Let's not even call them girls' names. The names we're talking about today are women's names. They're all grown up, and they mean business.
The seven names detailed below are classics with a formidable heft. There's nothing lacy about them, and they don't end in the vowel sounds commonly associated with feminine style. Yet they're not boyish either. Names like Margaret and Helen project strength in a confidently female form.
What's more, these names stand tough against the fickle winds of fashion. While trendy unisex names rise and fall, the formidable classics quietly maintain their character. And as familiar as they may sound, most are actually quite uncommon. An American girl today is more likely to be named Symphony or Dior—or traditionally male names like Carson and Noah—than Joan.
Here are our top picks for pure classic power names, along with some historical exemplars. None rank among today's top 100 girls' names, and none will be taken lightly.
Current popularity rank: #132
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1911
Power precedents: U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; birth control activist Margaret Sanger
Current popularity rank: #1680
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1932
Power precedents: French heroine Joan of Arc; rock star Joan Jett
Current popularity rank: #418
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1911
Power precedents: Author/activist Helen Keller; "First Lady of the American Theater" Helen Hayes
Current popularity rank: #438
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1911
Power precedents: U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins; Actress Frances McDormand
Current popularity rank: #846
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1940
Power precedents: Choreographer/dancer Judith Jamison; the biblical Judith, who slew the general of a conquering army
Current popularity rank: #405
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1968
Power precedents: Opera title character Carmen; jazz singer Carmen McRae
Current popularity rank: #265
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1909
Power precedents: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; author/screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Image credits: Judith Jamison via alvinailey.org, others via Wikimedia Commons
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:
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.
Ready to go the xxtra mile? The letter x is our millennium's baby name turbocharger, the favorite way to add a burst of energy that sets a name apart from the pack. Names featuring an x are ten times as popular today as in the mid-20th Century. Names starting with x are 70 times as popular. Top choices include classics like Xavier, and fresh respellings like Jaxon. But once you look beyond the top names to the rest of the baby name stats, you start to see how far today's parents are willing to go for the power of the x.
For classics, Xavier is just the starting point. How about Xerxes, Xanthe and Ajax? For respellings, try Xane, Lanxton or Broox. You can double up your x power with names like Knoxx, Nixxon and Xxavier, or pair it with z power to get Xzander or Xzavion. Then there are word names like Lynx, Helix, Galaxy and Matrix. Even silent x's are getting into the act. Rising girls' names include Beaux (pronounced "BOH," meaning male lovers) and Roux ("ROO," a mixture of butter and flour used as a base for sauces.)
The most sought-after x roots are inspiring boundless creativity, especialily for boys. Parents appear to be particularly focused on "axxion" for boys, with an explosion of double-x's and respellings. 31 different boys' names starting with Jax registered on last year's name stats, including Jaxiel, Jaxden and Jaxzon.
For a fuller sense of the modern name x-plosion, look over the list of creative choices below. Every name listed was given to at least 5 American boys or girls last year.
Credit: Getty Images