When my wife and I were pregnant, she analyzed every single name we debated for our son. She looked at how they could be shortened, rhymed, and manipulated into teasing nicknames.
Our friends had a 4 yr old named Aiden. “Oh, that’s a terrible name,” she told me in the car after. “He’ll get in a lot of trouble, he’s Aiden and abettin’.” I sighed in exasperation, and drove home.
Still, that conversation has stuck with me as I hear the name “Aiden!” yelled by parents over and over and over again at the playground. “That kid’s going to be trouble,” I smirk to myself.
Aidens are everywhere.
I have dated 3 Jennifers in my lifetime. I’m married to one. It’s not a surprise, really. If you have friends born between 1970 and 1984, chances are you know, dated, married, or are a Jennifer. For 14 years the name dominated the female landscape as the most popular name for girls.
Through the mid 2000s, not only was Aiden / Aidan / Aden top of the charts, but so was Cayden / Caden / Kayden / Kaden and Brayden / Braden / Braeden and Jayden / Jaden. In 2006 all 4 soundalikes were the top boys’ names in order. Kids named Aiden (and the rhyming equivalents) were everywhere. And they are still everywhere.
The problem of kids named Aiden peaked in 2006 and 2007 when 40 of the top 1000 names were Aiden rhymes or spelling variants. Parents chose Hayden, Kaden, Raiden, and Zaiden as baby names for boys who are now moving through the school system, and sports teams. You can’t avoid Aiden.
According to Lauren Wattenberg at the Baby Name Wizard, the various spellings of Aiden are parents expressing their uniqueness while following along with the herd.
Wattenberg suggests that it is spelling, not the name, that defines individuality for modern parents. That’s why we see Madison / Maddesen / Madysin etc. Parents like a name, and then change the spelling to make their child unique.
Except all we end up with in the end is a legion of children with the same name and none of them able to find a license plate with their name on it at the toy store.
Wattenberg shows the idea of different spellings of similar sounding names isn’t new. Gerald / Donald / Ronald were popular as were Robert / Herbert / Albert. In fact, if you take the -alds and the -berts they more than dominate the 33 modern variations of -den that Wattenberg studied.
Parents have always followed naming trends, they just didn’t get as creative in the spelling. That’s where our generation of parents to Braden, Hayden, Vaden, Jaden, and Aiden comes in.
And yet I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people who grew up in an era of Jennifer B, Jennifer L, and Jennifer M in their classrooms would flip through a baby name book, see the Aiden trend, and put their kids through the same initialized pain.
Top image: Aidan Quinn in Legends of the Fall