Out on a name limb

Aug 12th 2005

Pilot Inspektor. Moxie CrimeFighter. Tryumph, Whizdom, and ESPN. Each of these has made headlines as a baby name in the past few years. Call them creative or call them crazy, they seem to come out of left field, breaking all the naming rules.

But even the wildest names are products of their times. The most famous celebrity baby name of all, Moon Unit, now shines as a clear reflection of the psychedelic '60s. In the same way, Pilot and ESPN carry the sound of today. They just carry it to extremes.

What is Pilot Inspektor, after all, but a tradesman name? That's been one of the hottest name categories for the past decade, and Pilot fits nicely at the macho end of the style. Hunter, Gunnar and Ryder are all popular choices in the same vein, not to mention Jett for the aviation theme.

CrimeFighter ratchets the energy up a notch, past the mere trade names. (Top-1000 name kin might be Maverick, Cannon and Blaze.) The real surprise is that it's a girl's name -- the middle name of young Moxie Jillette. Moxie is an inspired creation at the intersection of two popular styles. First, it's what I call a "guys and dolls" name. You picture Moxie as a jazz-age dame, getting into scrapes with guys names Buster and Rocky. Ruby, Sadie and Lola are all "doll" names that have come back strong, and near-match Max is hugely popular for boys.

At the same time, Moxie is a word name (meaning gumption). It bursts with confidence, which puts in right in line with the bold style of new meaning names for girls. Destiny and Justice fit the theme...as do Whizdom and Tryumph, the daughters of Jayson Williams.

ESPN is a brand name, a jock counterpart to girls named Lexus and Chanel. It stands out chiefly because of its fanciful spelling. Spoken aloud as "Espen," it has a thoroughly mainstream sound. Easton and Aspen are close matches, and the ubiquitous -n ending dominates current boys' names.

No matter how far we go out on a limb, it seems that limb still grows from the same naming tree. When Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette is Moon Unit Zappa's age, her name will probably sound like a perfect souvenir of 2005.


By cloei (not verified)
August 13, 2005 3:11 AM

i love your blog. i found it on a fark looking up boy names and i now check back in ever few weeks reading up on all you have to saythanks for posting and do keep it it. it's so interesting

By Holly (not verified)
August 13, 2005 7:06 AM

Moxie is a brand name, too -- Moxie is soda pop. And the soda pop is the origin of the word, not the other way around. Which tarnishes the name for me a little.

By Psyche (not verified)
August 13, 2005 6:47 PM

And where does Audio Science (Shannyn Sossamon's son) come from??

By Toni (not verified)
August 15, 2005 5:23 AM

To answer what Psyche said... Shannyn Sossamon works as a DJ. Audio, indeed.

By Psyche (not verified)
August 15, 2005 10:28 PM

Thanks, Toni! I didn't know she worked as a DJ. Now Audio makes a little more sense, lol.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 16, 2005 7:19 PM

Where did the desire not to fit in come from? Doesn't it seem like a natural human desire to want to run with the pack? I suppose today's parents want to choose unusual names for their children (is this more a reflection of their hopes for their children or an unconscious statement about themselves?), but not unique names, as the Aidan-Jaden-Cayden phenomenon shows. Little Moxie Crimefighter's parents fall at the end of an interesting sociological spectrum, don't they? The same people in the blogosphere who go berserk over her name are searching for names that will next year be ranked at the bottom of the top 1000. I realize that people who deliberately pick a name in the top 10 probably don't comment on baby name sites, but it does seem as though the zeitgeist dictates that parents be creative in their name choices. I always thought that I would choose popular names for my children so that they wouldn't be picked on, but as the time drew near to name my first child I began to feel subtle pressure to choose an unpopular (but cool) name. A friend recently agonized over her daughter's name because the name that "felt right to her" is Emily, currently #1 on the list. She somehow felt that liking a popular name was bad, or at least somewhat suspect.Where did this come from? From looking at the Name Wizard graph, it seems to be a fairly recent cultural phenomenon. Any thoughts on what societal impulses are at work here?--Elizabeth

