Son of a Gun: The Firearms Baby Name Report
If naming a child Violet or Lily suggests delicate, timeless beauty, and naming a child River or Sky conjures the majesty of the natural world, what does naming a child Ruger or Beretta suggest?
That's no longer a hypothetical question. Gun-related names have become a style category of their own, and as I've briefly noted in the past, they're on the rise. Today I'd like to take a closer look at this trend.
I cross-checked lists of firearms terms and manufacturers with names given to five or more babies in the most recent statistical year (2012) and/or 10 years earlier (2002). I ended up with a list of 15 gun-related names, including brand names like Ruger and Colt as well as general terms like Gauge and Shooter. The decade-long popularity trend was crystal clear:
Every name on the firearms list rose significantly over the 10-year period.
The average rise was over 500%. Five names which didn't appear at all in 2002 -- Beretta, Browning, Savage, Trigger and Wesson -- showed up on the 2012 list. Here's a visual summary of the trend (* indicates girls' names):
You may not see these all as "gun names"; the borders of the category are fuzzy. For instance, Gunner could be a respelling of the Nordic name Gunnar as well as an English noun. Even trickier is a name like Cooper, which is both a rifle maker and a familiar tradesman surname. (I left Cooper off of my list, but it too has soared in popularity.)
For borderline cases, I made my decision based on prevalence in name-idea threads on forums for firearms enthusiasts. A sign that a gun association really is a driving force in the popularity of borderline names: in 2002, the traditional Gunnar outpaced Gunner in the U.S., while today Gunners are in the lead by a 2-to-1 margin.
What does the trend mean? I believe it points to two different cultural threads in the United States over the past decade. The first is the rising role of guns as a cultural identifier. For hunters and firearms enthusiasts, guns can be both a passion and a symbol of a way of life. It's notable that other manufactured goods categories, like automobiles, haven't followed the same name trajectory.
Some gun owners perceive their lifestyle as being threatened by those who don't understand them or share their values. Choosing a gun name, then, can summon up happy memories of hunting with your dad -- or be a statement of cultural defiance. It's an in-group statement, designed to speak to those who share your cultural touchstones. (Suffice it to say that if the name Savage makes you think "Dan Savage" rather than "Savage Arms," that name isn't aimed at you.)
The second, equally important change is about names themselves. Think of it this way: to get to the point where you're asking, "Should we name him Ruger or Wesson?" you have to NOT be asking "Should we name him after Grandpa John or Grandpa Jim?"
The past decade has seen an accelerating movement away from traditional names. Over the same decade that the 15 firearms names above rose by a combined 3,824 babies, the four most classic English baby names, John, Mary, James and William, fell by a combined 16,875 babies. Something has to be stepping into that gulf. Parents today cast a broader net, and are more likely to consider creative meaning names that reflect their personal lives and interests.
Consider, too, that gun names were always popular for dogs, suggesting that a love of guns is nothing new. A foxhound named Trigger would never have surprised anyone. Today, parents are more willing to "pull the trigger" on that kind of eye-catching name for babies, too. Just as we're naming our pets more like children, it seems that we're naming our children more like pets.
This broad change in the naming process means that names are a more sensitive cultural barometer than ever before. Any shift in parents' interests, passions and values is sure to be encoded in the name record. Today, if you want to know what people really care about, follow the names.