Every few weeks this summer I’ll be looking at names related to a region of the United States - places on maps, flora and fauna nearby, or names the area is known for! If you have additions to the list, or if you’re from the region and want to contribute background information, please share in the comments!
This week, we’re heading to the Southwest!
Image via iStock.com/SerrNovik
Bryce. Bryce Canyon National Park is a gorgeous nature reserve in southwestern Utah, famous for its hoodoos (tall rock spires). As amazing as I think the word “hoodoo” is, it’s Bryce that’s the star here! Meaning “speckled”, Bryce has slowly made its way into the top 200, and it’s become a strong and friendly classic for boys. The park was named after pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, but there are many famous Bryce’s today in the realms of sports and film. Scottish Brice is the original spelling, but Bryce stands out here in the United States.
Carson. It’s hard to try and fit Carson into any one name category: all sorts of nature bodies use the name, from forests to rivers to deserts; cities called Carson abound nationwide; namesakes are plentiful and include pioneers, actors, and athletes. It goes with modern trends - like the “son” ending names - but has a long history of use. Carson is the most prevalent name on this list, but still doesn’t feel overdone or passé. I’ll include it here because of its connection with many places in the Southwest, but this is a name that will work everywhere.
Phoenix. The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is one of the largest cities in the United States. And as a name, Phoenix has been rising for two decades from obscurity into the top 500 for both boys and girls. The name has a ton of positive qualities - an unusual animal reference, rare letter combinations, and the association with immortality. Many celebrities have chosen the name for their little ones, too! While Phoenix is definitely far from rare, it still manages to stay edgy and cool.
Poppy. Floral and feminine, Poppy has been popular in the United Kingdom and Australia for almost a decade now - why not bring it across the pond? The Southwest hosts a great assortment of poppies, from the California variety to the Mexican Gold. The flower has long been a symbol of peace and remembrance (not unlike the lily!) Poppy has an upbeat sound and spirited feel, and it’s currently just outside the top 1000. If you’re looking for an alternative to Lily or Violet, Poppy might be just up your alley.
Roan. This spelling variation of Rowan has its own colorful personality! The Roan Plateau is a resplendent mesa in western Colorado, containing all kinds of southwestern flora and fauna. While Rowan has become a go-to gender neutral name, Roan adds a bit more elegance and options for pronunciation (the color rhymes with Sloane). While there may be a bit of confusion with the original version, Roan is a fabulous name that might also work as a subtle nod to equestrians (Philip being the other recognizable horse-related name).
Sage. Both a noun and an adjective name, Sage is flowery but not frilly. The state flower of Nevada is the sagebrush, and sage plants abound throughout the West. The plants are also used as herbal medicine by many Native American tribes. As for the adjective portion, Sage means “wise”, and could be a lovely alternative to the most fashionable name meaning “wisdom”, Sophia. It’s soft and sweet, and would make a great choice for a child of any gender.
Sedona. This beautiful Arizona town was named for Sedona Schnebly, the first postmaster’s wife, whose mother reportedly made up her name because “it sounded pretty”. Unfortunately, the name is often associated with the eponymous Kia minivan today - but I think a reclamation is in order! The city is known for its lovely sandstone geography and multiple art, music, and film festivals, which gives it a much nicer connotation, don’t you think? The name Sedona was given to 69 girls last year, and numbers seem to be on the rise!
Silver. A staple in regional art and jewelry, silver mines have flourished in the Southwest for decades. Why not extend this resplendence to the world of naming? While this name sounds modern and trendy, Silver has actually been in name records since 1896! More unusual than Scarlett but less specialized than Aquamarine, this color name shines with a metallic finish. It’s currently more popular for girls, but the name really does feel gender-neutral. If you like Sawyer or Sailor, try Silver on for size.
Winslow. Mellow and boyish, Winslow combines the elegance of William with the attractiveness of Harlow. The small town was immortalized in the Eagles 1977 song “Take It Easy” - “I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona / Such a fine sight to see” - and it was an original stop on Route 66. It’s been slowly trending upwards for both boys and girls in recent years, offering the cute nicknames Win and Winnie. Looking for a rare vintage choice? Look no further!
Zion. Another National Park name, Zion is both expressive and subdued, spiritual and earthly, modern and ancient. In Hebrew, the name means “highest point”, and colloquially refers to heaven. Zion sounds like classics Ryan or Zane, but packs more power into its four letters. Of course, its many pluses have made it relatively popular, but that doesn’t make the name any less handsome. Note: the name also is used in discussions of Jewish nationalism, “Zionism”, so it could be a unique heritage choice!
As the remake of the miniseries Roots hits the air, America is remembering the impact of the 1977 original. 40 years later, how can we understand the enormous cultural force it carried? Let's try one of the most reliable barometers of America's mindset: baby names.
In 1977 television was a three-network business, dominated by sitcoms like "Happy Days" and "Three's Company" with a smattering of "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Love Boat." Yet the most popular program by far was an eight-part miniseries that told the tragic story of American slavery through the lens of a single family. Roots was an adaptation of a novel by Alex Haley. It followed the saga of Kunta Kinte, a 15-year-old West African boy captured into slavery, portrayed by actor LeVar Burton. A key later character was Kunta's daughter, named Kizzy.
