Sassy Double-Syllable Names for Girls

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sassy double-syllables

By Nick Turner

Anyone who watches panda videos online (and what kind of monster doesn’t?) knows that the animals often have names with repeating syllables: Bei Bei, Gao Gao, Lun Lun and so on.

This is a popular naming convention in China, where pandas originate, and it’s undeniably cute. In France, they create diminutive names by adding an “-ette.” Spanish speakers may tack on an “-ita” or “-ito.” But in China, they’ve doubled down on doubling down.

Among U.S. babies, “reduplicated” names like Ling Ling and Tian Tian are uncommon. Still, there’s a fairly strong tradition of repeated-syllable names in English-speaking countries.

For decades, the most common double-sound name in America was Lulu. But it lost ground in the 20th century, when picks like Mimi, Cece and even Nana became more common.

The top repeated-syllable name is currently Lili. (I’m assuming a fair number of these parents actually pronounce the name “Lily” rather than “Leelee,” but the actress Leelee Sobieski shows that doubling the “lee” sound can work.)

I wanted to take a closer look at which reduplicated names have been favored over the decades. So I used this handy list from nameberry and checked it against the Social Security database for a range of years: 1880, 1914, 1946, 1964, 1990 and 2014.

Big fat caveat: Most parents that give their kid a repeated-syllable moniker are probably doing it as a nickname, so it won’t show up in the Social Security data. (My daughter’s name is Lulu, but she was born Lucy.) Even so, the database will give a good indication of which names were trendy at any particularly time.

My research also doesn’t capture one of the top ways of giving kids a repeating name: initials. There have been countless children named J.J., C.C. and L.L. over the years, but they won’t be tracked by the Social Security Administration. (You’re safe, Cool J.)

Anyway, let’s get started digging into the data.

If you go back to 1880, the first year of Social Security data, there was only one option for people who liked double syllables: Lulu.

That name was picked almost 250 times. No other repeating names — Kiki, Jojo or what have you — registered at all.

1880

1. Lulu: 249

By 1914, the eve of World War I, things had changed. Lulu was still No. 1 in this category, but Lala, Mimi, Nana, Bebe and Lili all made the list.

1914

1. Lulu: 158

2. Lala: 26

3. Mimi: 18

4. Nana: 9

5. Bebe: 8

6. Lili: 5

The first baby boomers were christened with an even wider range of repeating names.

1946

1. Mimi: 67

2. Bebe: 24

3. Lulu: 21

4. Nana: 15

5. Dede: 13

6. Gigi: 13

7. Lili: 12

8. Lala: 8

9. Vivi: 6

Mimi was the tragic character of La Boheme (1896) and the subject of a Rodgers and Hart song in 1932, so it’s not surprising that the name reached the top of the heap.

By 1964, Gigi ascended to the throne. That was the name of a novella by French writer Colette that was adapted to stage and screen.

1964

1. Gigi: 195

2. Mimi: 139

3. Dede: 70

4. Lili: 21

5. Nana: 15

6. Lulu: 14

7. Zsazsa: 12

8. Cece: 9

9. Lala: 6

Zsazsa made the list as well. Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor clearly inspired this one, even though she spelled her name as two words. (Coincidentally, Gabor played a character named Gigi on the TV show “The Life of Riley.”)

Nana and Lala were also represented. Most people think of Nana as their grandmother’s nickname, so it’s hard to imagine giving it to a baby. The Saint Bernard in Peter Pan also was called Nana, but that doesn’t seem like a great connection either. It works as a diminutive for Anna or Nancy, though.

Lala, meanwhile, sounds like a name a child herself would coin. But it’s a Slavic word that means tulip.

By the time the ’90s rolled around, Mimi was back on top. And some male double-syllable names joined the batch, including 12 boy Nanas, five Jajas and five Jojos. Soul singer (and South Park voice actor) Isaac Hayes named his son Nana, giving it some celebrity cachet, though that wasn’t until 2006.

Jojo has a rich musical heritage. The Beatles tell Jojo to “get back” in the song of that title. And it was used by one half of the R&B duo K-Ci and JoJo, as well as the current female artist.

1990

1. Mimi: 57

2. Lili: 33

3. Nana: 28

4. Gigi: 20

5. Nana: 12 (male)

6. Coco: 11

6. Kiki: 11

8. Vivi: 10

9. Lulu: 6

9. Zsazsa: 6

11. Dede: 5

11. Jaja: 5 (male)

11. Jojo: 5 (male)

That brings us to present day. Last year, Lili was the No. 1 double name, no doubt lifted by the popularity of Lily. Coco (made classic by Coco Chanel) was second. And Lulu appears to be making a modest comeback.

It’s also worth noting that more names than ever are on the list, though that probably says more about parents drawing on an increasingly diverse assortment of names.

2014

1. Lili: 69

2. Coco: 51

2. Lulu: 51

4. Gigi: 27

5. Mimi: 25

6. Nana: 20

7. Cece: 19

8. Zuzu: 18

9. Vivi: 17

10. Yoyo: 12

11. Bebe: 10

12. Kiki: 9

13. Lala: 8

14. Koko: 7

15. Zsazsa: 5

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