Rock & Roll Baby Names That Go To Eleven

May 25th 2016


Jagger. Hendrix. Zeppelin. Lennon. Those names mean more than music. They're icons, attitudes, whole ways of living…and now, baby names. Names steeped in rock & roll history, from the Beatles to Nirvana, are one of the fastest-rising baby name styles in America.


Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Some snapshots of the trend in action:

• An American girl today is more likely to be named Presley than Jessica or Rebecca. A boy is more likely to be Axl than Chad.

• As recently as 1998, the name Hendrix was statistically nonexistent. Today it's a top-500 hit.

• The word credence, meaning "belief," is not used as a name. But the creative spelling Creedence, as in the band Creedence Clearwater Revival, is now used for both boys and girls.

• Last year, just as many American girls were named Zeppelin as Beyoncé.

• Even stylistically unlikely rock names like Kiedis and Reznor now register on the stats.

The rise of rock & roll names is a phenomenon unto itself, distinct from "celebrity names." Normal celebrity name trends surge with the burst of publicity around a new star. Most go on to fade nearly as quickly (see the graphs of Miley and Rihanna). The rock names are different. Not one name on the rock & roll names list below took off when the band or star rose to fame. Beatlemania didn't inspire little McCartneys, and the grunge era didn't see a wave of little Vedders. The names rose decades later, after the artists' works had begun to take on the mantle of "classic" or "iconic."

That makes these names homages, not only to the specific artists but to the spirit of rock itself. It's a famously independent, rebellious spirit, and so no two names on the list march in lockstep. Consider the varied messages the names Axl, Lennon, Marley and Cobain project. But whether a family's motto is "All You Need is Love" or "Born to Be Wild," they're more likely than ever before to present it in baby name form via a classic rock name.

Each name below was bestowed on at least 5 American boys or girls last year, some on hundreds or thousands. Especially popular names are indicated with an * (top 1000 name) or ** (top 500).

THE NEW ROCK & ROLL BABY NAME HALL OF FAME:

Axl (M*)  – Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses

Bonham (M) – John Bonham of Led Zeppelin

Bowie (M, F) – David Bowie

Cobain (M) – Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Creedence (M, F) – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Crue (M) – Mötley Crüe

Everly (F**, M) – The Everly Brothers

Halen (M, F) – Van Halen/Eddie Van Halen

Hendrix (M**, F) – Jimi Hendrix

Isley (F, M) – The Isley Brothers

Jagger (M*, F) – Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones

Jett (M**, F) – Joan Jett

Joplin (F) – Janis Joplin

Kiedis (M) – Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers

Lennon (F*, M*) – John Lennon of The Beatles

Marley (F**, M*) – Bob Marley

McCartney (F, M) – Paul McCartney of The Beatles

Nirvana (F) – Nirvana

Presley (F**, M) – Elvis Presley

Reznor (M) – Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails

Santana (M*, F) – Santana/Carlos Santana

Seger (M) – Bob Seger

Vedder (M) – Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam

Weiland (M) – Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots

Zeppelin (M, F) – Led Zeppelin

 

Comments

1
May 26, 2016 5:57 PM

I'm not sure whether Everly can really be blamed on the Everly brothers: mostly, it's just a combination of trendy sounds, and I'd be willing to bet a lot of the parents who have bestowed it have never heard of the Everly Brothers. Isley is similar: I'm pretty sure at least some parents have "invented" it as a variant on Isla and/or Isabella, and couldn't name an Isley Brothers song even if their life depended on it.

Nirvana could be derived from the band, or it could be derived from the word (putting it more in the category of Heaven and Serenity than Jagger or Crue); there's really no way to tell.

Oh, and I know of at least one case (my niece's doll) where Bowie is derived from bow, i.e. the thing you tie in a ribbon, not the singer. :) (For comparison, the doll's "sisters" are named Butterfly and Ladybug.)

2
By PJ
May 26, 2016 7:23 PM

Super interesting! My kids were both named after punk songs so this trend makes sense to me.

I have also met kids named: Cash (after the Man in Black), Strummer ( Joe Strummer from the Clash), Mayfield (Curtis), and Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac.)

3
May 26, 2016 7:37 PM

I think several of these may have some rock inspiration, but it's equally likely the name came from something else.  Halen could also be a spin on Haley, Jett could be a respelling of jet (also a celebrity influence as Travolta's son was named Jett).  Joplin is a place name, Marley could be a girl's name that just sounds like other girl names (Marla/Marlo/Harley/Hailey).  I'd bet at least some of those girl Santanas have more to do with Glee than Carlos.  Even McCartney may not indicate a huge Beatles homage so much as just another Mc/Mac name, especially on a girl.

There are several that I see as more certain to be an homage; Cobain, Creedence, Hendri, Jagger, Lennon, Presley, Vedder, Zeppelin.  It'll be interesting to see if there is a surge of new baby Bowie's next year.

4
By PJ
May 26, 2016 8:18 PM

Or a surge of Princes!

5
May 27, 2016 3:30 AM

My friend has a pair of girls named Dylan and Presley. I also know a Lennox!

6
May 27, 2016 3:32 AM

I would also add Arlo to the list!

 

7
May 27, 2016 6:57 AM

I think Jett has a different pop culture inspiration: The Famous Jett Jackson. Anyone else remember this very early Disney Channel show? Jett was a super-cool character (a down-to-earth actor playing a high-tech spy) and a positive Black male role model with a name that not so coincidentally means both a black gem and a super-fast airplane.

The show debuted in fall of 1998, and the name Jett made its debut in the top 1000 at #798 in 1999. It had slow growth for the next decade, and then had another bump up at about the time the show's target audience would be old enough to start having and naming kids.

I don't think it's a direct homage, so much as a fondly remembered, cool and positive association. Joan surely doesn't hurt, but I don't think she's the main association.

8
May 27, 2016 11:25 AM

I like Joan Jett very much, but I was also thinking that a lot of the little Jett's maybe named after someone/something else.

Jett Rink from the movie Giant comes to mind. Not the nicest character, but James Dean was the actor after all.

9
By mk
May 27, 2016 2:28 PM

Most of these seem more like coincindences rather than homages. I'd say Crue, Cobain, Hendrix, Jagger, Kiedis, Lennon, Rezner, Vedder, and Zeppelin are the ones that I'd assume were for the musicians.

10
May 29, 2016 10:17 PM

My daughter had a schoolmate last year with an older brother named Memphis, and a little sister named Isley. The combination makes me fairly certain that both names were musical homages in that family, but I don't think Isley is always used thus -- sometimes it's just a variation on Isla.

Oh, and I give up: can someone please explain the blog post's title to me? I must be missing a reference, or pronouncing it wrong, or something, because "go to eleven" makes no sense to me.

11
May 29, 2016 11:33 PM

There's actually a Wikipedia page explaining the reference (which is the movie Spinal Tap, by the way): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_to_eleven