The Ultimate Geek Name?

Jan 19th 2011

Scanning a list of names that users recently added to Namipedia, one leapt out at me: Zaphod. Yes, as in Zaphod Beeblebrox. (If you haven't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, now's a good time. Go ahead, I'll wait.)

Is a two-headed alien a good enough reason to keep such an unlikely name in our baby name encyclopedia? My first instinct was no, but my husband disagreed. A certain sort of person, he argued, will indeed want to learn about the name Zaphod. He works for Google, so I accept his expertise on that "certain sort of person." It made me wonder...has anyone actually named a baby in honor of Mr. Beeblebrox?

Sure enough, the U.K. is home to at least three Zaphods and even more boys with that middle name, all born since the Hitchhiker's series premiered.

This prompted a family discussion: is Zaphod the geekiest of all names? My husband questioned whether Zaphod was really any geekier than, say, Gandalf. My 10-year-old daughter, who is currently reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time, responded that Gandalf is a COOL name, thank you very much. Such is life in the Wattenberg household.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are many candidates for the ultimate alpha-geek name. America welcomes about a hundred baby Anakins and Neos every year, along with a couple of dozen Aslans, Enders and Atreyus. Then there's the grand new crop of video game baby names, like Fenix, Ryu and Alucard. And let's not forget Kal-El.

Yet there's something about Zaphod. It has a certain geek purity, perhaps because the original Zaphod wasn't some sleek, all-powerful force of light or darkness. He had a self-confident charm, but was voted "Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe" seven times. Plus unlike Anakin, Neo and friends, his name does not follow a fashionable rhythm. Plus he had three arms.

So to me, the name Zaphod represents an apex of authentic, committed geekhood -- at least among names borne by multiple real people. I'm sure there are some fine examples I'm missing, though. Any nominees?

Pope Benedict on Baby Names: A global game of telephone

Jan 11th 2011

Headlines from around the world today:

Pope rails against rise of un-Christian names
The Pope has warned parents against giving children celebrity-inspired names and urged them to turn to the Bible for inspiration instead.
- The Daily Telegraph, U.K.

Look to Bible, not Hollywood: pope
- Montreal Gazette, Canada

Pope blasts star names
- The Age, Australia

From these, you might gather that Pope Benedict XVI made remarks critical of modern naming trends, and placed the blame on parents' imitation of Hollywood celebrities. Strangely, you would be completely wrong.

The headlines were prompted by a Papal homily following a cherished annual rite: the baptism of 21 infants at the Sistine Chapel to mark the close of the Christmas season. The theme of the Pope's address was the gift and responsibility of baptism, with the pontiff encouraging his flock to "rediscover the beauty of being baptized."

You can read the Catholic News Service report on the event. If you do, you'll notice that the word "name" is not even mentioned. Curious, eh? In fact, "name" appears only once in the homily itself, in a discussion of the transformational power of baptism:

"It is not by chance, in fact, that every baptized person acquires the character of the Son, starting from their Christian name, an indisputable sign that the Holy Spirit brings man to be born again from the womb of the Church. Blessed Antonio Rosmini says that 'the baptized person undergoes a secret but most powerful operation by which he is raised up to the supernatural order, he is placed in communication with God.'"

So how the heck do you get from that to "Pope blasts star names"?

As far as I can tell, one enterprising reporter, most likely at the Daily Telegraph, saw a hook to talk about wacky celebrity baby names. Ooh, a chance to bash Becks and Gwyneth! So the reporter took some liberties interpreting the homily. In the Telegraph, statements the Pope made about baptism (an "indelible seal") were said to have been made about names instead. A better story that way, no?

Not to be outdone, reporters at other outlets embellished the story, sometimes adding brand-new papal quotes about names. From Fox News: "The pope added that family life is 'being threatened' with the use of non-Christian names." 

Continuing our global game of telephone, more and more outlets picked up the fascinating story of the Pope's assault on baby names. Reading his actual homily, though, must have been too much work. Instead, they devoted their efforts to thinking up celebrity baby names that were sure to make the Pope's hit list. Amusingly, a number of the "wacky" examples cited, like Falco and Cruz, are actually classic saintly names.

In the end, I think this fake story had legs for the same reasons that urban legend names do. It's something that people want to believe. Bashing celebrity baby names has become a global bloodsport, and enlisting the Pope is a handy way to legitimize it.

Palindrome Baby Names: The Master List

Jan 6th 2011

In November, we brought you the master list of backwards baby names. Today we follow up with a comprehensive listing of every palindrome name you're likely to find in America. (These are names that read the same backwards and forwards.)

But first, a reality check: only seven palindromes rank in the top 1000 for boys or girls. A handful of others like Aviva and Renner have some broader fashion potential, but the vast majority are niche names and destined to stay that way.

Currently popularity ranks are included for perspective; girls' names come first in descending popularity order, followed by boys' names.

Rank

Name

5

23

Ava

Hannah

29

Anna

182

Ana

442

Elle

575

Ada

582

Eve

1125

Emme

1171

Aya

1690

Aja

2549

Aviva

3688

Asa

4014

Aziza

4833

Ara

4890

Hanah

5156

Layal

5724

Maram

6053

Awa

7784

Anina

8953

Alla

9036

Aza

9065

Ala

9334

Itati

10073

Maham

10674

Ama

12162

Ece

12775

Arora

14413

Havah

16054

Alyla

16198

Afifa

16451

Habibah

16501

Luul

16757

Axa

16885

Arra

17060

Neven

18263

Alila

18978

Izzi

19003

Avva

20001

Yanay

20769

Halah

21394

Amma

21518

Aisia

23146

Ivi

23510

Aidia

23528

Azza

23641

Nan

23865

Ailia

24324

Ireri

24497

Eme

24931

Adda

25277

Ahsha

25490

Noon

25867

Anana

26421

Assa

27776

Alala

28574

Hallah

28601

Lul

29573

Aleela

31263

Aba

31395

Alela

32745

Hawah

32750

Hayah

34289

Nayan

35412

Umu

 

554

Asa

1091

Otto

2527

Natan

3975

Nayan

4166

Nitin

4194

Naman

4468

Bob

4478

Neven

4493

Ava

4666

Efe

5654

Renner

6411

Nosson

6728

Hannah

6855

JJ

7673

Anna

7798

Ara

8106

Sahas

9216

Ramar

9225

Ege

10018

Ata

10067

Sabas

10094

Ana

10718

Aza

11837

Savvas

12943

Siris

14237

Nalan

15955

Kilik

16862

Aja

17152

BB

17689

Savas

18075

Ala

18701

Ada

19605

Nolon

19921

Reinier

20349

Abba

21031

Laval

21517

Aba

21642

Alula

23640

Navan

24144

Sylys