Another 2018 epidemic is upon us, but this one doesn’t involve E. coli. According to GQ correspondent Drew Magary, we are in the midst of a full-blown outbreak of terrible baby names, the result of an infection that’s been gradually spreading for years. “The problem is only getting worse,” he warns. “If this pace keeps up, we WILL have a President Brayden within the next decade.” The names that Magary takes umbrage with are those uniquely spelled amalgams currently topping the fastest-growing baby names list—and they are squarely white people’s fault. Think extra consonants and mash-ups of other names, typified in a viral meme of a mommy blogger standing next to a chalkboard filled with the likes of Taylee, Mckarty, Nayvie, Maylee or Lakynn.
One look at the Social Security Administration’s list of names that have drastically increased in popularity over the past year reveals names that would look right at home on that chalkboard: Kairo, Ensley, Oaklynn, Kashton, Aaden, Emberly. While a 2016 poll found that one in five U.K. mothers regretted naming their child something common like Charlotte or Anne, I can only assume that any child named Paisleigh will grow up with a certain amount of resentment toward her parents.
Such names are theoretically chosen to stand out among the boring seas of Chrises and Bens and Sarahs; but according to a recent Quartz article, all they’re doing is finding new and inventive ways to conform.
Laura Wattenberg, an expert on naming trends and the mastermind behind babynamewizard.com, deduced that the real measure of uniformity was not in how many Makaighlee-Ann’s you end up graduating high school with, but how many people’s names end in the same letter. According to Wattenberg’s research, we live in a time where a full 35 percent of names can be expected to end with “n” and where small measures of difference are asserted through additional letters that ultimately don’t change the sound of the name. The fast-risers list is dominated by names ending in the “ee” sound, signified by spelling variations such as “-eigh,” "-ee,” or “y”: Everlee, Oaklee, Kynlee, and Emmie have all risen more than 200 spots in the past year. The ever-present “n” adjourns newly popular names like Jaxxon, Gatlin, and Kannon (I’m sensing a firearms theme), joined by another favored name of Wesson.
Wattenberg presciently summed up the impulse behind this trend in a 2008 blog post: “American parents love the idea of unusual names, but our tastes are still as much like our neighbors’ as ever. The inevitable result is hundreds of tiny variations on a theme. We carve out tiny niches of uniqueness—’that’s Jaidyn, not Jadyn’—and end up sounding more alike than ever.” While Quartz notes that the “n”-last-letter-names movement reached its peak in 2011 and seems to slowly be cooling off, I can only assume that Magary’s plea to “name your kids better, you buttholes” will go unheeded. Today’s parents seem driven toward finding new and unique ways to remain the same.