Image via ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
Kunta Kinte and Kizzy weren't the likeliest baby names, but they captured parents' hearts. The graphs below show the American popularity of the names from 1970 through 1980, including minor spelling variations (and in the case of Kunta Kinte, both parts of the name). The red vertical lines show the year Roots premiered.
Those are extraordinary leaps. Kizzy jumped all the way from statistically non-existent to the #223 girl's name in America -- and the spelling Kizzie ranked #598. That's a higher debut than Miley 30 years later, when Riley and Kylee were already fast-rising hits. Consider, too, that the #1 movie of 1977 was a little flick called Star Wars. When it came to baby names, Roots eclipsed it.
Put the four name graphs together, and you have 8,000 namesakes born in the years immediately following Roots. A scattering of other names show up in the statistics as well, including Omoro, the name of Kunta Kinte's father, and Ji-Tu, after actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka. But even those names only scratch the surface of the story.
Roots wasn't just an entertainment, it was a societal milestone that struck deep chords of race, identity and history. The show's baby name effect, too, wasn't about mere publicity. (Note that one prominently featured name, Toby, the name which Kunta Kinte was forced to accept as a slave, actually fell in popularity in 1977.) For many African-Americans, Roots inspired deeper explorations of African cuture, including African-inspired baby names. Names like Aisha, Omari, and Akilah rose.
Even new name inventions were affected. For instance, contemporary African-American boys' names using Le- and La- as a prefix, a la LeVar Burton, hit their all-time peak in 1977. The name Kunta Kinte, too, was echoed in a generation of African-American boys' names ending in -nta and -nte, like Donta and Javonte. The trend had already started before Roots, but Kunta Kinte accelerated it:
The real societal impact of a show like Roots isn't so much the story itself as the echoes it leaves behind. We see some of those echoes in today's proudly diverse naming culture, in which every name -- sometimes, every syllable -- reflects parents' sense of self, heritage, values and dreams.
Jagger. Hendrix. Zeppelin. Lennon. Those names mean more than music. They're icons, attitudes, whole ways of living…and now, baby names. Names steeped in rock & roll history, from the Beatles to Nirvana, are one of the fastest-rising baby name styles in America.
Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Some snapshots of the trend in action:
• An American girl today is more likely to be named Presley than Jessica or Rebecca. A boy is more likely to be Axl than Chad.
• As recently as 1998, the name Hendrix was statistically nonexistent. Today it's a top-500 hit.
• The word credence, meaning "belief," is not used as a name. But the creative spelling Creedence, as in the band Creedence Clearwater Revival, is now used for both boys and girls.
• Last year, just as many American girls were named Zeppelin as Beyoncé.
• Even stylistically unlikely rock names like Kiedis and Reznor now register on the stats.
The rise of rock & roll names is a phenomenon unto itself, distinct from "celebrity names." Normal celebrity name trends surge with the burst of publicity around a new star. Most go on to fade nearly as quickly (see the graphs of Miley and Rihanna). The rock names are different. Not one name on the rock & roll names list below took off when the band or star rose to fame. Beatlemania didn't inspire little McCartneys, and the grunge era didn't see a wave of little Vedders. The names rose decades later, after the artists' works had begun to take on the mantle of "classic" or "iconic."
That makes these names homages, not only to the specific artists but to the spirit of rock itself. It's a famously independent, rebellious spirit, and so no two names on the list march in lockstep. Consider the varied messages the names Axl, Lennon, Marley and Cobain project. But whether a family's motto is "All You Need is Love" or "Born to Be Wild," they're more likely than ever before to present it in baby name form via a classic rock name.
Each name below was bestowed on at least 5 American boys or girls last year, some on hundreds or thousands. Especially popular names are indicated with an * (top 1000 name) or ** (top 500).
THE NEW ROCK & ROLL BABY NAME HALL OF FAME:
Axl (M*) – Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses
Bonham (M) – John Bonham of Led Zeppelin
Bowie (M, F) – David Bowie
Cobain (M) – Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
Creedence (M, F) – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Crue (M) – Mötley Crüe
Everly (F**, M) – The Everly Brothers
Halen (M, F) – Van Halen/Eddie Van Halen
Hendrix (M**, F) – Jimi Hendrix
Isley (F, M) – The Isley Brothers
Jagger (M*, F) – Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones
Jett (M**, F) – Joan Jett
Joplin (F) – Janis Joplin
Kiedis (M) – Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers
Lennon (F*, M*) – John Lennon of The Beatles
Marley (F**, M*) – Bob Marley
McCartney (F, M) – Paul McCartney of The Beatles
Nirvana (F) – Nirvana
Presley (F**, M) – Elvis Presley
Reznor (M) – Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails
Santana (M*, F) – Santana/Carlos Santana
Seger (M) – Bob Seger
Vedder (M) – Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
Weiland (M) – Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots
Zeppelin (M, F) – Led Zeppelin