Aspyn, McCall, Jaxson, Oaklee—with innovative spellings like these, Utah has won a reputation for “creative” baby names. E’s are switched to y’s and Mc’s run rampant, but are these trends really so different from baby naming in the rest of the country?
David S. Eddington (BA ’86, MA ’89), BYU emeritus linguistics professor and author of two recent books on Utah English, combed the Utah Social Security database for baby-naming quirks. Here are a few findings:
For girl names, Eddington identified trends in both spellings and sounds. Names ending in -ee, -ie, and –y (Oaklie and Presley) were popular, along with names beginning with Sha (Shanae and Shaelee). The sound Mc also abounded with spelling variations—McKell, Michaela, MacKenzie, and so on.
Where prefixes proved important for girl names, Eddington noted more fads with suffixes like –son and –er for boys: Grayson and Madsen; Ryler and Ledger.
For both boy and girl names, letter swapping—as in Jackson to Jaxson or Kensington to Kenzington—was a common trend.
These patterns can be found elsewhere, says Eddington, but are more common in Utah.
A book coedited by BYU linguistics professor Dallin D. Oaks (BA ’84), Kent Minson (BA ’97, MA ’02, MBA ’10), and Paul J. Baltes—Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names and Naming—provides additional insight. In a chapter about Utah baby names, Bellevue University emeritus psychology professor Cleveland K. Evans concludes that the difference is found mostly in rarer names. Utah parents do seem “on the lookout for new names, perhaps more than parents [elsewhere],” Evans says.
Why? It may have something to do with Utah’s family focus. Parents feel “their kids are really special [and] want to give them names that are different,” says Eddington.
This tendency could make Utah a trendsetter. According to Eddington, 337 names, including Brittany, Adelynn, and Lexi, grew in popularity in Utah between 1962 and 2022 before gaining traction nationwide. Evans similarly found that Brayden, Kayden, and Jayden have all reached the top 10 male names in the United States since 2008 after first becoming popular in Utah in 1998.
More research is needed to determine if this trendsetting is unique to Utah. But with all the babies in the Beehive State, says Eddington, “it makes sense” that Utah would be “an innovator for baby names.”