Over the years, it seems that names in YA books have devolved into strangeness. There is almost always a moment where I have to stop and wonder, “How do you pronounce this?” Of course, baby names have been growing stranger and stranger in the real world as well.
First up: Let’s see how the character names from a few of my favorite books published in each decade match up against the most popular baby names.
My criteria for the books in each decade:
- published in that decade
- contemporary setting
- “embody” that decade or seem representative of the decade
- Elizabeth, Jessica, Todd, Lila, Bruce (Sweet Valley High series)
- Rachel, Stephanie, Alison (Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume)
- Lori, Lia (Stranger with my Face by Lois Duncan)
- Dicey, James, Sammy, Maybeth (Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt)
- Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Ann, Dawn (Baby-Sitters Club series)
Top Boy Names of the 80s: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, James, Daniel, Robert, John, Joseph
Top Girl Names of the 80s: Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah, Stephanie, Melissa, Nicole, Elizabeth, Heather
With the exception of Homecoming, I feel like the names here are pretty normal and fit with the top names, despite having only a handful of matches. For example, Rachel and Lauren (Lori being a variation) are close to the top 10 for girls, and there are some other names that just scream EIGHTIES to me (like Stacey). Many of the other names probably didn’t make a top list because of the many variations: names like Kristy and Sammy are nicknames and there are many ways to spell the original names.
Strangest name(s) from this batch: Dicey. It doesn’t appear to be short for anything.
- Elena, Stefan, Damon, Caroline, Bonnie, Tyler (Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith)
- Joanna, Penn, Laurie, Tessa, Stephen, Casey (The Secret Diaries trilogy by Janice Harrell)
- Michael, Jessica, Alice, Sara, Clair, Bill, Russ, Nick (Final Friends trilogy by Christopher Pike)
- Bobbi, Corky, Jennifer, Julia, Kimmy, Debra, Ronnie, Chip (Cheerleaders series by R.L. Stine)
- Charlie, Samantha, Patrick (The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky)
- Melinda, Rachel, Heather, Andy, Ivy (Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson)
Top Boy Names of the 90s: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Jacob, Nicholas, Andrew, Daniel, Tyler, Joseph
Top Girl Names of the 90s: Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Sarah, Samantha, Amanda, Brittany, Elizabeth, Taylor, Megan
There are a lot more matches in this batch, and still most of them fit. Jennifer was an extremely popular name in the 80s and 90s
Strangest name(s) from this batch: Penn and Corky. I have to say, I loved the name Penn when I read those books and thought it was soooo sexy. Unusual for a guy’s name, but definitely masculine and classy. Corky, on the other hand, is just an unfortunate name for a girl, but apparently her mother didn’t have very good taste, given that her sister’s name is Bobbi. Blech.
- Isabella, Jacob, Edward, Jasper, Alice (Twilight series)
- Carmen, Lena, Tabitha “Tibby”, Bridget, Krista, Bailey, Tucker (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series)
- Miles, Alaska, Chip, Takumi, Lara (Looking for Alaska by John Green)
- Grace, Sam, Isabel, Cole, Beck, Hannah, Olivia, Shelby, Paul (Wolves of Mercy Falls series)
Top Boy Names of the 00s: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Daniel, Christopher, Andrew, Ethan, Joseph, William
Top Girl Names of the 00s: Emily, Madison, Emma, Olivia, Hannah, Abigail, Isabella, Samantha, Elizabeth, Ashley
Very interesting that Jacob & Isabella made their way onto the top baby names lists… and Edward didn’t (you could take into account that his name is actually historical). While the boys top names list remains virtually unchanged, from the previous decade, the girls list has quite a few new additions.
Finding representative books from this decade was difficult, because this was the decade the YA Lit basically blew up, largely due to Twilight. I tried to pick a few books that were really outstanding and also fit my criteria. Until I remembered Shiver/Linger/Forever I thought I was going to be stuck on Jacob & Isabella. This series uses several of the trendy new baby names, including Isabella. I think Cole is fairly representative of this decade (my sister named her son that, with different spelling). Bailey and Tucker also feel very much of this decade.
It seems like this is the decade where YA names start getting a little odd. And though you could certainly discredit my previous selections for not being diverse, this group has several diverse names.
Strangest name(s) from this batch: Alaska, although the idea of naming your kid based on where he/she was conceived is not necessarily that unusual.
- Blue, Adam, Richard “Gansey” (his last name), Ronan, Noah, Declan (Raven Boys series)
- Clarissa “Clary”, Simon, Jace, Sebastian, Alexander “Alec”, Isabelle, Maia, Jordan (Mortal Instruments series)
- Mara, Noah, Jude, Jamie, Daniel, Joseph (Mara Dyer trilogy)
Top Boy Names: Aiden, Jackson, Mason, Liam, Jacob, Ethan, Lucas, Noah, Jayden, Jack, Logan
Top Girl Names: Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Ava, Mia, Lily, Zoe, Emily, Chloe, Madison, Abigail
I decided that Maia was close enough to Mia. And I suppose the Mortal Instruments series straddles this decade and the last, so the name Isabella could be a hanger-on, but if I rule those two out, I’m not sure about why only the name that matches up is Noah. The trend seems to be moving toward unusual names – both in fiction and in real life.
Strangest name(s) from this batch: Blue. Although this name is normal compared to her family: Persephone, Calla, Orla, Artemus. No wonder she lets Gansey call her “Jane.”
I will continue to explore the strange world of YA character names in the future…. stay tuned!