The Next Frontiers in Names, Part 2: Punctuation

Jan 19th 2012

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.


January 19, 2012 12:56 PM

Love it! It gives me lots of ideas for new names. How about:
Esc=pronounced Escape

Exclamation;Xclamation;Exclamashaun; get lots of options with that one

Delete; D'lete; DLete;Deleet...again many options

Can anybody think of any others?

By Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm (not verified)
January 19, 2012 1:01 PM

@zoerhenne - Haha, cracking up about Esc!

I knew a girl years ago named Da-nell. I have a cousin named Danell, so I always though Da-nell was funny.

January 19, 2012 1:14 PM

I know that most of us who read this blog won't use names like that. But I think the punctuation adds a certain rhythm that is fun and catchy. I can see why people do it.

By anon (not verified)
January 19, 2012 1:45 PM

My son has a classmate named K'reme, pronounced Kareem; while apostrophes are not uncommon in names at his school, they're more usually kind of extraneous (like Da'Niqua, where you can tell how to pronounce the name without the punctuation.)

January 19, 2012 2:15 PM

Oh my, I'm glad I'm not a teaching in any schools these days. If I came across the name K'reme I would not be able NOT to think of Krispy Kreme donuts every time I saw the child or parents.

I also thought of another name on the edge of being the next IT thing-Cal'endar nn Cal. A bit like Calvin meets Evander.

By Juli (not verified)
January 19, 2012 2:15 PM

Given how much trouble a simple hyphen in our surname causes (people take it as an excuse to drop half the name, or rearrange the order, or worse), I truly pity the children who are saddled with *any* punctuation in their names. What the SSA database does to these names is only the very beginning of the torture, I suspect. It's worse than simply needing to correct the spelling of your name all the time; it means fighting with computer systems all your life, unless software engineers catch up to reality (for which I'm not holding out much hope in my lifetime, or my child's).

By Hanah (not verified)
January 19, 2012 2:39 PM

We used to live in an apartment building with a doorperson named N'Dora ("Endora").

January 19, 2012 3:32 PM

zoerhenne, How about Con'Trollal'tDeLeet? Hee hee.

PJ, I'm with you. While I detest txtspeak (is that how it's spelled?) because I think it's lazy and dislike the way it's creeping into more formal communications, I do rather enjoy the play found in some of these names.

January 19, 2012 3:42 PM

Laura, are there as many "substitutions" at the end of names as at the beginning?
Jame's; Kad'n; Ka'ly for examples

lol Elizabeth T.

January 19, 2012 3:55 PM

I really love that you always show us how new naming traditions have historical roots.

My exp with this subject: I had a classmate named Channel'. She would've been born 1979 I guess. She said the ' was so people knew to pronounce her name Chanel rather than Channel. Not sure if that's a grammatical rule somewhere or was invented.

By EVie
January 19, 2012 6:57 PM

Wait, so can we go through that list of names and "translate" them?

Here are my guesses:

Jmya --> J'mya, I would guess, pronounced Juh-MY-uh
Kj --> I think this is just the initials KJ, or K.J.?
Taylorrose --> Taylor-Rose, or Taylor Rose
Jlynn --> J-Lynn, pronounced like Jaylen
Kmora --> K'mora, pronounced like Kamora
Jordonalexander --> Jordon-Alexander, or Jordon Alexander
Kci --> K-Ci, pronounced like Casey
Qmari --> Q'mari, like Kamari
Json --> J-son, like Jason
Matthewryan --> Matthew-Ryan, or Matthew Ryan
Kden --> K-Den, like Kayden
Jjesus --> I have no idea. J. Jesus? Anybody have any guesses?

RobynT - some dictionaries use the ' to show which syllable is stressed in the IPA spelling (like for the word "apostrophe": əˈpästrəfē). But in that case it's placed BEFORE THE syllable, so it should have been Cha'nnel by that logic. If I were trying to show pronunciation with punctuation, I would probably opt for a diacritic instead, like in Spanish: Channél. It's a little more intuitive.

January 19, 2012 7:57 PM

I would pronounce Json like JuhSON, not Jason. I suspect it's actually spelled J'son, and the apostrophe signals that the second syllable is emphasized (as EVie mentions above).

