Baby Emma, David or Elizabeth? Not for American parents Caitlin and Luke McNeal.
Rather than naming their children after grandparents, biblical figures or the British monarchy, the couple chose names of places that hold significant travel memories for them.
“Kinsale was when we lived in Ireland and we holidayed in Kinsale and fell in love with it,” Caitlin said. “Keeneland is from Kentucky, the first place we vacationed together to see horse racing.”
And finally, there’s Sabi – “from the Sabi Sands in South Africa, where we took our first solo holiday without Kinsale.”
The McNeals are part of a growing trend of choosing baby names based on travel destinations.
The McNeal family – Keeneland, Luke, Sabi, Caitlin and Kinsale.
Source: Caitlin McNeal
According to a study by luggage storage app Bounce, the popularity of “travel-inspired” names increased by 14% between 2000 and 2020. The company compared a short list of destination names and travel-related words to data from the US Census Bureau and the UK’s Office for National Statistics, it said.
The results show overlaps in the choice of baby names in both countries. However, the trend for naming children after countries and cities is more pronounced in the United States than in the United Kingdom, even after accounting for differences in population size, the study shows.
The most popular “travel-related” baby names
Preston, Israel, Phoenix and Orlando appear on both lists, but Preston – meaning priest city – is the most popular overall.
Baby website The Bump calls the name “old-fashioned and quite whimsical… Although some may see it as a reserved title for the wealthy, Preston is the naming place of a northern England town once known for its role in the Industrial Revolution.”
American parents of little boys typically preferred local city names, while British parents tended to look abroad, with names like Milan, Orlando and Rome high on their list.
Sydney has made the top 10 lists for girls names in both the US and UK, but is far more popular with American parents. It is the only name to have been chosen more than 100,000 times in the 20 years analyzed in the study.
However, Sydney’s popularity in the United States is waning. After peaking in 2002, the name fell from the 23rd most popular name that year to 249th in 2021, according to the US Social Security Administration.
Historically, baby names have been inspired by literary figures, biblical characters, and the British monarchy. Now there is a growing trend of adding destinations to the list.
Source: Ria Hoban
London has also made the top 10 lists for American baby names – for both boys and girls – but might be a little too close to home for British parents. According to the study, it was voted just 220 times in the UK from 2000 to 2020, compared to 44,556 times in the US.
According to Bounce CEO Cody Candee, Atlas rose the most in popularity of any name in the study. In 2000 there were just eight babies named Atlas, but in 2020 there were nearly 2,175 — a more than 27,000% increase, he said.
“This may be because parents prefer more unique and descriptive names, with Atlas coming from Greek mythology and meaning ‘to endure,'” he said.
“On the other hand, there are a few names that have lost popularity,” he added. “In fact, 11 disappeared entirely, the largest of which was Montreal, which went from 23 to 0.”
Baby names that match country names
Ria and Connor Hoban with their children (from left) Bruno, Joaquin, Bode and India.
Source: Ria Hoban
“Indus is feminine for river,” said Ria Hoban. “I happened to have my elements read during one evening when I found out I was pregnant and was told I was a water element.”
“Also, Connor and I honeymooned in India – Delhi, North and South Goa and Rajasthan and I have always been fascinated by the region. I’ve also always loved the glamor of the name and [I’m] a fan of India Hicks design,” she said, referring to the British designer and relative of the British royal family.
In both the US and UK, the trend of naming babies after countries is far more common among daughters. With the exception of Israel, Trinidad and Cuba, names on both lists were either exclusively or far more popular with girls.
Baby names that go with city names
Though London, Kingston (the name of singers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale’s eldest son), and Paris dominate the lists, one name is noticeably missing from this list: Brooklyn.
That’s because the study didn’t include suburb or county names, Candee said.
Brooklyn’s popularity skyrocketed after Victoria and David Beckham chose it for their firstborn son in 1999, Candee said.
If the name were included, Brooklyn would be the “second most popular travel-inspired name for girls in the US, with 75,948 girls named Brooklyn in the last 20 years,” he said. However, the name is less popular with boys, he said — it was chosen for just 1,412 boys in the US over the same period.
Candee also said several names were excluded from the analysis because they were overused to be travel-inspired. Those names include Jordan, Madison, Austin and Charlotte, he said.
It is unknown to what extent other names were inspired by travel or other associations parents made with the names.
An example is Hamilton. Although there are cities named Hamilton in Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, the popular Broadway play Hamilton or Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton may have inspired some parents to choose the name for their children.
Likewise, it’s not known to what extent parents who named their babies Paris were inspired by the French capital, socialite Hilton, or Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — or something else entirely.