From ‘Alma’ to ‘Zuri,’ Parents Are Looking for Positive Baby Names

The coronavirus pandemic, stretching into another year, has left few corners of everyday life untouched. For the most recent crop of new parents, the pandemic has been the backdrop of their entire birth process — for some, it’s even changed how they chose the names of their babies.

Sierra Armstrong, who works in the service industry in New Orleans, said that she and her partner have named their newborn daughter Kamryn.

The Scottish root of the name, originally spelled Cameron, “means ‘crooked nose,’” Armstrong said. “But I saw somewhere that in the U.S., it means ‘a gift from God,’ and I loved that.”

The virus nudged the name to the top of her list. “Because life is a gift,” she said. “The whole world is in flux, and I’m glad I’m healthy and whole and, so far, haven’t gotten Covid. When you are able to get up each day, and continue on, that’s a gift itself.”

Baby-naming experts are reporting decided shifts in the name selection process.

Pamela Redmond, chief executive of the baby-naming website Nameberry, reported a jump in name searches on the site during the pandemic. There were about 4 million more page views during the nine-month period after the start of the pandemic in March, compared with the nine-month period before it began.

Redmond found that names derived from optimistic meanings — like hope, light and happiness — have been “trending upwards since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “Parents are attracted to these positive meanings right now, reflecting the optimism a new baby brings to your life, even when times are dark.”

Views of the name Zora, for example, which means “dawn” and suggests new beginnings, are up 40 percent, Redmond said; while Alma (“soul” in Spanish) is up 37 percent. Lucius, which connotes “light,” is up 24 percent. Other risers include Vivienne (from the Latin root Vivus, meaning “alive” or “lively”), Aurora (Roman goddess of the sunrise), Felix (“happy”), Frida (“peaceful”) and Zuri (“good” in Swahili).

Place names such as Cairo and Milan are also on the rise, Redmond said, perhaps reflecting a longing to travel during lockdown.

The Social Security Administration’s most current list of the country’s top 1,000 baby names dates from 2019, so we have yet to see how these searches translate into baby naming en masse. But the experts I spoke to agreed that new parents are searching for names that represent optimism and strength.

Jennifer Moss, founder and chief executive of and co-host of “The Baby Names Podcast,” is seeing “a huge influx of gods and goddess names — Persephone, Adonis, Achilles, Athena. These are just jumping on the charts, and they’ve never been there before.” The name Anahita, the ancient Iranian goddess of fertility, is similarly gaining, Redmond added.

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With mythological names, Moss suggested, “people want to instill strength in their children, because we’re all feeling scared and powerless right now over this virus we can’t control. How better to arm your child for the uncertain future than to give them the name of a god or goddess who has power over the universe?”

Biblical names, which had been dropping off Moss’s charts in past years in favor of more creative monikers, have also surged. “For comfort in hard times, people turn to faith,” she said. “We’re seeing Gabriel, Elijah, Esther, Lilith and even Naomi, which hasn’t trended in a long time.”

Some parents-to-be have been so distracted by the pandemic that they’ve skipped the deliberation and quickly picked a name. Amanda Austin of Erie, Pa., owner of an e-commerce store specializing in dollhouse miniatures, came up with her daughter’s name on a whim. “It was in March, when the whole world was shutting down,” she said. “Covid terrified me. My husband and his dad own a construction company and Pennsylvania had banned construction work.”

The name “Annette” popped suddenly into her mind. “I shared it with my husband and he loved it,” Austin said. “His reaction is a far cry from my other daughter’s naming process, where we went back and forth for months. I think we had so much going on with the pandemic that we didn’t have the mental bandwidth to dig deeper.” The name also reminded the couple of the 1950s, a “less complicated” time.

Baby names are “like a mirror; they reflect what’s happening in culture,” said Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.” “Given the current mood, I wouldn’t be surprised if traditional names get a bump.”

Family names, such as those of grandparents, have long been popular. But SJ Strum, a baby name expert in the United Kingdom, is seeing more people name their babies after living relatives like a sister or parent: “I hear, ‘I’ve missed my family so much that even though my mum’s name is not one I’ve considered before, I’m thinking of it now.’”

Abbie and Julia Ensign, YouTube personalities from Lindon, Utah, said that they will be giving their baby boy, who is due Jan. 23, two middle names: one for each of two yet-to-be-revealed family members. “Julia has been doing family history in her pandemic free time and chose a name that will link him to one of the great Ensigns in my wife’s family tree, while his other middle name comes from one of my family members,” Abbie said.

Choosing a child’s name can be a nerve-racking endeavor, no matter the cultural climate. When I was pregnant, my husband and I spent months compiling lists. Those would be winnowed down as family members would helpfully point out, once offered a candidate, that they knew a person with that name who had acute halitosis or a lifelong gambling problem and subsequent ruination.

For my daughter, I wanted a name that was unusual, but not as unusual as mine — a version of J.C., my father’s name.

After much deliberation, we settled on Sylvie for our daughter (French, from the Latin “of the forest”).

No matter how much research you put into a name, your child’s life experiences are largely out of your control. At the moment, certain baby names have fallen decidedly out of fashion since the pandemic began. As you might imagine, anything that sounds like “Covid” is facing tough headwinds; Redmond noted that “Cove,” for example, has been dropping on Nameberry’s charts.

Similarly, parents are currently avoiding the name “Lachlan,” Strum said, “because it sounds too much like ‘lockdown.’”

“Donald” is also sinking, Moss added. “Near 2000, it was number 217, and it’s not on our charts in 2020 — and we do the top 1,000 names.”

And for the time being, we can probably forget “Corona.” “Very pretty, Latin for ‘crown,’” Moss said. “Not happening.”

Jancee Dunn is the author of “How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids.”

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