Firearms Baby Names Continue to Climb

Jul 11th 2018

Think of a catchy word or brand name associated with guns, and you've probably thought of a hot baby name. From Cannon to Pistol, Remington to Colt, firearms are making their mark on American names.

Firearm names are hardly alone as as a creative baby name trend. Just last week, I was tallying up the wave of new X names from Xxavier to Roux. But gun names stand out because they break the one restriction today's parents usually observe in naming. They edge close to politics, a once-common naming theme that has been all but off-limits for the past generation.

I first reported on the firearms trend several years ago, looking at 2012 baby name statistics. The 2017 stats show a continued surge. Over that five-year period, the number of American babies receiving gun-related names rose by 58%. The total of firearms-named babies is now over 8,000 per year, and counting.

To accurately assess this name phenomenon, I started not with the names, but with the guns. I combed through multiple glossaries of firearms terms and lists of manufacturers, collecting any that sounded like remotely plausible baby name choices. (Caliber yes, Decocker no.) The resulting list included 60 potential names, 20 of which turned out to appear in last year's baby name statistics. That means they were given to at least five newborn American boys or girls last year:

Barrett Colt Pistol Tracer
Benelli Gauge Remington         Trigger
Beretta           Gunner Ruger Walther
Caliber Kimber Savage Wesson
Cannon Magnum          Shooter Winchester

 

The majority of the 20 names were unknown a generation earlier, including terms like Trigger and Shooter and brands like Benelli and Ruger. Not a single gun name from previous generations had disappeared. That expansion of names in use reflects a broader movement toward creativity and individuality in baby naming. The direction of the creativity, though, is telling. Other categories of goods and possessions haven't shown the same rapid growth.

There is no more honest indicator of values and culture than the names we give our children. Siblings named Magnum and Beretta make a statement about a family's interests and identity, just as siblings named Gandalf and Éowyn or Coltrane and Ellington would. But unlike other interests, firearms have become a cultural and political dividing line in America. That makes a name like Ruger not just unconventional, but potentially controversial and divisive.

Despite the political discord that increasingly defines our times, parents today steer away from political names. In past generations, every new presidential candidate or military leader would be greeted by a spike of namesakes. Since Watergate, homages to living leaders have essentially disappeared. The spouses and children of politicians may spark trends, since they're treated more like regular celebrities, but partisanship in baby naming is right out. 

Why then, are we seeing such of wave of firearms names at a moment when they are a fraught partisan marker? While some parents may be deliberately staking out ideological ground, I suspect that the vast majority who choose gun names just consider them fun and energetic. In many families and communities, the image of firearms is overwhelmingly positive. A name like Trigger or Gauge could be chosen to connote sport and power, similar to a name like Rider or Ace, or to conjure the Wild West, like Maverick or Zane.

Parents choosing the names in this upbeat spirit might be dismayed by the very suggestion that their child's name could be divisive. If you're in that position, please take this not as a judgment, but simply as a heads-up. For many non-gun-owners, the first associations that come to mind aren't fun and sport, but acts of mass violence. While some firearms names like Colt and Barrett are flexible enough to be welcomed everywhere, the more aggressively styled names may be seen as inflammatory.

Firearms names aren't the only polarizing choices on today's baby name charts. A creative baby name era is inevitably a divisive baby name era. The word for "broadly liked," after all, is "popular." As parents turn away from anything perceived as too popular, they turn toward names people disagree on. The more distinctive and eye-catching the choice, the stronger the disagreement will be. And when the eye-catching choice falls along a political fault line, the response to a name can be inflamed by existing societal polarization—as the response to this column doubtless will be.

 

Comments

1
July 12, 2018 1:40 AM

I think you have put this situational trend very diplomatically. Whew! As someone bipartisan and interested in issues and news it’s truly as fraught as anything else. So I will for this, just focus on the naming supposition: word names. It seems to play in. “Maverick“ might come across fusty and comically out of the blue now for some formerly interested tastes, but “Shooter“ is taking the nuance and replacing it with brand/word potential again, possibly. Unfortunately the latter name as is broadcasted always as a negative in the US at least and perhaps excluding the Olympics-?? (Thus I would be compelled to think someone is trying to make a point since naming is not a subtle endeavor.) The only Shooter I can think of is Shooter MacGavin, a fictional golfer. I think the name has new and biting cache and not just because I’ve gotten older and as it is, Shooter makes Gunner seem less visual... Things to think about I guess as it’s not my taste! 

2
July 12, 2018 9:24 PM

Actually, nicwoo, there's a show currently on USA called Shooter, with a sniper as protagonist.  So if the babies named Shooter just started showing up in the 2017 stats, that positive association in the media could have been the reason.

3
July 12, 2018 9:30 PM

I'm back after having checked the stats - looks like Shooter actually had its relative peak in 2009, with 30 boys born.

4
By EVie
July 13, 2018 11:24 AM

I'm not a fan of this style, but some of these names definitely wouldn't make me think "gun" as a first reaction. Barrett makes me think Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Aurora Leigh before anything related to firearms, and my secondary reaction is just, "oh, a trendy surname-name that fits in with Beckett, Everett, Elliott, Garrett and the rest of the popular -tt ending wave. Kimber sounds like a modern update on Kimberly. And Walther would be right at home in hipster Brooklyn—take what is already a fusty-trendy choice and add an obscure German spelling. 

5
July 16, 2018 6:20 AM

I agree with EVie above.  In isolation, many of these names don't scream guns; as a sibset though they make quite a statement.  Cannon and Carter as a sibset sends a very different message than Cannon and Shooter.  But as a family, I can imagine it making quite a statement.  

6
July 17, 2018 3:12 PM

For me "Winchester" makes me think of city or street names and the character from MASH that i loved. But i imagine as Supernatural fans have kids that kids named "Winchester" might be named after them. I've never watched the show so i don't know if there's a connection between the characters and the gun company. I suppose there's a big difference between naming kids Smith, Colt, and Winchester vs Sam, Dean and Winchester 

7
July 18, 2018 9:25 PM

People are naming their kids Savage? That one seems especially...um, interesting, given the slang context as well as the original meaning of the word.

8
August 8, 2018 5:20 AM

The school-age kids I work with use "savage" in a generally positive way, sort of a more brash or bold version of bravery and going against the system.