World of Namecraft

Jul 31st 2008

Countless popular names have come from popular culture.  Hit books, movies, tv shows, even songs have launched baby names.  But comic books?  Video games?  Nah.  They've always appealed to a niche market, and it's the wrong niche -- adolescent boys rather than moms.

Media trends change, though, and parents change too.  Recently realms like comics, anime and yes, video games have crossed over into the baby naming world.  Some examples, from the current United States top-1000 name list:

Madden: Legendary football coach and broadcaster John Madden is even better known as a video game: the hugely popular Madden NFL football series.

Makai: A Japanese supernatural realm, used in games and anime like "Makai Kingdom" and "Makai Senki Disgaea."

Raiden: A popular name in fighter/shooter video games, including the "Mortal Kombat" and "Metal Gear" series.

Ronin: Ronan is an Irish name.  Ronen is a Hebrew name.  Ronin, though, is a masterless Samarai, a popular figure in comics and anime as well as a 1998 action film.

Most of these names, of course, have mainstream-fashionable sounds.  When it comes to pop-culture baby names, being able to teleport and control lightning doesn't count for much.  It's all in the sound.  Yet there's little question that the games and comics have been the launching pad.  Note that Raiden is the only common spelling of that name --  no Raden or Rayden.  And Makai has been in the top 1000 every year since "Makai Kingdom" debuted.  It appears that the gaming/comics/anime genres are maturing -- or that parents are regressing.

How long until we see the first baby name fad spurred by a web site?

10 words that would be trendy new names if they weren't words

Jul 27th 2008

Apropos of nothing:





Name Detective: 1970s Edition

Jul 21st 2008

When it comes to celebrity-inspired baby names, I always say that it's not about the celebrity, it's about the name.  If sheer popularity and exposure were what mattered, Madonna would be the top name of the past 25 years.  In reality, even a modest pop culture moment can beget a name phenomenon...if it's the right name at the right time.  Years later, the name's "celebrity" origins will be lost from memory.  This is a tale of one such name.

Here's a graph of one name's popularity starting in 1974.  (The numbers printed on the bars represent the rank among all girls' names in the U.S.)  Any guess what name it is?


That's a major out-of-nowhere hit.  And most remarkably, the name has held steady ever since.  It's currently celebrating its 30th straight year in the top 200.  But don't feel bad if you can't guess from the graph -- I certainly couldn't.  Because the name is Jillian.  And what the heck made Jillian one of the fastest rising names of the 1970s?

I was curious, so I did a little digging.  Credit the name's first appearance in 1976 to soap operas.  "Ryan's Hope" premiered in the second half of 1975, featuring a character named Jillian Coleridge.  The next step up the ladder came in 1977, with a film character: Gillian Guiler of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  My best guess on the the trigger for 1982 burst is actress Ann Jillian (born Ann Nauseda).  Hardly a Madonna in the bunch.

A clue to the reason Jillian caught on so spectacularly can be found in the Close Encounters character.  Note that it's Gillian, with a G.  Yet that spelling got only a fraction of the boost of the J version, thanks to old friend Jill.  In 1977, Jill was an American standard.  The name had been in the top 100 for 20 years in a row.  It was still extremely popular, but also extremely familiar.  Jillian seemed like a natural way to freshen up a name that people still liked but were getting a little bored with.  It was just a baby step away from the tried and true, a perfect recipe for popularity.  In short, a modest pop-culture launching pad was enough to send Jillian into orbit because parents were already ready for it.

If you've been watching the recent top-10 American names, this phenomenon may sound familiar.  It's replaying in Addison, birthed of familiar favorite Madison with a big boost from a tv character.  30 years from now, "Dr. Addison Montgomery" will probably be just a footnote to naming history too.