How-to articles on naming fictional characters are a dime a dozen. But most are a litany of tips — some important, others not so much. So I thought I’d try boiling the best of the advice down to a single sentence. Here’s what I came up with:
“Each character’s name should fit the setting, fit the character, and be distinct within the story.”
The sentence contains three different objectives, so let’s look out each one separately:
Fit the setting
The name should be appropriate for the time and place in which the story occurs. A romance set in 18th-century England could be between an Elizabeth and a Frederick, but not a Nevaeh and a Jayden. Similarly, the protagonist of a 24th-century space opera could be named something standard/plain (John) or futuristic (Loxxan), but probably not something very old (Holmketill), or even slightly old (Clarence).
Fit the character
The name should suit the character, primarily in terms of permanent descriptors (e.g., gender, age, ethnicity), but also, perhaps, in terms of personality traits (e.g., bubbly, gracious, haughty).
Stereotyping in general is bad, but when it comes to character names, it’s very useful: You want the name to give the correct impression of the character right away. A woman from India should be named Padma, not Margaret. A man from Germany should be called Armin, not Oakley.
You could also take it a step further and choose a name that reflects the character’s personality in a subtle way. A friendly woman could be an Amy, while a complex woman could be Demetria. Do this mainly with sounds and associations, which will be picked up instantly by the reader.
Be distinct within the story
The name should not look or sound similar to any of the other names in the story, or else the reader could get confused. Pay special attention to first letters and to repeated sounds. If the protagonists are sisters, name them Mila and Harriet, not Katie and Kelly. Likewise, if the main characters are brothers, use the names Brian and Luke, not Aidan and Adam.
Some recent and not-so-recent baby names from the news…
Blu (rejected): A baby girl born in late 2016 in Italy was almost named Blu, but the Italian government rejected the name because it didn’t correspond to her gender. (The Local)
Betsy and Emory: Twin baby girls born in January of 2018 to singer Hillary Scott were named Betsy Mack and Emory JoAnn. Their older sister Eisele was behind the debut of Eisele in 2014. (Taste of Country)
Brianna: A baby girl born in Sacramento in early 2018 with the help of firefighter Brian Hoffer was named Brianna Renee in his honor. (CBS Sacramento)
Crew: A baby boy born in June of 2018 to reality TV stars Joanna and Chip Gaines was named Crew. (Motherly)
Harry and Meghan: Twin foals born in Wales the day before the royal wedding were named Harry and Meghan. (BBC)
Hayes: A baby boy born on the last day of 2017 to actress Jessica Alba was named Hayes. (People)
Knight: A baby boy born in Vegas in during the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals was named Haizen Knight in part after the Vegas Golden Knights, who ultimately lost to the Washington Capitals. (KTNV Las Vegas, video)
Neve: A baby girl born in June of 2018 to Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, was named Neve Te Aroha. (NZ Herald)
Riley: A baby girl born in Vegas on the day the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to the playoffs was named Riley after player Reilly Smith. Her parents were survivors of the Las Vegas shooting. (NY Post)
Ryder: A baby boy born in May of 2018 was named Ryder after the Ryder Cup. (Ryder Cup…and here’s the follow-up post that mentions several more babies named Ryder)
Saynt: A baby boy born in February of 2018 to Australian actress Tessa James was named Saynt — a respelling of Saint, which would have been illegal in Australia. (news.com.au)
Sheboygan: A baby boy born in April of 2018 to a Michigan couple already famous for being prodigious producers of sons was named Finley Sheboygan — middle name derived from the phrase “she is a boy again.” (Today)
Stormi: A baby girl born in February to reality TV star Kylie Jenner was named Stormi. (People)
Which boy names increased the most in popularity from 2015 to 2016? And which ones decreased the most?
The U.S. SSA likes to answer this question by analyzing ranking differences within the top 1,000. I prefer to answer it by looking at raw number differences, and to take the full list into account. So let’s check out the results using both methods…
Boy Names: Biggest Increases, 2015 to 2016
1. Kylo, +2,368 spots — up from 3,269th to 901st
2. Creed, +370 spots — up from 1,352nd to 982nd
3. Benicio, +356 spots — up from 1,331st to 975th
4. Adonis, +307 spots — up from 701st to 394th
5. Fox, +288 spots — up from 1034th to 746th
6. Kye, +281 spots — up from 984th to 703rd
7. Hakeem, +256 spots — up from 1,161st to 905th
8. Shepherd, +242 spots — up from 1,105th to 863rd
9. Wilder, +238 spots — up from 961st to 723rd
10. Zayn, +222 spots — up from 643rd to 421st
Kylo was influenced by the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
Creed and Adonis were influenced by the movie Creed (2015).
