A few months ago, I was contacted by a reader whose birth name was Ayanami.
The name was inspired by Rei Ayanami, a character from the mid-’90s anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, which “[did] for anime in Japan what The X-Files did for cult sci-fi in America.” The now-iconic TV show quickly grew into a franchise involving films, video games, and products.
The character’s first name, Rei, may have been chosen as a reference to Sailor Moon character Rei Hino; her last name, Ayanami, was taken from the name of the Japanese WWII naval vessel Ayanami. The Japanese word ayanami refers to a “twill wave” — a wave with a twill-like pattern, apparently. (The more familiar Japanese word tsunami means “harbor wave.”)
The reader who got in touch with me was wondering about the single-year appearance of the name Ayanami in the U.S. baby name data in 2015. Why that year? And, would it be back?
I don’t have a solid theory about 2015, but I do think there’s a strong chance the name will re-emerge — perhaps in the yet-to-be-released 2019 data, as mid-2019 is when Netflix added Neon Genesis Evangelion (the original series, plus two of the movies) to its library.
I haven’t posted a name interview in a while! This one is with Tabitha, a 25-year-old from the Midwest.
What’s the story behind her name?
My mother claims that God himself sent her a sign that I would be a baby girl, and while reading her Bible she came across the story of Tabitha (Dorcas) and in the same session read about God’s grace. So bam, 9 months later Tabitha Grace was born.
What does she like most about her name?
I love that I was the ONLY one around. And if anyone else has even heard of it, they we’re all older than 60 years old. Growing up I didn’t need to be distinguished by a last name, or initial. When you said “I need to talk to Tabitha (Tabby),” it always meant me! I always liked being a bit different.
What does she like least about her name?
It’s dated. On the flip side of being unique, it’s also not the most beautiful name, and growing up, I always wished it had been a bit more pleasing to the ear. I guess now that I’m older, I appreciate my name for what it is, and it’s nicknames, but as a little girl it used to make me feel a bit old and ugly :)
Finally, would Tabitha recommend that her name be given to babies today?
I would. Kids always have something about their name they aren’t fond of, but as they get older and more sure of themselves they grow to love them. I prefer to give my children grown up and distinguished names, and give them kiddie nicknames. Tabitha works great to be taken seriously as an adult, but the nicknames are cute for children. If you want an older, but still social acceptable baby name, go ahead with Tabitha! Just be prepared for people to ask if you’ve ever seen Bewitched…
In the language of the Yoruba — an ethnic group that makes up about a quarter of the population of Nigeria — the word tokunbo means “from overseas.”
From the colonial period all the way up to the late 1980s, Yoruban parents who’d had babies outside of Nigeria (i.e., in the UK, in the United States) often opted for the baby name Tokunbo or something related, like Adetokunbo, Olatokunbo, or Oyetokunbo. One academic noted that these tokunbo children were “accorded elite status among their peers” because of the onomastic association with the West.
But when conditions changed in Nigeria, tokunbo‘s associations changed accordingly.
In the early 1990s, imported second-hand goods — particularly cars, car parts, electronics, and clothes — became very popular in Nigeria. Before long, the word tokunbo was repurposed to refer to these goods. A news article from mid-1996 mentioned this new usage:
The bustling Nigerian markets have become one-stop shops for extremely cheap, second-hand goods.
As the goods flow in mostly from Asia and Europe, poor Nigerians with weak buying power, welcome the trend with relief. They see the flourishing trade as the new employer in a country where more than 10 million are out of work.
“Tokunbo” in the Yoruba language means from abroad and until the advent of second-hand goods, it was used as the name for children born overseas or in a far away land.
There’s no baby name data that covers the Yoruban diaspora specifically, so I don’t know how this shift in usage affected the popularity of the baby name. I’d venture to guess, though, that “Tokunbo” is less fashionable these days. (Does anyone have any insight about this?)
The only thing I know for sure is that, earlier this year, tokunbo was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a Nigerian-English adjective “[d]enoting an imported second-hand product, esp. a car.”
A few weeks ago, I watched the Khmer-language film First They Killed My Father (2017), which essentially portrays the horrors of life under the Khmer Rouge through the eyes of a 5-year-old girl.
The movie was based on a memoir of the same name by Loung Ung. It was directed and co-produced by Angelina Jolie, and one of the executive producers was her son Maddox (who was adopted from a Cambodian orphanage in 2002).
Late in the movie, a scene set at a refugee camp showed a woman giving birth, then (a few moments later) holding a newborn. As I watched, I didn’t necessarily think the actress was pregnant in real life…but then I saw this in the credits:
This implies (to me, at least) that Cambodian actress Thanet(h) Thorn was indeed pregnant during filming, and that she named her baby “Jolie.”
I’m a little confused about the baby’s full name, though. “Jolie” is in the spot where the surname should be, but I don’t think it’s the surname in this case. Then again, “Thaneth” is also an odd choice for a surname — not because first names aren’t passed down as surnames in Cambodia (they are), but because typically it’s the father’s first name that gets passed down.
If anyone out there happens to know more about this mysterious Cambodian baby named Jolie, please comment and let us know!
In the meanwhile, here’s a photo of Thanet and Angie from a few years ago (posted to Twitter by another of the film’s co-producers, Rithy Panh).