For the longest time, I was mystified by the popularity graph for the baby name Tiger. It shows two distinct spikes in usage: one in 1997/1998, the other in 2010.
The initial spike aligns with the rise of golfer Tiger Woods, who “shot to fame after winning the U.S. Masters at Augusta in 1997 — with a record score of 270 — at the age of 21.” He was both the youngest-ever winner and the first African American winner.
If we stick with the Tiger Woods theory, though, the 2010 spike aligns best with Tiger’s infidelity scandal, which was making headlines from late 2009 until mid-2010. And that certainly could be the explanation…though it seems like a disproportionately steep rise, given the nature of the news.
When I noticed recently that Dragon-related names were more popular during Dragon years, it occurred to me that another animal of the Chinese zodiac — the Tiger — might be influencing the baby name Tiger in a similar way.
The most recent Tiger years were 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, and 2010. Turns out that the two big spikes, plus the debut (in 1962), match up perfectly with Tiger years:
In 1962, 7 U.S. baby boys were named Tiger.
In 1998, 97 U.S. baby boys were named Tiger.
23 [24%] were born in California, 8 in Texas, 6 in Pennsylvania, 5 in Illinois.
In 2010, 130 U.S. baby boys were named Tiger.
39 [30%] in California, 10 in Texas, 9 in New York, 8 in Washington, 7 in Florida, 6 in Minnesota, 5 in Pennsylvania.
It’s intriguing that the name was absent from the data in 1974 and 1986. Perhaps Tiger Woods’ rise to fame in 1997 not only gave the name an early boost, but primed expectant parents to see “Tiger” as a feasible option — making those big spikes in 1998 and 2010 possible.
What do you think the usage of “Tiger” will look like in the next Tiger year, 2022?
P.S. Tiger Woods’ birth name is actually Eldrick. His mother invented it, starting it with an “E” because her husband’s name was Earl and ending it with a “K” because her own name is Kultida. Earl Woods nicknamed his son “Tiger” in honor of Col. Vuong Dang “Tiger” Phong, whom he’d known while serving in Vietnam. (The story of the search for Phong is fascinating…)
My husband and I visited Las Vegas recently, and the casinos were all decked out for Chinese New Year (which falls on February 12th this year). Decorations included lanterns, firecrackers, Chinese coins, red envelopes, oranges*, and dragons — so many dragons that I initially thought we must be coming up on the year of the Dragon.
Turns out I was wrong — it’ll be the year of the Ox — but I didn’t realize this until my husband consulted the internet. Which I’m glad he did, because he ended up spotting this intriguing paragraph:
There are typically marked spikes in the birth rates of countries that use the Chinese zodiac or places with substantial Overseas Chinese populations during the year of the Dragon, because such “Dragon babies” are considered to be lucky and have desirable characteristics that supposedly lead to better life outcomes. The relatively recent phenomenon of planning a child’s birth in the Dragon year has led to hospital overcapacity issues and even an uptick in infant mortality rates toward the end of these years due to strained neonatal resources.
So, if Dragon years are influencing babies, could they also be influencing baby names…?
To test this, we need to know two things: which years are Dragon years, and which baby names are likely to be more popular during Dragon years.
Recent Dragon years have coincided (for the most part) with the following calendar years:
(The start date varies, but always falls between January 21 and February 20, on the day of the new moon.)
As for names, the most obvious choice to me was, of course, the English word Dragon. But that’s because I don’t speak any Asian languages (beyond a few words of Cambodian, thanks to my husband’s family).
So I looked up the Chinese word for “dragon.” The correct transliteration is lóng — the ó has a rising tone — but the word is more likely to be rendered “long” or “lung” in Latin script.
Here’s what I found for Dragon, Long and Lung in the U.S. baby name data…
The baby name Dragon debuted in 1988 (a Dragon year), saw a spike in usage in 2000 (the next Dragon year), and an even larger spike in 2012 (the most recent Dragon year).
In 1988, 8 U.S. baby boys were named Dragon.
5 [63%] were born in California.
In 2000, 22 U.S. baby boys were named Dragon.
6 [27%] were born in California, 5 in Texas.
In 2012, 24 U.S. baby boys were named Dragon.
5 [21%] were born in California.
I think the state data is notable here because California has a significant Asian American population.