By sarah smile (not verified)
January 19, 2012 8:00 PM

I think this happens occasionally with translations as well. In Hebrew words are written using only the consonants; a symbol below each letter shows which vowel sound follows it. If there is no vowel sound, then there is a specific symbol to denote that, which implies a short pause before beginning the next syllable. When those words are written using the English alphabet, an apostrophe is often used to create that pause. So my old teacher Ze'eva is ze-AY-va, rather than ZEE-va or zee-VA. In English, two vowels or two consonants in a row are commonly blended together, so the punctuation seems like the easiest way to prevent that. In Hebrew, the two are usually pronounced separately, and so names with that type of sound (and the appropriate symbol) aren't uncommon.

By Beth the original (not verified)
January 19, 2012 8:50 PM

I suspect a lot of these names are African-American, and name enthusiasts tend to be much more critical of African-American naming strategies than of those of other ethnicities. But there are any number of cultures where a piece of punctuation is standard: my Korean sister-in-law is My-Lee, for instance. Or, closer to home for me, there's Noel with an umlaut, or the French Renee with an accent over the first e.

January 19, 2012 9:22 PM

EVie-I would agree with you on all of them. the last one I would think may be Spanish and pronounced like J-Hey-zeus. Maybe. I don't know.

If I were doing Chanel, in order not to be confused with the perfume I would spell it Chanelle or Shanelle like Noelle/Isabelle/etc.

By Allie P (not verified)
January 19, 2012 9:40 PM

My manicurist named her son J·don. Like WALL·E.

And yes, I know how to make an interpunct because of that.

January 19, 2012 9:52 PM

Amazing birth story with a cute side name story:

By Sarah Rose (not verified)
January 19, 2012 10:23 PM

Sigh. If the punctuation serves a purpose that's perfectly fine. I have no problem with names like Rae-Anne and John-Paul, or names that may have umlauts or accents that are pronounced, or names that use apostrophes to show a contraction; but decorative punctuation really bugs me. As a teacher, if I was editing a child's writing piece and there was a random apostrophe that served no purpose, I would tell them to take it out because it was incorrect!

January 19, 2012 11:05 PM

We decided we wanted to spell our daughter's middle name ÉLODIE with the accent. Of course on her birth certificate it's ELODIE, and will no doubt appear on most documents without the accent but we will teach her the way it was intended to be spelt and she can choose for herself how she wants to spell it.

My married surname is supposed to have an umlaut over the U. It appears to have been dropped a couple of generations back, probably because it was difficult to record in databases. I'm tempted to start writing it 'correctly' again as it actually makes the pronunciation more intuitive. Without the umlaut it is not obvious how to pronounce it.

January 20, 2012 12:16 AM

Chimu-in that case the accent changes the pronunciation I would use so I would think it a very necessary addition. With it I pronounce it more of Ay-lodie and without more of EL-odie. Is this correct?

By Heather Elizabeth Asbury (not verified)
January 20, 2012 12:25 AM

I lol'ed at Esc. How clever!

By izzy nli (not verified)
January 20, 2012 1:07 AM

Hey everybody!! I've missed you all, but sometimes, the homework is a little much to overcome, so i'm trying to catch back up with the discussions :)

Honestly, none of my friends and I (we're pretty young) use txt spk, because alot of the time, you can't tell what someone is even trying to say!! We'll use "bc" instead of because, and things in that vein, but anything else...

And speaking as a person that is totally obsessed with words/names, and how they look written out, these names drive me up the wall!! For example, I will sometimes use typically British spellings of words, even though i'm American, because i think they look better, (organise vs. organize) and i like Katharine or Catharine, as opposed to using an E. It's really important to me, which must be some OCD or maybe because i have an atypical spelling of my own name.

Also, I think accents are super important, when they make sense. I have a friend who has a French name, but no one puts her accent, and it really makes her happy when people remember it.

January 20, 2012 1:17 AM

Re: Jjesus --

D'Juan, Jajuan etc. in various spellings are pretty common names. I assume this name is along the same lines, so J'Jesus with a Spanish pronunciation of Jesus.

January 20, 2012 1:21 AM

Interesting that the discussion has turned to accent marks, umlauts, etc. To me, diacritical marks are totally different from punctuation. But I suppose that a diacritic used decoratively, in a way that doesn't affect the punctuation or just plain doesn't make sense as a diacritic, could be a lot like a decorative apostrophe.

Reminds me of one of my earliest Baby Name Wizard columns:

January 20, 2012 1:39 AM

I agree with Laura that diacritical marks are different to punctuation but I guess they seem to all be treated the same with regards to government databases! it seems that how you intended a name to be written and pronounced isn't at all how it is recorded most of the time.

