As I tallied up the biggest baby name trends of the year, one declining name stood out. The name Isis has become one of the fastest-falling, or "most poisoned," baby names of all time. The Egyptian goddess name, which became linked to a brutal jihadist group, lost 70.5% of its U.S. popularity in a single year. That edges out the 70.2% drop the name Hilary experienced in 2003.
Here's the recent history of babies named Isis in graphical terms:
For perspective, compare to the effect of World War II on the popularity of the names Adolph/Adolf and Benito:
The decline in Isis is arguably the steepest one-year decline ever recorded. In 2013, statistician Hilary Parker analyzed historical data and concluded that her own name Hilary held the record for the biggest percentage drop among baby names with a prior multiyear record of popularity. Parker dubbed it the "most poisoned" name ever. Isis fell by an even higher percentage, which could set a new mark. On the other hand, Hilary started out from a higher popularity point, meaning more babies were affected. My own "name hotness formula" would take this into account and give Hilary the edge.
Regardless of whether the decline of Isis is a record holder, it's fair to say it represents a historically dramatic impact of world events on names. This negative effect comes even as positive effects of politics and world events on names disappear. Parents used to routinely name babies after political and military heroes; now they steer far clear of political homages. Notably, the decline of the name Hilary (and a similar fall for Hillary) coincided with the first Clinton administration.
Names from movies, sports, tv and music can still soar as well as sink. But when it comes to reminders of the more serious world around us – in tragedy, and even in triumph – today's baby names go in only one direction: down.
What goes up must come down, but when it comes to baby names they usually come down gently. Names rise faster than they fall, and it's hard for even bad publicity to kill them off. That means the fastest-falling list is seldom newsworthy. It's usually a mix of old favorites heading toward retirement and one-year wonders coming back to Earth. That's exactly what we see in this year's boys' names, but the girls are a different story. The fastest-falling girls' names of 2015 have some stories to tell.
First, a quick look at the fastest-falling boys:
These were the two fastest-rising names of 2013 thanks to reality tv stars Jase Robertson (Duck Dynasty) and Jayceon Taylor (Marrying The Game). The spotlight has apparently moved on.
And now, the girls.
#1: Isis. Just two years ago, the Egyptian goddess name Isis ranked #575 among all girls' names in America. Since then, the name has lost 76% of its popularity and plummeted far out of the top 1,000. It's not surprising, given that the name has come to be associated with a horrifyingly brutal jihadist group. Yet the sudden and extreme name drop is unusual. For perspective, during WWII the name Adolph (the English spelling of Adolf) fell by only 29%. [Read more on the extraordinary drop in the name Isis.]
#2: Elsa. I think American parents psyched themselves out on this one. They convinced themselves that Frozen's ice queen would spawn a surge of little namesakes to rival the hordes of Elsa lookalikes trick-or-treating on Halloween. So they all backed off en masse, leaving the name surprisingly rare. Either that or parents had just heard one rendition too many of "Let it Go" from their toddlers. This name could still bounce back.
Well, there's a pretty clear trend, eh? It's especially striking since the various Annabelles had previous been climbing and seemed thoroughly fashionable. The culprit in the Case of the Vanishing Annabelles is almost surely this seriously creepy doll:
Photo via annabellemovie.com
I know, right? Anyway, in the horror movie Annabelle, which premiered in late 2014, a possessed doll terrorized its owners. Yes, that's a negative association. But the thing is, demon children from horror movies usually launch name trends rather than ending them. Think of Damien from The Omen, Gage from Pet Sematary, Adrian from Rosemary's Baby, and Regan from The Exorcist. Is Annabelle's bloodshot stare really worse than Regan's projectile vomiting?
#7. Katelyn. This name, in all its spellings, was already in decline from its circa-2000 peak. That decline accelerated dramatically this year after transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new name. The drop is especially steep when you consider that the year was already half gone before Jenner's name announcement. The whirl of publicity and controversy that resulted made parents wary about the name and sent them looking elsewhere.
Last year, parents looking for stylish new names for girls didn't have to look past the first letter of the alphabet. The three fastest risers all started with A and had more A's within. The hottest girls' names of 2015:
#1: Adaline. Remember when the hit name Madison was slowing down, and then Addison took off? Madeline/Madelyn had already started slimming down the same way to Adeline/Adelyn when the 2015 film The Age of Adaline hit theaters. That sent the movie's spelling soaring by 450%, with Adeline and Addilyn not far behind.
Photo: Age of Adaline Release
#2: Alaïa. Adamari López, host of the Telemundo show Un nuevo día, hosted a first birthday party for her daughter Alaïa live on the air. Weighing in at three syllables with just one lone smooth consonant, Alaïa is the ultimate liquid name.
#3: Aitana. Mexican actors Eugenio Derbez and Alessandra Rosaldo welcomed daughter Aitana Derbez toward the end of 2014. The name comes from the Sierra de Aitana, a Spanish mountain range which exiled Spanish poet Rafael Alberti memorialized in his daughter's name.
#4. Meilani. This Hawaiian-styled name took off when Jersey Shore star Jenni "JWoww" Farley chose it for her daughter.
#5. Aislinn. Aislinn is an Irish name, but it was a Mexican actress, "A la mala" star Aislinn Derbez, who made its popularity spike. If you feel like you just read the name Derbez, Aislinn is the older half-sister of little Aitana Derbez. It was a strong naming year for the whole family.
#6. Taya. Taya Kyle is the widow of Navy Seal and "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle, and the author of her own memoir about their life together and the aftermath of her husband's death. Their story was portrayed in the 2015 film American Sniper.
#7. Alexa. Alexa got its first big boost back in the 1980s when Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel chose the name for their daughter. It rose to be a top-100 staple, but had been declining in recent years. A character on the telenovela "Hasta el fin del mundo" helped turn that trend around in 2015.
#8. Hazel. The popular YA novel and film The Fault in Our Stars brought the names Hazel and Augustus in from the quirky edges to the mainstream in 2015. In a clear homage to the story, 22 girls even received the previously unheard-of name HazelGrace (or Hazel-Grace), after the protagonist's first and middle names.