Trendy baby names are a hot topic that’s leaving parents feeling anxious. Parents write in to the blog to say they don’t want a trendy name, or are worried that their favourite baby name might be too trendy.
Yet what exactly is a trendy baby name? Even the authors of articles on trendy baby names disagree on the subject, or are vague as to what “trendy” actually means (many seem to think it just means popular, although parents often say popularity doesn’t bother them, as long as the name isn’t trendy).
We could fall back on that old chestnut, “I know it when I see it”, but I thought we might try for something a little more concrete. So instead we’ll look at the factors which might be linked with a name being considered “trendy”.
Going up rapidly in popularity …
This is the one which nearly everyone first thinks of – a name which is going up steeply in popularity, so that its progress through the charts looks like a mountainside or a cliff; even more so, a name which suddenly jumps in popularity in a single year.
This gets some parents so worried that even a modest increase can have them fretting because a name went up seven or eight places, but I think a name has to go up at least twenty places before it really draws attention to itself. Names in this category from last year include Aria, Penelope, Louis, and Nathaniel.
But here’s the good news: often after a huge boost in the charts, a name will settle down and continue rising at a steadier pace, or even stabilise. Names such as Harper, Flynn, Ivy, and Sienna have had a big jump in previous years, but are now just comfortably trundling along.
… only to come down just as rapidly …
This really is a classic sign of a trendy name – it not only goes up the charts steeply, it comes down again at a similar rate, so that its progress through the charts has a cone shape; the skinnier the cone, the less years it was popular, and the more spectacular has been the name’s rise and fall. Kylie‘s cone, for example, looks quite thin.
The trouble is that this isn’t very helpful for predicting whether a particular name will be trendy. It’s strictly a post mortem technique, so by the time you realise you chose a trendy name, it’s too late – your child is thirty six years old and nobody cares anyway.
Some people fear that any name going up steeply in popularity is sure to come down steeply as well, but this isn’t necessarily the case. For example, imagine you chose the name Jennifer for your daughter in the 1930s. It jumped straight into the Top 100 from nowhere, which seems very alarming, but it remained in the Top 100 for seven more decades. Your little Jenny would have collected her old age pension before her name stopped being popular, and even today Jennifer is only around the 200-300s and fairly stable. It never fell as dramatically as it rose.
For this reason, it seems a bit silly to avoid a name that’s trending upwards. If anything, the message seems to be to jump on a trend as early as possible, because it’s cooler to be a Jennifer born in 1935 than one born in 2000, even though the popularity was around the same in those two years.
… and has reached a certain level of popularity
Even though trendiness and popularity are not the same thing, it’s only once a name becomes reasonably popular that most people start to call it trendy, even if it’s been zooming up the charts for several years. It needs to be used by enough people that it can have those impressive rises in rank, as well as enough visibility to be considered trendy.
So Melva might have a steep rise and descent, but as it never reached the Top 100, it doesn’t get mentioned as a past trendy name. Persistently low usage does help protect a name against a charge of trendiness from most people (not all).
New to the charts
I know many will disagree with this one, but I believe that no matter how rapidly a name is rising, it’s not trendy if it has previously been on the charts. Otherwise you get comments like “Leo is both classic and trendy“. Which is absurd when you think about it – like describing someone as an extremely tiny giant, or a colour as a very pale shade of black – because classic and trendy are opposing terms. I would say Leo is a rising contemporary classic, not a trendy classic.
Names that have been on the charts previously and disappeared before returning again are retro names. No matter how much Nathaniel may be zooming up the charts at present, I don’t consider it to be trendy, as it already has a history as a traditional name.
Inspired or boosted by popular culture
Any name that has suddenly got a boost in the charts (or even just in the public consciousness) due to a popular song, movie, TV show, celebrity, or celebrity baby is liable to be labelled “trendy”, whether it’s Elsa, Khaleesi, Penelope, Jagger, George, or Banjo.
I think that’s very unfair, because if you look through the history of naming, people have always named their children after the celebrities and culture of their day. By this standard, familiar names such as William, Eleanor, Alexander, Cordelia, Stanley, Fiona, Eric, and Rosamund have all been “trendy”. In fact, you could include all the Bible names and saints’ names in that group as well, since saints were the celebrities of the Middle Ages, and the Bible everyone’s favourite book.
Fitting in with one or more name trends
Another thing that can get a name labelled trendy, even if it’s in rare use, is if it fits in with current naming trends, especially with multiple trends. So you might claim that Liliana is a trendy name, because it fits in with the trend for L-L names for girls, like Lila, and with the trend for elaborate names for girls, like Isabella.
The trouble is that by this logic, practically every name being used today could be labelled as “trendy” – it’s very difficult to avoid ALL name trends.
This article mentions some of the current baby name trends in Australia: patriotic names, surnames as first names, place names as first names, nicknames as first names, and biblical names. Remove all those, and the choices dwindle significantly. And this isn’t even touching on mythological names, vintage names, unisex names, rare names, uniquely spelled names, literary names, virtue names, nature names, vocabulary names, and boys’ names ending with N.
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There you have it: six things might get your baby name labelled trendy. And the more categories it fits into, the more likely that it will seem trendy to somebody. So the current most “trendy” name in the Top 100 is Aria – it’s climbing fast, quite popular, new to the charts, inspired by popular culture, and fitting in with current trends, such as the AR sound in names.
Of course, in the 1970s there was a name which rocketed into the Top 100 from nowhere, had never been on the charts before, with use boosted by a popular singer, and whose sound fit in with other popular girls’ names such as Emily and Felicity. That name was Olivia, and although it may have been trendy in 1978, it isn’t any more. Aria could become equally as established, or even a modern classic, so there’s no guarantee that a trendy name will stay trendy.
The big question is: what exactly is so terrible about a trendy baby name anyway? We’re always being told to avoid trendy baby names, and rarely are we given a reason. It’s just taken for granted that of course you don’t want to give your child a trendy name, in the same way that of course you don’t want them to put their hand on a hot stove.
About the only thing I can come up is that trendy names tend to become dated, except that a) sometimes they don’t eg William and b) most names date eventually anyway, even classics eg Susan.
And even if your name doesn’t become dated, it isn’t going to make your life especially wonderful. I have a non-trendy classic name which is still reasonably popular, and not only has it failed to provide me with a magically charmed life where nothing ever went wrong, its impact has been minimal at best. Meanwhile, my peers with the trendy names of our generation, such as Jodi and Jason, don’t seem to have had their lives ruined by their names.
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So there you have it – trendy names are something to be avoided, even though there’s no compelling evidence they’re particularly awful, or that a trendy name will remain trendy; there’s not even any real proof that trendy names actually exist as an objective phenomenon. And the criteria as to what is trendy is so broad that almost any name you can think of can be labelled as such.
Perhaps it’s time to put this baby name bogeyman behind us.
The things that most people thought made a name trendy were:
* destined to fall as quickly as it rose – 23%
* rapidly rising in popularity – 13%
* boosted by popular culture – 12%
26% of people thought a name had to fulfil at least two or more of the stated requirements before being considered trendy, while 7% thought that it had to fulfil all six of the requirements to be a trendy name.
Just 1% of people thought that being new to the charts made a name trendy.
2% of people did not think there was any such thing as a “trendy” name.
(Popularity charts from Baby Names Explorer)