The Names of Black Panther
The superhero movie Black Panther is a blockbuster, and a phenomenon. Beyond its critical and box office success, it has rapidly become a watershed film for a generation of African-American fans. The portrayal of a majestic, super-powered African society projects a proud cultural identity along with popcorn thrills. Already, observers are talking about the movie’s impact spreading to other realms, such as fashion.
Here’s a prediction so dead-certain that it doesn’t take any superpowers on my part to see the future: Black Panther WILL affect American baby naming. Consider that the fastest-rising name of 2016 was an invented name from a blockbuster sci-fi film (Kylo of Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Then cross that literal star power with the cultural impact of the 1977 miniseries Roots.
Roots was a groundbreaking portrayal of the tragedy of American slavery, seen through the experiences of a single family. It was the most-watched tv program of its time, and made overnight hits of character names like Kizzy, and actor names like LeVar. Yet its naming effects went beyond such individual names. Roots made whole name prefixes and suffixes more popular, and helped spark wider interest in African names. [Read more about Roots and baby naming.]
Unlike that historically based epic, Black Panther is unabashed fiction. It is, after all, a Marvel Comics superhero movie. In fact, the hero’s given name, T’Challa, first appeared in American baby name stats back in the 1970s, during the character’s first multi-issue comic book story arc.
In today’s baby naming culture, that fantastical element is only a positive. Names from fantasy and sci-fi sources like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and yes, superhero movies are soaring in popularity. Kal-El, the Kryptonian birth name of Superman, is a top-1000 name for American boys. Bold names in general are in fashion, with exalted terms like Royal and King particularly popular with African-American parents.
Put it all together with some intriguing character and actor names, and Black Panther is sure trendsetter. The remaining question is, which names?
Even superheroes can’t overpower the full force of contemporary style. The name of the fictional nation Wakanda, for instance, may have too much of a 1960s sound for today’s parents. (Think of names like Wanda and Lashonda.) A broader issue is that many of the male character names, like M’Baku and N’Jobu, start with consonant combos that Americans have historically avoided. That means that a lot of the fashion firepower is on the female side.
Below are my style-based predictions of the likeliest Black Panther-inspired baby names. A deeply devoted fanbase, though, could extend the impact to less fashion-fitting names and words from the film, as well as to similar names that hit the same targets of sound, power and pride.
Danai (F, actor)
Nakia (F, character)
Okoye (F, character)
Shuri (F, character)
Zuri (Male character, but a traditionally female name)