How to deal with uncommon names becoming more popular

Paige posted this interesting question to my FB wall:

Silly question. Any tips on how to get over the agitation that comes when you’ve chosen a name for your child that was unique and it starts to gain popularity? I don’t like nicknames so that’s out.”

First off, not a silly question at all! We all know what being a namiac does to a person. 😉

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question since Paige asked it. It was smart of her to say nicknames aren’t really her thing, because otherwise I do think that could be a good way to manage the downfalls of a popular name (or a name that’s more popular than one would like). And I’m actually realizing just now that I don’t know Paige’s situation — whether she’s expecting a baby and has already decided on a name, or if she has an already-born child whose name is becoming more popular. My thoughts would be different for each situation, so I’ll address each one separately.

If you’re expecting a baby, and have already decided on a name, and are now having a really hard time with the fact that it’s becoming more popular, I would definitely seriously think of changing the name. Before the baby has arrived, anything goes! If it’s a name that’s important to you — a family name, for example, or a favorite saint, or the best friend you promised when you were six that you’d name your first child after — then maybe looking for an unusual variant of it would do the trick. Sean instead of John, that kind of thing. It might also be helpful to remember that things that really really bother you when you’re pregnant might mean very little to non-pregnant you, so if, for example, your husband really wants to stick with the name that you’ve already agreed upon even though you’re having agita over it, and there’s just no changing his mind, there’s a chance that after the baby’s here and all the intensity has calmed down and life has regained some normalcy, it won’t seem so bad to you after all. Especially since babies very often immediately own their names and all of a sudden you can’t imagine your little one having any other name in the world, even if there ends up being two others with the same name in his/her Kindergarten class.

If the baby’s already born and named, you could still think of changing the name (depending on how old he/she is). The rules about such things varies from state to state, but I’m pretty sure they all have a grace period after the birth during which you can change the name on the birth certificate without too much fuss. If the child’s older — old enough to know and recognize his/her name — that’s a different story. If you’re in the situation where the name absolutely can’t be changed, and nicknames aren’t a great option, I would encourage you to think about why you chose the name in the first place. Certainly sometimes a big part of the reason you like a name is because it’s uncommon, but there are lots of uncommon names that you didn’t choose, so what was it about this one that made it special? What qualities (besides uncommonness) did you love? Can you add further amazing qualities to it even now, in hindsight, like finding an amazing saint with the name that you can fall in love with? I’ve often found that reminding myself (over and over if needed, accompanied by lots of Hail Marys) of the good characteristics and blessings of a challenging thing in my life helps my heart soften toward that thing.

Finally, no matter what the situation is (pre- or post-birth+naming), it’s also helpful to remember that names can come zooming out of nowhere and become huge hits overnight if a certain blockbuster book or movie with an uncommonly named hero enters the country’s consciousness. On the flip side, names can immediately drop like a rock due to widespread negative associations (just think of all the sweet little girls who were lovingly given the name Isis before the name had the association it now does). So knowing that you can’t ever guarantee what will happen to the name you’ve so carefully and lovingly chosen can provide a real measure of freedom to just choose a name you like — a name whose sparkly bits you’ll always be able to remember, no matter how popular it becomes.

These also might be helpful, regarding the popularity of names today not being the same as the popularity of names in the past: This great comment from our very own grace and Even the Top 10 Is Not Necessarily the Kiss of Death by Swistle. Also these, on naming regret: Naming regret by me and An Account of Baby Name Regret by Swistle.

What do you all think about Paige’s question? Do you think my thoughts are spot on or totally off base? Have you experienced this, and how did you handle it? What other advice would you offer to Paige or anyone else with this struggle?

36 thoughts on “How to deal with uncommon names becoming more popular

  1. Also…geography can play a huge role in how popular a name seems. I went to grade school with 2 other Colleens in my (small) class thru 2nd grade, and then we moved to a less “Irish” area 45 minutes away, and there were after that only ever 3 Colleens I ever KNEW at the same time within my community, wherever I lived. Our kids names were rather unsurprising and more common in NE Ohio, but in central PA we compete with naming styles that do not match ours so there’s a uniqueness to them here. So, if Paige might relocate, the ‘common’ name might seem fresh. Our Lucie would’ve had 3 friends with her same name nearby in Ohio, and 6 hours away, we get “oh! you never hear the name Lucie anymore!” So, theres a thought too 🙂

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  2. I had this happen to me when I named my first son Finnian at the start of 2012 and then the name Finn seemed to explode in NZ. We have coped by insisting he is called Finnian (not Finn nicknamed) but it was so disappointing!
    I grew up with a unique (in my geographical area) name – Siobhan – but my husband was always one of 5-6 Christopher’s/Chris’s in his class so we were looking for uncommon in a name.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. While I get the appeal of an uncommon/unique name, it’s also not so terrible to grow up with a common one.Although Lauren was fairly uncommon before I was born, I knew SO MANY LAURENS growing up–in every class, on every soccer team. One year I think there were four Laurens. But I didn’t mind it at all! I always felt it was kind of fun to share a name with someone, and I often found it an easy way to make friends. It all depends on your perspective.

