Steampunk is having a moment. If you don't know the storytelling behind the style, you might well wonder what all the fuss is about. Why would anybody wear those ridiculous goggles? And what's with the dirigible fixation? I'm going to try to capture the essence and appeal of steampunk for you in 18 baby names.
First, some quick background. Steampunk is an imaginative genre set in a pre-electric age of steam power and clockwork. Adventuring scientists build, and battle, mechanical creations, even while navigating the restrictive customs of their times. Elements of fantasy are often at play, especially period types like a vampire or gentleman-magician.
Imagine shaking sci-fi and fantasy free of space operas and orc battles -- or shaking Oliver Twist free of his workhouse, with the help of a clever automaton. Imagine a hidebound past full of infinite possibility. Such a world, with rigid etiquette and class structures but without electricity, channels the science fiction imagination in very human directions. The meeting of manners and machines also makes for plenty of humor.
Can we capture all of those contradictory appeals in a handful of baby names? Let's try:
1. Ada. Real historical characters often make cameos in steampunk worlds, and Ada Lovelace is a favorite guest star. The daughter of Lord Byron, Lovelace was a mathematician who is often called the world's first computer programmer. Designing algorithms while wearing a bustle qualifies her as a real-life steampunk heroine. (Ada was actually her middle name; her given name Augusta is also a contender.)
2. Agatha. Agatha has the antique side of steampunk down pat. It's the ultimate old lady name. Yet the name gets a youthful spin in Girl Genius, a comic series with the tagline "Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!" Young heroine Agatha Heterodyne makes the name Agatha positively swashbuckling.
3. Bram. Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula defined vampires as we know them. His Victorian setting still shapes our image of the bloodsuckers, with their formal attire, impeccable manners, and threats to feminine virtue. It's no surprise that vampires are the favorite crossover creature in steampunk fiction. You can honor them via their creator, with his simple but uncommon name.
4. Briar. You may associate the name Briar with a more traditional kind of fantasy. Briar Rose was the fairy tale princess also known as Sleeping Beauty. But the steampunk novel Boneshaker reshaped the name with Briar Wilkes, who braved a zombie-ridden 19th-century Seattle to find her son. This quiet but tough mom puts some of the thorns back in Briar.
5. Clementine. Clementine, the followup book to Boneshaker, is named for an airship rather than a person. The name nonetheless places you in the novel's Western America setting. Thinking of Clementine as a pirate airship captained by a runaway slave may even help get the "Oh My Darling" lyrics out of your head.
6. Edison. Thomas Edison embodies the spirit of invention, in real life and steampunk fiction alike. The The Wizard of Menlo Park was a larger-than life figure, but his surname doesn't sound showy. And unlike many other surnames, it's distinctly masculine.
7. Hugo. The 2011 film Hugo was a clockwork enchantment with a glowing landscape of brass gears. It showed off the pretty and nostalgic side of an often gritty genre. The name Hugo, in turn, shows off steampunk heroes in their best light. Hugo sounds old-fashioned, even eccentric, but dauntless.
8. Ives. Ives is a variant on the saintly name Yves/Ivo. While it's old and traditional, chances are you've only encountered it as a place name, perhaps in the rhyming riddle "As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives...." Ives boasts strong steampunk credentials in the form of Langdon St. Ives, the Victorian scientist and adventurer of James Blaylock's books. The name itself is both stately and creative, and totally undiscovered.
9. Jeter. Author K.W. Jeter, of Infernal Devices, is credited with coining the term steampunk. To the uninitiated, his name may say "baseball" rather than "clockwork." (Derek Jeter was a long-time star for the New York Yankees.) That's fine, let the sports fans carry on in blissful ignorance as you tinker away in your basement laboratory....
10. Jules. 19th-century novelist Jules Verne is one of steampunk's patron saints. His "scientific romances" like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea still inspire writers with their blend of adventure, gallantry and steam-era invention. His name captures that blend perfectly. It's an elegant but bold antique, and the sound-alike term "joules" refers to a scientific unit of energy.
11. Phineas. This name, with its quirky gentlemanliness, seems made for the genre. You find a smattering of steampunk Phineases, but the name's real heart-of-steam lies in the similar name Phileas, as in Phileas Fogg and his journey Around the World in Eighty Days. You can choose Phileas instead, but it's often misheard and the nickname Phil is less fashionable than Fin.