@zoerhenne - yep it is basically ay-lo-DEE. I know of one Elodie without the accent (only know of her through a friend) and she pronounces her name more like EL-odie, rhymes with melody.

By Angela Dawn (not verified)
January 20, 2012 7:37 AM

Those names appeared at least 5 times in the US Social Security statistics in 2010? I can look it up. I'm just amazed any of those names were given to at least 5 babies in the last year. That's all.

But since punctuation isn't counted, I can see Kden, K'den, and K*den being combined.

January 20, 2012 9:13 AM

Angela Dawn wrote: "Those names appeared at least 5 times in the US Social Security statistics in 2010?"

All of them reached the 5 level at least once in the past decade. Most are very rare (I obviously chose them for effect.) But Kden, for instance, has been given to a dozen or more boys each of the past 5 years, and there were 50 girls named Jlynn last year. At this point, there's no way of tracking the number of Kay'Las etc.

BTW, a Twitter follower yesterday pointed to a news article mentioning a fine specimen of the "punctuation makes the letter speak its name" category: R'Riel.

January 20, 2012 10:40 AM

The name R'Riel is very creative though not quite my style. I would rather something like Al'xandra.

I just read the Hagan-dazs article. Does this not suggest the possibility that because many of these punctuation names are already associated with African American names that many who are not will be mistakenly associated as such?

By RebStaf (not verified)
January 20, 2012 11:10 AM

My grandfather, born in 1921, was named E.L. (his father was Earl Louis). Needless to say, this was not accepted by some, and he was forced to go by Earl Louis in some contexts (Civilian Conservation Corps) even though his true name was the initials.

January 20, 2012 12:46 PM

Time to geek out again.

I'm reminded of the World of Darkness role-playing game series, in which one of the main authors changed his name to Mark Rein•Hagen, specifically with the bullet. I suppose it could also be an interpunct, but it was designed to be quite prominent.

Also, I remember how in the video game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, which starts with humans landing and colonizing a planet around another star over a thousand years, the names of people quoted change over time. In the end game (when there are things like artificial intelligence and telepathy), a number of quotes come from a man who raises AI's (his title is "wakener") by the name of Bad'l Ron. I started wondering what might have to change in our culture to start using names like that. Not much, apparently.

By Essy01 nli (not verified)
January 20, 2012 1:06 PM

Sad but related news singer Etta James passed away earlier this week. This is more related to part 1 word play but... what I didn't know and found out while reading an obit article for her was that her birth name was Jamesetta Hawkins. Her stage name is her full FN broken up and inverted! fascinating and wonderful!

R'Riel is interesting because I think most people would pronounce Ariel like Air-ree-elle, so it's definitely a way to get the name pronounce Are-ree-elle instead. Can't really think of another way to make the pronunciation known... Arielle maybe? still could cause pronunciation confusion. I would never use it but R'Riel I don't mind as much as some of the other ones.

January 20, 2012 3:37 PM

Sarah Smile: In English, two vowels or two consonants in a row are commonly blended together, so the punctuation [apostrophe] seems like the easiest way to prevent that.

Beth the Original: there's Noel with an umlaut....

The traditional way in English of indicating that two adjacent vowels are pronounced in separate syllables is with a diaeresis: two dots placed over a vowel to mark a hiatus,"two adjacent vowels, not separated by a consonant or pause and not merged into a diphthong" (Wikipedia's wording). Thus, the traditonal way of spelling Zoe and Chloe is with a diaeresis (two dots) over the 'e'. Most people no longer bother with the diaeresis in Zoe, Chloe, or Noel for that matter.

While both a diaeresis and an umlaut are two dots over a vowel, functionally they are very different. The umlaut changes the quality of the vowel. So the name Kathe with an umlaut over the 'a' is pronounced Kaytuh (the e is a schwa), while without the umlaut it would be pronounced Kahtuh ('ah' as in father).

On another topic, I am a fan of Timothy Olyphant and thus a loyal viewer of Justified. In this past week's episode, Olyphant's character Raylan Givens and his ex-wife Winona are discussing names for their soon-to-be-born child. Winona is pushing for Felix, and Raylan nixes it. And then he suggests a couple of names. I forget the boy's name he suggests, but for a girl he mentions Palmolive, and they both agree that's definitely a girl's name. If someone else saw that episode, please refresh on Raylan's suggestion for a boy.

