20 Baby Names That People Associate With Smarts (And 10 They Don't)

Imagine a person who looks super-smart. A picture should come easily to mind. While intelligence is a mental trait, our culture has some set shorthand for translating it to the physical realm. Glasses, for instance, are a standard signal of braininess. But do we have a similar vocabulary for sounding smart? Are there names that project intelligence?


We analyzed name ratings from tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors to answer that question. The answer turns out to be yes and no ... and that Hollywood may be underestimating the public.

The names rated smartest, and least smart:

      BOYS     GIRLS
1     Atticus     Katharine
2     Solomon     Zainab
3     Truman     Maritza
4     Preston     Emerson
5     Edmund     Athena
6     Edison     Norah
7     Alistair     Holland
8     Graham     Jeanne
9     Grayden     Gwyneth
10     Sullivan     Fernanda


      BOYS     GIRLS
1     Dick     Neveah
2     Rocky     Britney
3     Bob     Miley
4     Mike     Dixie
5     Bodie     Mandy


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What do those names tell us? Let's start with the names ratest least smart, which paint clear but different pictures for boys and girls.

The lowest rated boys' names could be called "blunt objects." They're short and simple, mostly nicknames but not the cuddly diminutives we saw on the friendliest names list. These names are more curt and tough, suggesting a lingering brains-vs.-brawn divide.

The girls' names do follow the form of diminutives, but most of them aren't short for anything. The collective impression they convey is a lack of seriousness; names that never grew up. The names of former teen pop stars who had troubled transitions to adulthood (Britney and Miley) reinforce that image. One special case is Neveah. Note the spelling; the name Nevaeh was created by spelling "heaven" backwards.

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At the high end, here are ingredients that help a boy's name sound smart:

* Good role models. Names like Atticus, Solomon and Edison are historically linked to wisdom and genius.

* Last names first. Surnames like Preston, Sullivan and Truman project a gravitas that suggests intelligence.

* All the British Isles. British and Celtic names dominate, including Scottish classics like Graham and Alistair.

Notably, our thousands of raters didn't follow the anti-intellectual stereotype of smart guys being hopeless dweebs. Hollywood likes to signal genius with social and sartorial cluelessness, and names that are generations behind fashion. (The Big Bang Theory's Leonard, Sheldon and Howard are classic examples.) Our survey, in contrast, suggests that intelligence goes hand-in-hand with sophistication in the public imagination -- and it's decidedly in style.

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And then there are the smartest-rated girls. 

Athena and arguably Emerson follow the Solomon-Atticus path of intellectual roots. But beyond that, there's simply no pattern. Feminine classics (Katherine) sit beside androgynous surnames (Holland). The old-fashioned (Jeanne) and new-fangled (Emerson) get equal time. Welsh (Gwyneth), Arabic (Zainab), French (Jeanne), Spanish (Maritza); anything goes.

In short, the ratings suggest that we have no cultural model for an intellectual girl. For once, a lack of pattern in the data speaks volumes.


Methodology Notes: Ratings were submitted by tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors over the couse of five years, rating names they chose to visit on a scale of 1-100. Rankings are based on names rated by a minimum of 150 users. Alternate spellings may be dropped from lists to avoid repetition. Rare names (outside the current top 1,500 for boys and girls and no apperances in the top 500 in the past century) are excluded as they are easily dominated by a particular character, e.g. Sherlock or Bellatrix.

This article originally appeared on Baby Name Wizard.

Do these names scream "smarts" to you?

For more great baby name ideas, visit Baby Name Wizard.


Image via Khomich Yauheni/shutterstock; Aaron Amat/shutterstock

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