Hunger Games Baby Names: Another Path To the Future

Mar 15th 2012

Next week's big movie release, The Hunger Games, looks like the richest name franchise of the year. That's not to say it will be a baby name trend-setter -- I don't expect a generation of boys named Peeta and Cinna. What The Hunger Games offers is treasure trove of what I'll call "speculative naming": naming the fictional future so that it sounds futuristic, while still sending meaningful name signals that connect with audiences in the present.

A few years back I wrote about various naming approaches writers have used to suggest future worlds. These included inventing new names; giving familiar names a twist; turning word categories into names; and reviving name styles of the past. Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins used most of them, and added a few other wrinkles besides. (NameCandy.com has a nice wrapup of the Hunger Games name highlights.)

Where the series particularly excels is in using different futuristic name styles to define different segments of society. The Capitol, for instance, is a wealthy, decadent metropolis, and the Hunger Games is its gladiatorial spectacle. Names of that future culture suitably hearken back to the Roman Empire: Caesar, Plutarch, Flavius, Portia, Octavia. In a subtle bit of namecraft, some, but not all, names from privileged districts courting the Capitol's favor copy this style with choices like Brutus and Cato.

Two other name groupings I particularly like take current, familiar styles and push them to new extremes. Start with today's sleek, confident meaning names like Eden, Miracle and Chance and dial them up to 11. You might end up with the supremely self-assured "District 1" names Glimmer, Marvel and Gloss. At the humbler end, botanical names like Lily, Violet and Ivy are a classic style for girls. The "humbler" districts of the Hunger Games world push those comfy botanicals into unfamiliar territory like Katniss, Primrose and Rue. (One male character even bears the ultimate in humble botanical names: Chaff.)

I like to imagine what the "extreme" versions of other name styles might look like. Western names Rawhide and Spur? Exotic old saints' names Simplicius and Villanus? It's all a great reminder that our potential naming futures are almost as wide-open as the future itself.

 

Comments

51
By Laura V (not verified)
March 19, 2012 5:42 PM

Punk Princess, "Caraway" is the name of a character in "Cold Comfort Farm" -- which has some truly excellent literary names. Caraway's brother is named Harkaway.

52
By Laura V (not verified)
March 19, 2012 5:48 PM

Oh, I love Solveig. We used our "only" girl-names on our two month old, so if we ever have another girl I was going to propose Solveig, pronunciation problems be damned. (Both of us are fans of Solveig Dommartin, so...)

53
March 19, 2012 8:17 PM

Jill, My neighbor 40-something neighbor is named Florence (she's French). At first it seemed off to me because the only other Florences I knew were 90+, but now I'm so used to it that it seems completely normal and very usable on a baby.

54
By considering (not verified)
March 19, 2012 8:55 PM

Hi Laura,

I had to pick out a Korean-language baby name this week (because my husband's family is Korean, and we need a name to go in the family lineage books, known as jokbo), and I had no idea how different Korean naming is from Western-style naming. It's not just that the names are based on Chinese characters... it's the dollimja and that these are based on the elements, that each father's generation is supposed to build on the next element (so the water generation leads to the wood generation, since water feeds trees, and so on); that in order to pick a Korean name, even Koreans have to consult a Chinese-Korean dictionary because they're all based on Chinese characters and you have to pick a character that makes a good meaning with the dollimja; etc. It was really interesting and different system entirely, and I noticed that nearly all baby name sites just list "Korean baby names" as if there is one meaning or a set of names to choose from, instead of every name being unique and partially predetermined by the family's clan council. There's no set of names and no real Korean baby name books because each name is different... even a common syllable used in Korean names, like Jin (which is what we chose for the personal name and will be combined with the dollimja to create the full name), has one pronunciation but 30+ different possible meanings based on the Chinese characters chosen. People choosing Korean names from baby name websites are probably the parents of Korean adoptees who are probably seriously screwing up their kids' names.

Anyway, I thought Korean naming customs might make a really interesting topic!

55
By considering (not verified)
March 19, 2012 9:02 PM

P.S. The best explanation I found of this anywhere was here: http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2010/10/still-more-about-korean-names.html

It is still only scratching the surface.

