The Name of the Year, 2009: pt. 1

Dec 8th 2009

You can paint a portrait of a year in names. That truth came through loud and clear in the hundreds of thoughtful reader nominations for the Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year. From Bernie and Neda to Jackson and Octomom, you all made compelling cases for the names that shaped, and were shaped by, 2009.

To do the names justice, I'm splitting this year's announcement into three parts. The two runners up and the Name of the Year made the grade through their timeliness, resonance, and "naminess" -- how essential the name itself was to the cultural story. And as always, I was guided by reader nominations, seconds and comments. Thanks, everybody.

Second runner up: Falcon

On October 15, 2009, officials in Colorado scrambled to respond to a bizarre emergency. A Fort Collins family had accidentally released a homemade weather balloon, and their six-year-old son Falcon was believed to be inside. After frantic hours in which National Guard helicopters tracked the balloon and the Denver International Airport was shut down, young Falcon Heene was found safe at home. Eventually, the entire episode was revealed to be a hoax. Falcon's parents had met in acting school, had appeared on a reality tv series, and were eagerly shopping their own reality tv concept without success. They dreamed up the balloon stunt in hopes that the publicity would help get their family back on the air.

This story brought together two powerful trends, highlighting an underlying theme they have in common. 2009 was the year that, in the words of one reader, "exploded the myth of reality TV." As reality shows pushed the limits of celebrity-seeking and self-revelation, viewers began to squirm.  In particular, stories like the "balloon boy" and the divorce of Jon and Kate Gosselin raised questions about putting children's lives in front of the camera.

Meanwhile, American parents were working harder and harder to choose eye-catching names to make their children stand out. The traditional classics were plummeting in popularity, while names like Cannon, Messiah and Phoenix were soaring. Surely it's no coincidence that parents so desperate for attention that they'd coach their six-year-old to carry out a media hoax were also parents who chose to name him Falcon? As another reader wrote, "We have such an obsession with fame and the actions of one family have us thinking about at what cost."

On to part 2!



December 8, 2009 11:30 AM

I agree that this story was one of the most bizarre and memorable of the year, and I am totally in accord with your point about the "myth of reality tv" exploding. I'm not sure that Falcon is what's going to be remembered though...I keep hearing comedians making jokes about "Balloon Boy" and I think that after this year if anyone remembers the story, he'll be remembered as "Balloon Boy", not Falcon.

By CB, nli (not verified)
December 8, 2009 11:46 AM

Great piece, Ms. Wattenberg! I only hope parts II and III are going to be posted later today. I don't care for suspense. :)

December 8, 2009 11:55 AM

Excellent pick for 2nd runner-up! I can't wait to see what the other 2 names will be.

By EVie
December 8, 2009 12:37 PM

That first quote was mine! Thanks Laura :) I too am excited to see the other winners.

P.S. That totally made my day.

December 8, 2009 12:55 PM

And I want to add that I, like CB, would LOVE to see the other parts posted today! I checked back right now already, wishful thinking I suppose. I love having your articles to read, and I'm also not a big fan of suspense!

By Rjoy (not verified)
December 8, 2009 2:36 PM

I have to agree with Ann with an E. I don't watch the news. I read it online or hear of the story through other people. I never knew his name was Falcon. I just heard Balloon Boy.

By Philippa The First (not verified)
December 8, 2009 2:46 PM

Good choice! Yes, Falcon stood out as a distinctive and reliasitc baby name choice, that inextricably links together the search for fame and the search for that individual name.

Holding my breath for the next installment! I've been eagerly awaiting since the call for nominations.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
December 8, 2009 4:10 PM

Excellent choice and reasoning. I very much like that the name and the story show so much of what is going on in today's society with naming, celebrity status and child rearing.

I'm echoing the others in that I'm really looking forward to parts 2 and 3 of this post!

By Amy3
December 8, 2009 5:08 PM

I can't wait to read parts two and three! As always, well done, Laura.

By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
December 8, 2009 6:42 PM

I didn't vote for Falcon, but I think it's an excellent choice and does represent the trend of attention-seeking names in our fame-obsessed culture.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
December 8, 2009 7:16 PM

OT - I just read an article about a couple who live in the smallest apartment in NYC (175 square feet). But the thing I thought was really interesting was the name of the wife, Zaarath.