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    • Lauren is an interesting one. May I ask about how old you are? I always loved the name Lauren – since I was in high school (late 70s) and hoped to name a girl Lauren. So in my peer group (girls born in the early 60s) it was an uncommon name, but started climbing about that same time (though I wasn’t aware of that) and cracked the top 10 in 1989 which would have been just after my oldest son was born. Lauren was our top girl name for that son (if he was a girl) and the following one 1991 and by the time we did have a girl we had decided Lauren didn’t want to be born and went with another name – then no girls after that. Anyway – my experience was only knowing one Lauren growing up – but my 3 oldest kids(1988-95) have lots of Lauren’s in their peer group.

      I think it is very common for names that are around but not popular to get notice and so a certain age cohort is attracted to them for naming and it rises somewhat organically until it reach a popularity when people want to avoid it for the too common factor and it falls off. I think if people pick a name that peaked 40-30 years ago (so a mom/dad name) and use that it is going to be uncommon in that current baby cohort. But if you go back further 50-100 years those are the “cool” names that seem uncommon but then possibly lots of people are thinking that independently and it rises and isn’t unique/uncommon anymore.

      Those this reflection was on common/uncommon, but I am wondering if the original question was regarding unique vs. uncommon. Because to me unique is something else (lone, unrepeated, exclusive, rare, unusual, one-of-a-kind) and I do have some thoughts on that as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I knew Kate was a common name growing up, but I pretty much only knew one. She spelled it Cate. It wasn’t until adulthood I even realized the possibility of Kate with a K and that that is actually probably the more ‘normal version’. But to me Kate still seems misspelled, like it should be Cate. Funny how that works 😉

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  4. I’m wondering exactly what Paige means by “common.” Does she mean that she’s actually hearing it more often or that it’s just going up on the lists?

    If the answer is it’s just going up on the lists, definitely agree with Colleen about geography! I was born in 1995, and everyone in my graduating HS class was born in 1995 or 1996. I graduated with 5 other Graces which was ranked in the 90s in those years. Do you know how many Jessicas I graduated with, which was number 1 and 2 respectively in those years? 1. 1 Jessica, 6 Graces, not a Catholic school, not a Catholic area even, so that can’t be the explanation of how many Graces there were. There’s very little to explain why there were so many Graces in my grade.

    If she means she’s hearing it more, that’s a little tougher. Maybe she could think about how it’s even more opportunities to hear her favorite names?

    I’m probably one of the worst people to respond to this question because I don’t give any mind to popularity and don’t particularly understand caring about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so good to hear that numbers don’t always equal “hearing it more often”! Paige clarified on FB that it’s actually climbing the charts — the name is Eliana — it was #103 in 2015 — and Paige read that it’s #39 in the “top 100 names of 2016.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • oh I really dislike those lists baby name websites put out for popularity! They confuse people so much! Those lists from NameBerry and like Baby Name Center mean absolutely nothing except for searches! I search names everyday and I’m not having kids right now nor am I going to use half the names I search, I’m just curious about them and my searches get calculated into the popular names.

        I would tell her to honestly not worry unless the name starts popping up in her area! It’s also important that it might seem like Eliana is everywhere because Ellie names are quite popular (Ella, Ellie, Elizabeth, Eleanor, even Isabella, Stella, ect.) and Anna names are always popular (Anna, Annabel, Hannah), so while Eliana might not be that popular, it might seem like it is.

        Also those Swistle articles you linked to would be great for Paige to read! They basically encapsulate my exact thoughts on popularity and why I don’t care about it.

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      • Oh, that’s funny that the name is Eliana. I mentioned on another post (about “name stealing”) that I had thought for years and years that my firstborn would be Eliana, and then I heard my cousin wanted the name too. I regret trying to talk her out of it. It was silly and now neither of us are using it! I have heard of more of them since then, but I wouldn’t at all think of it as a common name.

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    • At a guess, you lived in an area where there were a lot of college educated people from the same social and economic class. I interviewed several Graces in your general age range. One was a doctor’s daughter, one the daughter of a college professor, etc. Different groups like different names.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was going to make a similar observation. I think naming can be very different in different socio-economic groups. That can be affected by geography as well. And ethnic influence can play into it as well. Mix up general name trends in the whole population with differences in region, socio-economic status, ethnic communities/influence and you get lots of variables for popularity in a given area.

