X and Z: Spicing Up Baby Names

Jan 25th 2017

How much can one ingredient change a dish? If that ingredient is a habanero pepper, it can utterly transform it—in ways that some will find irresistible and others won't touch. In baby names, the closest things to chili peppers are the high-impact letters X and Z. The single letter switch from Jason to Jaxon or from Kayden to Zayden transforms the name and transfixes our attention.

Grabbing attention is what current baby name fashion is all about, so it's not surprising that the rate of X's and Z's in names has surged in the past generation. The details of that surge turn out to say a lot about the direction that names are taking.

The graph below shows the rate of American boys receiving a name with an X or Z from 1900 to the present. (I chose to focus on boys because the furtive Z in the classic Elizabeth dominates the girls' trend.) The X-Z explosion is hard to miss:

Looking at the graph, you'll see a huge rise in the 1980s, a brief leveling off, then another sharp rise in the past decade. Those two jumps in "power letters" turn out to be quite different.

More than three-quarters of the 1980-1990 rise comes from four names: Alexander, Zachary, Alex and Maxwell. All four are familiar, traditional, broadly popular choices with just a little boost of X-Z power. To account for three-quarters of the more recent surge, you need 15 names:


That list is a mix of modern styles: creatively X-powered spellings (Jaxson, Jaxon), surnames newly converted to first names (Hendrix, Paxton), traditional names that used to be considered obscure or unlikely (Maximus, Ezekiel), and brand-new inventions (Zaiden, Jaxton). The total effect is worlds apart from Alex and Zach.

In the earlier name wave, the power letters were a selling point that presumably tipped the balance in a choice between, say, Alexander and Nicholas. In the new wave, those letters are the driving force. The names are built for sound and impact around their high-Scrabble-value centerpieces. Consider that the names Alexander, Zachary and Maxwell sound little like one another, or like any other common names. Then consider the sound-driven pattern of Braxton-Jaxton-Paxton.

The two waves reflect a deep change in the way parents think about names. More and more, instead of choosing from a menu we're cooking from scratch. And when you lay out an array of raw ingredients, the most colorful and spicy prove hard to resist.


Read More: Are There Any More Z Names?


January 26, 2017 12:12 PM

Zaxton debuted on the charts in 2009 and in 2015 was given to 17 baby boys. Wise wizards, do you think this trend will burn out before Zaxton gains enough momentum to make the top 1,000?

January 26, 2017 7:28 PM

Zaxton does double up the power, but it has a long way to go. Here's the full tally of -axton boys born last year:

Braxton 3,278
Paxton 1,662
Daxton 847
Jaxton 755
Axton 358
Maxton 283
Saxton 28
Zaxton 17
Traxton 14
Thaxton 10
Baxton 5
Praxton 5
January 26, 2017 9:13 PM

Any current love for the high Scrabble value Q?

January 26, 2017 10:59 PM

Quaxton perhaps?

January 27, 2017 2:05 AM

Interestingly, q names where q falls anywhere within the name (when boys and girls are considered together) peaked in the 90s and are experiencing a rather sharp fall. For scale, according to the SSA data, in the 90s, ~338,000 newborns were given a name containing a q, but in the most recent decade of 2006-2015, ~181,000 newborns were given a q-containing name.

However, names that begin with Q are still on the rise. (I wish I could post graphs!) In the 90s, for example, ~56,000 boys and girls were given a name starting with Q, but in the most recent decade, ~65,000 newborns were.

Top names (boys+girls) containing Q from the 90s [name, then total count for the 90s]:

  • 1. Jacqueline 46103
  • 2. Dominique 34623
  • 3. Monique 16814
  • 4. Enrique 11829
  • 5. Raquel 11046
  • 6. Jacquelyn 10035
  • 7. Marquis  9006
  • 8. Quinn  8394
  • 9. Quentin  8127
  • 10. Quinton  7814
  • 11. Angelique  5658
  • 12. Shaquille  5201
  • 13. Marquise  4870
  • 14. Quincy  4774
  • 15. Jaquan  4364
  • 16. Daquan  4274
  • 17. Shaniqua  3525
  • 18. Quintin  3470
  • 19. Domonique  3434
  • 20. Jaqueline  3389


Top q-containing names of 2006-2015 (note the decrease in the frequency of, e.g., Jacqueline and the rise of, e.g., Quinn):

  • 1. Quinn 26788
  • 2. Jacqueline 18265
  • 3. Joaquin 10783
  • 4. Enrique  9502
  • 5. Quentin  7314
  • 6. Angelique  5969
  • 7. Quincy  5884
  • 8. Dominique  5320
  • 9. Quinton  5156
  • 10. Raquel  4825
  • 11. Ezequiel  4788
  • 12. Jaqueline  3703
  • 13. Marquis  3536
  • 14. Jacquelyn  2981
  • 15. Quintin  2889
  • 16. Unique  2253
  • 17. Monique  2069
  • 18. Jaquan  2062
  • 19. Quinten  2020
  • 20. Marquise  1817