By Jennifer (not verified)
August 17, 2005 1:21 PM

I think a big part of the current search for unique names comes from a backlash against our parents. We grew up in a world where our classrooms were filled with Jennifers and Stephanies and Amys...and a few oddballs that always stood out because of their names.So now we are looking for the same. But I think a big problem is that people look around at their peers, or in the case of schoolteachers, their students. And the older peers that have schoolchildren and the teachers that teach them look around and see scads of little Ashleys and Brittanys. Therefore, names like Madison and Kaitlyn and Emily must be much less common than they appear because they aren't comparing peers! Even more confusing is that parents are purposely misspelling names - Aiden or Aden instead of Aidan - and tacking on random consonants to either end - Braden, Kaden, Hayden, etc, or Jasmine, Jazlyn, Jaztyn - and so the true popularity of a particular name isn't obvious to anyone that actually does look up the SSA's stats, which are sorted by spelling.Unfortunately, most of these parents won't realize how mistaken they are until the child enters kindergarten, 5 years from now. And by then, 1) they will have 2 or even 3 kids with currently trendy names; and 2) new trends will be emerging so they can miss the boat again.Laura, do you think that a bellwether phenomenon is at work in our name cravings? If so, where does it originate?-Another Jennifer, whose mom thought it was unusual because she didn't know anyone or their kids by that name.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 23, 2005 8:19 PM

Hey, what happened to the most recent blog entry about the site's "pretty new package"? Did iVillage not want to hear any criticism? I've been coming to the Baby Name Wizard web site since it originally launched, but this will be my first comment; I hope it doesn't get deleted...I've enjoyed the Baby Name Wizard web site immensely -- until now. This new site is visually cluttered, plus the code is unwieldy and practically chokes my browser. Of course, that's a problem with the the entire iVillage web site, which is the main reason why I previously avoided the iVillage web site.What a disappointing change. I hope that iVillage will opt to streamline their design/coding, at least for this site. Otherwise, I doubt I'll have the patience to keep visiting on a regular basis, if at all.Sincerely,Moira S.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 23, 2005 9:56 PM

I grew up with a relatively unusual name and I always liked having a unique name. It's not a made up name...just one that you don't hear that often. I feel like it helped make me an individual who didn't have to cave to peer pressure. So I would like to give that to my child too. If you are one of 10 Hannahs in a class, I think it's harder for you to stand out...something that I think is a good thing. Personally, I like real names with the correct spellings that just aren't close to the top of the list.

By Kateri (not verified)
August 23, 2005 10:01 PM

I agree strongly with Moira. And I was really dismayed when the site re-do appeared. This blog had been a carefully-considered and well-researched look at names, which is very interesting psychological material even if you aren't having a baby. Now it's all swallowed up into an ad-filled and unwieldy mega-site. Obviously there are financial considerations involved. What a shame.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 24, 2005 5:52 AM

I too agree with the comments posted by Moira and Kateri. This was previously one of my favourite sites, one that I checked regularly for informative updates or to use the wonderful NameVoyager. Now I am considering removing it from my bookmarks. The new additions assume that anyone who visits the site has followed an iVillage link form 'Pregnancy and Parenting' and therefore must have young children of our own. So those of us who are, in fact, simply underage people interested in naming trends, are bombarded with advertisements about feeding our toddlers Yoplait Yumsters and the like. I suspect there are many other types of people, such as the elderly who are far beyong having toddlers, are also bothered by this. And even if I were a parent I wouldn't buy these yoghurts, particularly now that I've had the ads shoved in my face. The garish iVillage colours clash horribly with the site's lovely, simple layout. You said that you were 'proud' to be a part of iVillage. This I sincerely doubt, and I have no feeling but pity for you now. Good luck.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 24, 2005 10:22 AM

I agree with several of the above posts. What a shame your site is now part of IVillage and so full of ads. This used to be a favorite site; now I doubt that I will go to it very often.

