Baby Names Are Getting Ready to Rule

Jan 14th 2016

 
Have you heard this one? A King, an Empress, a Legend and a Messiah walk into a…preschool. It couldn't be a bar, because nobody over 21 is likely to have any of those names. In the diaper demographic, though, the names are all soaring. American baby names are suddenly ready to rule.

 


Image Via Khamidulin Sergey/Shutterstock

The rise of exalted names has been swift and dramatic. As of 2005, King barely registered as a baby name at all. It hadn't cracked the top 1,000 boys' name list for more than 40 years. Yet by 2014 King had leapt to #175 among all boys' names, ahead of names like Kyle and Aidan.

King is just one of 111 different exalted names I've identified in the most recent year's baby name stats. [You can see the full list at the bottom of this post.] I looked for names that don't merely suggest royalty or divinity, but shout it. Names like, yes, Royalty and Divinity. As a group, the exalted names are eight times as popular as they were 20 years ago, and much of that rise has happened in just the past few years:

That 3-year trend is extraordinarily sharp for a set of over 100 names. The biggest numbers come from the explosion of all things King (e.g. Kingston, Kingsley, MyKing, KingJames), but the trend goes far beyond that one title. Royal and Reign are soaring, as are Zeus and Odin, Messiah and Miracle, Legend and Majesty. This is one place where celebrity parents Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who named their son Saint, are solidly in America's mainstream.

The trend is clear for both genders, but particularly dramatic for boys:

If you look at the crossing lines, you'll see that girls received more exalted names as recently as 2006, but today the boys outnumber them by more than 2 to 1. That's notable since parents have traditionally been more conservative with boys' names. The exalted style is far from conservative, yet it's not a typical creative modern name trend either. Style today is usually driven by sound, in trends like -n names and  "raindrop names." Exalted names are a rare contemporary example of substance over sound, but a kind of substance we've never seen before.

The adoption of lofty titles as names isn't strictly new. Regal names like King and Queen had a modest vogue a century ago. Back then, though, the titles were part of an aspirational name style that included potential real-life career goals: Judge, Doctor, General. Most of today's exalted names lie firmly outside the career track in a realm of dreams. Their scope is boundless: Goddess, Messiah, Yahweh.

There's a stylistic boldness to many of the selections as well. Standard English meaning names have always been nouns, from Grace and Pearl to Maverick and Destiny. The exalted names reach into adjectives, daring to be Majestic, Amazing, Heavenly, and Supreme.

When thousands of American families start choosing names like these, it has to mean something. For many of the names, I suspect that "something" is simply a loosening of inhibitions. Our naming culture has broken wide open so that a far wider range of options seem possible. Parents in the past might have thought Zeus was a cool name, but today they feel free to go for it.

When it comes to the boldest exalted names, though, it feels like there's more going on. A name like Goddess or Amazing is clearly intended to inspire the child, and to celebrate her. Again, those aren't new impulses. Humbler virtue names like Faith and Grace aim to inspire, and names of precious beauty like Pearl and Lily to aim celebrate. The exalted names are distinctive for the way they skip the inspiration journey and go straight to the finish line – and beyond, to an impossibly high winner's podium. A name like Destiny seeks to inspire greatness. A name like Empress thrusts greatness upon you.

The new exalted names are emphatic, demanding that this child will be valued and respected. Which makes you realize that for many kids, that destiny is far from certain.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

The full lineup of exalted names given to 5+ American boys or girls in 2014 (the most recent year for which stats are available):

EXALTED GIRLS

Ahmiracle          Goddess   Majesti   Princessa
Amiracle   Heavenlee   Majestic   Queen
Amazing   Heavenleigh          Majestie   Queena
Aphrodite   Heavenly   Majesty   Queenie
Artemis   Hera   Marvel   Reign
Athena   Holy   Marvella          Royal
Czarina   Jamiracle   Messiah   Royale
Damiracle   Kingslee   Miracle   Royaltee
Divine   Kingsley   Noble   Royalti
Divinity   Kingston   Princesa   Royalty
Empress   Legend   Princess   Seraphim

 

EXALTED BOYS

Ahking   Kingelijah   Legendary   Princetyn
Aking   Kingjames   Lord   Reign
Apollo   Kingjoseph   Majestic   Royal
Ares   Kingman   Majesty   Royale
Baron   Kingmichael   Marvel   Royalty
Champion   Kingslee   Marvelous   Saint
Czar   Kingsley   Messiah   Savior
Divine   Kingsly   Miracle   Saviour
Heaven   Kingsolomon        Myking   Seraphim
Jahking   Kingson   Noble   Sire
Jaking   Kingstan   Odin   Sovereign
Jove   Kingsten   Poseidon   Sultan
King   Kingstin   Prince   Supreme
Kinganthony        Kingston   Princecharles        Thor
Kingcharles   Kingstyn   Princeston   Yahweh
Kingdavid   Laking   Princetin   Zeus
Kingdom   Legend   Princeton    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

1
January 14, 2016 1:34 PM

Years ago, a young woman named Temptress auditioned for American Idol. Unfortunately her voice was not up to par, but before she began to sing, Paula Abdul looked at her and said, "So your name is Temptress ..." and then her voice trailed off. She clearly didn't know what to say. I realize, of course, that Temptress does not qualify as an exalted name, but your post reminded me of that audition.

