If you watch superhero movies, you've probably noticed the trend. All the stars seem to be named Chris. An actor is cast as Captain America? Call him Chris. Thor? Chris. Robin? Star-Lord? Steve Trevor? Chris, Chris, Chris.
Many have remarked on this coincidence, joked about it, and even compiled rankings of best Chrises in hero-dom. But here at BabyNameWizard.com, we want to know why. Is it pure chance, or does it point to something deeper about the actors, or about the name? Is Chris an intrinsically super-powered name, custom-made to leap tall buildings and conquer space and time?
In fact, the secret of Chris turns out to be precisely the opposite. Its reign represents the last hurrah of the everyman.
Let's take a look at the current big four of super-Chrises.
Images of Evans, Hemsworth and Pratt via Disney.com; Pine via WarnerBros.com
Chris Evans of Captain America: born 1981 in Massachusetts, USA
Chris Hemsworth of Thor: born 1983 in Victoria, Australia
Chris Pine of Wonder Woman: born 1980 in California, USA
Chris Pratt of Guardians of the Galaxy: born 1979 in Minnesota, USA
That's four white guys born in four very different locales, all in the same short span of time. What's the common thread?
First off, the full name of all four actors is actually Christopher. At the time they were born, the "All-American Nice Guy Nicknames" still ruled, and any ordinary Christopher could expect to be called Chris. Next, let's look at the popularity of Christopher during that period. Christopher is an old and traditional name, but not a timeless one. The name experienced a huge surge in popularity in the 1970s and '80s. In fact, only Michael was given to more U.S. babies from 1979-83. Take a look at the NameVoyager graph of Christopher's popularity:
What's more, that popularity was nationwide. Christopher was a top-3 boy's name in every state in the union in the early '80s. As for demographics, New York City historical stats show that the name Christopher reached the top 10 in every racial group. And the popularity didn't stop at the border. Christopher was just as popular in England, Canada, and Chris Hemsworth's native Australia.
Certainly, there's a big element of chance in a cluster of names like the super Chrises. But underlying that chance is a probability distribution. A bunch of guys in their 30's are likely to be named Chris, because that's just what guys in their 30's are named. You might think of the actor names as the mild-mannered alter egos for their onscreen heroes: the everyman brigade.
They may be the last of their breed. In its peak as America's #2 name, Christopher was over three times as popular as today's #1, Liam. So a generation from now, we shouldn't expect a new crop of matching everymen behind our superheroes. Today's baby names are all Superman, no Clark Kent.
For fresh names with crowd-pleasing appeal, one of the best places to look is abroad. Italian parents have already given their seal of approval to the names below: they all rank in the top 200 in Italy, but have yet to make the top 500 in the United States. Some will sound familiar, some more surprising, but each of these names has a feminine sweetness that could appeal to American namers.
Chiara. Melodious Chiara is the Italian variant of Claire, commonly associated with Saint Chiara of Assisi (a follower of Saint Francis). While many European parents have embraced this beautiful name, it’s yet to gain comparable recognition in Anglophone communities - perhaps its similarities to Cora and Keira will encourage English speakers to give it a try.
Viola. Sophisticated and dramatic, Viola is a gorgeous choice currently flying under the radar. Its Shakespearean background will appeal to literary tastes, and its aural closeness to favorites like Olivia and Violet will help it fit in on the playground - but Viola’s confident personality makes it stand out from the crowd.
Rita. Though Americans may associate this sassy name with 1940’s starlet Rita Hayworth, Rita is also well-used abroad as a nickname for the longer Margherita. With short vintage classics like Ava and Ruby back on the scene, Rita’s retro style and multicultural appeal are sure to attract attention.
Caterina. With Katrina out of the picture, the elegant, Italian form of Catherine is perfectly primed to cross the Atlantic. Caterina combines a musical sound, a pleasant meaning - from the late Greek word for “pure” - and a variable choice of fabulous nicknames, making this name particularly attractive.
