Tennis star Serena Williams and her fiancé, internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, recently welcomed their first child: Alexis Ohanian Jr. That seemingly ultra-conservative name choice was anything but, because the newborn Alexis is a girl.
A female "Junior" turns tradition on its head, transforming a classic patriarchial symbol into a more complex and dramatic statement. Namesakes have always been a masculine realm. There is no female equivalent to Junior; surnames are traditionally inherited from the father; male names frequently have feminine versions (Daniel --> Danielle, Daniela, Dani) but not vice versa. Men's naming lineage is the lineage that tradition values and preserves across generations.
Within a family, this can make for some naming inequality—not just between mom and dad, but between sister and brother. I've always suggested that parents who intend to name their first son a Junior also choose names of special family significance for their daughters, so as not to suggest that a boy is valued more as the sole heir to family heritage. Williams and Ohanian have taken a more direct approach. The name Alexis is already used for both boys and girls. Why not use Junior the same way?
Serena Williams and Baby Alexis. Image via Serenawilliams/Instagram
[Name nerd fine print: Young Alexis doesn't have exactly the same name as her dad. He is Alexis Kerry Ohanian, she is Alexis Olympia Ohanian. Sticklers may say that, more than her sex, bars her from being a Junior. Custom does expect names to match 100% for Junior status, but it's a custom many parents flout. Besides, when it comes to a female Junior, tradition offers little guidance.]
On one hand, this seems like a powerful move toward equality. By making their daughter a Junior, the parents are saying that she is every bit as much her father's heir as a boy would be. It's also worth noting that our society would traditionally declare the baby, as the child of a black mother and white father, to be separate in race from her dad. Calling her Alexis Jr. is a subtle blow against that kind of artificial division as well.
On the other hand, you can't get around the fact that the baby is named after her father, not her mother. That's particularly notable in a family where the mom is a living symbol of power. Serena Williams is a towering figure: one of the world's all-time greatest athletes, powerful in fame, physique, wealth and influence. Yet like countless generations of children before her, her daughter follows the male naming lineage.
Want to see how sex-skewed our naming culture remains? Try to picture a son named Serena Williams, Jr. That's the real threshold our society isn't close to crossing. We see more and more unisex names, but as I've written before, "'androgyny' in baby names is a one-way street, heading off toward the masculine horizon."
For now, though, a female Junior does represent a bold egalitarian statement. This famous example is likely to open up one more path for other parents navigating the delicate byways of names, gender and family traditions. Cute kid, too.
For centuries, Mary was the number one name for girls in many countries throughout the world. We can thank the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, for the name popularity; in a culture where the Christian religion reigned supreme, honoring her was of utmost importance to many new parents. While global communities - and name tastes - may have changed, we can still thank Mary today for the dozens of beautiful names that she inspired over the years.
Marian names refer to those that honor the Virgin Mary indirectly - taken from her many titles, the places where she appeared to believers, or important objects of faith connected to her. These names have been especially popular in Spanish-speaking communities, but a few Marian choices have entered English-oriented populations, too. Let’s look at a few feminine options from this lovely tradition: melodic and meaningful, these fifteen names combine historic and religious grounding with a unique sound.
Il Sassoferrato, "Madonna and Child," 17th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Belen. Simple yet sophisticated, Belen is an attractive choice that’s relatively new to the United States - it only appeared in the top 1000 for the first time in 2000. Spanish for “Bethlehem,” where Mary gave birth to Jesus, Belen is particularly popular in Chile as well. With Bella and Elena flourishing on American playgrounds, Belen seems like a perfect alternative to the trends.
Lourdes. While this splendid name gained a few fans in the mid-twentieth century, it was a different Madonna who gave the name an extra boost - the pop star’s daughter, Lourdes Leon, influenced namers in 1996 and after. Luxurious Lourdes comes from a town in the Basque region of France where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. This uncommon place name is also a fantastic route to the nicknames Lou or Desi.
Soledad. Derived from the Virgin Mary’s title “Our Lady of Solitude,” Soledad is an unforgettable name with style and substance. The most notable namesake is journalist Soledad O’Brien, whose birth name is actually María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien. Elegant and sincere, Soledad is an excellent option for those who want a name with gravitas.
Consuelo. In the 1840’s, novelist George Sand (a masculine pseudonym for the female Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) published a novel called Consuelo, about the “triumph of moral purity” by the eponymous heroine. With such an inspiring early wearer, is it any wonder that the name gained popularity in the Western world over the following decades? Another popular name in Chile, Consuelo - from Mary's title "Our Lady of Consolation" - is a gorgeous choice, radiating grace and integrity.
