For expecting parents, or even those just daydreaming about their hypothetical future children, choosing your child’s name is one of the most important tasks you will face. Your child’s name will most likely stick with her for life, influence how other’s perceive her and possibly subject her to teasing. For those reasons, most parents take the job of naming a child quite seriously, researching baby name websites, reading baby name books, polling friends and family members and making lists of potential monikers.
In our modern world, there is a vast sea of inspiration for naming children that gives us more freedom than ever to create our own unique name for our little offspring. Television characters, nature words, emotions, place names, super heroes – not many names or words are off-limits when it comes to creating new baby names. Many parents cut through the name slush pile by using guidelines such as tradition, good taste and personal preference. Not surprisingly, there are names that become, or remain, insanely popular each year, and the poured-your-heart-and-soul-into-it pick that sounded so fresh and original suddenly blends in like vanilla with the masses.
Take the name Evelyn, for example. My mother and I were discussing this very name last weekend. When my sister and I were children, we would often tease our youngest cousin, Hayly (who happens to now be the tallest and biggest bad ass in the family). We all shared a grandmother who was very proper and a tad scary at times. During holidays, we would get together for formal meals at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother instructed us to politely utter, “I have reached my capacity,” as opposed to the rather blunt, “I’m full,” at the end of a meal.
As mature preteens, we informed our young cousin that we used to have a sister named Evelyn, whom our grandmother had done away with when Evelyn used poor table manners. We would then chant the name “Evelyn” in a soft, creepy voice to scare the bejesus out of our poor little cousin. (Yes, we were mischievous little devils.) The point of this strange tale is that we chose the name Evelyn because it was obscure and vintage sounding, and we sure didn’t know any children around our age named Evelyn.
Fast forward to 2015 (where we still crack Evelyn jokes at family get-togethers; let the poor fake girl rest in peace!), and Evelyn is Number 16(!) on the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) annual popular baby names’ list. Evelyn enjoyed great popularity in the early 1900s leading up to World War II and then bottomed out in the low 200s in 1980. Beginning in the 2000s, though, Evelyn has enjoyed a great resurgence, which showed it breaking the top 20 of popular baby names last year.
Evelyn is a great example of a name that sounds somewhat obscure and original until you realize everyone else is loving the name for their daughters too. Now I don’t dare group Evelyn with names like Emma, Olivia and Sophia (Numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the SSA 2014 list). Those latter names have reigned high up in the popularity charts for a while, and anyone who visits a local park or primary school knows that those monikers must be doled out to one in four girls, every day. Evelyn, however, is one of those names that catches you off guard when you discover its popularity. Upon hearing it you think, wow, that’s different. But it’s really not, when you look at the usage numbers.
Not everyone wants her child to have a unique or lesser-known name. Some will happily name their little ones Isabella or Brooklyn and call it a day. For those parents who desire a more distinct name than the ones the masses have declared cool, this blog is for you. I have picked various popular names from the SSA’s popular baby names list and offered alternatives that are underused and overlooked by your peers. Some of the options may share the same first letter or a similar sound with the original name inspiration, while other suggestions may simply evoke a similar vibe or impression.
And for the record, I do like many of the names I am “making over.” But I also think it’s fun to think of different names that haven’t been discovered yet by your circle of mom friends. Some of these names rank in the top 20 of the SSA, whereas others rank a little lower, but in my neck of the woods, they seem commonplace.
In the spirit of Evelyn, today we will focus on leading girls’ names. For the suggested alternatives, I have noted the SSA’s 2014 popularity ranking in parentheses. If there is no number noted, then the name is not within the top 1000 baby names for last year.
1. Riley, along with its various related spellings, such as Rylee, is a very popular name, especially for girls. Riley busted onto the Top 1000 scene in 1990 and peaked at Number 38 in 2009. Today, she holds steady in the Top 50 of girls’ names. If you love the sound of Riley, consider the following alternatives: Finley (Number 223), Allie (Number 257), Leslie (Number 337), Hallie (Number 586), Hattie (Number 590), Stevie (Number 951), Kailani (Number 980), Landry (Number 981), Annalee (Number 987), Lottie or Lettie.
2. Madison (along with other top 1000 spellings, Maddison, Madisyn and Madyson) made her top 1000 baby name debut in 1985 and climbed rapidly up the charts into the Top 10, a position she has held since 1997. Madison peaked in 2001 through 2002 in the Number 2 spot. Hence, a mob of Maddies has ruled the playground for 30 years. Should we allow some other names a turn at the swings? How about Delaney (Number 268), Miriam (Number 305), Megan (Number 308), Sloane (Number 370), Leighton (Number 540), Cameron (Number 578), Dallas (Number 580), Matilda (Number 583), Meredith (Number 606), Ireland (Number 983), or Merida?
