Baby names

Lainey Gossip's baby-name guru tells all

Duana Taha dishes on baby names, from the biggest trends to the most overdone name of all.

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Photo: Courtesy of Duana Taha

Naming a baby can be stressful. Expectant parents torn between Hazel or Annabelle, and Wyatt or William are increasingly turning to Duana Taha, a self-described “name nerd” and advice columnist for Lainey Gossip, the popular celebrity and lifestyle website. Since launching her “Duana Names” column last year, the Toronto screenwriter has used her signature mix of no nonsense and charm — plus a deep knowledge of historical and contemporary trends — to explain why you should probably rethink Brayden, or why Kale is actually cool (provided you don’t already have a daughter named Plum). These days Taha, who fields about 25 queries per week, now has a naming project of her own: She’s expecting her first child.

Taha recently spoke to Today’s Parent about her ‘Supreme Court Justice Test’ for names, why girls called Ella rule, and how Hugo is the super-stealth next big thing in boy names.

What are the biggest baby name trends you’re seeing right now?

For girls, it’s a lot of people trying to figure out how to do Ella, without doing Ella. Everybody thinks that they’re done and they’re over it because it’s so 2005, but what they do now is try to get around it. So, from Bella and Isabella then comes Elle, which then begets other names with Elle in it, or similar sounds in a new way, like Evelyn or Emma. And then the A’s, going slightly away from the Avas — what’s replacing them is the Adelaides and Adelines, and that sort of thing. And also just old-fashioned names that people feel can be resuscitated.

Read more: 100 years of popular baby name choices>

What about for boys?

For boys, it’s still very much the Celtic thing, and the pretend-Celtic thing. Aiden obviously went massive and got kind of bastardized in the process with the Jayden, Cayden, and Brayden names. But the next ones coming up are Declan, and Eamon, and Ronan. There’s something about those names that really speaks to people in terms of feeling fresh and new. But by and large, people are more conservative with their sons’ names. It probably has to do with ideas of masculinity and ideas of continuing family lines, and that kind of thing. There are a lot of Jr.’s.

I love your ‘Supreme Court Justice Test’ for girls — it ensures a name is smart and speaks to something more profound. Do enough people consider whether their daughter will be taken seriously with their chosen name as an adult?

No, absolutely not. I think they think of grown-up names for their sons more often than they think of grown-up names for their daughter. I get a lot of flack for it, but there are a lot of sweet, really lovely little girl names that don’t necessarily grow up well. Ruby was super popular a few years ago, and it’s possible that Ruby can be a doctor or a lawyer, but all you think about is her being rockabilly — a sweet, southern gal with a love for guitar.

Read more: Baby name trend — British inspiration>

What’s the biggest cardinal sin of baby naming? 

Definitely what we’ve been talking about: not considering the grown up who’s going to wear that name. And not considering — and this is mostly a girl one — what will happen if the name doesn’t fit when the child is older. For example, it might be hard to be a super awkward teen if your name is Grace. Or Arabella, or something that sounds like a ballerina, and you wind up being, say, a hockey player. Another one is not stretching far enough with boy names. I think that there are lots of people who think about it and then default to Charlie or Jack, which are great names, but we have enough of them. The world will survive without another James.

On the flip side, what’s your best advice for picking a great one?

Shut out as much outside influence as humanly possible. That’s not just parents and moms and dads. Shut out the need to be cool by choosing a name from To Kill a Mockingbird. First and foremost, you’re going to say this name probably more than anything else, including your spouse’s name. You have to like how it sounds. And I do know that for some people that brings them back to Sophia. And if we didn’t talk about Sophia already, that is the most overdone name of the overdones.

Read more: Top 10 unisex baby names>

Sibling sets are a tough one that you deal with often.

One of the things that bothers me is when people name siblings really differently. They have one name that’s square and solid and short, and the next one has four syllables and is out of nowhere. The Afflecks, for example: The naming is just all over the place. Violet is fine, and very much of its time, Seraphina is a saint and really rare, and out of nowhere, and then Sam is sort of short and as uber-masculine as it comes, and super popular.

So, where do you do your research?

You’d be surprised at how many pockets of name nerds there are. There are a lot of blogs and a lot of people keeping track of what the popular names are in their country or region, or posting on message boards. But in terms of trends and popularity, it’s shockingly easy to find. People often don’t realize the popularity of a name, because they don’t talk to their neighbours about their choices. I guess it’s more common to keep name choices secret than it used to be, but the number of people who consider Evelyn or Isla and think that they are the only ones thinking it… it’s quickly abated if you look online.

Read more: Baby names — how old-timey is too old timey?>

You have a unique and interesting name. How has that informed your opinion about names?

I probably give uniqueness too much significance — I think having a unique name provides mental fortitude, which is absolutely ridiculous, and probably not true at all. I do think kids today are growing up in an entirely different naming culture, where unusual names are no longer the bastion for mockery that they once were, partly because of multiculturalism, but also because people are a little more creative and exposed to more. You know, thank God for the Internet. I do think an unusual name is an extra little gift for a kid — a name that can be more or less her own, and that they’re not going to run into six times at swimming lessons and ballet.

Between you and your husband, what’s your biggest sticking point for picking a baby name? 

How common a name is. My husband’s name is Michael, which was No. 1 most popular name for something like 35 years. So it’s mostly about whether having a name that somebody’s heard before is a help or a hindrance. For example, just in passing, I said: What about Silas? He says: “Silas is a cartoon villain.” This is a 35 year-old man in 2013. And then there’s not veering too far into a hipster zone, or something that’s trying too hard, or pretentious.

Are you going to reveal your baby’s name to your readers?

Eventually. I like remaining a bit neutral about it, because then, of course, I can continue to critique with impunity. But yeah, I hope to be proud of the name we choose, so I hope that I will be happy to reveal it.

You don’t feel any pressure?

Oh, I feel enormous pressure, I’m not going to lie.