon.
Bartender to 20-something man: What’s your name? I’ll start a tab.
20-something man: Oliver.
Old man at bar: Oliver Twist… People ever call you Oliver Twist? (laughs)
20-something man: Old people always do. Newer people don’t.
The most famous of all the Mercury chimps, due to his landmark January 1961 flight, Ham was actually not publicly called Ham until after the flight succeeded. The name by which he’s now known — an acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center at the Air Force base — was only widely used when he returned safely to earth; NASA reportedly wanted to avoid bad publicity should a named (and thus a known, publicly embraced) animal be killed; all the Mercury chimps were known by numbers.
Yesterday I read an article about this year’s college football prospects. Three of the top ten have first and last names that start with the same letter: Bryce Brown (#1), Rueben Randle (#2) and Jelani Jenkins (#10).
That seemed like a rather high concentration…so I checked out the entire top 100 for similar names. I found six more: Janzen Jackson (#17), Garrett Gilbert (#18), Shayne Skov (#45), Morgan Moses (#49), Patrick Patterson (#50) and Jarvis Jones (#72).
Nine out of 100…nearly 10%. (Could this be representative of the entire population?) At this point I was curious enough to scan all of the archived rankings:
8 in ’08: Julio Jones, Armond Armstead, Janoris Jenkins, Garrett Goebel, Joshua Jarboe, Brendan Beal, Brice Butler, Brandon Beachum
6 in ’07: Terrance Toliver, Chris Culliver, Tyrod Taylor, Armando Allen, Bryan Bulaga, Gary Gray
6 in ’06: Mitch Mustain, Robert Rose, Tim Tebow, Stephen Schilling, Michael Morgan, Dorin Dickerson
7 in ’05: Ryan Reynolds, Dan Doering, Mohamed Massaquoi, Mario Manningham, Curtis Crouch, Avery Atkins, Terrance Taylor
9 in ’04: Willie Williams, Cameron Colvin, Lance Leggett, Brandon Barrett, Brandon Braxton, Josh Johnson, Brian Brohm, Tony Temple (maybe), Doug Dutch
6 in ’03: Steve Smith, Dennis Dixon, Mike Mason, Donovan Davis, Jason Jack, Craig Chambers
2 in ’02: Julian Jenkins, Doug Datish
So it seems there are more of these names than normal this year. Still, though, I’m curious to know just how many people in the U.S. have first names that start with the same letters as their surnames. (I also wonder whether the Name-Letter Effect has skewed the number upward at all.)