By Hanah (not verified)
January 20, 2012 4:24 PM

What about numbers? There's a character in Neal Stephenson's sci-fi book "Snow Crash" named Da5id. There's no pronunciation guide, but in my head I always pronounced it "Day-fid."

January 20, 2012 4:27 PM

Miriam-that sounds like a funny show. Personally, I can't wait to hear what names will come up with Brennan and Booth on the show Bones.

And speaking of Palmolive, didn't we have a discussion here once about words being male or female names? I would think something like Microwave nn Mike would work for a boy.

By ErinsFoodFiles (not verified)
January 20, 2012 6:09 PM

Q: What do these names have in common?

A: They're horrible

Sorry, but yikes!

By Keith (not verified)
January 20, 2012 6:55 PM

One of the contestant's on the current season of TOP CHEF gives you punctuation and diacritics. His name is Ty-Lör, pronounced as if it were spelled "Tyler" (though he's usually just called "Ty").

By sarah smile (not verified)
January 20, 2012 7:02 PM

Thanks for the clarification, Miriam. I knew there were actual terms for these patterns in English, but couldn't remember what they were. And Zoe and Chloe are great examples.

In fact, I wonder if Zoe and Chloe are a glimpse into the future as far as name punctuation goes. That is, we add symbols to unfamiliar names to make the pronunciation more clear, but as soon as the names become familiar we drop the symbols. Most of us know that Zoe is two syllables rather than one, so the punctuation is no longer necessary.

If that's accurate, then the use of punctuation in names isn't so much a new trend in names but a trend in new names. If Jmya ever becomes a hit rather than a novelty, the apostrophe will likely be dropped - or at least, migrate into whatever new 'unique' name parents come up with.

Obviously this explanation doesn't cover the full range of names Laura is seeing, but I do wonder if this is part of the underlying trend.

January 20, 2012 9:10 PM

Great observation sarah smile! I think this will be something to keep our namer eyes on.

January 21, 2012 3:38 PM

Some of you may remember me linking to a poll about your favorite baby name. (the poll was not created by me but a different web site). Well, the results are in: Charlotte and James are the winners. Read about it here-

January 22, 2012 6:34 PM

I know a girl named Mika'la, pronounced "mi-KAY-la". It's always mispronounced, even more than Lidewei, which is MY first name.

By Beth the original (not verified)
January 22, 2012 11:46 PM

Miriam and Laura, I should know these things! Off to memorize: diacritical mark vs. diaerisis vs. punctuation mark.

What is it called when you multiply a letter, as in Aanya or Fiid, two names I have seen?

January 23, 2012 12:29 AM

Well happycrazy... please don't leave us hanging. How do you pronounce Lidewei?
Lid-ew-wee? Lye-due-eye? Lied-wee?

Btw, with the spelling of Mika'la I would pronounce it Meeka-la because the apostrophe tells me to break there. If they had wanted it to be Mi-kay-la then they should have spelled it more like Mi'kayla.

By Stef (not verified)
January 23, 2012 6:11 AM

The problem with these types of names is that even if parents added the punctuation to clarify the pronunciation, it really isn't always helpful because there are no established "rules" with such punctuation like there are with diacritical marks. So one who reads the name must guess at what the parent wanted to achieve with the punctuation, which is not always clear. Fail!

By Guest-knp (not verified)
January 23, 2012 7:21 PM

Isn't the Mika'la spelling like a contraction-- where the apostrophe takes the place of the y? It isn't that far of a stretch... I would still pronounce it the same as Michaela.

January 24, 2012 11:50 AM

I would assume that the ' was meant to be an accent that didn't get entered correctly and pronounce the name Mikála, with the second syllable stressed.

Laura's analysis of many of these additions as visual name bling seems on target. They confuse the spelling and pronunciation, but look cool on paper.

By Guesty (not verified)
January 23, 2012 9:52 PM

Funny Video on how to name your baby properly:

January 23, 2012 11:04 PM

Cute Guesty! that guy ought to write a book or something as his rules should be in print for people to refer to as often as necessary.

By vk (not verified)
January 24, 2012 2:06 PM

I know an actual Jlynn - pronounced "jay-lynn" - and she is 30 years old now!

January 24, 2012 2:29 PM

I have nothing good to say about the listed names, nor about the general "punctuation-challenged" trend ... I think these names reflect very badly on the parents, but the children are the ones who suffer.

By Sharalyn (not verified)
January 24, 2012 7:26 PM


That's the hospital where I work! The story was all the buzz last week.