Son of a Gun: The Firearms Baby Name Report

Mar 6th 2014

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):

Babies Receiving Gun-Related Names, United States

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.

Comments

1
March 6, 2014 2:31 PM

Can Heckler and Koch be far behind? Wow. Pardon the pun, but some of these names seem particularly loaded. Trigger reminds me of Roy Rogers's horse, but Shooter? I'm stunned.

Laura, you know you're now on an NSA watchlist, right? I can't imagine the searches you had to do to come up with this post. Thanks, though! As always, you give us a fascinating glimpse into the culture at large.

2
By CGDH
March 7, 2014 11:52 AM

Some other weapon-y names that have surged in this decade:

Stryker (a type of AFV)

Ryder (as in the BB gun)

Bowie (as in knife)

Archer (maybe similar to Cooper)

Rambo (only 5 in 2012, but still)

Rogue (half Palin, half WoW?)

Dragon (to go with the Khaleesis?)

3
March 7, 2014 12:22 PM

My sister, who is now of retirement age, had a college roommate whose brother was named Marlin, explicitly after the Marlin rifle.  I don't see Marlin on the list above.  No more baby Marlins?  (I am too lazy to look it up.) 

4
March 7, 2014 1:31 PM

CGDH and Miriam, to my surprise neither Ryder nor Marlin came up in any of the discussions I looked at on firearms websites. Ryder in particular seemed like a slam dunk, but apparently air rifles aren't quite so name-worthy.

5
March 7, 2014 7:25 PM

Maybe Marlin is considered more fishy than gunny. :-)

6
March 7, 2014 10:49 PM

Love the gun-name stats, but I came on here tonight to talk about cartoon characters.

I was watching an episode of Lego Ninjago on Netflix with my boys and realized that the names of the (titular) ninjas are Kai, Zane, Cole, Jay, and ...Lloyd. Even more interestingly, the first four (with names I would associate with the current generation of children) are presented as adults while Lloyd is a child - and the Chosen One, one of the central figures of the series. Lloyd. (This probably also explains why one of my sons suggested the name Lloyd for our newborn.)

To me, it sounds old and unfashionable. It peaked in popularity about the same time that my great-grandfather - Floyd - was born. To my boys, it sounds perfectly natural on another child. It's listed in the BNW book as a porch-sitter, but given what we know about name trends it's not surprising that it's coming back around. What I wonder is how long it'll be before it pops back up - will it be five years from now? 10 or 15 years from now, when the kids who are watching Ninjago have children? I'll be watching with interest, and I really wonder how many other cartoons are doing the same thing.

(I would love to see a post on this!)

7
March 8, 2014 8:45 PM

Yet more ways--you know, in addition to the preventable deaths of hundreds of children--gun nuts are ruining this country.

8
March 9, 2014 1:15 PM

MelissaM

I have been wondering EXACTLY the same thing about the Ninjago characters.

I have also wondered about the boy's name Lyle.  It fits many of the popular trends of L intenstive names and vowels.

 

9
March 10, 2014 10:28 PM

Back to gun names:  Another one I am surprised not to see is Walther.  Also Sig, as in Sig Sauer, Winchester, and Thompson.  OTOH I am not surprised that people are not naming their kids Glock, very unfashioable sounds.

10
By PJ
March 13, 2014 11:17 AM

I know all naming stuff is cultural but I just can not imagine looking at my sweet innocent new baby and thinking, "Oh, I'll name him after a killing machine."

11
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