2
January 14, 2016 3:57 PM

I think this is my least favorite name trend ever. There is such arrogance in asking people to address your kid (and future adult) as My King, Messiah, Savior, Yahweh, etc. So many of those terms have a deep emotional or spiritual significance to millions of people, and it's insensitive (at the very least) to use them as names.

3
January 14, 2016 5:51 PM

Not quite exalted, but an honorific/elite occupation name that I spotted the other day on a baby boy: Captain (!)

4
January 14, 2016 5:55 PM

I think Khaleesi belongs on that list as well

5
January 14, 2016 6:15 PM

This trend almost seems as if people are using their children's names to make fun of the whole idea of gods and royalty, but no, they really want people to address their kids as deities. My Scottish great-uncle was called Royal, but he was always called Roy.

6
By GPU
January 14, 2016 6:39 PM

I totally feel sorry for all those kids who have these names...they would feel stupid as they got older and people had to address them as this. They'd probably feel embarrassed, too. If it was me, I'd either change my name or go by my middle name. The only ones on there that I think are okay are Kingsley and Kingston.

7
January 14, 2016 8:50 PM

I agree with GPU that Kingsley and Kingston are the only ones on the list that are usable, and that's because they're actually mere placename-names, not exalted names at all. The various misspellings of those two names are pretty horrible, but again, not because they're "exalted", but because kre8v spellings are always horrible things to do to a poor innocent baby.

The actual exalted names are best described as "icky". The style combines cultural appropriation, non-names-as-names, and won't-age-well into a single naming trend. It's like someone, as a joke, invented the most inappropriate naming style they could think of, and a bunch of parents failed to get that it's a joke.

9
January 15, 2016 4:54 AM

I agree with the other posters who don't like this name trend. Besides it sounding pretentious, using religious words like Messiah and titles from other cultures the parents might not have any claim to are insensitive at least. Rather than arrogant, some could just also be unaware of the "etiquette" regarding these names and are giving the name in a naive "I want my child to be awesome/etc. or take on the admirable qualities I associate with this title I'm using as a name" way--in the case of some, at least, like parents wanting to name their daughter Queen because they want their daughter to be regal.

But again, the parents' lack of awareness can offend other people and affect the child, who has to live with the name. They would have conveyed what they wanted better if they had been more subtle (Rex and Regina are better royal word names) and respectful of the culture or religion they're appropriating from, for the ones that do, and of their baby as a person. Instead of naming your daughter Goddess, it's better to pick a goddess name for her (e.g., Diana).

10
January 15, 2016 5:45 AM

I think these names are usable 

Aphrodite

Artemis

Athena

Hera

Holy

Kingsley

Marvella

Miracle

Apollo

Ares

Kingston

Marvel

Noble

Odin

Poseidon

Seraphim 

Thor

Zeus

And Sultan? It is a girl name! 

 

 

 

11
January 15, 2016 6:18 AM

While I think this trend is pretty tacky, I also think Laura is on to something significant in the last paragraph:

"The new exalted names are emphatic, demanding that this child will be valued and respected. Which makes you realize that for many kids, that destiny is far from certain."

My first reaction to names like that is to think it comes from a place of arrogance -- except that poorer parents hardly have a monopoly on thinking their child is the best child ever, and you would seldom find these names among the children of the upper classes (with the exception of some of the mythological ones). Therefore I'm inclined to agree with Laura's final assessment that it comes from a place of insecurity and uncertainty, as much as anything else.

12
January 15, 2016 10:24 AM

Yahweh is particularly tacky given Jewish rules against blasphemy.  There are plenty of Jews who refuse even to write it (using YHWH), much less say it out loud. 

13
January 15, 2016 12:28 PM

Agreed, Emily.ei. It seems very much an aspirational rather than arrogant move. Sort of like naming your son Harvard or Princeton.

14
January 16, 2016 1:11 AM

I am in this boat. I am also a teacher, and I can't even imagine what I would do if a student with this name were placed in my class. Call them by their last name all the time?