Long & Lung
The baby name Long debuted in 1975, likely because of Vietnamese immigration, and saw a general increase in usage during the late ’70s and early ’80s. It saw an initial spike in 1976 (a Dragon year), which was followed by three more distinct spikes in 1988, 2000, and 2012 (the three most recent Dragon years).
In 1976, 47 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
13 [28%] were born in California, 5 in Texas.
In 1988, 133 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
Long ranked 822nd nationally.
53 [40%] were born in California, 20 in Texas, 5 in Oklahoma, 5 in Massachusetts.
In 2000, 101 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
30 [30%] were born in California, 14 in Texas, 8 in Virginia, 7 in Washington, 6 in Massachusetts, 6 in Pennsylvania.
19 [23%] were born in California, 11 in Texas, 5 in Oregon.
The baby name Lung — a homograph of the English word for the internal organ, unfortunately — was a one-hit wonder in the Dragon year 1988.
While looking at the data for Long, I spotted the name Thienlong — a one-hit wonder in the Dragon year 2012. The Vietnamese name Thienlong, or “thiên long,” means something along the lines of “sky dragon” or “heavenly dragon.”
Seeing the crossover into Vietnamese names, I tried looking for other Asian words for “dragon” in the U.S. baby name data.
I didn’t have much luck until I tried one of the Japanese words for “dragon,” ryu (which should have a macron above the u, marking it as long). The word is typically rendered “ryu,” “ryo,” or “ryuu” in Latin script. (It can also have meanings other than “dragon” — just depends upon the kanji.)
Here’s what I found…
Ryu, Ryuu, Ryo
The baby name Ryu debuted in 1985, dropped out of the data, and returned in 1988 (a Dragon year). It saw a small spike in usage in 2000 (the next Dragon year), then a larger spike in 2012 (the most recent Dragon year).
In 1988, 7 baby boys were named Ryu.
In 2000, 35 baby boys were named Ryu.
12 [34%] were born in California.
In 2012, 129 baby boys were named Ryu.
34 [26%] were born in California, 14 in Texas, 9 in New York.
The baby names Ryuu and Ryo both saw peak usage in the Dragon year 2012.
Ryunosuke, Ryuki, Ryujin, etc.
While looking at the data for Ryu, I found several Ryu-based names with usage patterns that seem to correlate to Dragon years:
And here’s an interesting fact: Japan’s most famous short story writer, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, “was named Ryunosuke, “dragon-son,” because he was born in the hour of the dragon, in the month of the dragon, in the year of the dragon.” (His birth-date was March 1, 1892.)
And, finally, one more…
After looking up “dragon” in many different languages, I decided to check the Latin version, Draco — yes, as in Harry Potter character Draco Malfoy — just in case.
The name did see usage increases in the Dragon years 2000 and 2012, but these increases don’t seem impressive next to the steep rise of the last couple of years (which could be due to the 2017 song “Draco” by Future…?).
The next year of the Dragon year will start in early 2024. Do you think dragon-related names will get another boost that year? If so, which ones?
And, do you know of any other dragon-related names that we should be keeping an eye on?
*Why oranges? Because the Cantonese word for mandarin orange, kam, sounds a lot like the Cantonese word for gold. (Another interesting fact: the word kumquat comes from the Cantonese words kam, “gold” or “golden,” and kwat, “orange.”)
The baby name Unicorn: Ridiculous? Inevitable? Both?
I’m not asking because I think Unicorn should become a baby name. I’m asking because I think there’s an outside chance that it could see some usage this year, thanks to the sudden trendiness of unicorns.
The word “unicorn” is being used to market all manner of colorful, sparkly products at the moment. In fact, Google searches for “unicorn” hit an all-time high last month.
The word has also acquired some positive associations over the last few years. According to Elizabeth Segran of Fast Company, “unicorn” is now being used to denote uniqueness (e.g., unicorn startup, unicorn boyfriend) and also to signify anything “happy, fun-loving, and cute.”
So if this unicorn fad lasts long enough, and if American parents are daring enough, do you think we could see a Unicorn or two in the birth announcements this year?
For the record, Unicorn has been used as a name in the U.S. before, but only a handful of times. The youngest I found was a male born in the ’90s with the middle name Unicorn.
Mythical creature names (like Phoenix, Griffin, and Dragon) — not to mention real-life creature names (like Bear, Fox, Wolf, and Wren) — are on the rise right now. So what are the odds that we’ll see some some baby Unicorns in 2017?