3. Ava has enjoyed consistent popularity since the SSA began tracking popular baby names in 1900. Perhaps inspired by screen siren Ava Gardner or celebrity baby names, Ava has shown staying power in the top 10 for the past decade, currently sitting comfortably at Number 5. For parents looking for a baby name with glam, consider these choices instead: Angelina (Number 153), Evangeline (Number 276), Lena (Number 279), Dakota (Number 285), Elsa (Number 286), Nadia (Number 288), Diana (Number 297), Talia (Number 330), Dahlia (Number 445), Vivianna (Number 454), Serena (Number 455), Farrah (Number 759), Greer or Rita.
4. Chloe is a sweet and girlish sounding name that gained traction in the 1990s and entered the Top 10 in 2008. Today Chloe stands solidly at Number 18 and has perhaps inspired the rapid rise of Zoey/Zoe/Zoie. For those parents looking for an untapped twist on Chloe, how about: Clara (Number 108), Daisy (Number 180), Callie (Number 186), Marley (Number 202), Charlie (Number 229), Kira (Number 350), Carly (Number 357), Mae (682), Jolie (Number 790) or Joey?
5. Emma – Calling to mind Jane Austen’s Emma, this classic name saw a huge surge in popularity in the late 1990s through today, where it currently holds the Number 1 most popular spot. If you want to distinguish your baby from the more than one percent of U.S. babies named Emma, consider the following choices: Brooke (Number 137), Emery (Number 161), Elise (Number 166), Eliza (Number 212), Daphne (Number 356), Louisa (Number 973), Sula, Lisbeth, Elinor, Tess or Marianne.
6. Lillian, currently ranked Number 25, is a beautiful vintage sounding name that lends itself to the pretty Lily/Lilly for a soft-sounding nickname. Lillian peaked on the SSA’s popularity chart in the early 1900s and resurged into modern times in the early 2000s. We may see this name climbing higher in the coming years. For a retro name with a feminine feel like Lillian, try Cora (Number 103), Adeline (Number 219), Georgia (Number 243), Leilani (Number 281), June (Number 317), Pearl (Number 628), Coraline (Number 630), Celia (Number 788), Emmeline (Number 907), Clementine (Number 943), Cordelia (Number 993), Susannah, Millicent (nn. Millie/Milly), or Maude (nn. Maudie).
7. Olivia is a name juggernaut with a long history on the SSA’s baby name list. She currently claims the Number 2 spot, and she has remained in the Top 10 since 2001(!). Pop culture figures such as Olivia Newton-John and Scandal’s Olivia Pope have cemented her status as a cult favorite. Parents looking for a hip alternative to this favorite should mull over these cool girl options: Delilah (Number 130), Fiona (Number 204), Olive (Number 282), Willa (Number 549), Greta (Number 594), Natasha (Number 644), Renata (Number 659), Paola (Number 679), Claudia (Number 724), Elin (Number 733), Odette and Ophelia.
8. Penelope disappeared from the SSA top baby names list for a whopping twenty-five years before reappearing at the bottom in 2001. Fast-forward to the most recent stats and Penelope has climbed steadily up to the charts to a respectable Number 42. Many celebrities have bestowed this quirky and feminine name onto their offspring. I predict that Penelope will continue to climb quickly up the list into the top 25 or higher. For those looking to avoid an already popular name on the rise, consider one of these fresh picks: Isla (Number 150), Eden (Number 151), Melody (Number 156), Presley (Number 189), Athena (Number 195), Anastasia (Number 240), Gemma (Number 272), Catalina (Number 365), Esmeralda (Number 376)/nn. Esmé, Astrid (Number 913), Magdalena (Number 976) or Pernille.
9. Charlotte, the newest member of the royal family, is a beautiful, understated and classic baby name. It’s no surprise that Charlotte broke into the Top 10 this year and will probably keep climbing up due to the royal influence. For parents looking to start new traditions, here are some suggestions for your own little princess: Scarlett (Number 30), Genevieve (Number 210), Eloise (Number 300), Beatrice (Number 601), Martha (Number 735), Margot (Number 749), Lara (Number 824), Amalia (Number 884), Julianne (Number 901) or Muriel.
10. Harper was a latecomer to the popular baby names clique – she made her appearance on the Top 1000 list in 2004, and within ten short years, Harper shot up to her current spot at Number 11. Perhaps inspired by the author Harper Lee or the trend with names ending in –er, Harper will probably break into the top ten spot sometime soon. For those looking to avoid an explosively popular name, here are some viable options, many inspired by other female literary figures: Maya (Number 74), Piper (Number 75), Alice (Number 97), Quinn (Number 126), Parker (Number 235), Jordan (Number 247), Teagan (Number 253), Tatum (Number 392), Juniper (Number 490), Sylvia (Number 493), Virginia (Number 581), Sutton (Number 774), Zora, Liesel, Brontë or Scout.
Hopefully these naming possibilities will inspire original choices for those parents looking for a distinctive baby girl name beyond the top 25. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on unique baby boy name alternatives to mainstream choices like Noah, Aiden and Elijah.
Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.