Name Spotlight: Kiara

Oct 16th 2013

Last week's column on "Venn diagram baby names" touched briefly on the name Kiara. As I looked into the history of this name, I found myself getting sucked in further and further. Kiara turns out to be a spot what I think of as name quicksand -- the points on the name landscape with tales much deeper than you'd imagine at first glance.

What caught my eye was a graphical cliff. Take a look at what happened to the usage of the name Kiara in 1989:

That single-year leap was so astonishing that I had to double-check my figures. For perspective, Kiara made almost the exact same popularity leap as the fastest-rising name of 2007, Miley...but it moved the same distance in one year that Miley did in two:

That's some incredible fashion mojo, doubling the pace of a name with megawatt style power and star power. Where did it come from?

Any guesses? I'll give you a minute...

OK, time's up. Kiara was a one-hit wonder band, a male duo from Detroit that scored a hit on the R&B charts with the song "This Time." The duo never repeated that success, and today they're little-enough remembered that they don't even rate a page in Wikipedia. But in baby name terms, they were bigger than Miley Cyrus.

It's all about the right name at the right time and place. R&B radio stations in the late '80s were playing to a largely African-American audience at a time when the letter K was hot, a long "e" sound was even hotter, and rustling names like Tanesha, Shamika and Lakeisha were about to yield to a smoother generation of Aaliyahs, Ayannas, and Janiyahs. Kiara hit the bullseye.

But our story isn't over yet. Let's shift our Kiara graph exactly one decade later and take a look at what happened in 1999:

Yep, that's a second Miley-sized leap for the same name. Here's a zoomed-out version of the whole sequence:

The source of the second massive popularity leap? A straight-to-video animated animal movie. Kiara was the name of a lion cub in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.

This name inspiration is notable for being aimed squarely at young children. You might expect it to take some years for the target audience to grow up and name their own kids after the lioness of their youth.

Perhaps LK2's immediate impact in the baby name arena speaks to Disney's success marketing animated lion cubs to the adult market. But I'm going to take a different guess. I suspect that an unusually large proportion of Kiara's born in the last 14 years have older siblings. The film was in the VCR (1999, remember?), the name was in the air, and the whole family could get on board with the name Kiara.

p.s. Kiara rhymes with tiara. If you read Kiara as a two-syllable Irish saint's name (KEE-rə)...well, that's a patch of name quicksand for another day.

Baby Names by Venn Diagram?

Oct 9th 2013

A perfect name is a balancing act. You have to consider both parents' tastes, the people or traditions you want to honor, and your sense of the name's place in the world. For most of us, the factors are many, subjective and ill-defined. We navigate the name landscape by feel, hoping that we'll recognize the right name when we find it.

For some families, though, that landscape looks more like a Venn diagram. These families draw circles around two specific, unrelated properties they're seeking, and hope for an intersection. You'll often see this when the two parents come from different ethnic backgrounds, both of which are important to them.

I was reminded of this recently as I read about the family of New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. Mr. De Blasio grew up in his mother's Italian-American family. His wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American. And their two children's names are a perfect strike at the fashionable heart of this Venn diagram of names:

Dante holds a lasting place in Italian culture thanks to Divine Comedy poet Dante Alighieri. Over the past generation it has also been a steady favorite of African-American parents, in various spellings.

Chiara is the Italian form of Claire. St. Chiara of Assisi was one of the first followers of St. Francis and the founder of a monastic order. The sound-alike name Kiara, meanwhile, is a popular African-American name.

The names perfectly reflect and honor the kids' dual heritages, in a way that should sound attractive and natural on both sides. When you can pull that off, you not only make all the grandparents happy but also demonstrate, subtly, how a diverse family tree can come together into a beautifully cohesive whole.

Some other points of happy intersection I've encountered (note that exact spellings and pronuncians can vary):

Irish/Jewish: Ronan (Irish "little seal", Hebrew "song" ), Alana (Irish "oh child," Hebrew "tree")

Muslim/Latino: Fatima (daughter of Muhammad, and chosen by Catholics in honor of Our Lady of Fátima), Omar (Arabic "life", also popular in Latin America)

Indian/German: Lina (Sanskrit "absorbed," also adopted from a short form of European names ending in -lina), Anika (Sanskrit, a name of Goddess Durga, German, a form of Anna)

A comprehensive listing isn't possible because the potential Venn diagrams are endless. The Expert NameMatchmaker, with its multiple style preferences, is a good resource for many of the most popular combos. And if your personal Venn diagram is especially complicated, you might want to look at the more general category of "names without borders."

If you've found some particularly happy points of intersection, I'd love to hear about them. And chances are there's another Thai/Brazilian or Mexican/Norwegian family out there who will thank you for it.

Full Baby Name Disclosure?

Oct 3rd 2013

This week's letter to The Name Lady was from a woman whose husband suggested a baby name to honor a famous football coach. She liked the sound of the name, and the deal was done. A simple, happy story, with just one little catch: he didn't tell her about the football homage until after the baby was born.

That mom, fortunately, had a sense of humor about this little "oversight." She did like the name, after all. So what did it matter that he liked it for a different reason? In fact, she eventually agreed to continue the football theme with their next child's name. But her story raises the question: is full disclosure expected in the naming process?

Suppose that dad's football obsession were already a bone of contention between those two parents. Wouldn't that change the dynamics of the situation? Or suppose she had already made clear she didn't want a football name. In that case, his little sin of omission would be an out-and-out deception, and might even point to deeper issues in their relationship.

The football example may seem far from your experience, but some form of the disclosure question comes up for many parents -- especially when there's a name you love that your partner is still mulling over. It's a natural instinct to accentuate the positive....

• OK, Calvin comes from a word meaning "bald." Is it your obligation to point that out, when you don't think it matters much? Aren't Calvin Klein and Calvin & Hobbes more important?

• Yes, you loved the Disney movie Enchanted and he couldn't stand it. But is it your fault that he doesn't remember that the princess was named Giselle?

• Your sister-in-law thinks the name Alma sounds "fat." That's just one random opinion, and most of your friends love the name, so why muddy the waters?

• Umm, yeah, maybe you did date a guy named Alec in college, briefly. Very, very briefly. Nobody here even knows him, and you've dreamed of naming a son Alec since you saw The Black Stallion when you were nine, and you don't associate that college guy with the name at all. (What was his last name, even?)

Where do you draw the line? Did you ever pick and choose which info to share with your partner about a name? And did you run into any naming surprises after the baby was born?