A new hot baby names list pegs celebrity moniker "Pippa" and rising star "Asher" as the top trend-makers of 2011, but it remains to be seen whether parents are actually giving their newborns these buzzed-about names.
Baby name website Nameberry put out the list after combing the site's page-views (how many times readers click on a page online) and search data since January 2011. Pippa popped up as the 35th most-searched name on Nameberry; in 2010, it didn't even make the top 200.
For boys, Asher unseated Henry as the most popular Nameberry name.
But using search data to predict baby name trends is fraught with pitfalls, said Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby" (Three Rivers Press, 2005), who blogs about naming statistics at babynamewizard.com.
For example, the people who search Nameberry aren't representative of the population as a whole, Wattenberg told LiveScience. Henry and Asher may pique Nameberry users' interest more than other boy names, but in the Social Security Administration name rankings for the whole country in 2010, Henry placed 67th and Asher 139th. Likewise, "Sookie" is a top-searched name on babynamewizard, Wattenberg said, but no one is naming their daughters after the "True Blood" protagonist.
And then there's the fact that people often search for information on names they hate.
"The amount of interest in the name is not a good predictor of which of those names are going to get hot," Wattenberg said. "The worse a celebrity baby name is, or the worse-received it is by the public, the more the chatter." [Read: The Most Hated Baby Names in America]
Many of the names on the Nameberry "hottest" list are celebrity-inspired. Pippa is the nickname of Philippa Middleton, who made a splash at the maid of honor at the royal wedding of her sister Catherine to Prince William. Celebrities Isla Fisher and Sasha Baron Cohen sparked a search bump after they named their daughter Elula. Actor Orlando Bloom and wife Miranda Kerr did the same for boys when they named their son Flynn.
The public is fickle about following celebrity name trends, Wattenberg said, but a little publicity can boost a name that already sounds "stylish." Flynn is a good example, she said: The similar-sounding Finn has long been popular, so Flynn might appeal to parents who like Finn but want to be unique. [See the 50 Most Popular Baby Names of 2010]
"We all want to be different from each other, but our tastes are really similar," Wattenberg said. "That's how you end up with so many very slightly different names."
Several of the names on the Nameberry list are already on the popularity upswing. There were 89 Milas born 10 years ago, Wattenberg said, compared with 875 last year. Hadley was ranked 921 in popularity in 2000 and rose to number 216 last year. Luna has also risen significantly since the 1990s.
"I think Luna is a really fascinating example, because people feel deeply divided on it," Wattenberg said. "Everybody loves it, and everybody worries that their daughter is going to be called 'Loony.'"
Another popular boy name on the hot list, Everett, rides the coattails of a fascination with double 'Ts,' Wattenberg said, including names such as Scarlett and Wyatt.
The other names on the list, in no particular order, are Arlo, Ada, Adele, Adeline, Adelaide and Archer.
The search for the perfect name
The search data is interesting, Wattenberg said, but she warned against expecting any of the names to break out into the top 10 for 2011.
Predicting the next trends — and how baby names will hold up over time — is tricky business, Wattenberg said.
"There's nothing that could have told you, for example, that Ashton, which had been a mostly feminine name, was going to swing all the way around to the masculine side because one actor [Ashton Kutcher] was going to come along," she said.
To some extent, parents can look at the past popularity curve of a baby's name and extrapolate the trend. Names also tend to move together in groups, Wattenberg said. Right now, for example, long vowel sounds and smooth consonants are in style.
That all makes it tough for parents who are looking for the perfect combination of a name that is original and also universally loved.
"Unfortunately," she said, "if you like a name and if everybody you talk to likes a name, that name is probably going up instead of down."