15
January 16, 2016 2:54 AM

I went to school with an Artemis, growing up, and also knew an Athena, and I thought nothing much of it (beyond that those were some truly kickbutt names). I've met little Odins and Thors, too, and I am pretty sure I've heard Apollo on a playground, too, and again, just a very positive reaction -- not at all thinking that the parents are overinflating themselves (or that their children are more-than-average likely to be regarded as special snowflakes by their parents). I think what makes these names not-that-remarkable for me is that these are not generally active pantheons, so I don't imagine that it will violate anyone's personal beliefs to address a child by those names... plus, the Greco-Roman and Norse gods are often very flawed, petty/vindictive personalities, which makes them less exalted as names. (All my children have gone through a mercifully transitory developmental period as young toddlers where I greatly regretted NOT naming them Thor/a because they were so excited about smiting everything with the various toy hammers and mallets from musical instruments.)

But apart from the mythology names, I think I also read these as being for the most part names that are solidly working class names, and in particular, many of them strike me as much more African-American in association (though a few of them are squarely in a style of names that I've often heard derided as "white trash", too). I agree with Laura that these names are largely going to be used by people whose children are not always by default afforded the respect that my child, by whatever obscurity of a name I wish to apply to them, will be given by society at large. That makes me much less dismissive of this category of names on the whole.

From a data analysis perspective, I have some quibbles. Not only do I think many of these names are actually quite old (for example, Queenie was more popular in the 20s than it is now), and moreover I think there are many other aspirational names not on this list just because the hit their peak in a different era (e.g. Contessa spiked in 1983, rather abruptly, Earl was far more popular in generations past than it is now, Duke has enjoyed lasting popularity). I'd like to see a more objective criteria for exalted names (i.e. searching for all titles, searching for synonyms for divine/miracle), before concluding that it's a more recent trend. My (totally un-verified) suspicion would be that it's been a longerstanding trend among the less privileged echelons of society, and that this is just the latest crop of exalted names to hit style-points... so of course when we look at these particular examples retrospectively, they weren't as popular in previous years. (Though I admit I'm impressed by the big jumps in very recent years in longstanding vintage exalted favorites like Royal and Duke).

16
January 19, 2016 8:14 PM

lucubratrix, I absolutely agree that it's a slippery slope which names to include! For a cutoff I tried to stick to the most exalted/supreme titles, thus Kings and Princes but no Earls or Dukes; Generals but not Captains or Majors.

FWIW, I don't believe that restriction significantly skewed the results. E.g. of the four names above, Earl is down (two consecutive voiced consonants!) but Duke, Captain and Major are all soaring.

17
By Amy3
January 20, 2016 1:40 PM

I'm not a fan of this style myself, but I have known a girl called Queen (she'd be 14 now) and one called Princess (she's probably 15 or 16). While I wouldn't choose either of those names, they don't strike me as particularly over the top. I think a name like Messiah, with strong religious meaning for many, would be much harder to wear. 

18
January 26, 2016 7:27 PM

In Britain, names like 'King', 'Captain' and similar are forbidden because under British law one is not allowed to bear names which can mislead others into thinking they have a position to which they are not entitled.

19
February 9, 2016 11:17 PM

My brother-in-law, a surgeon, had a YourMajesty in his office once. He said it was the weirdest thing, referring to this little boy as "your majesty" the whole visit. "Hi, YourMajesty." "How are you feeling today, YourMajesty."

20
February 10, 2016 3:46 AM

I'm not sure the Greek mythology names really belong. They have a more familiar feel, less new, and probably appeal to different parents. (I grew up with an Athena, an Ariadne, an Apollo, etc.)

 

I'm also unsure about Laking. LaKing yes , but Laking I'd pronounce "lake-ing," which has a different feeling...

21
February 29, 2016 12:36 AM

Thanks for the perspective. I hope people see it as SES, not ethnic. One thing I had to get used to when I moved to Canada from the US is that many names or styles I would have considered "black" here are taken up by working-class and poor whites. So your points really are for people who feel downtrodden, that their child faces an uphill battle.

My youngest son has a classmate whose cubby and other classroom items are all labeled "Princess Gertrude." OK, it's not Gertrude, but the Princess {Top 1000 name with standard spelling} is the point. I finally asked the teacher one day what they call the girl. She said the mom was emphatic that the child's formal name is Princess Gertrude, hence the labels on her desk, cubby, etc., but everyone calls her simply Gertrude and the mom is fine with that. So, some of these names Social Security counts might play out differently in everyday usage.

22
March 4, 2016 2:46 PM

That's an interesting way of pointing that out, Rustie, because of two things: most Americans abhor the idea of titles and status given by birthright (even though we still very much have divided classes here, we don't like to think or talk about it), and as others have pointed out, these are names often given to children of people who have little social status in US culture, so by using these names they are declaring that their child is worthy of honor and praise as much as any child born into a high status family.

Speaking of previously popular names like Earl, Duke, etc: I had a great uncle Earl who was born in the 1920s, and as a kid it never occurred to me that his name was a title. So much so that when I began to mentally register English men in the news being called "Earl of such-and-such" (probably relatives of Princess Diana), I was royally confused.