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Laura Wattenberg Headshot

Magic Baby Naming Formula, Revealed!

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If baby naming is alchemy, I believe I've just brewed up a wee pot o' gold. I have a Magic Formula for finding appealing, fresh-sounding traditional names.

Yes, I'm totally serious. My bit of conjuring may not track down every single attractive name possibility, and it may be a bit quirkier with boys' names than girls. But it is a genuine formula for style, a purely quantitative recipe that yields classic names suited to contemporary tastes at all popularity levels.

That last item is what makes the Magic Formula special. It finds names that share an undeniable sense of style, whether they rank in today's top 20 or outside the top 1,000. And better yet, they're more likely than other names to stand the test of time.

I'll detail the alchemy below, but first see what you think of the results. Here is the list of names the formula yielded. (The only editing I've done is to cross off minor spelling variants of classic names.)


Camille        Elise     Ivory     Coral
Camilla     Claire     Amalia        Marianna
Elisa     Amelia     Naomi     Molly
Adelina     Juliet     Eve     Luisa
Elena     Charlotte       Leah     Caroline
Phoebe     Linnea     Leila     Daphne
Aurora     Lucia     Libby     Audrey


Lorenzo     Asa     Jefferson        Miller
Benton     Major     Max     Augustus
Reed     Emilio     Noel     Benjamin
Elliott     Oliver     Rocco     Israel
Simon     Miles     Raphael     Grady
Cyrus     Ivan     Alden     Dominick
Theo     Julian     Preston     Samuel
Prince     Brooks     Hugo     Rafael
Jasper     Abraham       Emanuel      
Emerson        Davis            


My Magic Formula screens for two attributes of name usage history: "timelessness" and "freshness." To qualify as timeless, a name must have been given to five or more babies in each year since 1900 and have a ratio of maximum to minimum usage (normalized to occurrences per million babies) ≤ 20. In other words, the usage history is long and steady. To qualify as fresh, the name's current popularity has to be a high percentage of its maximum (ratio of max/current ≤ 1.25). In other words, its heyday can't have already come and gone.

That's it. Simple, but remarkably powerful.

"How powerful?" you might ask. Do the names identified by this formula hold up over time? Does the timeless essence endure if a name becomes highly popular?

To find out I re-ran the formula, rolling back the clock to 40 years ago (1972 name data). Below on the left are the "Magic" names from that period that were also popular names, ranking in the top 100 for boys or girls. That makes them part of the sound of their times. Then, for comparison, I matched each of them with the name closest in popularity in '72. Take a look at the pair of lists:

Rebecca     Mary
Christine     Elizabeth
Maria     Stacy
Rachel     Stacey
Amanda     Leslie
Veronica     Diana
Victoria     Valerie
Sara     Laurie
Daniel     Eric
Anthony     Timothy
Andrew     Todd
Aaron     Gary
Jose     Adam
Benjamin     Brandon
Marcus     Jamie
Juan     Johnny
Joel     Phillip
Nathan     Brett
Carlos     Carl
Jesse     Jon
Antonio     Shannon

Do you agree that as a group, the control group names sound more tied to 40-year-olds than the Magic Formula names?

In fact, 18 of the 21 names chosen by the formula still rank in the top 200 today, and all are comfortably in the top 1,000. Meanwhile only 7 of the 21 control names still make today's top 200, and 4 have left the top 1,000 altogether.

This bodes well if you're considering one of the more popular names from the current Magic Formula list, such as Charlotte or Samuel. The magic of "timeless freshness" lingers, even as fashion marches on. How's that for baby name wizardry?