12. Sophronia. Sophronia Temminnick, the young heroine of Etiquette & Espionage, attends finishing school on a dirigible, where she learns the proper way to throw a knife while curtseying. And yes, it's okay to laugh. The name's over-the-top formality suits the book's arch sense of humor, and might give a distinctive wrapper to the über-popular nickname Sophie.
13. Sterling. Bruce Sterling is the co-author of the seminal novel The Difference Engine. His name also suggests the British Pound Sterling, and carries a air of affluent poise to suit a top hat and silver-topped walking stick.
14. Tesla. If there's one inventor who can eclipse Edison in the steampunk universe, it's Nikola Tesla. Interest in the Serbian genius has been soaring lately, and his name is popping up in new places, including the baby name arena. This is the most scientific name on the list, but young Tesla will have to contend with Tesla Motors, the electric car maker.
15. Victoria. The Victorian era is eternal in steampunk -- sometimes literally. (Queen Victoria may, for instance, become an immortal vampire and extend her reign into the 21st century.) Her Royal Highness even puts in personal appearances in many stories. She remains resolute in the face of perils, like the constant threat of being replaced by a lifelike automoton. This is a name of dignified, ladylike steel.
16. Violet. Violet is a favorite name of the steampunk world. Its vintage charm is pure delicacy, even as the word suggests "violent" possibilities that make it tougher than it seems. You'll find Violets in books like All Men of Genius and the steampunk-tinged Series of Unfortunate Events. You can even shop for industrial-style corsets from "The Violet Vixen."
17. Watson. The great detective Sherlock Holmes is irresistible to steampunk authors. He shows up, lending his powers of induction throughout the genre. Yet it's sidekick Dr. Watson who has the better steampunk name. It carries the spark of invention, from the moment when telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell spoke, "Mr. Watson -- come here!"
18. Wellington. This oh-so-British surname harkens back to the Duke of Wellington, the great soldier and statesman from the height of the Empire's power. For bonus points you can use the nickname Wells, as in The Time Machine author H.G. Wells. For double bonus points, Wellington Books is a hero of the popular steampunk series The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences.
We give you one word: Katniss.
To say that the feisty heroine of the "Hunger Games" has inspired a following is an understatement, and her reign will likely continue as multitudes of fans line up to see the next installment of her story unfold on the the big screen: Mockingjay Part 1 opens November 21.
Much has been written about the imaginative names that came from The Hunger Games books, but what you might not know about are all of the other fiery names out there for consideration, whether you're expecting a redhead, an astrological fire sign, or simply a tiny firecracker.
Here are twenty bold, flameworthy names inspired by the Girl On Fire herself. These move out of the arena from warm to hot choices with serious spark.
Aidan, Aiden: Few names are as popular as Aiden, an Irish superstar that's currently the 12th most-chosen name for boys (and its varied spellings mean that it's more popular than it sometimes gets credit for). The meaning, "little fiery one", is just as fitting for a Hunger Games fan as for a toddler.
Auburn: Usually reserved for haircolor, auburn is a warm reddish-brown that makes
us think of a flickering flame. Even the sound of this name seems to play with fire, though it's just a coincidence that it contains the word "burn".
Blaze: In an unexpected twist in the world of names, the traditional French Blaise (which likely means "lisping") has been reinvented with a new spelling. Like a Blaise from an alternate universe, Blaze has an unmistakable red-hot image, perfect for a child with a bold personality.
Brantley: A surname turned hotter-than-fire given name, Brantley is a recently popular choice helped along by country artist Brantley Gilbert. It comes from the Old German word for brand, with meanings related to fire or "fiery torch".
Brinley: Across America, the sound of "brin" is catching on like wildfire. Though this irresistible name is partly a new creation, it does have Old English roots connected to the surname Brandley, which means "burnt meadow".
Cayenne: A bold, fiery spice made from ground chili peppers, cayenne is a word with plenty of name appeal. It's for those who love distinctive, rare names, as only 17 girls were born last year bearing this name. It's a small but brave departure from the more timid Cheyenne, with inventive nicknames like Cay and Caya possible.
Cole: Fueled by its catchy sound, this trendy name means "coal" and was traditionally given to boys with dark features. (Though it could have made a perfect District 12 name.) It's also a possible nickname for Nicholas, though Cole itself has lots of spinoffs like Colby, Coleman, Collier, Kole, and Colden. Some famous bearers include composer Cole Porter, child actor Cole Sprouse and country artist Cole Swindell (born Colden).
Enya: Ethereal singer Enya, born with the original Gaelic spelling, Eithne, made the anglicized version of her name accessible to Americans. With the meaning "little fire" or "kernel" we think Enya has a certain spark and fits right in with international favorite Anya.