December 8, 2009 9:30 PM

Laura notes that the name Phoenix is "soaring."

Can I please note that when I named my daughter Phoenix in 2003, Phoenix wasn't even ranked in the top 1000!! (Wouldn't you know it, it jumped onto the list that year.)

I am attracted to Falcon; however, the first syllable reminds me of the words "foul" and "fallow," both of which have negative connotations for me.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
December 9, 2009 12:41 AM

For some reason I CAN'T log in today. My computer won't let me click on the log-in button. Anyway, I'm sorry to be off topic again already but I had to share before I forgot. I just spotted a new baby name on Facebook: Baby Girl Jenasys.

December 9, 2009 1:14 AM

Oh no Jenasys!!! That is truly awful....
On the theme of falcon, I saw a baby boy in our local announcements last week named Hawk! I thought it was interesting....

By Jennifer Nicholas (not verified)
December 9, 2009 1:27 AM

I'm guessing it's too late for another vote, but I'm thinking "Tiger." He's earned such cross-cultural fame & respect over the years that when he screws up, it's especially far reaching. And the name goes with that. Maybe someone else mentioned him here already.

December 9, 2009 2:31 AM

Along the same stylistic lines as Falcon, my local hospital boards recently listed a baby boy named Warrior.

December 9, 2009 9:47 AM

Personally, I like Falcon as a name for a boy OR girl much better than the name Peregrine. Yes, Peregrine has the same meaning and a cooler nn of Perry. But Falcon has an updated feel to it. It reminds me of Fallon. I guess a nn could be Al but other than that I'm at a loss. Eo? got any suggestions.

December 9, 2009 10:54 AM

I didn't vote for Falcon either, but I certainly think the description makes sense and the name itself does say a lot about this year. Ends in -n but is new and trying to stand out.

Jenasys. So they like Genesis but wanted to be able to call her Jena?

Warrior, this doesn't seem that much worse than a lot of the other uber-male names out there except that it does seem to be asking a lot of your boy. Like we've discussed before naming your girl Lovely. Also the nn is War I guess so he can't very easily escape the connotations even if he wants to!

Falcon- I think a nn could just be Fal (pron like Falcon and not like the word fall) a little more modern than Al, but still pretty easy. Or Con.

Con reminds me that I love the name Connor but it's so tough on nn's!! I don't really like Con (con-artist?) or Connie (girl's name) and Nor could work but could sound girly too. And I'm a nn person so I'd really love to find one, suggestions?

December 9, 2009 11:00 AM

I had to stare at Jenasys for several moments before I got it!

December 9, 2009 12:22 PM

Jenny L3igh-I love Connor too! I would've used it but its not to dh's liking. Conner Jeffery or Connor Joseph would've been the combos for me so CJ could've been the nn of choice there. Somehow though typing out Connor/Conner just now (i think i prefer the -er) it reminds me of Donner the reindeer and I don't like it anymore. LOL I guess I have too much Christmas specials on the brain. Don't really care for Fal or Con or Nor for nn's.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
December 9, 2009 12:54 PM

@Anne with an E - I had to stare at Jenasys for awhile too. Then I had to digest the fact that it was referencing a baby and not some sort of software.

By Cleo Junction (not verified)
December 9, 2009 6:27 PM

Qwen, regarding software, you stated almost exactly what I was thinking! I was going with hardware angle but what the hey...

By ClaireP (not verified)
December 13, 2009 12:13 PM

Jenasys *is* a software company - google Jenasys and you'll find it.

By handbags shop (not verified)
December 25, 2009 9:56 AM

I only hope parts II and III are going to be posted later today. I don't care for suspense. :)

November 14, 2012 8:37 PM

Hearing the name Falcon brings up a scene in the Sandra Bullock movie "28 Days," in which Falcon is the name of a soap opera character, made up for the movie. Sandra and cast even act out their own version of the fake soap, and I can hear one lady saying "Falcon" in a southern accent. Love it.

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