Gioia. Pronounced “ZHOY-ah,” this pretty name adds a syllable of flair to the already-delightful Joy. It’s rarely used in the United States, but would work well as an alternative to Gia or Gemma. If you like virtue names but want something with a little more glamour, Gioia is for you!
Livia. There’s a balance of strength and femininity in this lovely name, dating back to the days of Roman emperor Augustus and his wife, Livia Drusilla. American audiences are likely to relate the name to Olivia or Lydia, but Livia has its own unique history separate from those of soundalike choices.
Flavia. From the Latin flavus, meaning “golden-haired,” Flavia is a shining option with an unusual sound. The name has been used in a number of books and films, and also boasts connections with at least two saint Flavias. Striking yet accessible, Flavia merits more attention in Anglophone countries.
Eleonora. Stately Eleanor remains in the top 100 for a number of countries, but lilting Eleonora has yet to achieve similar popularity. Its euphonic sound matches modern trends, but Eleonora has an uncommon sense of regality and inherent grace. The name is also a gold mine for nicknames - Ellie, Leo, Leonie, and Nora are just a few of the possibilities.
Ilaria. Refreshing and vibrant, Ilaria feels like a pleasant pick for a little girl today - especially since English variant Hillary hasn’t been popular since the 1980’s. The name comes from the Greek hilaros, meaning “happy,” and it’s been worn by a variety of notable Italian athletes and actresses.
Gaia. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the personification of the Earth and the divine mother from whom all life originated - a powerful and awe-inspiring namesake. This illustrious history has led to Gaia’s inclusion in everything from rock music to science fiction, yet the name remains comparatively rare in modern usage.
Marika. This variant of Mary is decidedly not Italian - Greek and Slavic languages claim Marika - but this upbeat name has already reached #111 on the Italian popularity charts. Marika blends a spirited melody with a friendly vibe, and it works exceptionally well as a cross-cultural choice.
Morena. Originally a name for a woman with darker hair or skin, Morena fits in stylistically with modern “raindrop name” trends - think Melanie, Ariana, or Maya. As a word, Morena can be found in a number of global languages, relating to religion, physiology, and even geology.
Annamaria. Romantic and refined, Annamaria is a name combination that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Popular among Italian Catholic families, Annamaria might offer a beautiful, multisyllabic alternative to the -ella and -bella names of today.
Giada. Many Americans were first introduced to this charming choice via Giada De Laurentiis, the Food Network star and mother to namesake Jade (who wears the Anglicized version of the name). Today, Giada feels more approachable next to Gia and Gianna, but holds its own as an unexpected choice.
Rossella. If Scarlett and Ruby are too mainstream for your taste, why not Rossella? Vivacious and colorful, Rossella gained recent attention in Italy as the heroine of an eponymous television show. It’s also another unorthodox route to a variety of sweet nicknames, like Rosie and Ella.
Baby name history is like a fossil record of culture. You can see broad trends in society over generations, but also individual moments frozen in time. Today we're turning back the clock to look at the American homefront in World War I, as captured by baby names.
The Great War began in Europe in 1914, and the United States entered the fight in 1917. Peace came with the Armistice of November, 1918. Along the way, American parents honored the war's people and places, battles and allies in the names of their children. Each of the names below spiked in popularity in 1917-18. Some, like Freedom, were given to just a handful of children; others, like Pershing, to hundreds.
Foch (Male name spike; honoring Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch)
Haig (M; British Commander in Chief Douglas Haig)
Pershing (M; American Commander John "Black Jack" Pershing)
Adelheid (F; Archduchess Adelheid of Austria, young daughter of the Archduke and a rare name trend-maker from across the lines)
Quentin (M & F; army pilot Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, shot down in combat in 1918)
BATTLES & SOLDIERS
Marne (M & F; the Allied victory in the Second Battle of the Marne marked the end of German offensives on the Western Front)
Verdun (M & F; the nine-month Battle of Verdun was the war's longest battle)
Lieutenant (M; military rank)
UNITY WITH FRANCE
PEACE AT LAST
Victory (M, F)
Armistice (F; a brief review of birth records reveals that nearly all of these babies were born on the exact Armistice date, 11/11/18)