Picking the right baby name can feel like an exercise in opposites: You want one that’s likable, but not ubiquitous—special, but not weird. Moniker maven Laura Wattenberg offers tips for striking a balance.
Eye Local Trends
If you want to ensure your kid isn’t one of five Ethans in his pre-K, look at what’s going on in your own backyard. “Fashion plays a bigger role in name selection than tradition these days, so regional and cultural differences show up more often than they used to,” Wattenberg says. Brynlee and its alternate spellings reign in Utah, she points out, but it’s rarely seen in other states. To find (and avoid) baby names that are already all the rage in your area, check out The Most Popular Baby Names by State.
While you can’t predict the future, identifying whether a trend is rising or falling can also help you sidestep names that are likely to skyrocket. “One thing we’ve seen recently is parents eliminating the first letter of a popular name to get a new name,” Wattenberg says. “For example, Madison becomes Addison. That’s a clue that both names are on an upswing.”
Flip the Script
Your family tree, literature and the natural world might all seem like obvious starting points for landing on a special name, but if you dig deeper, you’ll discover more unusual baby names that are steeped in significance.
Instead of drawing from a current best-seller—think of the recent onslaught of Twilight-inspired Bellas and Jacobs— scan religious texts and Shakespearean plays. Many of the Bard’s most intriguing heroes (Sebastian, Lorenzo) and heroines (Celia, Beatrice) don’t rank in the Top 50 hottest options. The same goes for biblical names like Ezra and Zachariah, which have classic roots but stand apart from more common choices like Noah and Leah.
And despite the abundance of celebrity babies with earthy names like Violet and Sparrow, plenty of lovely nature-inspired picks have yet to hit the big-time. Currently under the radar: Lark, Coral and Wren, all of which sound contemporary but familiar enough that no one will roll their eyes, according to Wattenberg.
Another strategy for avoiding a been-there, seen-that autograph: choose a name that doesn’t sound like an oft-used option. As Wattenberg explains, Braydon and Luke register at roughly the same level on the popularity Richter scale, but the latter feels more distinctive because it doesn’t echo other indemand titles, such as Brandon and Cayden. Also on the rise in recent years are names with long O and U sounds, such as Ruby and Theo, so think carefully before opting for these on-the-cusp selects if you want to stay ahead of the curve.
Laura Wattenberg is the creator of babynamewizard.com’s NameVoyager and NameMatchmaker tools, and the author of The Baby Name Wizard ($9, amazon.com).