56
March 19, 2012 9:28 PM

Oh happy day! My children brought home the yearbook from their elementary school today. I will be posting the gems in the next few days. The tough thing is deciding which ones to highlight! One line of photos from one kindergarten class, for example, contains the following names: Carson (boy), Prince, Mahwish (girl), Jan (boy), and Benedicto! Isn't that fabulous?! I'm in heaven.

57
March 19, 2012 9:44 PM

Jill-I love your other children's names they sound so distinguished and literary. It seems you really love Florence but in case you don't get that wish, here are some other choices:
Violet, Charlotte, Harriet
Eleanor, Adele, Lucille, Lydia
Beatrice, Louisa, Virginia, Vera
Matilda, Madeline, Ruby, Hazel
Margaret/Marjorie, Josephine, Vivienne
Phoebe, Opal

Combos:
Beatrice Evelyn Claire
Charlotte Adele Josephine
Hazel Eleanor Violet
Virginia Ruby Madeline
Harriet Virginia Lucille
Vivienne Phoebe Margaret
Opal Margaret Louise

BTW, Florence works well in place of some of these-
Florence Evelyn Claire; Florence Josephine Adele; etc.

58
March 20, 2012 1:22 AM

Jill - For what it's worth, Florence has been a top 7 name for baby girls in Quebec since 2005 (the last year that I can see stats for) - #3 in 2008 and 2009 - and is currently #54 in England. Granted, it's typically pronounced in the French way in Quebec (the vowels are broader in Quebec French, but approximately flo-RONSS), but not everyone will see Florence as an old lady name.

Edit: Plus, a new generation of kids who listen to music will be familiar with the name from Florence + the Machine.

... Not that any of that is enough to convince someone who honestly doesn't like the name, but if his concern is that it will be seen as out-of-date (see: Florence Henderson), well, that perception can be altered.

59
By Andrea 7 (not verified)
March 20, 2012 10:14 AM

I'm a newspaper reporter and I type a lot of honor rolls for the area. There are at least two teenage girls named Solveig in northwest North Dakota, which has a strong Scandinavian heritage, judging by the honor rolls. One of my high school friends gave it to her 2-year-old as a middle name after a grandmother. They all pronounce the name Sol-vay. I've also seen it spelled Solvei, leaving off the g, to make the pronounciation easier for Americans. I think it's a name that sounds better than it looks in English, but I like Scandinavian names in general. Another pretty S name is Siri. I've also seen Sunniva/Synnove.

60
By Andrea 7 (not verified)
March 20, 2012 10:18 AM

Oh, and Signe as well. There's also a Dagny in this area who's an Olympic-level swimmer. She fits the name well since she's tall, blonde and strong. They all seem to blend in well with the Kelseys and Rileys and Kylies.

61
By Guest12 (not verified)
March 20, 2012 1:56 PM

I definitely appreciate the effort put into class-affected naming in the Hunger Games. But my god, the names are AWFUL. Truly, truly awful. I'm avoiding reading the books just because I don't know if I can get through all the Catpiss and Pee ...(ta). We haven't had a namer with such ugly choices since George Lucas. Perhaps that's the point, though?

62
By Jill
March 20, 2012 6:05 PM

OK, now Solveig is growing on me! I'm half Norwegian, so it would hardly be a stretch. I know a Signe as well.

zoerhenne, you have a good handle on our style! Plus, five names on your list are family names (though some are great-aunts).

63
By Guest78 (not verified)
March 20, 2012 6:28 PM

Thanks, all, for your thoughts! Anna S., that explanation of Solveig is so helpful.

Dagny is now growing on me, too...

64
By Anna S (not verified)
March 20, 2012 6:49 PM

@Andrea7

The "alternative" spellings Solvei and Solvej are also used in Scandinavia, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. My go-to list of Nordic/Scandinavian names has more than 30 variations of "Solveig" with different spellings. What happened, I think, was that the Solveig character in Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1867) sort-of manifested the Solveig spelling as the default. Solveig then became very popular in Norway (peak 1920, 3%), and in Sweden (peak 1930-40's). (I don't have the data for Iceland and Denmark). In Denmark Solveig/Solvej looks like it's about to become popular (or trendy) again - there's a bit of a Nordic names revival going on with Ingrid, Sigrid, Dagmar, etc. racing up the charts.

