Conjuring up names on TV

Oct 4th 2004

It's no secret that a popular tv series can launch the popularity of a name. The all-time champion, by my reckoning, is "Bewitched." During its eight-year run, that beloved suburban-sorceress sitcom launched three names with lasting star power: Samantha, Darren and Tabitha. Samantha in particuar has become such a modern classic that it's hard to remember the name was virtually unknown before Elizabeth Montgomery brought it to twinkling life.

One contemporary heir to the naming throne shares a lot in common with "Bewitched." Try a charming suburban blonde, struggling each week to smoothe over trouble caused by pesky supernatural forces.

When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" premiered in 1997, the character names Willow and Xander were completely off the radar as baby names. But by the show's final year in 2003, Willow was the 530th most popular name for American girls. And Xander checked in at #237 for boys, ahead of such familiar favorites as Gregory, Martin and Scott.

Both shows took place in parallel universes, where life was full of the unexpected and unusual names wouldn't cause any raised eyebrows. (Who cares that your mother-in-law is named Endora, you've got bigger problems, she turned you into a goat.) The more real-world the show's setting, the less likely it will spawn hot new names. "Dynasty" was a huge name influence: Blake, Krystle, Alexis, Fallon. But "E.R."? Forget it.

Oranjello and Lemonjello

Sep 26th 2004

So you've heard about the twin boys named Oranjello and Lemonjello, right? No? Then probably your aunt the nurse knew a woman who heard a beautiful name in the hospital where she was giving birth, and decided to name her daughter...Chlamydia. Or was it Gonorrhea?

These legends have been around for generations. The details change--the veneral disease girls would have been named Eczema 100 years ago--but the core is the same. The key is a stupendously ignorant mother who doesn't understand what she's done. And often, there's an ugly racial undertone to the humor.

Yes, people do get stupid and crazy names, but most of the parents knew what they were doing, for better or worse. Most of them. Here, for reference, are some of the most common tall tales of cursed children and the parents who named them:

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Placenta, etc.: Sounds reasonable, right? Nope.

Oranjello and Lemonjello, the twins: Forget about it. Though Mark Lemongello did pitch for the Astros and Blue Jays in the '70s.

Male and Female--that's "MAH-lay" and "feh-MAHL-ay": The story is that the parents saw the word written on the baby's hospital bracelet and thought the doctor had already chosen a name.

Nosmo King: This one's from a sign in the hospital, get it?

Shithead--that's "shuh-THEED," thank you very much: No way. But don't neglect factual football star Craphonso.


Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the urban legend names is that they're not true. It's a big country, and you'll find plenty of real people named Robin Banks and Sunny Day.

Next up: Fact names, stranger than fiction

Names, Exotica, and Scrabble, Part 2

Sep 26th 2004

The previous post showed how parents are gravitating toward exotic letters in names -- particularly letters like Q, X and Z that score highest in the game of Scrabble. So what does that trend look like on an individual name level?

Any traditional name with a Q, X or Z now has a shot at the big time. Axel, Ezekiel, Felix, Maximilian, Quinton, Xavier, Zane and Zoe were obscurities a generation ago, but all are top-500 choices today. Zachary, once a biblical oddity, is now an everyday standard name:

To broaden the field, parents are also juicing up standard names with an extra shot of Scrabble power. Some popular choices:

Alexander-->Alexzander
Jackson-->Jaxon
Jasmine-->Jazmyn
Xavier-->Xzavier

(Jazmyn also illustrates another Scrabble-friendly trend, the mass substitution of Y for I in names like Kaitlyn and Madelyn.)

So what's up next? Here are 10 names with Scrabble mojo that have yet to break through:

Ajax - Think of the ancient Greek hero, not the srubbing bubbles
Beatrix - A sassier turn on Beatrice, with distinguished forbears
Jabez - The biblical Jabez had his prayers famously answered
Lazar - Eastern European form of Eleazar or Lazarus
Lennox - A tough, sophisticated Scottish surname
Quinlan - From the Irish surname, it also works as an elaboration on Quinn
Rex - From the Latin for "king," a promising alternative to Max
Xanthe - A traditional Greek name with the popular strong -e ending
Xristina - Eye-catching Greek form of Christina
Zilla - A thoroughly neglected Old Testament choice for girls