Gymnast Nadia Comăneci. Ski racer Bode Miller. Figure skater Katarina Witt. Those three athletes from three different sports and three different countries have one big thing in common: they all parleyed Olympic gold medals into baby name immortality. The names Nadia, Bode and Katarina enjoyed bursts of U.S. popularity after their Olympic showcases.
What names from the Rio games will join this unique Olympic pantheon? The recipe calls for athletic prowess, an appealing character, and above all a fresh, stylish name. Here's our short list of prospects. (The athletes are Team USA unless otherwise noted.)
Image via Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
#1: Simone. Simone Biles is already being called the greatest woman gymnast in history, and this is her Olympic debut. Her classic French name is very familiar but has never been particularly common in the United States. Swimmer Simone Manuel should also help keep this name in the news.
#2: Steele. Young diver Steele Johnson is ready for the big time with his own YouTube channel and a name fit for a superhero.
#3: Vashti. High jumper Vashti Cunningham has fame in her veins as the daughter of NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. The biblical Vashti, a queen who sacrificed her crown for her dignity, adds an extra layer to this intriguing name.
#4: Lydia. 19-year-old New Zealand golfer Lydia Ko is already at the top of her sport, and the name Lydia is a hit with room left to climb.
#5: Eaton. Decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton adds two potential names to the mix. Ashton is already a rising hit, while Eaton is rare but fit current trends perfectly.
#6: English. Sprinter English Gardner says that her mom believed she was destined for greatness and chose an unforgettable name to match.
#7: Rossella.Italian fencer Rossella Fiamingo boasts a fearsome epee and a romantic name.
#8: Caeleb. Swimmer Caeleb Dressel offers up a Gaelic-styled twist on the biblical favorite Caleb.
#9: Adeline. Wrestler Adeline Gray lends some muscle to her "sweet old-fashioned name."
#10: Aurelie. French distance swimmer Aurélie Muller has an appropriately fluid name that could catch on in the U.S.
#12: Aries. Hurdler Aries Merritt has an inspiring medical story of a different kind. A gold medalist at the London games, Merritt received a kidney transplant last year and, incredibly, has come back to qualify for the Olympics again. That toughness lives up the the ram of his zodiacal name.
Read More: The Name of the Olympic Hockey Team
You hear a name and you're intrigued. Maybe you think it would make a good name for a future child, or maybe it just makes you wonder: "What is that name? Where does it come from? Are babies actually called that?" And then you come to us at BabyNameWizard.com, because that's what we're here for.
The names below are the top curiosity sparks of this year so far. They're all super-popular searches in our Namipedia, at rates far out of proportion to their popularity as baby names. Have you wondered about about any of these yourself?
In the tv series "Lucifer," the Lord of Hell gets bored and takes a consulting gig with the LAPD. This unlikely premise has stirred fresh interest in a name previously consigned to infernal darkness. Ironically, the name's origins are anything but dark. Lucifer means "light bringing" and originally referred to the morning star (Venus). In later Christian tradition the name became associated with a fallen angel, and eventually with Satan himself. That's a tough image to break, but some parents are trying. A handful of American babies are named Lucifer each ear.
For the film The Good Dinosaur, Pixar turned to the old Sesame Street naming playbook. Choose an old names that has fallen far from fashion but remains familiar to fit an awkwardly lovable creature. It worked for Elmo, Kermit and Grover, and now for Arlo the apatosaurus. But given the popularity of names like Milo and Leo, Arlo might make a bigger fashion splash than the Muppets ever did.
The film Colombiana was only a modest success at the box office, but on the baby name charts it was a blockbuster. Cataleya, the name of the film's assassin protagonist, was the fastest-rising name of 2012, and has remained popular since. The name comes from the Cattleya genus of orchid, with a sleeker (and less bovine) spelling.
Nico is a short form of Nicholas used in multiple languages. But unlike Nick, it's not just a…er…"nick"name. As a full given name, it has a bit more edge than gentler -o names like Arlo and Milo. The Norwegian pop duo Nico & Vinz, who had a global hit with "Am I Wrong," have boosted the buzz.
Simple names like Kaya come from everywhere and nowhere. There's an inevitability about them, as they're reinvented again and again around the world. Back in 2002 the American Girl company used the name for a Nez Perce character (as a nickname for "Kaya' aton' my"). Now two British Kayas are reviving interest in the name: singer Kaya Stewart and Maze Runner actress Kaya Scodelario.
Parents are still on the hunt for the "X" factor. The Scottish surname Lennox follows in the footsteps of names like Maddox, balancing an aggressive style with a traditional source. Boxer Lennox Lewis and singer Annie Lennox have inspired some of the young namesakes, and a female Lennox on the sitcom "Melissa & Joey" has encourage parents to use it for girls as well as boys.
Parents encounter the name Arya in Game of Thrones, fall in love, then try to find proof that it's a "real" name. If it makes you feel better, there is indeed a traditional name Arya, from the Sanskrit for "honorable." But realistically, author George R. R. Martin didn't choose a Sanskrit name for the sister of Robb, Sansa, Bran and Rickon. Like so many Game of Thrones names—Tyrion, Cersei, even Khaleesi—this name was shaped within Martin's own vast imagination. There's nothing wrong with that.
The angel Castiel debuted on the tv series Supernatural back in 2008. Ever since, his name has been a top search term here at BabyNameWizard.com. It follows the classic angel name form, echoing Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael. Is it biblical? Apocryphal? New age? Nope, none of the above. Castiel isn't a traditional religious name at all, but it does mean "angel" today and ranks as a top-1,000 choice for boys.
