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Baby Names: Why Cool is Hot

Frank Heckers

"My wife and I thought we were on to something original in naming our son Jaden," says Dan Dement of his 6-month-old. "But now we find out that Will Smith, Andre Agassi, and Britney Spears have sons named Jaden, and we fear that lots more are on the way." (The Carlsbad, California, dad has got that right: 12,871 little fellows named Jaden and Jayden—Spears's choice—will turn 2 this year, not counting the Jaidens and Jadons.)

Names and baby-naming fashions are changing much more quickly today than ever before. Jayden, for instance, first entered the Top 1000 just 13 years ago and has already catapulted to number 54; Jaden's at 88. Ethan has leaped up to number 5 in the same time period. And Nevaeh (heaven backwards) jumped all the way to number 70 in a mere five years. Contrast this with newcomers of the past, Jennifer and Karen, which took three decades to move up a few hundred places.

Spelling variations, too, have become another way to give a name a tweak of originality. Example: Whereas 30 years ago there were no Kaylees in the Top 1000 girls' names, in 2005 eight different spellings of it were given to around 11,000 little girls (Kaylee, Kayleigh, Kayli, etc.).

Stars have tremendous power to confer cool on a name, either by infusing it with their own glamorous image or by choosing it for their child. Reese Witherspoon, for instance, has inspired thousands of little Reeses, and by picking Ava for her own daughter has likely helped push that name up the popularity list. And celebrities like Demi Moore (with daughters Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah) and director Robert Rodriguez (with sons Racer, Rebel, Rocket, and Rogue) have elevated the art of cool baby-naming to new heights.

As greater numbers of kids get unusual names, more types of distinctiveness become typical, and the stakes are raised. Thus we get girls named Seymour, boys named Romy, and children of either sex named anything from Peyton to Jordan to Justice. Ethnic distinctiveness is another earmark of this trend, with names from outside the typical American/European list becoming almost the norm, whether it's the Irish Tristan or the African Ajani—and whether or not the family is of that culture.

"My husband is of Iranian descent, and I chose my son's name because it means 'universe' in Farsi," says Odette Faghani, the Santa Clara, California, mom of Kayvan, 2. "I did like the cool factor, too, and since most people don't know the origins of the name, it's always a good conversation starter."