Nordic names reference - www.nordicnames.de

65
March 20, 2012 7:08 PM

There is a girl in my children's school named Rye. She would fit in perfectly in District 12.

66
By cabo (not verified)
March 20, 2012 8:19 PM

@Jill

The alternative name that I think of when you say Florence is Flora. I think it goes nicely with Albert. It's similar to Florence but I think less likely to be shortened to Flo. But if you like Flo it would work too :)

67
March 20, 2012 9:22 PM

Jill-Glad I could help :) I always find it funny when I end up picking family names. It's happened more than once when I've given suggestions.
I put the names in the combos with 2 middles btw because your other girl had 3 names. I wish you good wishes and hope I can offer further assistance if you need it.

68
By Jill
March 20, 2012 10:08 PM

@cabo, I like Flora, too. (And Fleur!) Florence is my grandma's middle name, but I'd consider Flora to be a sort of "tribute" name. Here's another issue -- I know my grandma dislikes both her first name (Lorraine) and her middle name (Florence). Has anyone had experience naming a child after someone who hates his or her name? Did they like the honor or did they just wonder WHY you would saddle your child with such a (in their opinion) horrible name?

@zoerhenne, when I saw you did that, I thought, "Oh no! Do I have to give another girl 3 names, too?" She actually has two first names and one middle. (I can't remember if this blog has been around long enough that I would have called on you all to help with the agonizing to-hyphenate or not-to-hyphenate decision...)

69
By Jill
March 21, 2012 1:01 PM

-

70
March 20, 2012 11:01 PM

@Jill, I like Florence too and it does go well with your other kids names. I have been here long enough that I do remember discussions about you naming Mamie katherine and Albert.
I agree that Florence and the Machine has made Florence more well known.

Re the Scandinavian names. I'm obviously keen on them, having an Astrid. Ingrid and Sigrid were on my list and I also like Signe. Dagny would never fly here in Australia as a 'dag' is someone who is deeply uncool or bits of poo stuck to a sheeps bottom :)

71
March 21, 2012 11:45 AM

Chimu-the things I learn from you about Australia :)
Jill-I wasn't sure how you were usually addressing MKE. It did seem double barreled without the hyphen. I wouldn't think you would HAVE to do that with another girl but it was fun to come up with the names. Many of them would work rearranged to just 2 out of the 3. And regarding Lorraine, I am reading a book now in which that is the main characters name. Her nn is Rainie. I think its cute although for flow I like Florence Lorraine, but using them both may be a lot of "lo-lo" rhythm for some. Lorraine fits in with the style of the other names I suggested so again mix and match to get something pleasing to you.

72
By tiktok (not verified)
March 27, 2012 7:39 PM

Whenever I stumble onto a conversation on speculative naming in fiction, I immediately think of one book - Dragon's Blood, by Jane Yolen. It was published in 1982; I read it in the late nineties and the main thing that stuck with me at the time were the names, and the protagonist's name in particular: Jakkin.

In the book universe, a double-k name was inherently meaningful - it meant that the bearer was descended from slaves. In 1982, names featuring a double-k were exceedingly rare, and most of those were girl names that were originally nicknames. The most common male name featuring a double-k that year in the US was Rikki - and there were only 17 of them. Jakkin, and the other names in the book, were bizarre and futuristic.

Thirty years later, Jakkin is completely plausible, and many people probably wouldn't even comment on it if they ran across a child with the name.

73
By Binary (not verified)
May 24, 2012 11:07 PM

I definitely think about the Hunger games names. I have read the book, it’s very interesting. Everyone should some plant things, and definitely they will give quite interesting things. We all should try this.

75
By Guest 123456 (not verified)
July 25, 2012 12:35 AM

Eva

Ivy

Skye

Viola

Chrome

Quora

76
November 14, 2012 7:14 PM

To zoerhenne, My friend's baby girl is named Paisley, and I've always loved the idea of naming a son Corduroy. It has all of the elements of a normal sounding name that hasn't been picked up yet.