By Kate (not verified)
August 24, 2005 11:24 AM

Rather than giving up on the site altogether, I'm going to start looking at the XML feed version to avoid the ads.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 24, 2005 12:09 PM

When I look at the rest of the Baby Name Wizard site, the iVillage stuff is not intrusive- just two bars at the top and the side, with the BNW color scheme etc. kept intact. I suspect there's some sort of ongoing technical problem with the blog, so I'll keep reading and hope that it gets resolved so the blog page looks like the rest of the "new" BNW pages.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 24, 2005 12:29 PM

Love the new look. Loads up fast and is easy to read. Keep up the good work.

By Becky (not verified)
August 25, 2005 12:13 AM

Anonymous 2:52, you're so right! Some of us who visit this site just enjoy name trends and aren't necessarily pregnant or having children of our own. It's insulting and in some cases hurtful to have to go to a pregnancy site to read this interesting blog. Please consider changing it back!

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 25, 2005 6:04 PM

I, like many others, am disappointed at the new look of the site. In fact, I am appalled. I love your name news, but a bad package design can keep people away. If it is at all within your power, please consider a simpler, more pleasant design.

By Laura (not verified)
August 26, 2005 1:50 AM

Hi, this is Laura. Thank you all for bearing with me during this transition! I'm still fixing problems, tweaking things, and stamping out screen invaders. I'll try my best to address your concerns with the blog design.FYI, I just want to clarify that I did NOT intentionally wipe out anyone's comments. There was a technical problem early on that forced me to revert to the old version, and one blog post (with comments) was lost. My apologies...at the end of the day I'm really a writer not a webmaster, and it shows! Thanks again for your patience.

By allison (not verified)
September 5, 2005 11:18 PM

Great insight into names - I would like to add that people who have multiple children & try to be trendy should be very careful - a prime example is a neighbor couple who named the first son Carter and the second son Hooper. I don't think it ever occured to them that the neighborhood kids would refer to them as Farter and Pooper!

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 13, 2005 5:13 PM

I have to say I feel quite tormented about the idea of naming a child. While I don't hate my name, Ann (I love Laura's description of it as a "timeless classic!"), I have felt the negative effects, primarily:1. Everyone always assumes it has an "e" on the end. Lesson: "short" doesn't mean "will be spelled right."2. In an unfortunate series of events, my best friend from grade school was Rhaina, from college Thalia, and from grad school Flora. When meeting people for the first time alongside these women, the exclamations over their names ("What is it? How pretty!" blah blah) make people totally bored by a simple name like Ann, and in the vast majority of situations, people did not remember my name the second time (and often even third time) they ran across me. It didn't matter whether I introduced myself first or second. It hurts when you see someone you met yesterday and they don't remember your name (recognizing that people remembered my name _far_ more often when they weren't simultaneously meeting one of these friends didn't make me feel better).Lesson: Simple names can be seen as boring and can be easily forgotten. And _that_ can turn you into an introvert ("nobody remembers my name = I must not be worth rembembering").Maybe there's nothing we can do about spelling. "Anne" is just as valid as "Ann." I just get sick of everyone defaulting to the "e," especially when it's something like email where I have my name spelled properly right there for them. But give me a variant of my name, Hannah, and issue #2 disappears. But Hannah is now #5 on the SSA list. Why is that a problem, say all you folks who insist that we name our children what we like?Because my best friend from high school is Jennifer. Not only that, but a full 20% of the people in my "clique" were named Jennifer. To hear them tell it, none of them ever felt like they had an identity. Of course, Jennifer carries the additional burden of a lack of varied nicknamed. Take Alexandra and Alexander - you can reasonably pull out Alex, Lexie, Lexa, Xandra, Xander, and Lex. That covers 8 people - one for each long name and one for each nickname! But for Jennifer, Jen or Jenn is pretty much it. My brother had friends in college they called "One N" and "Two Ns." And once I and my friends resorted to calling a girl "Iffer" - so not fair! So giving your child a hugely popular name can be frustrating for her.The lessons I learned from my name and my friends' names is that it's best to be "normal-different." I was so jealous of the reaction my exotic-named friends would get. People _always_ said something to them about how pretty their names were. But their names are all real names, nothing hippie or crazy or wacky-out-there. Ultimately, I've learned that it's best to go with a real honest-to-goodness name, but to branch out to cultures and nationalities beyond the traditional Anglo-American standards, and avoid trends that will leave your child swimming in complete obscurity. In other words, give 'em Rhaina, Thalia, or Flora.

