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What’s In a Name?

Sure, the names you like speak volumes about your hopes and dreams for your child, but they also say a lot about you: your tastes and values, your need to belong or sense of adventure. Here, the secret messages you telegraph with your baby's name:

Stylish Names

Girls: Ava, Hallie, Madeline, Olivia, Savannah

Boys: Hayden, Jack, Lucas, Max, Owen

Although you have a horror of choosing a too-trendy name for your child, you don't want to veer too far afield either, preferring names that have some edge but are attractive and in tune with the times. This is a line many of us try to walk, not only with baby names but in our clothes and our homes, what we do for fun, even how we earn our living. The danger comes with finding out that—oops!—everybody else had the same idea you had. And the choice you thought was distinctive is in fact as ubiquitous as last year's Gap fashions. (To avoid this, check the list fastest-rising names.)

Popular Names

Girls: Abigail, Alexis, Brooklyn, Isabella, Madison

Boys: Aidan, Ethan, Jacob, Joshua, Tyler

If you're a fan of today's most popular names, you're probably someone who likes to be current and to fit in with the crowd. Maybe you have a popular name yourself and appreciate how comfortable it helped you feel in childhood among your classmates and friends. Or perhaps you grew up with an unusual or ethnic name and want to make life easier for your child. This is not to say that you don't prize individuality, just that it's a quality you see as being more than skin (or name) deep.

Quirky and unusual names

Quirky Names

Girls: Daisy, Josephine, Lola, Ruby, Sadie

Boys: Homer, Hugo, Jasper, Nigel, Oscar

If you love offbeat names—not unique or invented or foreign choices, but traditional names that are nevertheless unusual (think of Julia Roberts's twins, Hazel and Phinnaeus)—you prefer not going along with the crowd. You may be creative in many ways, from how you dress to the food you eat to what you do for a living, and have a breadth of knowledge about things like books and music and art. You're comfortable being different in ways that other people might consider strange or unappealing. But you prize beauty and have the capacity to find it in places where others don't even think to look.

Unusual Names

Girls: Azaia, Kianna, Normandie, Ondrea

Boys: Craedyn, Koden, Krisp, Osten, Zyler

You're the ultra-inventive sort who's never content to pluck something off the shelf when you can make a better one yourself. So if you choose a traditional name, you make it your own by starting it with a different letter or adding an extra syllable at the end. Or you invent an entirely new name. Individuality is more important to you than family or ethnic identity, and you want to be defined on your own terms. If other people have to work harder to get to know you, so much the better.

Classic and gender-bending names

Classic Names

Girls: Anna, Elizabeth, Katherine, Laura, Sarah

Boys: Andrew, Henry, James, Matthew, William

Liking trend-proof names means you probably value things that last: an antique chaise over a beanbag chair, a leather suitcase rather than a nylon duffle, real gold jewelry instead of fun baubles. You're likely investigating college investments along with pricing strollers and nursery furniture—thinking of the next 18 years of parenthood rather than just making it through childbirth. You may be from a tight-knit established family, or at least long for the kind of clan that passes names down through the generations. While you're enjoying every moment of pregnancy, you keep one eye on the past...and one on the future.

Gender-Bending Names

Girls/Boys: Cameron, Harley, Jordan, Peyton, Scout

Ambisexual names have been popular in recent years for a couple of reasons. They blur gender distinctions many parents see as outmoded, theoretically giving girls a competitive edge in school and at work and softening the macho image of boys. Many of them also suggest a kind of Waspy old-money sensibility, making it sound as if your child is carrying on an ancient family name (even if you just picked it because you thought it was cool). Surname-names also open up a whole new way to honor family members—grandma's maiden name is now fair game along with her first name—as well as people you admire from politics or the arts.

Old-fashioned, ethnic, and non-names

Old-Fashioned Names

Girls: Eleanor, Emma, Grace, Rose, Sophia

Boys: Gus, Isaiah, Nathaniel, Tobias, Zachariah

Many old-fashioned names are back in favor. Whether you choose a revived classic or a historic name that hasn't been rediscovered, you tend to be a gentle soul who loves traditional things. You may live in a historic house, wear classic clothes, and dream of vacationing in posh locales like Martha's Vineyard or London. Family and religion may be important to you, and you either have money or you would like to!

Ethnic Names

Girls: Annika, Francesca, Maeve, Natalya

Boys: Ajani, Claudio, Liam, Malik, Soren

If you favor an ethnic name that honors your family and your ancestry, it's obvious that you're proud of your heritage and want to trumpet it to the world. Or maybe you're attracted to names reminiscent of a place you love. The meaning of that is pretty straightforward, too: a desire to symbolize something important to you. But if you love names with an ethnic derivation that's not your own, from a place you've never been and may not even care to visit, the message is more complicated. You may aspire to a background or a life more exotic than yours. Or you could be looking to inject some complexity and spice into your life. As long as you're not seeking to deny who you are, a name is a safe and fun way to be adventurous.


Girls/Boys: Blue, Gardener, London, Plum, Racer

Almost any word can be a name today, and by looking for a name for your child on a map or in the dictionary, you qualify as a true iconoclast. Instead of scoffing when Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple, you took a tour of your own kitchen in search of inspiration. You want a name with real personal meaning, and you're willing to stretch the conventional boundaries to find it. You undoubtedly push hard in other ways, too, insisting that your job, your relationships, and your inner life be all they can be, even if that means taking risks and breaking some rules.


Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz are the best-selling authors of eight baby-naming books, including Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana and Cool Names for Babies.