The Names of Black Panther

Feb 28th 2018

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.


Image:Marvel.com

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.

CHARACTERS

Danai (F, actor)

Nakia (F, character)

Okoye (F, character)

Shuri (F, character)

Zuri (Male character, but a traditionally female name)

 

Comments

1
February 28, 2018 2:42 PM

Very nice! I could see Zuni being androgynous. It’s strong, short and starts with a Z that’s a winning recipe right now, isn’t it? And who knows the male consonant combos that have been more or less out of preference will get the gust to come as acceptable and more popular. I was introduced to a man named D’Marcus (or DeMarcus, not sure of spelling) but moved from Southern Florida to Northern Washington...he wanted to be referred to as only Marcus. I hope this movie does a lot for everyone for inclusion. I’ve seen on this (and Name Candy) written many times how gentle but firm correction is in order as You have the right to be called what you prefer and people will learn it even if they have trouble at first. That’s true. 

2
March 2, 2018 2:07 PM

I could see Boseman (as in actor Chadwick Boseman) being used as a male first name - although it may fit better with white American naming trends than black.  Maybe for biracial boys!

3
March 25, 2018 9:59 PM

I'm putting it out there: Nakia will be the most popular name from "BP." 

4
March 30, 2018 2:39 PM

Finally got a chance to see it! I agree that Nakia is the most obvious blockbuster choice, but I actually think I might expect Wakanda to show up as a girl's name, too. Naming after a fictional character in a non-finished universe has problems, but I think that Wakanda as an idyllic society of proud African culture has the appeal of Avalon and thanks to similarity with given names, albeit dated ones (Wanda) it seems very namey to me as well. So my prediction is that this movie's appeal and the powerful message associated with the country is going to be enough to overcome the idea that Wakanda sounds too 1970s to use. 

I also think that on the male side the movie has the power to usher in a new revival of those T'__,  J'__, W'__, M'___ and N'___ starting elements, even though I agree that starting consonant clusters are not on the pre-BP current trends. (This is going to be frustratingly hard to capture in the SSA data, since apostrophes and internal capitals are stripped out.) I also think that we might see an uptick in taking the father's name and riffing on it for the son, as in T'Chaka-->T'Challa and N'Jobu -> N'Jadaka, which also is impossible to data mine. Anyway, for boys I'd predict an uptick in  T'__a type constructions featuring name elements from parents, even though they will all be individually rare.

5
March 30, 2018 2:49 PM

Oh! One last set of predictions: I expect an upswing in Dora, especially with a middle name of Milaje, after the dora milaje guardwomen, as well as the unisex Jabari after the tribe that comes to the rescue after the challenge.

6
March 30, 2018 2:58 PM

And indeed, Jabari is actually already a name phenomenon thanks to the comics! It debuted in the SSA stats right when Black Panther got his own comic series in 1973.