Ember, Emberly: These names, based on the word for a spark or low flame, sound like a contemporary update to Amber and Kimberly. Between their trendy sounds and beautiful meaning, they're both gaining interest among parents, with Ember climbing more than 300 spots in the past 5 years.
Fia, Fiamma, Fiammetta: This Italian family of names sounds ready for American ears, along the lines of Sofia and Fiona. Fia is showing the most potential, though they are all pretty, and the meaning--"little flame"--warms our hearts.
Flint: An English name that means stream, flint also happens to be a fire-starting quartz. This name feels like a tough, cowboy-ready playmate of names like Clint and Wyatt. It's a very rare choice, with only 57 boys given this name last year.
Ignacio, Ignatius: These saintly names mean "fire", with the same roots as the word ignite. Whether you prefer the Spanish form Ignacio, or the original Latin Ignatius, both allow for the spunky, punk-rock nickname Iggy.
Joash: A young king of Israel mentioned in the Bible, this Hebrew name has debated meanings including "fire of Yahweh". It sounds like a modern mashup name (i.e. Jonah and Ashley), or a twist on Joshua, though its ancient roots claim otherwise. With nicknames like Joe or Ash, this energetic name is ready for more popularity.
Kindle: A rare name unfortunately taken by Amazon's e-reader, kindle is a word that conjures a spark of inspiration. Its similarities to the name Kendall have given this name a little boost, while varied spellings like Kyndal and Kyndle make the two hard to differentiate at first glance.
Pepper: The peppercorn plant gives us this spicy, red-hot name, sometimes used as a nickname. Its distinctive sound gives it a peppy feel, while its spicy associations keep Pepper from sounding too cute. Recently seen in the "Iron Man" movies, Pepper Potts is played by Gwyneth Paltrow.
Phoenix: From the mythological tale of a bird that is consumed by fire and reborn from its ashes, Phoenix is a powerful name. The story of the phoenix may remind Hunger Games fans of Katniss' wedding dress, which burns away to reveal a mockingjay.
Scarlett: A blazing shade of red linked to flames, the color became a surname for those who worked with scarlet fabric, and was made famous by high-spirited heroine Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Its pretty sound and fiery features make Scarlett a wonderful choice, for a Hunger Games fan or otherwise.
Sienna: We can't get away from the fiery clay pigment burnt sienna, known for its rustic brown color and as a childhood staple in our first pack of Crayolas. It even feels like a nod to Cinna, Katniss' revolutionary stylist, whose wardrobe creations made her the Girl On Fire to begin with.
Soleil: Pronounced soh-LAY, this blazing French nature name is a rare but beautiful choice meaning "sun." It strikes us as a fitting name for an audacious girl with a globe-trotting family or a love for all things French.
Zayden and Zaiden: These inventive forms of Aiden bring even more zest to your "little fiery one." Parents love these names, making both chart-climbing stars in the past few years, with the Zayden spelling a little more popular. We just can't resist the appeal of exotic consonants, and boys' names that start with Z, along the lines of Zane and Zachary, feel contemporary and spirited.
If you love these fiery names, take a look at 20 Names Perfect for Autumn Babies and The Troublemaker Trend: Boy Names with a Hint of Mischief.
Names are a cultural time capsule. A boy named MacArthur or a girl named Farrah conjures up a moment in America's past. But what name captures this moment? Each year we try to answer that question with the Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year. And right now, I'm asking YOU.
The Name of the Year can be a baby name, like Blue Ivy in 2012 -- the year that celebrity parents not only chose that name for their daugher, but trademarked it. But it can can also be an adult name or moniker, like Pope Francis or "The Situation." It can even be fictional like Renesmee, or non-human like Siri, or conceptual like the American everyman Joe.
These wide-ranging names have two things in common. The first is zeitgeist: they reflect and shape the naming culture around us. The second is this blog post you're reading now. The Name of the Year is chosen from nominations posted by BabyNameWizard.com readers, and your votes, seconds and impassioned arguments make a difference.
In the comments section below, please share your Name of the Year nominations and reasoning. As you're thinking about the year in names, keep a lookout for these criteria:
- A dramatic change in the name's usage or social meaning
- A reflection of a broader cultural theme, or influence on broader style trends
- The "naminess" of a story or issue. How essential is the name to the story?
And remember that your comments themselves count, too! The number of nominations factors into in the NOTY choice, and compelling arguments in support of your candidate count most of all.