Bold. Powerful. Audacious. If this year's fast-rising baby names had a theme, it was "no limits." Parents are no longer afraid to go big, choosing names that past generations didn't dare consider. From kings and gods to superheroes and even supervillains, we've entered an age of unprecedented baby name boldness.
Images: flickr/milst1, pottermore.com
What does that boldness look like? To start with, the names below all ranked among the top 1,000 names for boys or girls last year, all rising in popularity from the year before:
Royal (F, M))
And here's a sampling of some fast risers outside the top 1,000:
Divine (F, M)
Kaiser (F, M)
Lex (F, M)
Majesty (F, M)
Sovereign (F, M)
I've written before about the rise of "exalted names" that suggest royalty and divinity. I described them as names crafted to inspire and celebrate, "demanding that this child will be valued and respected." I stand by that description, but this year's rapid rise of power names on the dark side (like Lucifer, Bellatrix and the #1 fastest-rising boy's name Kylo) points to a broader phenomenon.
The name lists above cast a wide net. Ace, Messiah, Dionysus, Majestic, Kal-El and Jezebel are all over the cultural and stylistic map. Individually, each represents a single family's heartfelt decision with a personal story behind it. Collectively, they may well signal a fundamental shift in the enterprise of naming babies.
Over the past generation, parents turned away from the idea of a "normal name": the assumption that we choose our babies' names from an established pool of options. This freer attitude led to a flowering of new hit names. We saw more foreign imports like Giovanni; surnames like Cassidy; place names like Brooklyn; and sound-based inventions like Jayla. Each pushed the envelope gently, forging new territory while staying tethered to the traditional.
The new names break the tether. You can almost hear parents thinking, "I could actually do that. I could choose…anything." It's a veritable explosion of ambition, thrills, and raw id. We're naming with the safety off. Full throttle, full bore, no limits.
Read More: Baby Names Are Getting Ready to Rule
The fastest-rising girls' names of 2016 all sat at the intersection of celebrity and style. They were sparked by famous connections, but they're also perfect fits with the kinds of name sounds parents were already looking for.
The singer Kehlani placed three singles high on the R&B charts in 2016. With her cross-genre musical style, multiethnic background, and eye-catching look heavy on tattoos and piercings, she makes a statement as a baby-name style setter.
But as always, celebrity-driven baby names are as much about name as fame. Three-syllable names ending in -ani are soaring. The #1 fastest riser outside the top 1000 was Yurani (a telenovela character). Meilani was one of last year's fastest risers. And consider, too, how much Kehlani resembles this year's fastest-rising boy's name. Follow the sound.
Last year's #1 fastest riser is proving it's a legitimate phenomenon. Boosted by the film "The Age of Adaline," this sweet old-timer is officially back. The spelling Adeline (see #4 below) overtook Madeline in popularity for the first time this year.
The name of a daughter of singer Chris Brown, Royalty is just one of a bumper crop of exalted word names climbing the charts. From Amazing to Zeus, any name that puts the baby on a pedestal is a likely hit.
(see Adaline above)
Actress Amy Adams named her daughter Aviana, inspired by the Aviano Air Base in Italy where she lived as a child. It doesn't take a personal connection to see the name's appeal, though. In December when we highlighted Aviana & Avianna as new names to watch for, we said: "With the names Ava, Arianna and Viviana all fresh hits, this name was just begging to happen."
…and the rest of the top 10:
It's easy to think of celebrities who made their names suddenly popular. It's much harder to think of celebrities who made their names suddenly unpopular. This year, though, we have such an example.
In 2016, the first full year after the star formerly known as Bruce Jenner was reintroduced as Caitlyn Jenner, the three fastest-falling names in America were all versions of Caitlyn:
And then there's #5 Caitlyn, #9 Katelynn, etc. At first glance, this wholesale retreat from a familiar name may seem to be a rejection of Jenner's new public identity. Certainly, parents do shy away from controversy in names, as we've seen in the decline of political homages. But I think the real story on Caitlyn is complicated, and as much about names as about gender.
First off, it's important to realize that the name was going to fall in popularity even if Jenner hadn't existed. Take a look at the popularity trend of all 57 (!) varieties of Caitlyn over the previous two decades:
The name was sliding out of fashion, and it's easiest to move the public in a direction it's already heading. Next, consider that this wasn't just another new celebrity name. The name itself was the story, announced with a flourish in a "Call Me Caitlyn" magazine cover, the choice of name debated and analyzed.
The result was inevitable Caitlyn fatigue. With the year-long media blitz it became hard to hear the name in its own right, as just a nice baby name. Jenner had staked her claim to it.
Finally, consider that the Caitlyn gazing out of that famous magazine cover was 65 years old. Caitlyn became popular as a fresh, youthful twist on Catherine and Kathleen. The new standard-bearer for the name helped age it in a hurry.
The rest of the fastest-falling names:
#4 Jase (M)
#6. Alexa (F)
#7. Blake (M)
#8. Brandon (M)
#10. Alexis (F)