Almost any well-named movie character, good or evil, can inspire a baby name trend. But what about a name intended as a joke? After all, some of Hollywood's most memorable character names, from Cruella de Vil to McLovin, were constructed for laughs.
Thanks to scriptwriters who can pinpoint the intersection of silly and stylish, even joke names have crossed over to real-life babies. OK, maybe not Cruella or McLovin. But just as a name like Cameron can leave its etymological meaning of "crooked nose" behind, an appealing character name can transcend its jokey origins.
For exhibit 1, I give you Madison. The writers behind the 1984 movie Splash earned big laughs by having a mermaid naively name herself after a Madison Avenue street sign. "Madison's not a name," said her appalled human companion. The joke was on him; since the movie came out, more than 350,000 American girls have been named Madison.
None of the four additional names below approach Madison's popularity. Some, in fact, may still sound like jokes to you. But all of them have broken through the fourth wall and become real – and rising – baby names.
The 2012 animated film Wreck-It Ralph took place in a world of video games, including a candy-themed "Sugar Rush" game featuring a character named Vanellope von Schweetz. Vanellope was a high-concept joke, an artificially vanilla-flavored take on the old-fashioned name Penelope. But as it happens, between the time that the movie was conceived and when it was released, V became the hot new name letter and the number of girls named Penelope skyrocketed. Bullseye. We've seen little Vanellopes named at the rate of about 70 per year since the film came out.
When The Simpsons' writers imagined the founder of the city of Springfield, they came up with a western-style pioneer with the over-the-top biblical name "Jebediah Obadiah Zachariah Jedediah Springfield." Part of the joke was that Jebediah isn't actually a Bible name at all. But it sure sounds like one, doesn't it? A smattering of real-life boys have been named Jebediah ever since the name appeared in a 1970s western film, but the satirical Simpsons character put the name on the map. More than 50 American babies have been named Jebediah in the past two years.
Maleficent started out as the villain of Disney's 1959 princess classic Sleeeping Beauty. The name was a sly and ingenious choice. An obscure adjective meaning "producing evil," Maleficient worked on multiple levels for adults and kids alike; even those who didn't recognize the word couldn't miss its sinister elegance. In 2014 Maleficent became the first Disney villain to take top billing, brought to life as a title character played by Angelina Jolie. The following year the name registered in the baby name statistics for the first time.
What do you name a boy who runs at super-speed? The team behind The Incredibles had the perfect winking answer: Dashiell, called "Dash." Before the 2004 movie, Dashiell was an uncommon name and Dash as a given name was nearly unheard of. Both names rose in popularity afterwards, but "just Dash" rose fastest. Today it's a top-1,000 boy's name, twice as common as the full Dashiell.
My father recently passed away. At a small service in his memory I mentioned that my father's father, who died long before I was born, was apparently known as both Isidore and Irving. After the service a friend approached me and said that her grandfather was also sometimes called Isidore, sometimes Irving. Then yet another friend said, "I was just about to say that my grandfather was also named Isidore, but sometimes went by Steve!"
Out of a small group of people, three grandpas who were sometimes-but-not-always named Isidore? It's a strange coincidence, especially since Isidore was never an especially common name. But the fact that the name in question is Isidore does make sense. That name is an emblem of an age of name self-invention.
Isidore was a common choice for immigrants named Yitzhak (Isaac) or Israel who renamed themselves upon coming to America. For them it was a name of choice, adopted to represent a new identity and new possibilities. Change and flexibility were intrinsically part of that.
Even American-born Isidores, though, entered a world where names were far more mutable than today. The vast majority of Isidores were born in the 40-year period from 1885-1925. Nicknames were routine back then, and often went far beyond mere trimmings of given names. For instance, a great uncle of mine who was born in that period was named Richard but called Irwin by his family and Yi by his friends. None of my relatives seemed to find that unusual.
Compare that attitude to today's naming climate. We're more creative than ever before in our baby name choices, but much less flexible. Nicknames have become endangered species as parents insist that their kids be called Thomas and Catherine rather than Tommy and Cathy, let alone Buzz or Sissy. As for whole alternate names like Isidore/Steve or Richard/Irwin, they seem to have vanished. In my teenage daughters' cohort, name fluctuations only come up in cases of a shift in gender identification.
