The Age of Bold Baby Names

May 17th 2017

Bold. Powerful. Audacious. If this year's fast-rising baby names had a theme, it was "no limits." Parents are no longer afraid to go big, choosing names that past generations didn't dare consider. From kings and gods to superheroes and even supervillains, we've entered an age of unprecedented baby name boldness.

Images: flickr/milst1,

What does that boldness look like? To start with, the names below all ranked among the top 1,000 names for boys or girls last year, all rising in popularity from the year before:

Ace (M)
Adonis (M)
Anakin (M)
Ares (M)
Athena (F)
Atlas (M)
Cannon (M)
Heaven (F)
Heavenly (F)
Kal-El (M)
Khaleesi (F)
King (M)
Kingsley (M)
Kingston (M)
Kylo (M)
Legend (M)
Maverick (M)
Maximus (M)
Messiah (M)
Miracle (F)
Odin (M)
Orion (M)
Prince (M)
Princess (F)
Princeton (M)
Reign (F)
Royal (F, M))
Royal (M)
Royalty (F)

And here's a sampling of some fast risers outside the top 1,000:

Ajax (M)
Azazel (M)
Bellatrix (F)
Danger (M)
Dionysus (M)
Divine (F, M)
Empress (F)
Flash (M)
Great (M)
Jezebel (F)
Judas (M)
Kaiser (F, M)
Lex (F, M)
Lucifer (M)
Majestic (M)
Majesty (F, M)
Pharaoh (M)
Queen (F)
Riot (M)
Saint (M)
Sovereign (F, M)
Supreme (M)
Valkyrie (F)
Winner (M)
Zeus (M)

I've written before about the rise of "exalted names" that suggest royalty and divinity. I described them as names crafted to inspire and celebrate, "demanding that this child will be valued and respected." I stand by that description, but this year's rapid rise of power names on the dark side (like Lucifer, Bellatrix and the #1 fastest-rising boy's name Kylo) points to a broader phenomenon.

The name lists above cast a wide net. Ace, Messiah, Dionysus, Majestic, Kal-El and Jezebel are all over the cultural and stylistic map. Individually, each represents a single family's heartfelt decision with a personal story behind it. Collectively, they may well signal a fundamental shift in the enterprise of naming babies.

Over the past generation, parents turned away from the idea of a "normal name": the assumption that we choose our babies' names from an established pool of options. This freer attitude led to a flowering of new hit names. We saw more foreign imports like Giovanni; surnames like Cassidy; place names like Brooklyn; and sound-based inventions like Jayla. Each pushed the envelope gently, forging new territory while staying tethered to the traditional.

The new names break the tether. You can almost hear parents thinking, "I could actually do that. I could choose…anything." It's a veritable explosion of ambition, thrills, and raw id. We're naming with the safety off. Full throttle, full bore, no limits.


Read More: Baby Names Are Getting Ready to Rule



By Spam
May 17, 2017 6:12 PM

Negan jumped onto the list.  Talk about no limits even on the dark side, wow.

May 18, 2017 10:33 AM

On this list, the boys' names outnumber the girls' name 2:1--is it a matter of the boys "catching up" to the way that girls have been named for decades? Odin does seem a bolder choice than Freya; Adonis bolder than Helen or Penelope; Orion more than Diana; and Supreme more than Genesis and yet...why is that? 

The change in attitude to boys' names seems really new if you're eyeballing the data. In 2006, the frequency of the top 10 names for girls looks almost the same as it does now (even the names are still mostly current), but the frequency for the top 10 boys' names is completely different: William, the 2016 #3 with 0.7799% of all boys, would have ranked #14 with that % just 10 years ago, while 2016 #10 Ethan (0.6848%) would have ranked #21 in 2006. I think you have a post on this from some time ago, but the 2016 lists really seems to make the point that naming norms for boys are changing in a big way--does a more formal analysis back that up?

By Spam
May 18, 2017 3:04 PM

Interesting.  Also the percentage of boys names in the top 1000 has decreased from 80.1 in 2007 to 78.41 in 2016.  For girls, it was 67.74 in 2007 and 67.89 in 2016.

In 2016, 1.011% of girls were given the #1 name and .248% were given the #50 name.  In 2006, 1.024% of girls were given the #1 name and .257% were given the #50 name.  The change was bigger for boys.  In 2016, .947% of boys got the #1 name and .352% got the #50 name.  In 2006, 1.134% had gotten the #1 name and .437% got the #50 name.

So I think data does support these observations of increased diversity with boy names.  

And to top it all off, the boys top 10 list is primed for a giant shakeup.  It will be completely unrecognizable 10 years (or less) from now.

The times they are a-changin.