Rosario. Spanish for “rosary,” Rosario is one of the most popular names for women in all of Mexico’s history. A rosary is a set of prayer beads, used most commonly in the Catholic faith to ask Mary for divine intercession and pray directly to God. While Rosario is feminine in Spanish, the name is masculine in Italian, and has frequently been recorded for both boys and girls in the United States. Melodious Rosario is also popular in film, television, and music, making it accessible but not overly attached to one individual.
Luz. Barely in the US top 1000 - it currently ranks at #998 - Luz is a chic yet friendly option with the appealing meaning of “light," which references the epithet "Our Lady of Light." In Spanish-speaking communities, Luz is often combined with other names: María de Luz, Luz Elena, etc. If you’re looking for a name that’s less common than Lucy but more memorable than Louise, Luz may be right up your alley.
Araceli. An historically popular name in Mexico that’s never made it big in the United States, Araceli comes from the uplifting phrase “altar of the sky.” The name specifically refers the Virgin Mary’s role as patron of Lucena, Spain, where an altar proclaiming “Our Lady of Araceli” honors her. Euphonic and feminine, Araceli fits right in with modern choices like Aria and Cecilia.
Mercedes. Though this name originally referred to the merciful aspects of Mary’s character, the name is now closely linked with the luxury car brand. Still, Mercedes’ background makes it more than just a flashy choice; Mercedes appears in royal family names, classic literature, and even modern films and television shows. It was very popular in the United States in the early 1990’s, but isn’t on the top 1000 today - your Mercedes is sure to shine all on her own.
Candela. Pretty Candela is a diminutive of Candelaria, another name for the festival of Candlemas (a celebration of the purification of the Virgin Mary). Candela’s aural associations with light and fire make it especially charming, and it could be an uncommon alternative to trendy Camila. Popular in Spain, this cross-cultural choice is familiar yet unique to American ears.
Fe. Pronounced “Fay,” this short and sweet Marian name is also a virtue name, translating to “faith” in Spanish. Fe is a shortening of a longer title, "María y de Fe" (also reduced to Marifé). Used sporadically in the United States since 1960, this lovely choice has never been given to more than 9 girls in any year. With shorter names on the rise, Fe merges tradition and positivity with a modern sound.
Maris. This name has a convoluted linguistic history - confusion between the roots of Hebrew Mary and Latin mare (“sea”) led to the connection between Mary and Maris. The Marian title Stella Maris, meaning “star of the sea,” refers to Mary’s role as a religious guide for believers, a kind of north star. Despite its etymological missteps, pleasant Maris is a strong and admirable choice - and could work well as an honor name for an important Marissa.
Nieves. Names from the Neve (“snow”) family are starting to rise in the English-speaking world - Irish Niamh, Latin Neva, and Dutch Neve in particular. Could beautiful Spanish Nieves join the mix? From the title “Our Lady of Snows,” this stunning choice combines elements of nature and religion in a delicate package.
Dolores. While Dolores’ style is a bit different than other names on this list, its origins are very similar - the name is Spanish for “sorrows,” and refers to Mary’s title as “Our Lady of Sorrows.” With the help of Mexican actress Dolores del Rio, this name soared as high as #13 in the United States in 1930, but hasn’t been recorded on the top 1000 since 1989. This classic, vintage choice also offers the adorable nickname Lola.
Socorro. From the Spanish for “aid” or “relief,” Socorro is an uncommon name with an unparalleled melody. It briefly ranked on US popularity charts between the 1920’s and 1950’s, though it comes from a much older Marian title - “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” Offering a multitude of nicknames, such as Cory or Coco, Socorro is a darling option for a modern child.
Maricruz. Originally a merging of the title phrase María de la Cruz (“Mary of the Cross”), Maricruz is a meaningful name with a bit of flair. It’s been recorded in the United States since 1962, and could work well as an alternative to names like Marisol or Mariana. Interestingly, the name’s popularity jumped 800% between 1987 and 1988 when it was featured on a popular telenovela, Quinceanera.
We live in a golden age of baby name invention. Every year, scores of new names appear for the first time ever in America's baby name statistics. Some are imports, some are creative spellings, some are mashups of other popular names. And as you'll see below, some are demons, palaces, and computer operating systems.
I've collected 20 noteworthy examples of girls' names that just made their historical debuts. (The minimum requirement is 5 boys or girls receiving the name in a single year.) Together, they offer a sense of the extraordinary range of modern name style, and how far parents will go in search of the dramatic and the new. Be sure to check out the remarkable brand-new boys' names, too!
Imperator Furiosa & the Melanin Goddess.