By Christina (not verified)
September 17, 2005 4:42 AM

Laura,Even though I'm a bit disappointed to see your site has merged with i-village, I still think it's a wonderful site, and I still will visit it often. Keep up the good work!

By Anonymous (not verified)
October 11, 2005 5:30 PM

Thanks, Ann! Your post is the most thoughtful response I've seen to the question of why parents try to choose unpopular (or maybe "untrendy" would be a better way to say it) names. There were five Elizabeth Anns in my eighth grade class, so while I've always liked my name, I sympathize about being one of the pack. So you've convinced me. If I have another child I'll try to be both traditional and original.--Elizabeth

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 15, 2005 7:01 PM

This has been a fantastic voyage of names. Thanks for your hard work. I thought Ann was correct and one reason I have been "obsessed" with names is because my parents named me with no regard to trend etc and therefore I have a quite unusual but not strange name. Funnily enough it has become somewhat more popular of little girls today. When I was growing up I had never encountered another person with my name and therefore felt it was MINE. I did not have to share it with anyone. Since then I have met one or two, and have heard of a few others, mostly little ones. I am going to try hard to pass this on to my future children so they are not Hannah M or something similar. But I will leave Moxie to the celebrity types.

By Antoinette (not verified)
November 22, 2005 7:09 PM

Hunter, Gunnar, Ryder, Tanner etc. are all more than I can stomach. They definately don't dound like names to me. Hunter is down right violent. I'm a vegetarian!

By Katrina (not verified)
January 3, 2006 2:49 AM

I think Antoinette's comment is hilarious. I'm a vegetarian as well (vegan, actually) and I don't think the name Hunter is that big a deal. But the funniest thing is that the names Hunter, Tanner, and Ryder, three out of four of her mentioned names, are names of my cousins! I've always loved the old names derived from trades.My own name is traditional, but original (Katrina). I personally love it, and would not trade it for the world. I don't like to use the most popular names, but I think that modifying a spelling of a name is not wise (it causes your child grief later in life) and using an extremely unusual or made-up name is also unwise for the same reason. As was said by someone else, go traditional, but original.

By marsh (not verified)
July 23, 2006 6:05 PM

I love the name Ryder, actually strongly considering it as the name we pick for our son.

By Amy A (not verified)
January 21, 2007 3:38 PM

Do you know what - I like Moxie CrimeFighter! I usually detest 'invented' names like this, and I would never choose it for a child of my own, but there's something about it that makes me smile, and not in a mocking way!
'Moxie' is cute, a vintage way of saying 'sparky', yet still sounds like a girls' name, like Roxy (which thanks to 'Chicago' also has that 20s vintage showbiz feel).
And CrimeFighter... well, when there are parents out there calling their daughters 'Hunter', it's really refreshing to see an occupational name with a positive, strong meaning! Very unusual, perhaps a little crazy, but principled and strong, with a very clear meaning and set of values. Not an easy name to wear day to day, but it is the middle name so it doesn't have to be.
Parents of Moxie CrimeFighter - I never thought I would, but I salute you!

By itdoesntmatter (not verified)
June 1, 2007 5:05 AM

Lets just make sure the name we name our children, makes them healthy..................

By Justine (not verified)
April 6, 2008 8:22 AM

business, has an advantage of the same kind with the workman who have this tendency, will not, I apprehend, be disputed by any

By BillGates (not verified)
May 24, 2012 5:41 AM

This is really easy. You can use some advertising signs and banners to tell the world that you need a name for your new born child.