Character Naming, After the Fact

Jul 16th 2010

Fictional characters are the best-named group on the planet. Their secret, of course, is that they're not named at birth. Their creators have the luxury of knowing who they become before choosing custom-tailored names.

In some cases, the names are chosen even later. Take The Little Mermaid. In Hans Christian Andersen's original tale, the Mermaid had no name at all. But 152 years after her literary birth, Disney bestowed on her the name Ariel.

The recent Tim Burton film that sent Alice back into Wonderland was an extravaganza of after-the-fact-naming. Everyone from the Dormouse to the Red Queen was given new, more or less human names. The choices are occasionally too precious, but mostly spot on. Absolem the Caterpillar and March Hare Thackery Earwicket are standouts. (One naming complaint: the whiffling, burbling beast is a Jabberwock, not a Jabberwocky. Jabberwocky is the poem. As my daughter explains, "it's like Odysseus and the Odyssey.")

Gregory Maguire's Wicked series gave similar name treatment to L. Frank Baum's Oz universe. To my mind choices like Wicked Witch Elphaba Thropp and Cowardly Lion Brrr don't quite hit the mark, but the books' many fans may disagree.

The beauty of all of these post-hoc namings is that they're not exclusive. The source material is in the public domain, and we all have every bit as much right to name the characters as Tim Burton and Gregory Maguire do. Can you improve on their choices -- or think of other classic characters still in search of names?

Name Alternatives: The Up-and-Comers

Jul 9th 2010

"I've always loved that name, if only it weren't so popular."

It's a familiar baby namer's lament. You fell in love with Olivia at age 10 when it felt classic but fresh; now that you're 30 it's still lovely, but the freshness is gone.

Olivia, though, has been in that style holding pattern for years. A new crop of names is now on the cusp of widespread popularity. The new refrain for name-aware parents is "I've always loved Lila...."

Have no fear, a list is here. Below are some less common alternatives to the up-and-coming hit names. The goal is to reflect both the sound and style of the popular name in a separate, independent name -- not just a watered-down version of the original. In each case, the suggestions are listed in declining order by current U.S. popularity, from the moderately uncommon to the genuinely rare.

GIRLS
Amelia: Helena, Celia, Beatrice, Adela, Aurelia
Arianna: Arabella, Alessandra, Iliana, Ariella, Allegra
Lila: Luna, Isla, Lana, Mira, Calla
Marley: Presley, Laney, Ellery, Everly, Marlowe
Peyton: Teagan, Leighton, Madigan, Paxton, Larsen
Piper: Ivy, Sawyer, Juniper, Wren, Briar

BOYS
Carter: Porter, Archer, Ramsey, Calder, Seaver
Levi: Tobias, Cyrus, Jericho, Boaz, Wiley
Liam: Finn, Callum, Cian, Ewan, Teague
Maddox: Paxton, Hendrix, Lennox, Saxon, Hawkins
Oliver: Edgar, Julius, Everett, Alistair, Benedict
Wyatt: Sawyer, Walker, Abbott, Winslow, Crockett

Stealth Hit Names, Part 2: The Boys

Jul 2nd 2010

Yesterday I introduced the "stealth hit" baby names: names with no dominant spelling, so that their overall popularity is obscured in statistical rankings. Take a look at that post first for more explanation and the list of girls' names. Today, we conclude with the stealth boys' names.

You'll see that the boys' list is half the length of the girls', which isn't a big surprise. Boys' names are still more conservative and concentrated. What's more, the wide-open creativity on the girls' side can have the effect of making parents of boys less free with spellings. Think of how often you've seen parents of girls use variations like Ryleigh or Ashtyn to "feminize" names. Since those spellings are used to signal girl, parents of boys are more inclined to stick to the most standard male versions.

A few notables:

- Elliot/Elliott is the only name that appears on both lists.

- Blaze/Blaise fulfills all of the criteria for the list, but it's hard to think of those two as just alternate spellings of the same name. The have separate meanings and origins and appeal to very different families.

- Kaden is the stealthiest name in America, with nothing close to a standard spelling. Four versions met my two-thirds threshhold, and five more rank in the boys' top 1000.

BOYS

Antoine/Antwan
Ayan/Aayan
Blaze/Blaise
Bodhi/Bodie/Bode
Bryan/Brian
Bryton/Brighton
Cade/Kade
Colin/Collin
Damarion/Demarion
Darrell/Darryl
Deangelo/D'Angelo
Elliot/Elliott
Grey/Gray
Jacorey/Jacory
Jayvion/Javian
Kaden/Caden/Kayden/Cayden
Kale/Cale
Kason/Cason
Keon/Keyon
Kyran/Kyren
Marcelo/Marcello
Markell/Markel
Matthias/Mathias
Phillip/Philip
Reece/Reese/Rhys
Reid/Reed
Stefan/Stephan/Stephon
Taj/Tahj
Tavin/Taven
Tavion/Tavian
Terrance/Terrence
Thiago/Tiago
Xander/Zander
Yaakov/Yakov
Zavion/Xavion