Posted: Jul 11, 2014 11:15 AM
Nameberry's "popular baby name list" is causing parents to celebrate or get bummed out if their kiddos' names appear (or don't appear) on it. But really, the list doesn't indicate what baby names are being used.
Photo credit: Elena Litsova Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Every year, Nameberry releases a "popular baby names so far this year" list. And every year, parents scan the names, agonizing if their kids' monikers appear on it. But here's the thing — this is not a list of what parents are actually naming their kiddos. It simply represents the most commonly searched-for and clicked-upon baby names on their site for the first half of the year. While it does crunch numbers, this in no way really indicates how popular a given name is.

The "top" names

Topping the Nameberry list are the uncommon names of Imogen and Asher. However, when you plug Imogen into the Social Security Administration's (SSA) baby name database (that keeps track of names parents actually give their babies), you get the following message: "Imogen is not in the top 1000 names for any year of birth in the last 134 years." And Asher is rising in popularity, but it has yet to break the top 100 (it was 104 in 2013).

Rounding out the top 10 for girls are: Charlotte, Isla, Cora, Penelope, Violet, Amelia, Eleanor, Harper and Claire. The rest of the top 10 for boys are: Declan, Atticus, Finn, Oliver, Henry, Silas, Jasper, Milo and Jude.

So really, instead of reading this as a "totally popular OMG your baby will have the same name as dozens of his classmates" list, the list as a whole looks like a really attractive selection of names, some of which are on the classic and uncommon side.

And we can examine the list a bit further — you might notice that, for example, James appears on the girl side at 96. Is this because parents are really interested in naming their daughters James, or does it represent simple clicks of curiosity because it's identified as a unisex name and comes up in both blue and pink in the search results?

Baby names and popularity

What is it about baby names anyway? There are so many ways to name a baby, from naming after someone to finding a name that has the perfect cadence to simply making up a name. Parents who choose what are deemed to be really "out there" names are slammed like crazy, but for those of us who grew up in the '80s and the '90s, there is a strong desire to name your kid something that all the other parents are not using.

So the drive to find a unique baby name that isn't totally nuts is definitely there, and with the internet being such a part of our lives, the world seems much smaller than it really is. If your online friend names her baby Lila, for example, then you might mentally strike that name off your list — even if she lives across the globe from you.

And here's the thing. When I was a kid, solidly in the '80s, there were tons of Jennifers and tons of Michelles in my classes and really, throughout the whole school. Those names were super popular, and really, at the time, the bank of names that parents drew from was much smaller than it is now. So there were literally more babies that bore those names. On the other hand, the top names for modern babies are bestowed upon far fewer kids than their counterparts were 30 and 40 years ago.

What does this mean for moms and babies?

So let's be real. The fact that my fourth child's name appears on the Nameberry list at 84 doesn't faze me any more than the fact that her name appears on the 2013 SSA list at 155. The SSA list is way more of an indication to me that her name is rising in popularity (the first year it appears in the top 1,000 is 1998 and it's gone up, with a few dives, slowly every year since).

Do I care? I really, really don't. I always wanted cool names for my kids, and my first baby's name is similar to Imogen — it doesn't appear in the top 1,000 ever. But my other three kids have names that are more popular, with one actually appearing in the top 100 every year since 1978. And guess what? Each child's name totally suits him or her, and the choices seem perfect to me.

Looking for a unique name is fine, but finding that your baby's name does or doesn't appear on Nameberry's list really doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. The top names of 2014, when it's released by the SSA next May, will likely look completely different than Nameberry's top 100 baby names for both sexes. Don't freak out yet, moms. It's just website clicks.

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