Hakeem was influenced by the TV show Empire (2015-). So was Bryshere, which debuted last year.
Wilder could have been influenced by either Gene Wilder or by boxer Deontay Wilder, or both. (Or neither.)
Zayn was influenced by British singer/songwriter Zain “Zayn” Malik.
1. Mateo, +1,516 baby boys — up from 5,010 to 6,526
2. Oliver, +1,340 baby boys — up from 11,635 to 12,975
3. Bryson, +1,239 baby boys — up from 3,094 to 4,333
4. Lincoln, +1,094 baby boys — up from 5,982 to 7,076
5. Benjamin, +899 baby boys — up from 13,670 to 14,569
6. Grayson, +735 baby boys — up from 7,887 to 8,622
7. Theodore, +723 baby boys — up from 4,136 to 4,859
8. Greyson, +704 baby boys — up from 3,591 to 4,295
9. Leo, +678 baby boys — up from 4,582 to 5,260
10. Maverick, +675 baby boys — up from 2,265 to 2,940
Other names that saw raw number increases in the 200+ range included Owen, Sebastian, Ezekiel, Lucas, Ezra, Leonardo, Santiago, Conor, Gael, Everett, Rhett, Jameson, Killian, Tobias, Arlo, Easton, Finn, Rowan, Elias, Asher, Calvin, Thiago, Bodhi, Legend, Lukas, River, Elliot, Harrison, Roman, Adriel, Paxton, Julian, Ace, Josiah, Waylon, Messiah, Nash, Ellis, Matias, George, Barrett, Connor, Wade, Kyrie, Milo, Amir, Bennett, Elliott, Silas, Matteo, and Axel.
Rowan is rising quickly for both boys and girls right now.
Kyrie, which was once given primarily to girls, is now being given primarily for boys thanks to basketball player Kyrie Irving.
Boy Names: Biggest Decreases, 2015 to 2016
1. Jonael, -475 spots — down from 921st to 1,396th
2. Aaden, -239 spots — down from 784th to 1,023rd
3. Triston, -230 spots — down from 957th to 1,187th
4. Freddy, -222 spots — down from 993rd to 1,215th
5. Yaakov, -213 spots — down from 992nd to 1,205th
6. Braeden, -203 spots — down from 792nd to 995th
7. Chace, -202 spots — down from 935th to 1,137th
8. Brantlee, -176 spots — down from 777th to 953rd
9. Gannon, -173 spots — down from 533rd to 706th
10. Robin, -171 spots — down from 969th to 1,140th
The name Jonael got a lot of exposure in 2015 thanks to 11-year-old Puerto Rican singer Jonael Santiago, who won the 3rd season of La Voz Kids, which aired from March to June. It didn’t get as much exposure in 2016, which accounts for the drop in usage.
1. Logan, -1,697 baby boys (12,897 to 11,200)
2. Jacob, -1,498 baby boys (15,914 to 14,416)
3. Jayden, -1,455 baby boys (11,518 to 10,063)
4. Mason, -1,399 baby boys (16,591 to 15,192)
5. Ethan, -1,291 baby boys — down from 15,049 to 13,758
6. Aiden, -1,271 baby boys (13,429 to 12,158)
7. Alexander, -1,186 baby boys (14,507 to 13,321)
8. Jackson, -1,032 baby boys (12,242 to 11,210)
9. Brandon, -1,024 baby boys (5,100 to 4,076)
10. Blake, -951 baby boys (4,220 to 3,269)
Unlike Rowan, Blake is falling on the boys’ list, but rising on the girls’ list. In fact, the graph (right) makes a gender switch look inevitable. This is not something I would have anticipated a decade ago, before the emergence of Blake Lively.
Other names that saw raw number drops in the 200+ range included Landon, Caleb, Gavin, Anthony, Christopher, Andrew, David, Parker, Colton, Jase, Hunter, Brody, Brantley, Gabriel, Jonathan, Jordan, Tyler, Kevin, Nathan, Joshua, Carter, Daniel, Joseph, Dylan, Christian, Noah, Angel, Brayden, Iker, Chase, Nicholas, Austin, Dominic, Camden, John, Ayden, Michael, Colin, Bryan, Riley, Kyle, Hayden, Bradley, Nathaniel, Jake, Samuel, Luke, Cayden, Evan, Zachary, Steven, Kaden, Cooper, Marcus, Ryan, Tristan, Bryce, Ryder, Micah, Brady, Bentley, Kaleb, Levi, Alex, Conner, Jeremy, Isaac, Ian, Gage, Brian, Kayden, Jaden, Carlos, Sean, Jeremiah, Abel, Devin, Adrian, Giovanni, Garrett, and Adam.