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  5. Speaking from experience, there are downsides to having an uncommon name, even if it is simple/easy not “unique”. (Not that I dislike or would change my name). People always have me spell my name. Even then they will choose a name that they are more familiar with and call me what they think my name should have been. I promise my name isn’t even THAT uncommon.

    That said, when my friend named her daughter the name that we had been using for my daughter just 10 days before my daughter was born, I almost changed her name to Alfonsa Gertrude 🙂 Now it doesn’t bother me that they share a name though.

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  6. In response to Paige’s question I would point out that even the #1 name on the chart in recent years only represents about 1% of kids of that sex, so maybe around 1 in 200 ish kids per year. A friend who almost named her son Noah last year brought this up to me as the reason she still had it in her top two even though it was the nation’s top one. So, when I think of it in those terms rather than rank, popularity seems like less of a big deal, for me.
    I do understand Paige’s “agitation” though. I added Sebastian to our baby name list in 2014, when I thought it was much more uncommon than it is. Then when I looked it up I found out it was top 50 and climbing, and I remember internally, selfishly pleading with the world to “stop naming your babies that, I don’t want this to break top 10 by the time I want to use it!” (I had a silly rule for myself that top 10 is the no-go zone, but I think I’m over that now in light of the ratio vs rank info my friend brought up.)

    However, if as Grace above mentions, she simply means she’s hearing it more in her immediate vicinity, I could definitely see it being harder to assuage the agitation.

    The regional thing is also such a good point! Even on different sides of one city. I felt like the only first-name-Elizabeth, even including nickname variants, where I went to elementary school; we moved a whole 8 miles and I went to high school in a different part of the city, where I met several Elizabeths (though I might have been the only one who primarily went by the full Elizabeth…Liz seemed to be prevalent).

    So anyway in summary I acknowledge and identify with the struggle Paige is feeling, and I so hope she can get over it in her mind so she can use that name she loves!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was always the only Andrea in my class. I think it was in the bottom of the top 25 when I was born, but that wasn’t enough to make it super common. There were three Amys in the class behind me and a couple of Jennifers. I was always grateful not to be a Jennifer, as I also have a very common last name. Most names are not as popular as parents think they are. Even a Jacob and an Emma will probably be the only kids with those names in a class of 16.

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  8. I have two kids for which this is an issue. We named one Sophia, fully knowing it was the most common girl’s name in America. I had thought all my life that I wanted my kids to have unusual names, and not a single one of them does, and we picked the most popular one! But it was special to us, especially to my husband. The saint she is named after is special to me (St. Sophia of Thrace, the Mother of Orphans), and my husband is a classicist and went to St. Katherine’s monastery in Sinai, so “Sophia (wisdom) Catherine (purity)” was a perfect name for his daughter. I also went to the Hagia Sophia and it was a life-changing event. I considered the fact that even though it’s popular worldwide, it was not popular in our family/parish/social circle. She is not mixed up with any other Sophias.

    Our fourth child is named Elisabeth, but we always intended to call her Elsa. We had this plan for YEARS before Frozen came out. We wanted her named for St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess of Russia, but we wanted a German nickname for my husband’s German heritage (which is also why we spelled it Elisabeth). I had major second thoughts after the movie came out, and it took me months after her birth to regularly call her Elsa. I was so irritated at the idea of people only associating her name with the Disney princess. I mean, Elsa is like an old German/Scandinavian grandma name! How did it become a Disney princess name!?! But it actually rarely happens and I don’t think of it at all now. I was probably a little over-sensitive about it because my first name is Arielle. The Little Mermaid came out when I was about ten. I was named after the historian Ariel Durant (with changed spelling to make it more feminine, since Ariel is a male name). I had never heard of anyone with my name before in my life and was SO upset about it. People have commented “oh, like the mermaid” when I introduced myself ever since. Like EVERY TIME at Starbucks, lol! But at some point you just can’t plan for these things and you give your child the name you think they should have. I remind myself that some names are popular for good reason! My other children are James and Miriam, and any future child would probably be Thomas or Lydia, so I guess I have given up on my plans for having children with uncommon names!

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  9. I’m a big fan of choosing a similar-sounding name if the name one wishes to use is too popular or common for one’s tastes (e.g., Micah vs. Michael, Zora vs. Sarah). I also like the idea of moving the name to the middle position and using something else for the forename. However, a lot of people have had the same idea about using similar-sounding names for names that are very popular, as evidenced by the growing popularity of Madeline to replace Madison, Jessica to replace Jennifer, and Emma, Emilia, Amelia, and Amalia to replace Emily.

