Popularity rankings are useful, but to understand your real-world name environment you should look around your own neighborhood. America is a big, diverse country, with many different name trends operating at once. Money, geography, ethnicity, and education all swirl together to form "microclimates" of style, with local spikes in the use of particular names.
You can look up Oliver and say "ah, popularity rank #267, I won't meet many Olivers." But if your friends have kids named Julius, Lucy and Charlotte, you should expect to see Olivers on your block. Not to say that's a bad thing. In that kind of community Oliver won't risk teasing, whereas he might find it rough going in a sea of Kaydens and Madisyns.
As a parent, the choice of a baby name is entirely up to you. Why should you listen to what anybody else has to say, let alone your crazy friends and relatives?
Some food for thought: the choice may be yours, but you are making it for someone else. You are just a trustee in this matter, assigned to handle the affairs of another person who is unable to act because he or she has not yet been born. And those crazy friends and relatives? They are going to be your baby's friends and relatives before long. Don't let them bully you, but don't completely ignore them, either. As a group, they represent the society that's going to be hearing, and judging, your child's name for a lifetime.
You don't have to flag down every passing car to ask for opinions, but it's worth choosing a few level-headed confidantes to air out your ideas. They might just spot something you missed -- the new Muppet with the same name, or the obscene meaning of the name in French. You can always swear them to secrecy afterwards, and they'll be tickled to be in on the surprise.
This is the top piece of advice I give expectant parents. We all have many factors in mind when we choose a name. We may want to honor our relatives, or our ethnic heritage. We may see baby naming as an opportunity for personal expression. Use whatever criteria you like to narrow down your name choices, but before you fill in the birth certificate, stop and give the name this final test: if you were starting life today, knowing everything you know about the world, is this the name you would want to represent you? If so, you can feel confident that you're giving your child the best birthday present possible, one that will last a lifetime.
Laura Wattenberg is the author of The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby. A writer, researcher, and software designer, she developed the Wizard's name-finding techniques after becoming frustrated in her search for names for her two daughters. She lives outside of Boston.
Copyright © Laura Wattenberg. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.