The superhero movie Black Panther is a blockbuster, and a phenomenon. Beyond its critical and box office success, it has rapidly become a watershed film for a generation of African-American fans. The portrayal of a majestic, super-powered African society projects a proud cultural identity along with popcorn thrills. Already, observers are talking about the movie’s impact spreading to other realms, such as fashion.
Here’s a prediction so dead-certain that it doesn’t take any superpowers on my part to see the future: Black Panther WILL affect American baby naming. Consider that the fastest-rising name of 2016 was an invented name from a blockbuster sci-fi film (Kylo of Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Then cross that literal star power with the cultural impact of the 1977 miniseries Roots.
Roots was a groundbreaking portrayal of the tragedy of American slavery, seen through the experiences of a single family. It was the most-watched tv program of its time, and made overnight hits of character names like Kizzy, and actor names like LeVar. Yet its naming effects went beyond such individual names. Roots made whole name prefixes and suffixes more popular, and helped spark wider interest in African names. [Read more about Roots and baby naming.]
Unlike that historically based epic, Black Panther is unabashed fiction. It is, after all, a Marvel Comics superhero movie. In fact, the hero’s given name, T’Challa, first appeared in American baby name stats back in the 1970s, during the character’s first multi-issue comic book story arc.
In today’s baby naming culture, that fantastical element is only a positive. Names from fantasy and sci-fi sources like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and yes, superhero movies are soaring in popularity. Kal-El, the Kryptonian birth name of Superman, is a top-1000 name for American boys. Bold names in general are in fashion, with exalted terms like Royal and King particularly popular with African-American parents.
Put it all together with some intriguing character and actor names, and Black Panther is sure trendsetter. The remaining question is, which names?
Even superheroes can’t overpower the full force of contemporary style. The name of the fictional nation Wakanda, for instance, may have too much of a 1960s sound for today’s parents. (Think of names like Wanda and Lashonda.) A broader issue is that many of the male character names, like M’Baku and N’Jobu, start with consonant combos that Americans have historically avoided. That means that a lot of the fashion firepower is on the female side.
Below are my style-based predictions of the likeliest Black Panther-inspired baby names. A deeply devoted fanbase, though, could extend the impact to less fashion-fitting names and words from the film, as well as to similar names that hit the same targets of sound, power and pride.
Danai (F, actor)
Nakia (F, character)
Okoye (F, character)
Shuri (F, character)
Zuri (Male character, but a traditionally female name)
The most popular names in Germany today are far from the old standards like Franz and Helga. Romantic Italian options, quirky nicknames, and vintage gems can be found in the top 100 names for both genders. Sehr toll!
German parents have embraced the fourteen names below, but they remain undiscovered by many American parents - none of them rank in the US top 500. If you’re looking for a name that’s stylish and unexpected (with a range of accents), check out these Deutsch delights.
Leonie. This smooth name fits in with modern Leo and Leah trends, but it feels more down-to-earth. It’s well-known throughout Europe these days, but one notable namesake is American poet laureate Leonie Adams, who was active in the early twentieth century. Toeing the line between quirkiness and accessibility, Leonie will interest fans of “sweet spot” picks.
Emil. Now that the girls have thoroughly explored Emily-Emma-Amelia territory, it’s time to give the boys a chance. Emil is a handsome and dignified option, appealing especially to those who want a cross-cultural name. It may be on the top 100 list in 10 countries around the world, but Emil has yet to make waves in North America.
Nele. An adorable nickname for Cornelia, nifty Nele has become a star in its own right. There’s a lot to like: its accessible “lee” ending, its succinct form and style, and its many connections to historical Cornelius’ and Cornelias. Though the pronunciation may initially trip up some English speakers, that hasn’t deterred Saoirse or Rhys!
Lenny. While many mid-century nicknames seem passe, Lenny is just offbeat and energetic enough to rise above the rest. Famous namesakes like Bruce and Kravitz give Lenny an edge, but its diminutive sound helps it fit in with other nickname-names, like Charlie or Joey. In a world where Leos are set to take over, Lenny could work as an unexpected alternative.
Ida. Today’s parents already love short names like Ava and Isla, and Ida is just ripe enough to join her style sisters across the pond. Though it ranked on the top ten during the late 1800’s, Ida has yet to be revitalized. From Old German for “industrious,” Ida is sure to work its way back onto the American name landscape.
