Dear Duana,

I just recently found out that I’m pregnant, and am already excitedly combing through the list of favorite names I’ve been keeping for the last couple years! As someone with an unusual name (and I always liked being the only one with my name in my class or workplace), I would like my child to have a similarly uncommon name, as long as it isn’t too complicated to spell and pronounce. My husband, who has a rather common name, prefers more common names, but since our last name is the most common one in the US, I’d really rather not pick anything too popular!

To find names that we can both agree on, I’ve been using the NameVoyager website to check exactly how popular our favorite choices are. But I was wondering just what the numbers really mean in terms of how likely my child is to hear his or her name in the classroom, workplace, etc. For example, if a name was used for 300 per million births and was ranked around #250 last year, just how likely am I to hear that name on the playground? I know it’s much less popular than the top 100, but is it uncommon enough for my preference? And maybe there even names at the bottom of the top 100 that I would possibly seldom come across—I just don’t know!

Thanks for your help with this. And I’m guessing that I’ll be writing again in future months to get your opinion about some specific names! 


We’re away right now for work and one of the most hilarious things I’m running into is people’s tendency to say “thank you” when you say a thing they like. Not like “THANK you” all “finally”, but just a sincere “Thank you for making that point”. So can I just say to you, “thank you”.

The thing about popularity is that it’s totally true and also kind of a myth. The number one boy’s name in the USA is Noah – and I don’t know a single one. Do you?  The number 9 name is Jayden, and I mercifully don’t know any of those personally, either – mostly because people know I would scream in horror, I think. 

But I know two young Adelaides, and two Emmetts, and a bunch of Olivias and a whole host of single names that aren’t on the “super popular” list and that I’m not typing here because I still want their parents to be friends with me.

My point is that the popularity of names, while definitely a factor overall, is kind of entirely subjective based on where you live and what the kids who live there are called.

Here’s a creepy exercise – go hang out at a playground. Ideally borrow a child to do this with so you’re not arrested or starring in your own version of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Listen to what parents yell at their children. “Ethan, get off the slide!” “Annabel, is it nice? Is it nice when we hit our friends?”

First vow never to talk like that ever, and then do your analysis after. If all you hear around your town is Noah and Jacob, then chances are you could name your child Crispin without any worry of repeats. If all the little girls are Victoria and Elizabeth, full names, then naming your child Paloma is not going to be a conflict. But if you hear Braydens and Jaydens, then naming your son Mason is going to sound the same even if it’s totally different.  

Names are so regional in their popularity that you really need to think about where it’s coming from. Family name? Kind of failsafe, but if people where you live have similar backgrounds, that name could be on their radars too. Name you loved from literature? Fair enough, but know that everyone else where you are probably had the same curriculum for grade 11 English and first-year English lit so neither Harper nor Eloise is all that outlandish.

Does this help? Let me know. You kind of have to trust your gut, but also know that it’s almost impossible to replicate a perfectly isolated, nobody-has-it name. 

Oh! And one final thing: the 798th most popular names are “England” for a girl and “Brayden” for a boy. Don’t be a slave to the lists – they can be misleading.

Thank you!