The Top Name Stories of 2015

Dec 16th 2015

Names shape how we perceive our world, and ourselves. That message shone through in the biggest name-related news stories of 2015. With thanks to the insightful readers who submitted nominations for the Name of the Year, we count them down:

#5: Cecil.

Image via Daughter#3/Flickr

The lion shot in Zimbabwe in July was not the first killed by trophy hunters this year, nor the last. But he was a rare breed: a lion widely known by a human name. Reports of the killing universally used that name, in headlines like "What Happened in the Harrowing Hours Before Cecil the Lion Was Killed."

The use of Cecil's quaint, sweet name shaped the global reaction to the news story. It focused public attention, and transformed the event from an abstraction to a personal tragedy. The result was raised awareness of the risks of poaching, and new debate on the ethics of trophy hunting.

#4: Spurgeon. This was the name that demonstrated how fully style has trounced substance in the baby name wars. When devout Christians Ben and Jessa Duggar Seewald announced that they had named their newborn son after "Prince of Preachers" Charles Spurgeon, the public reaction was overwhelmingly harsh. Even major news outlets derided the family, often gleefully. Time Magazine covered the story under the headline "The Duggars Are Running Out of Names to Call Their Kids."

Spurgeon isn't the sort of name that usually provokes this kind of response. It's not made up, or fanciful, or creatively spelled. It's a traditional homage to a religious hero, which once upon a time was all the reason parents needed to choose a name. In fact, Spurgeon was a modestly common choice a century ago. But the sound of the name is now thoroughly unfashionable, and today that's a line most of us can't imagine crossing.

#3: Charlie. In January, Islamist terrorists attacked the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. As the world spoke out to condemn the violence and support free speech, one phrase that started as Twitter tag became a global rallying cry: "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie.")

The outrage at the massacre would surely have been just as strong if the magazine had been called, say, "The Paris Satirical Weekly." But as in the case of Cecil the lion, the fact that Charlie Hebdo bore a human name took on symbolic power. The statement "I am Charlie" (like "I am Spartacus") moves beyond support to identification and unity.

#2: Caitlyn.

© Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

2015 was a watershed year for the visibility of transgender issues. The momentum was already growing when one magazine cover put it over the top: "Call Me Caitlyn." With those words, the star formerly known as Bruce Jenner used the power of names to introduce her new female identity to the world.

Caitlyn became the most talked-about name choice of the year, eclipsing every celebrity baby name. With its youthful image, carefully non-Kardashian spelling and modern girl-next door style, it was a one-name meditation on celebrity, gender, age and self-invention. (Read our analysis of the choice of Caitlyn.)

#1…click on to read about the official Name of the Year for 2015.


December 16, 2015 12:44 PM

Awesome! I like the addition of the photos to make the choices even more concrete.

I think baby Spurgeon's mom is named Jessa, not Jessica.

December 16, 2015 1:18 PM

Thanks Elizabeth! I made the correction.

December 17, 2015 12:32 AM

I can't wait to see the name of the year, if it isn't Caitlyn. :)

Regarding Spurgeon, when you constantly have to correct yourself not to say sturgeon, and that's actually the best association you can come up with (because, c'mon, it says "purge" right there in the name), what you have is a name that really, really, really should have been relegated to the middle spot. Really.

December 17, 2015 1:50 PM

Please tell me I was not the only person who read about baby Spurgeon and said, "Awww! Like Moody Spurgeon MacPherson!"

December 29, 2015 2:00 PM

You certainly weren't (the only one to think immediately of Moody Spurgeon) :-)

January 5, 2016 12:04 AM

My name is Caitlin. I love my name, and have never disliked it. But now that everyone and their momma are using it as a household name it gets on my nerves.  If I introduce myself to someone I get jokes often like "heh like Caitlyn Jenner!" Thanks, but I was named that first.  Lol

November 5, 2016 3:10 AM

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June 13, 2017 12:01 AM

Je voulais vous remercier pour cette excellente lecture! Je jouis certainement de tout et je t'ai réservé pour vérifier les nouveautés que tu publies.