Anton. Variants to classic Anthony range in style from gregarious Tony to romantic Antonio, with Anton bringing its own smooth and refined flavor. Well-known wearers include playwright Chekhov and late actor Yelchin; indeed, Anton’s cultural links extend through decades and across continents.
Finja. Pronounced “FIN-yah,” this lovely name could work for parents who love boyish nickname Finn but want a longer, more feminine name on the birth certificate. Finja is similar to Freja or Sonja in its melody and warmth, but it’s incredibly rare - it’s never been recorded in US name records. Might Finja be the ideal combination of familiar yet uncommon?
Linus. Once tethered to the Peanuts character, Linus suddenly seems like a cool name choice for a modern boy. After all, style siblings Atticus and Lucas have certainly gained fans for their smart reputations. Linus also comes from a distinguished source - in Greek mythology, he was the son of Apollo and associated with language and music.
Romy. A nicknames for a wide variety of names - Rosemary, Romeo, Roman - sociable Romy would fit in well with other popular choices like Ruby or Lily. Quite a few celebrity parents have picked this tomboyish choice for their daughters, but Romy has yet to rank in the US for either gender. Simple and sweet, Romy is a marvelous choice for a modern little girl.
Timo. As the ends-in-O trend begets newer and bolder options for boys, Timo stands out as an approachable and versatile name. It’s a form of Timothy (handy for those looking for a unique honorific) and comes from Greek for “honoring God,” an inspirational religious connection. It’s familiar in Scandinavia as well as Germany, with a dapper sound to boot.
Magdalena. This older form of Madeline may interest those who want an uncommon formal name to lead to cute nicknames Maggie or Maddie. This elegant choice became globally known thanks to Mary Magdalene, of course, and continues to jump on and off the US Top 1000. It’s also been historically found in royal genealogies across Europe, giving the name some noble flair.
Moritz. A German variant of Maurice, modern audiences are bound to associate the name with the ski resort - not such a bad thing when one considers the amount of place names on birth certificates! Moritz is at once old-fashioned and avant-garde, dynamic and serene. Short forms like retro Morrie or edgy Ritz make the name even more attractive, as well.
Tilda. Strong and beautiful Matilda, with its literary links and worldwide renown, becomes quite a different name when its first syllable is removed. Actress Tilda Swinton is the preeminent wearer, imbuing the name with grace and personality. Whether this name appeals as a nickname or full choice, Tilda is sure to make a memorable impression.
Alessio. It’s not only the Germans who have embraced this romantic, Italian name - Alessio, a variant of Alexis, ranks highly on French, Swiss, and Belgian name lists. It has an unforgettable melody and a dashing sort of style, with similarities to modern Alyssa and Alexander. Now that pop musician Alessia Cara is in public consciousness, the masculine form of the name may mesh more easily with American sensibilities.
Luisa. Since Louisa reentered the US top 1000 in 2014, variation spelling Luisa is expected to follow suit. The Latin spelling lends itself to nicknames Lulu or Lula more easily, and it makes a wonderful option for a multilingual family. Another positive trait is Luisa’s powerful background, from the Old German for “renowned warrior” - an excellent name for a independent little one.
Titan. Cairo. Royalty. Exotic word names like these are a hallmark of our naming era. With parents constantly on the lookout for fresh ideas, attractive titles, concepts, place names and more turn into popular names overnight. Yet as ultra-modern as these name styles sound, they’re not unprecedented. Our ancestors already gave them a spin generations ago.
Creative place names? Try Oklahoma for a baby girl. That name last registered in the U.S. name stats back in 1907. Unlikely pop-culture-inspired word names? The 1950s tv series Buffalo Bill, Jr. sparked a brief flurry of girls named after the title character’s sister, Calamity. And if it’s an exalted title you’re after, the name President was heard for boys in the 1910s and ‘20s.
Yes, those names were the exception in their days. They surely stood out against the steady background of English classics that dominated American naming. But it’s remarkable how many names of past generations still sound, well, remarkable, even by today’s standards. Here are 34 names plucked from past baby name stats that today’s parents haven’t touched…yet.
WORD NAMES OUR ANCESTORS USED THAT WE DON’T DARE