    I fell in love with the name Isabella in 1995, years before it was trendy, after reading Isabella Leitner’s haunting memoirs for the first time. That name was on my list for future kids for years, but now I’d never consider using it. I also have two friends with daughters named Isabella (one of whom was adopted and already had the name). I also wish Samuel weren’t so popular, but if I’m ever blessed with kids before I’m too old, that’s the only name I’d give to my potential firstborn son. The story of Samuel the Prophet getting his first call is so special to me, and I love several other wonderful famous Samuels from history. I’d also call him Shemp for short, since I’m a huge Three Stooges fan.

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  10. Grace’s comment on the thread you link to her really helped me become okay with naming our newest guy his name which is always in the mix of names that will be the next Aiden or Liam, even though there has yet to be a meteoric rise.
    I think the theory of “naming bubbles” is really key. In my office we have three M3li$$as, and three C!ndys, one of who was probably born around the name’s 1957 peak but the others were born in the age of Ashley and Jessica.
    The other thing is, you just can’t really control what was the popularity of a name 30 years ago or 30 years from now. My son shares his name with my boss and another man I work with regularly as well as two or three others at my company. It’s confusing but both guys were hired after my son was born so we deal with it.

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  11. I was reflecting last night on popularity bubbles. I was reading through the 100 nearly all boys’ names on my son’s wrestling team. These boys range in age from 4-14. Some of the repeated names are expected. No shock at 4 Jacobs and 4 Jacksons. But we also have 3 Brodys! And 2 Clarks! But only 1 Aiden (all spellings) and 1 Noah, and no Liams or Williams. It’s interesting become the club spans a larger age range than a classroom but these families share not only geographic proximity but also they have all picked to have their son participate in a wrestling club.

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  12. Ahh. I’ve been through this disappointment! I have wanted and Isobel since reading Izzy Willy Nilly in middle school circa 1996. My husband and I decided on it when we were engaged. Then a couple friends chose that name (spelled Isabelle), then Twilight and Bella Swan happened. We’ve had 2 girls and neither is named Isobel (we chose Veronica and Catherine, not as common as you would think). We named a son Henry and we all know what happened to that name. There was another Henry in his class of 13. We have a Dominic. Sigh. And Gregory. We have family and friends named Gregory but it’s pretty low on the charts.

    I do think the internet has changed this a lot too. When my second cousin twice removed has a baby, I know the name. When my basketball coach’s granddaughter is born, I know that name. I know the names of the children of bloggers I will never meet. I remember discussing the name Blaise with my husband and all of a sudden I was seeing the name all over the internet but none of those were of people I would have known existed in a pre-internet world.

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  13. My name is fairly uncommon, though I think it has made the lists at various times. As a child, I remember everyone getting things ready made with their names – stickers, bike license plates, tooth brushes – and I got stuck with “Special Kid” or “Great Girl” :/ Now our middle child is a boy named Jackson (my maiden name – no male heir in my generation to carry it on) and despite its popularity there isn’t another in our closest friends …though we do know a Jack, who shares the same birthday, though we didn’t know them then…

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  14. One way I’ve dealt with this is recognizing that placing a high value on having an uncommon name is a very recent priority. I know when I am pregnant and hormonal, stuff like this can feel written in stone. My child MUST have a name that is uncommon. But no, in all reality, she mustn’t. And in fact, rewind a little in the history of humankind, and nobody really prioritized that. Names were and are often used to tie us to our family or cultural heritage. Gosh, on my mom’s side, she had like five cousins who shared her name (Mary). Why? Well, because they were devout Polish Catholics, and who wouldn’t want the Blessed Mother’s name?! So of course, the girls got this great name. All the Mary’s survived childhood ;). Look at royalty. They try to stick to the same names. I am a Sarah. My only pet peeve is that Sarah is hard to nickname so the boom for this name in the early 80’s really forced most of us Sarah’s to have to go by Sarah LastInitial. But guess what? I still like my name.

    Why do I like it? For a lot of the reasons this great blog post points out… the meaning of it, the bublical character that wore it, the sound of it, the fact that it’s a fairly classic and timeless name, etc. These are all good qualities, while there are many uncommon names I might not enjoy wearing as much.

    I really though my kids would need rare gems before I had them. But when expecting #3, I realized it’s not always the most important quality in a name for us. It’s more important to me that well, I love the sound of the name, that there are positive associations, history, heritage, etc. I realized that when telling my kids the stories of their names, it would not be enough for me to say, “Well, it was only ranked #345 on the SS list that year.” No, I wanted something more than that!

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