Guesses for the top boys and girls names are repeats Noah, Liam, Olivia and Emma. But gender-neutral names are also rising.
The more things change, the more names stay the same.
While the Social Security Administration won’t drop its official list of the most popular baby names until this summer, Names.org took a crack at predicting the top infant names based on its own visitor search data and previous Social Security trends. And the site suggests that Noah and Liam will remain the top two boys’ names for the fifth year in a row, while Olivia and Emma will swap first and second place, but still remain the favorite girls’ names for the fourth year in a row. Ava would remain the third most popular girls’ name for the second year in a row, while Benjamin could jump into third place for the boys after sitting in sixth last year.
Names.org also thinks newcomers Sophia/Sofia, Ella/Ellie and Zoey/Zoë will jump into the top 10 list for girls, while Jackson/Jaxon, Grayson/Greyson and Aiden/Ayden will join the boys. Here is the full list of predictions.
But there’s also been a rash of gender-neutral baby names such as Royal, Charlie, Salem, Skyler, Justice and Oakley popping up in more playgroups, according to the Social Security Administration.
“There’s no question there are more names without a gender association,” Laura Wattenberg, author of the Baby Name Wizard, tells Moneyish. “There’s a total revolution in American naming; everybody is pushing to be more and more creative, and that means creating more names by turning words and places into names.”
Though gender-neutral names first saw an uptick in the 60s for the sense of gender neutrality, by the 80s, people wanted their daughters to have names that didn’t give away their gender, or that gave them a leg up in business. Pamela Redmond Satran, co-founder of Nameberry, tells Moneyish that, “Surnames that sounded business-appropriate like Parker, Carter, Morgan and Jordan became popular, but the thinking today has evolved in a positive way, which is that boys and girls both benefit [from fluid names].” (Redmond Satran also noted that names on her site with at least 10% of use from either sex are considered gender-neutral, so while the name Madison is considered neutral, it’s more commonly used for girls.)
And some darker monikers have also been drumming up a lot of interest. Take Kylo, as in the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” villain played by “Girls” star Adam Driver. Kylo’s popularity went into hyperdrive over the past couple of years since he appeared in “Jedi’s” predecessor “The Force Awakens,” jumping 1,467 spaces since that film’s December 2015 release date.
“The rise of Kylo is really fascinating, but it’s a case where this is not a straight villain name, but the name of an intriguing character played by a hot new actor, and also a new spin on a familiar name, Kyle, with a trendy ‘O’ ending,” says Redmond Satran. “If neither of these things had been true — if the character were just a mysterious figure in a black mask and his name was totally unfamiliar — you wouldn’t have seen this kind of interest in the name. You didn’t see babies named Darth or Vader, for instance.”
Then again, Wattenberg tells Moneyish that moms have been christening their kids after the demonic children from “The Omen” (Damien), “The Exorcist” (Regan) and “Pet Sematary” (Gage) for decades.
“There’s a sort of elegant darkness in these names that the screenwriters chose that just appealed to parents,” she says.
And these turbulent times have seen names are getting even scarier. “Now you’re seeing Biblical names and words that had negative connotations, like Jezebel, Delilah, Judas and Leviathan, and even Lucifer on the strength of the television show ‘Lucifer,’ are on the rise. Parents are just as willing to do the devil as well as the saint today,” she adds.
Redmond Satran at Nameberry notes that violent-sounding baby names inspired by weapons and warriors are also climbing, with 1,500 boys being named Gunner in 2016, and Kali — the Hindu goddess of power and destruction — being at number 262 on the girls’ name list.
“You can’t discount the badass element, where parents choose the name because it’s attached to a scary aggressive character,” she says. “Or maybe because real life is violent and frightening, and we want to arm our children to cope with that.”
But parents may want to take a pregnant pause before giving their kid an evil or aggressive label for the rest of their lives, since research shows that names can influence how much you make and how likely you are to get hired. (This could also be why classic names are having a comeback of their own.)
A 2011 New York University study (subtitled “Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun”) found that people with names that were easier to pronounce and to spell often had better jobs. And a Marquette University study reported people with more common names are more likely to be hired than those with rare names – so the current crop of Emmas, Noahs and Liams are in luck.
There are also racial biases and socioeconomic prejudices at play, as a 2004 study found that white-sounding job candidates named Emily Walsh and Greg Baker got nearly 50% more callbacks than Lakisha Washington and Jamal Jones.
You also don’t want to make a kid’s name too long. Online job matching site TheLadders found that shorter names earned more money, with names five letters or less like Tom, Rob, Dale, Doug, Wayne, Lynn, Cathy and Dana among the richest. The data revealed each “extra” letter cost $3,600 apiece in annual salary.
This article was originally published on May 15, 2017 and has been updated.
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