As for Q-beginning names:


  • 1. Quinn  8394
  • 2. Quentin  8127
  • 3. Quinton  7814
  • 4. Quincy  4774
  • 5. Quintin  3470
  • 6. Quinten  1823
  • 7. Quanisha   984
  • 8. Quiana   851
  • 9. Quenton   821
  • 10. Quinlan   632


And 2006-2015:

  • 1. Quinn 26788
  • 2. Quentin  7314
  • 3. Quincy  5884
  • 4. Quinton  5156
  • 5. Quintin  2889
  • 6. Quinten  2020
  • 7. Quinlan  1194
  • 8. Queen   851
  • 9. Quin   637
  • 10. Quincey   582


Looks like Quinn is a mover. :)

January 27, 2017 1:12 PM

Thanks for checking out the q's. Interesting.

January 27, 2017 7:59 PM

Like Braxton Hicks contractions? If anyone else had said over 3000 babies were named Braxton last year, I'd have dismissed it like stories of babies named after other various medical terminology. Presumably most people naming babies are aware of Braxton Hicks contractions. Anyone have thoughts why so many are choosing the name despite the association, when there are so many other names with the same internal sound? What is it about that variant in particular that makes it twice as popular as the next most common from the list? 

Some name-voyagering shows Bra- names for boys came in waves: Brad in the 70s, Bradley in the 80s, Brandon/en in the 90s, and the Bray- (den/don/dy) names in the 2000s. As a set, though, they have all dropped noticeably in usage since 2010-ish. 

What am I missing, name enthusiasts?

January 28, 2017 3:34 PM

Emmett1126, I know a maternity nurse who named her son Braxton. No idea if it was some kind of homage to the doctor who shares the name, or if it's just a case of trendy style overcoming the unpleasant association. I definitely can't hear the name without thinking of the annoying contractions that plagued me for half of each of my pregnancies.

By ejh
January 29, 2017 3:20 PM

Ohio State football's Braxton Miller.

February 2, 2017 12:38 AM

Laura, sorry for the off-topic post, but are you aware that the site's so-called spam filter has been actively preventing people from submitting perfectly innocuous posts, to the point where Miriam was unable to post a comment to the blog? Traffic on the forum has slowed markedly, probably because half the people who try to post questions or comments are unable to. 

(In the meantime, the actual spam posts continue to crop up at the same rate as they always have, because the filter in question is not an actual spam filter: it's some sort of blacklisted-words filter, which is not and can not be an effective spam deterrent.)

I have repeatedly tried the "contact us" form, but I think that is sent directly into someone's trash - the "we will respond shortly" message it gives is a big fat lie.

February 3, 2017 11:27 AM

...and a spammer has kindly demonstrated exactly how ineffective the site's spam-prevention methods are. This is what is so infuriating: the crap gets through just fine, but long-established members can't post perfectly legitimate comments.

February 6, 2017 8:55 PM

I deleted three spam messages three days ago, and they're not showing up (for me), but they're still being counted: it says there are 14 comments, but there are actually only 11. I wonder what this comment will do to the counter(s).

February 9, 2017 12:41 AM

Thank you so much for taking care of the spam posts.  It's so annoying when a person reads a wonderful article about names and gets to the comment section and there it is - junk!  "How I sit on my butt all day and make money", that kind of junk.  I appreciate it and I know many others do to.  Getting back to topic - specifically Z names, I'd add Zeke to the list.  It's my grandson's N/N for Ezekiel.  He's a sweet little boy and I'm not sure a harsh sounding Z name fits him or the image of a sweet little boy.  I'm hoping he will grow into his name and N/N.  I was hoping his mother, my daughter Kelly, would use his middle name, James.  Ezekiel James.  But alas, it is not so and will never be unless Ezekiel aka Zeke decides on his own that James fits him better.  Time will tell.  Again, can't thank you enough for getting rid of spam.

February 21, 2017 11:25 AM

My original name has a q in it! But I changed it in 1981 because I don't like it.

February 28, 2017 4:28 PM

I teach several Zaydens, plus lots of other Z and Q names, but not many X names. However, I think it varies greatly by demographic. The two elementary schools where I teach have a very high percentage of African-American students. I suspect the instance of Q names particularly would be lower and the percentage of X names higher in a school with a majority of Caucasian students. The Qs seem trendier in African American populations, while the Xs seem more popular among Caucasians, at least by my own anecdotal observations. 

February 28, 2017 7:37 PM

It could be worse. Brixton is a district of London better known for riots than anything else, like Watts in LA. 

Don't send your Braxton to boarding school in England. He'll never hear the end of it. Imagine one of their many young Jemimas on an exchange here. 

April 27, 2017 9:35 AM

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