Last year, 146 American girls were named Khaleesi. That's a 450% jump in the name's usage from 2011, and before that year it was completely unknown.
If you're not familiar with the name Khaleesi, you'd be excused for guessing that it's Arabic, like Khalilah, or perhaps from Western Africa, like Kwasi. In fact, the name comes from the Dothraki language. Except it's not a name in that language, but a common word meaning "queen." And Dothraki isn't a natural language, but a handful of words created by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin for his imagined Dothraki people. (A language-creation specialist has since elaborated on Martin's vocabulary for the tv version of his fantasy epic.)
Plenty of authors dating back to Shakespeare have invented names that caught on with parents. You can even find names from imagined fantasy worlds that have been used on real-world babies. For instance, hundreds of American girls have been named Eowyn over the past decade after a Lord of the Rings character. [Read more about fantasy and science fiction names.] But a name taken from a word that's not a name, from an imagined language? I can't think of a precedent.
That's not to say we couldn't see this one coming. More than a year ago, I raised this question on Twitter:
"Game Of Thrones fans, help! A user added the title Khaleesi to our baby name db. Legit? Could you see it as a name?"
Among the responses, one Twitter denizen with the handle "pantalonesfuego" offered a key insight:
"To me the name Khaleesi feels a little different from Queen because it's also a form of address -- like 'Your Highness'"
This distinction means that Khaleesi, while not a name, was used on the tv series in a name-like way.
Another Twitterer, PanyaV, further pointed out that the tv series altered the pronunciation of Khaleesi in a way that might appeal to American parents. The Kh- was supposed to indicate a "voiceless velar fricative," the throaty sound that's common in many languages but hard to pronounce in English. What's more, the Dothraki word was supposed to be stressed on the first syllable. Instead, though, viewers hear the name-ready pronunciation "kah-LEE-see." Some parents even chose to simplify the name's spelling to make this pronunciation clear; the variant Kaleesi was given to 30 babies.
As all of these young Khaleesis and Kaleesis grow up, they will doubtless be asked about their names. They could launch into an awkward origin story ("Umm, well, my parents really liked this tv show..."), but I recommend a simpler approach:
"It's Dothraki for 'queen.'"
That's perfectly true, and a lot more straightforward than the origins of plenty of traditional names. If the person you're talking to doesn't recognize Dothraki as a language of another world, well, that's their loss.
The Social Security Administration today announced the most popular names in each state. On the girls' side, we see five antique -- or at least "faux antique" -- names utterly dominating the top spots across the country: Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Isabella and Ava. You'll find they account for all but 4 of the 150 girls' names in the chart below.
The boys' list shows off more of our country's regional diversity. 23 different boys' names rank in the top 3 in at least one state, from Bentley in West Virginia to Benjamin in Massachusetts; from John in Mississippi to Wyatt in Wyoming.
Note that 8 states count both William and Liam among their top 3 boys' names. The option of Liam as a nickname is helping William to remain the most popular of the classic English kingly names.
|Most Popular Girls' Names by State, 2012|
|Dist. of Columbia||Sophia||Emma||Olivia|
|Most Popular Boys' Names by State, 2012|
|Dist. of Columbia||William||Alexander||Henry|
More from the most popular names stats:
Jacob is the #1 name for American boys. Its popularity rose steadily for many years until it claimed the baby-name crown in 1999, and it has held onto that spot ever since.
I'd like to tell that story for you in pictures, below. The orange graph on the left shows the popularity of Jacob since 1990. The blue graph on the right shows...the popularity of Jacob since 1990. The key is that the left graph shows popularity rank, while the right shows frequency of use.
If you only looked at rankings, you would think that Jacob's popularity rose dramatically up to 1999 (highlighted in green) and has held perfectly steady since then. But the frequency graph shows that the name has actually made a complete u-turn.
The percentage of parents choosing Jacob peaked in 1998 and has since fallen by about half, to below 1990 levels. Due to the name-diversity revolution, a popularity level that would have ranked in in the 20s back then is good for the very top spot today. In fact, the year that Jacob began its long, triumphant reign as the top name was the very year it began to decline after decades on the rise.
Oh, and that sky-high peak in 1998? Jacob wasn't even the #1 name back then. Michael still held the crown -- despite falling by 61% from its own historical peak.
So before you give up on your lifelong dream of naming your son Noah because Noah has climbed to #4 on the baby name hit parade, remember that those rankings don't mean the same thing they did when you were a kid. "Popular" is very, very relative.