Jase has seen a dramatic rise and fall over the last few years: big gains in 2012 and 2013, followed by big losses in 2014, 2015, and now 2016.
Similarly, Iker was on the rise for a while, with partcularly big leaps in 2011 and 2012, but usage is now on the wane.
Do you have any other explanations/guesses about any of the names above? If so, please leave a comment.
(In 2015, the big winners were Oliver and Riaan, and the big losers were Jase and Arnav.)
A couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in dramatic fashion (with a score of 8-7 in the 10th inning of the 7th game).
So will we see a rise in the number of babies with Cubs-inspired names (like Wrigley) this year? Probably! Here are some recent examples:
Wrigley – Katie Stam Irk (a former Miss America) and her husband Brian welcomed a baby boy several days before the final game of the series. After the Cubs emerged victorious, they named the baby Wrigley Oliver.
Wrigley – “Bachelorette” couple Chris Siegfried (a former Chicago Cubs relief pitcher) and his wife Desiree welcomed a baby boy in October and named him Asher Wrigley.
Faith Victory – Chicago parents Jason and Kristy Amato welcomed a baby girl in October and named her Faith Victory.
Clark and Addison – Cubs fans Scott and Amber McFarland welcomed boy-girl twins in late June and named them Clark (son) and Addison (daughter), “after the iconic intersection outside Wrigley Field.”
The names Clark and Addison were also given to a pair of male-female red panda cubs born at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo last year.
And here’s the most impressive set of Cubs-babies I’ve seen so far: A generation ago, Cubs fanatics Julie and Ralph Dynek named their five children Addison (son), Clark (son), Sheffield (son), Grace Waveland (daughter), and Ivy Marie Wrigley Diamond (daughter). The first four were named after the four streets that surround Wrigley Field, and the fifth was named after the field’s famous ivy-covered brick outfield wall.
And don’t forget this 2007 baby named Wrigley Fields. (Visitors who commented on that post mentioned three more Wrigleys, an Addison, and a Clark.)
Have you encountered any other Cubs-inspired baby names lately, either in the news or in real life?
Maryland’s Open Data website includes a single table of Maryland baby name rankings (2011) broken down by race/ethnic group. This is cool because New York City does the exact same breakdown, and we happen to have the equivalent NYC baby name rankings (2011). So we ought to be able to compare and contrast the two sets of rankings, right?
Yeah, that’s what I thought…until I started looking more closely at Maryland’s data.
According to the SSA, these were the top 10 boy names in Maryland in 2011:
Aiden (tied for 10th)
Jayden (tied for 10th)
But according to the state of Maryland, the top 10 boy names were quite different:
Asian & Pacific Isl.
It isn’t totally implausible that Aiden and Jayden might have ranked 1st and 3rd in 2011, but Christopher in 2nd? Maybe if this were a dataset from thirty years ago, but not five years ago. The SSA indicates that Christopher ranked closer to 18th in the state that year.
And what’s with the two different spellings of Jayden/Jaiden?
Plus there are some sizable raw number discrepancies, such as:
Aiden: 588 babies (MD data) vs. 281 babies (SSA data for MD)
Christopher: 584 babies (MD data) vs. 256 babies (SSA data for MD)
Jayden: 498 babies (MD data) vs. 281 babies (SSA data for MD)
Mason: 463 babies (MD data) vs. 432 babies (SSA data for MD)
And now the girl names. According to the SSA, these were the top 10 girl names in Maryland in 2011:
According to the state of Maryland, though, the top 10 girl names in the state were these:
Asian & Pacific Isl.
Not only does Isabel magically replace Isabella in the Maryland data, but McKenzie and Riley rank 8th and 10th — even though the SSA says they should be closer to 77th (!) and 28th.
Not to mention the raw number discrepancies, such as:
Sophia: 503 babies (MD data) vs. 367 babies (SSA data for MD)
McKenzie: 325 babies (MD data) vs. 71 babies (SSA data for MD)
Riley: 298 babies (MD data) vs. 118 babies (SSA data for MD)
Intriguing parallels between the MD data and the NYC data do exist. In both locations, Elijah and Isaiah were in the top 10 for African-American boys only, and London, Aaliyah, and Taylor were in the top 10 for African-American girls only.
But if we can’t trust the data, we can’t draw any meaningful conclusions.
Labels like “Caitlin/Kate,” “Sara(h),” “Zoe(y)” and “Lillian/Lily” suggest that variant names were combined here and there. I suspect this is also what happened with Isabel/Isabella, Sophia/Sofia, Aiden, Jayden, MacKenzie, Riley, and maybe even Christopher (perhaps Maryland merged all the “Chris-” names). What are your thoughts on this?