Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's in a Name: Lucy

I write a lot about baby names, and yet I've been remiss in explaining how we chose the name for our youngest — something I did more promptly with our two previous kids (here and here).

The first Lucy.

When you have three children, the third name is the one that unifies the "sib set," so you want something that makes it seem like you weren't just picking names out of a hat.

I feel like Lucy, Alice and Elliot inhabit the same aesthetic universe, even if there are subtle differences. Lucy and Alice are true century names, meaning they peaked in popularity more than 100 years ago.That's not the case with Elliot. While there are a lot of old/dead people named Elliot (composer Elliott Carter just passed away at 103), its use is actually at a record high now.

All three names are significantly more common in the U.K. than the U.S., and each has a prominent syllable beginning with L. Lucy also seems like the perfect name for the youngest daughter in a brood, but maybe I suffered from Narnia imprinting as a child. One more unifying factor: All our children have a total of seven syllables in their names (including middle and last).

But as my wife frequently points out, no one is going to care about the "sib set" later in life. As an adult, I rarely introduce myself to people and then promptly tell them my brothers' names (to demonstrate how well we all match).

Lucy has to be able to stand alone. One challenge is it sounds to some people like a nickname. Ironically, Lucy is the original name (Lucy of Bolingbroke was tearing up the English countryside in the 1000s) — it's the longer variants such as Lucille and Lucinda that are actually the diminutives. But I've discussed before how Americans prefer to class up names by using long-form versions.

No one would ever consider Mary a nickname, and Lucy should be regarded the same way. Still, we've had concerns that the name might hamper our Lucy if she wanted to be a senator or Supreme Court justice. They have names like Sandra, Ruth, Sonia and Elena.

But who knows what the public's perception of Lucy will be in 50 years? I do know there are suddenly quite a lot of them under the age of 5. (There are two at Elliot's preschool alone, and I seem to discover more baby Lucys every day.)

I think the name has become an overflow choice for parents afraid "Lily" has gotten too popular. According to the Nameberry site, all the double-L girls' names (Lily, Lila, Lola, Leila, Layla, Lillian) have "jumped the shark": "We suspect that tongues are getting tired of reaching up for all those L’s and that the trend has passed its tipping point."

I'm not sure I agree with that (I love Lily and Lila), but Lucy has a certain freshness to my ear.

Like Alice, it's a name that's deeply embedded in popular culture — with lots of good and bad associations — and now it's ready to redefine itself for a new generation.