The Next Frontiers in Names, Part 1: Wordplay
A look at the new trails parents are blazing in search of fresh hit names.
It isn't just Nevaeh any more.
When "heaven backwards" first raced up the name popularity charts, it was just an individual name -- a fresh idea with a smoothly feminine sound, for a generation of parents craving both of those qualities in a girl's name. It got everybody talking because of its unusual origin. But how much talk have you heard about Semaj?
Semaj, "James backwards," made its first appearance as a top-1000 name before Nevaeh did. By now it's a staple. More than 300 American boys are named Semaj every year, along with 100 girls. Yet back in the 1940s, when James was the #1 name in the land and eight times as common as it is today, the name Semaj was unknown.
The difference, of course, is our naming culture. Today, creativity in naming is approaching a norm, and that opens up a whole new wordplay-based approach to creating names.
New names have long been built out of old ingredients, from Vanessa in the 1700s to Cheryl in the 1920s to Gracelyn today. Wordplay names, though, change the nature of name invention. With a wordplay name, the process of creating the name is the whole point; the whole is very much the sum of its parts. Nevaeh's fundamental allure comes from playing with letters to create secret messages.
The trend is spreading. In discussions of Nevaeh, you'll routinely hear the joking comment, "What's next, Legna? Because it's Angel backwards?" In fact, 17 girls were named Legna last year. Meanwhile Semaj is joined by a small but growing crop of kids with names like Nivek (Kevin) and Trebor (Robert).
Even these backwards names just scratch the surface of wordplay. A while back I talked about the name Ily, taken from the textspeak abbreviation for "I Love You." That name is still rare, but it's rising fast as the text generation becomes the parent generation. The explosion of anagrams and abbreviations in the broader culture portends more such names in the future.
And then there's Abcde. This name is the subject of lots of snickering stories, but it's not just an urban legend. The name, pronounced AB-si-dee, is now given to dozens of girls each year.
Abcde is hard to top for pure wordplay. Play is its very essence. But I suspect there are more names out there, so subtle in their anagrams, letter magic and coded messages that we're overlooking them. Have you spotted any outstanding specimens?