Image credits: madmaxmovie.com, melaniin.goddess/Instagram
TOTALLY BRAND-NEW GIRLS' NAMES
Mazikeen. The comics-based tv series Lucifer features a beautiful demon named Mazikeen, a former torturer from Hell. The name's demonic bona fides go way back, though its use as a personal name is new. In Jewish tradition the mazikeen (singular: mazik) are a whole category of evil spirits.
Furiosa. Charlize Theron's steely Imperator Furiosa was a popular sensation in the film Mad Max: Fury Road. Nonetheless, this name's comic book style makes it a baby name surprise. It's one of the most extravagant film names since Cruella de Vil. (And if you're wondering, no, Cruella never crossed over to baby names.)
Curie. When I wrote about fast-rising scientist names last year, readers questioned the lack of female scientists on my list. The reason for it was depressingly simple: I had scoured the name stats and couldn't find any. Not any more! Marie Curie now joins the growing roster of scientist-inspired baby names.
Million. The nickname Millie is a fast-rising hit, but some parents find its traditional sources, Mildred and Millicent, too old-fashioned. Million is an ultra-modern update, with a style somewhere between exalted names and futuristic robot chic, but a disarmingly simple sound.
Ezria. This may look like just a feminized version of Ezra, but in the world of Pretty Little Liars fans, it's something more. Ezria is the Brangelina-style portmanteau given to the popular romantic coupling of characters named Ezra and Aria. The couple met in the series pilot back in 2010, and over the past seven years fans have grown accustomed to the mashup name.
Pippi. The book Pippi Longstocking, by master name inventor Astrid Lindgren, was first published in English back in 1950 but only now makes its baby name debut. In the book, Pippi was short for Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking.
Melanin. Just a letter away from Melanie, melanin is the pigment that gives our skin, eyes and hair their color. It likely owes its emergence as a name to Senegalese model Khoudia Diop, whose self-given nickname "Melanin Goddess" proudly celebrates her ultra-dark skin.
Blessence. Mashup names don't have to be built from other names. In this case it's two positive words, blessing and essence, that form the building blocks. Some parents of a Blessence may have been inspired by a brand of maternity t-shirts, a product that customers are likely to encounter right at the moment of baby-namer's block.
Versailles. The sumptuous palace of Versailles has symbolized regal luxury for centuries. The Treaty of Versailles, signed at the palace, ended World War I. But the recent historical tv drama Versailles is what finally turned this name into a baby name.
Franklynn, Zeplyn. These two names take their inspirations from very different sources, but together they prove a new fashion maxim: today, a -yn can turn anything into a girl's name.
Laniakea. Never heard of Laniakea? You live there – in fact, we all do. It's the supercluster of galaxies that includes our own Milky Way. Laniakea means "immense heaven" in Hawaiian, and shares its name with an Oahu beach.
Iseult. Tristan and Iseult (or Isolde) were famous illicit lovers of Arthurian legend. Only Tristan, though, crossed over from legend to baby name. Iseult's appearance today may be due to a Queen Iseult in the tv series The Last Kingdom, or to literary-minded parents' growing interest in Arthurian names.
Caliber. Firearm-inspired boys' names have been proliferating for the past decade, but girl's options are just starting to catch up. If Caliber seems unlikely as a girl's name, consider the nickname Callie.
Thatcher. This surname ranks in the top 1000 for boys, but it's only fair that girls should get in on the action. Britain's "Iron Lady," Margaret Thatcher, certainly makes for a formidable female role model.
Lagertha. Lagertha was a legendary Viking shieldmaiden whose story was first put in writing almost a millennium ago. This is perhaps the most unlikely of a mini-wave of Norse names inspired by the TV series Vikings.
Hestia. The Greek goddess of the hearth and domesticity, Hestia literally kept the home fires burning while the rest of the Olympians made their mischief. She was the big sister of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and the gang, but incredibly had never registered as an American baby name until this year.
Anakin. The birth name of Star Wars' legendary villain Darth Vader was already given to hundreds of American boys every year. Now his dark force encroaches on the girls' side. Can anyone stop him? (Maybe the handful of girls named Luke?)
Veruca. To understand this name, let's work backwards. Veruca Salt is a rock band known for '90s hits like "Seether." The band took its name from the spoiled, tyrannical rich girl in the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl had a wicked little sense of humor, and he created the name as a wicked little joke: verruca is another word for wart.
Linux. Parents seldom turn to technology for baby name inspiration, but the open-source Linux operating system is making an impact. (Apparently the names "OS X" and "Windows 7" don't pack the same punch.) Why Linux? Well, Lennox is also a fast-rising name, and when you think about it, all baby names are open source.
Read More: 23 Absolutely Brand-New Names For Boys