Popular names aren’t necessarily bad

While my personal taste runs to classical eccentric and classical unusual, I certainly don’t write off all popular or common names as bad. I personally probably wouldn’t use an extremely trendy name, unless I’d loved it for years before it became popular, but I have nothing against popular names as a whole.

Take the name Jennifer, the most common female name of my generation. I’ve always liked the name, and honestly can’t think of a single bad Jennifer I’ve ever known. Given its massive recent popularity and the fact that my taste in names is much different, I wouldn’t use it on a future daughter, but I certainly don’t think it’s a bad name at all.

I think the difference is in how established a name was before it began climbing the charts. A lot of the most popular female names of my generation, like Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda, Nicole, Melissa, Amy, Michelle, Danielle, Stephanie, and Megan, have existed for a lot longer than they’ve been Top 100 material.

Sometimes they were only used, or most commonly used, in a certain country. Some of them were in the Top 1000 but never hugely popular. Others existed but just weren’t common. So while it’s most likely those names belong to women born in the Seventies or Eighties, it wouldn’t be odd for me to meet an 80-year-old Amanda or a 50-year-old Nicole. Just so long as a writer doesn’t predate naming trends by having a 90-year-old Kimberly or a 20-year-old Kayden.

Many very popular names now are really good names, but there are only so many times one can hear the same name over and over again without groaning and thinking, “Not another [Top 10 name]!” A lot of the most popular girls’ names over the last decade are names that were written off as old lady not so long ago, like Ava, Emma, Sophia, Isabella, Hannah, and Olivia.

It’s not always so much about disliking a name, but about reaching a point of oversaturation. Names like Mary and John seem like a breath of fresh air these days, after a respectable period of slipping in visibility. It’s the same reason a lot of formerly old lady names are now making a comeback, since they were so underused for so many decades. Perhaps in another few decades, midcentury names like Barbara, Linda, Susan, and Nancy will seem fresh again.

And as someone whose real forename is the most common female name in history after only Mary, across most cultures, believe me, it’s really annoying to have a name more common than dirt. Whereas with an under the radar name like Justine, Felix, Wolfgang, Octavia, Bruno, or Fiammetta, you won’t have to worry about your child sharing his or her name with many other classmates and having to go by a last initial, a middle name, or a descriptor like “Athletic Katie,” “Bookworm Jack,” or “Sarah W. with an H who likes horses.”


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