In short, while our baby-naming options are becoming ever more open, we're closing the door on self-naming options. We're treating our given names as, well, "givens." They're immutable objects, frozen in place as our parents imagined them before they ever met us. We don't adapt them to fit different situations or life stages, or let friends bestow new names on us to reflect the experiences we accrue through our lives. We don't reinvent our identities as my grandpa Isidore/Irving/Yitzhak did – or at least, not without a lot of soul-searching and ceremony.
Perhaps we could take some pressure off of ourselves in the naming process if we welcomed back a little of that old-time flexibility. By all means, keep searching for the perfect baby name. I'm the last person who would downplay the significance of name choices. But if we give our children, and ourselves, the space to play and experiment with nicknames, we may find that perfection doesn't come in a one-size-fits-all package. We all have many selves in many settings, and there's something to be said for a name that morphs along with us.
With names like Royal, Messiah and Destiny in the top 500, modern parents appear to be fans of inspirational choices. Why not choose an extraordinary name for an extraordinary child?
These fourteen swanky and sumptuous names embody that sense of wealth and power. Some work for boys, girls, or both, but all offer the promise of success. If you’re looking for an auspicious choice to bring fortune and fame to your little one, look no further!
Image via FreeGreatPicture.com
Lux. Though the origins of this Latin name relate to “light,” its unique sound is closer to “luxury” or “deluxe.” Lux is prominent in pop culture - from League of Legends to the Virgin Suicides - and would work especially well as a stylish middle choice.
Chanel. The iconic designer’s surname jumped onto the top 1000 after her death in the early 1970’s, as fans paid homage to Coco. While her nickname is also slowly rising for girls, Chanel is a posh pick, both fashionable and formidable.
Prosper. This verb name exudes bountifulness, determination, and success. The name comes from the Latin for “fortune,” but English ears will hear it as a synonym for “achieve.” Prosper has found favor in France, as well as in a few literary sources.
Royce. A kingly choice, Royce has begun to rise again (as part of the Generational Sweet Spot trend, perhaps). Of course, its vintage vibe isn’t the only draw - the Rolls-Royce company has been promoting their luxury image since 1904, inspiring parents to go the brand-name route.
Glimmer. While this shimmering choice has yet to be recorded, The Hunger Games series has ignited the interest of many in Glimmer. It’s not too far off from beachy Summer, and it feels akin to shining Crystal, though more understated.
Dior. Another fashion-forward French surname, Dior is glamorous and glittering. It has an unusual sound - not unlike up-and-coming Noor - but remains recognizable to many. Rapper and entrepreneur Diddy named his son Justin Dior, putting a unisex spin on the name.
Titan. It has both pop culture credibility and an aural connection to current trends - it’s no wonder Titan has begun to rise up the top 1000. This powerful choice could shorten to the friendly nickname Ty, but its mythological and cinematic links keep Titan strong.
Laurent. Of course, there’s designer Yves Saint Laurent, but the name also has fortunate origins. Laurent comes from the same Latin root as “laurel,” a plant and a symbol of victory. If Lawrence is too prominent and Larry too mid-century, Laurent might hit a more dapper note.
Copper. Though it’s best known as the name of a character in The Fox and the Hound, Copper could work as a radiant alternative to Carter or Cooper. It’s likeable and pleasant, but not used too often as a noun - making it a perfect “word name” pick.
Everest. Monumental but not unconquerable, Everest fits in with rising stars McKinley and Denali while preserving a sense of awe. It’s also close in sound to Evan, Everett, and Emmett, all currently in the top 150. Unlike its popular brethren, however, Everest is rare and illustrious.
Armani. Both Italian and Persian in origin, Armani is a sleek, cross-cultural choice for the sophisticated. It’s also a thoroughly modern name, having only been recorded in the United States since 1986. Another related choice is Giorgio, debonair and dashing.
Jewel. It may sound like a twenty-first century name, but Jewel has long been bestowed upon precious baby girls, reaching the top 200 in 1904. Now that Ruby and Pearl have come back into fashion, sparkling Jewel won’t be far behind.
Valor. A worthy successor to Victor and Vincent, Valor maintains a winning spirit and an uncommon but familiar sound. It’s short and chic, but masculine and compelling. Valor is slowly growing for boys, too, making it more accessible.
Mercedes. Once associated with the Virgin Mary, the name Mercedes today is more likely to be associated with the eponymous auto corporation. Both aspects help this name balance between a classic, religious image and a contemporary, secular sound, fantastic for all types of little girls.