Sometimes a name trend really is a name trend. Everett is one of the hottest rising names for boys, a gentlemanly surname that pairs the fashionable Ev- opening (a la Everly, Evangeline, Evelyn) and -tt ending (Emmett, Wyatt, Scarlett). The rush of readers to our Everett name page suggests that this name's star is still on the rise.
A few weeks ago, we looked at names inspired by the majestic beauty of the American Southwest. Today, we’ll be moving north and checking out names inspired by the Pacific Northwest - its urban areas, notable flora, and other geographic phenomena. If you have any information or names to contribute, please comment below!
Columbia. The largest in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River was named by American captain and explorer Robert Gray after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. Columbia is a name that pervades much of the United States, branding towns and universities, boats and companies. It comes from the Latin columba, meaning “dove”. While the name was used briefly in the late nineteenth century, it’s incredibly rare today - only ten little Columbia’s were born last year. It’s patriotic, substantial, and feminine, an elegant choice.
Eugene. While Eugene is now often used as a go-to example for old-fashioned names, it’s certainly not without a few positive traits! It means “wellborn”, and stayed in the top 200 US names for boys for over 100 years. “A Great City for the Arts and Outdoors”, Eugene, Oregon was named after its founder, settler Eugene Franklin Skinner. Today, Eugene is known as a center of counterculture, both historical and current. The name might be a bit unexpected, but it can be worn well with nicknames - Gene, Gino - or in its feminine form - Eugenie and Eugenia.
Everett. Classic, accessible, and strong - it’s no wonder that Everett has been shooting up in popularity! Of course, similar-sounding Evelyn and Avery are also on the rise, so the trend may be due to an affection for sound over an affection for history. Everett, Washington is notable for being the largest public marina on the west coast of the United States, as well as hosting the largest building in the world (by volume), the Boeing Everett Factory. An early businessman in the area, Charles Colby, named the city after his son Everett - who himself was named after the American politician and orator, Edward Everett.
Helena. After years behind the shadows of sister names Helen and Ellen, beautiful Helena has begun to bloom once more. The origins of this name begin all the way back before ancient Greece, making it a bit difficult to define in terms of meaning, but many have associated it with “light” or the moon. Helena is also the capital of Montana, as well as the name of a national forest. The capital was named after two other Helena towns in Minnesota and Arkansas, replacing the original town title, “Last Chance”. Quite a few famous Helena’s keep the name visible today - Bonham Carter and Christensen, for two - but its lovely melody will endure long after its popularity wanes.
Huckleberry. This literary name is a mouthful, but that didn’t stop twenty-five sets of parents from naming their little boys Huckleberry last year. Even more have chosen the more amiable short form, Huck. The huckleberry is included on this list as the state fruit of Idaho, and the plant abounds across North America. There are quite a few fictional Huckleberry’s, from Finn to Hound to Ziegler, but hardly any real-life ones. The current trend towards unique names, however, may bring Huckleberry out of hiding; indeed, only in the last ten years has the name been multiply recorded on birth certificates!
Lark. Six states in the West and Pacific Northwest count the western meadowlark as their state bird, hence the inclusion of Lark on this list! (I will admit that the meadowlark is not technically a lark - Carl Linnaeus misidentified the bird, and the name stuck). The name Lark has been in use since the early nineteenth century, and only ranked in the top 1000 one year - #765 in 1885. It’s a short and sweet alternative to the more common Raven or the rather blunt Birdie. The lark is commonly associated with dawn and daybreak, as well as the idiom “happy as a lark” - not a bad simile at that!
Olympia. Regal, commanding, and feminine, Olympia is a name of the old world that could work well in the new. With Olivia and Sophia dominating the top ten, why not choose a rarer name that maintains their melody and gravitas? Olympia, the capital of Washington, was named in honor of the nearby Olympic Mountains (and bestowed upon a species of oyster found in the area, interestingly). Truly, the name can be found all over the world, imbuing a royal strength within its wearers. Too assertive for your little one? Make it more accessible with the nickname Ollie or Polly.
Opal. A gemstone found in the northwestern states of Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho, opals can present as dozens of different colors and patterns. They’ve long been associated with fortune-telling and magic, and they’re the birthstone of those born in October. Elegant and ethereal, effervescent and energetic - what lovely associations for such a classic name! Popular in the early 1900’s - it reached as high as #81 in 1911 - Opal left the top 1000 in 1961. However, the recent revival of Ruby and Pearl could help Opal jump back into the ranks. Time will tell if sparkling Opal will shine again!
Paisley. Since debuting on the top 1000 in 2006, Paisley has risen enough to become a top 50 pick. Why the rise to the top? It has the trendy “pay” (like Payton and Paige) and “lee” sounds, it’s associated with a pretty and feminine aesthetic, and it happens to be the last name of a country music star. Paisley is included here for a couple of reasons: there’s a tiny town (243 people) called Paisley in Oregon, and it’s the title of Paisley Caves, an archaeological site in Oregon that holds the oldest pieces of evidence showing human DNA in North America. While its sound and rank may seem flash-in-the-pan, Paisley will surely endure with its important historical associations.
Rainier. No, this name wasn’t included for its connection to the climate of the Pacific Northwest. Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington State, and the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. It was named by George Vancouver (yes, that Vancouver) in honor of his friend, Admiral Peter Rainier, though the original Native American name for the mountain is closer to “Tacoma”. In the United States, Rainier has been used very little - many Americans associate it with the royal Monocan husband of actress Grace Kelly. Rainier can also be spelled Rayner or Rainer, and it’s an unexpected way to reach the handsome nickname Ray.