The Next Frontiers in Names, Part 2: Punctuation
A look at the new trails parents are blazing in search of fresh hit names. (Read Part 1: Wordplay.)
Q: What do these names have in common?
A: They've all shown up in the official U.S. baby name stats in recent years, yet I doubt they really exist.
That's not to say the names are hoaxes, or even mistakes. (Plenty of typos do creep in, but that's a different story.) I think those names have been stripped of a critical part of themselves: punctuation and capitalization.
In the past generation, American parents have pushed to the very limits of the alphabet with names like Zyquan and Xzavier. Now a growing number of them are looking beyond. Punctuation, spaces and capitalization offer a whole new realm of customization to make a child's name stand out.
These non-letter elements have always been a part of some traditional given names (e.g. St. John) and many traditional surnames (D'Amico, Bulwer-Lytton, al-Aziz, Van Winkle, O'Rourke). Yet computer databases have never liked them. Even today, many identification systems strip out non-alphabetic characters, turning Mr. O'Rourke-Van Winkle into Mr. Orourkevanwinkle. The official United States baby name database is one of these no-punctuation zones. As a result, the stats conceal the scope of the name punctuation story.
First-name apostrophes started gaining momentum in the 1980s. The initial wave of names, especially popular with Black and Latino parents, were styled after Romance-language surnames with prefixes. Names like DeAndre and DeAngelo increasingly morphed into D'Andre and D'Angelo. In the '90s and 2000s that prefix style exploded, spreading to less traditional starters like J, M, and K (J'Shawn, M'Kenzie, K'marion).
Even these contemporary creations, though, were following the traditional prefix form. The apostrophe was serving its traditional contraction role, indicating that a letter or letters had been cut out. But the popularity of this style has given the apostrophe a life of its own. More and more, it pops up without a contraction, just for effect: A'Donis. Kay'La. I'Zaiah. All pretense at function abandoned, it can become a purely decorative grace note: Izza'Bella. Tay'lor. Destini'.
It's not just apostrophes. Hyphens, which used to indicate a compound name (Mary-Helen), now serve many roles. They might turn a traditional single name into a pseudo-compound name, like Cait-Lyn, or simply "customize" a name, as in Ma-kayla.
There's a brand new function for punctuation, too. Much like the "silent E" rule you learned in school, a punctuation mark or capitalization can tell a letter to speak its name. This effect has existed for years in commercial names like KMart. The spillover to baby names, though, took off with celebrity name contractions like A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) and J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez).
Take a moment to consider the name that shows up in the name stats as Kden. I feel confident that's actually an alternate spelling of Kayden. But what spelling, exactly? It's impossible to say. I'll guess that K-Den is the most common on the J-Lo model, but K'den and KDen are possibilities. For that matter, why not K*Den? (Baby name bling!) Once you move off the letter keys, anything is possible. My condolences to all the database managers out there.
P.S. As for that girl you heard about named Le-a, pronounced Ledasha, nope, the literal pronunciation of punctuation is not a big trend. You can read more on Le-a here.