“Year of the Dragon” Baby Names

Chinese Dragon at The Venetian, 2021

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:

  • 1952
  • 1964
  • 1976
  • 1988
  • 2000
  • 2012

(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…

Dragon

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.
  • In 2012, 84 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
    • 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.

Thienlong

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.”

Same dragon, different angle

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…

Draco

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…?).

2024

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.”)

Sources:

P.S. Want to read about another periodic baby name? Try the comet-inspired Halley

Wynton: Jazz-Inspired Baby Name

wynton, baby name, 1960s
Wynton Kelly

Wynton is a name doubly associated with jazz.

First there was jazz pianist Wynton Kelly, born in Jamaica in 1931. He’s best known for being part of Miles Davis’ band starting in 1959, including an appearance on Kind of Blue (1959), which would become one of the greatest jazz records of all time. (He played in the song “Freddie Freeloader.”)

Around the same time, the baby name Wynton began appearing in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1963: 6 baby boys named Wynton
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 8 baby boys named Wynton [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted
wynton marsalis, baby name, 1980s
Wynton Marsalis

In 1961, New Orleans jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis welcomed a baby boy and named him Wynton in honor of his friend Wynton Kelly.

Little Wynton went on to become an internationally famous jazz trumpeter, winning eight Grammy Awards from 1983 to 1987 and playing the national anthem at Super Bowl XX [vid] in New Orleans in January of 1986. His success not only gave new life to the name Wynton, but it put the name Marsalis on the map:

YearWynton usageMarsalis usage
198819 baby boys13 baby boys
198722 baby boys12 baby boys
198627 baby boys13 baby boys [debut]
198517 baby boys(unlisted)
198423 baby boys(unlisted)
1983(unlisted)(unlisted)

The surname Marsalis is thought to be a Dutch variant of the French surname Marchal, which was originally an occupational/status name meaning “marshal.”

I can think of just two other names that with similar usage stories (i.e., influenced twice by two different people working in the same field, with the second person being a namesake of the first): Ryne and Damita.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Wynton?

Sources:

The Baby Name Colt

wayde preston, colt 45, television, 1950s
Christopher Colt

The baby name Colt has a distinctive popularity graph: usage begins in the 1950s, shoots up in the early 1980s, shoots up again in the early 2000s, and shoots up again in the late 2010s.

The initial usage was triggered by the TV Western Colt .45 (1957-1960), which was loosely based upon a 1950 film of the same name. The main character, Christopher Colt, was an undercover government agent posing as a pistol salesman. (The Colt .45 was a type of pistol that was particularly popular in the Old West.)

The name Colt debuted in the SSA’s data the year the show premiered:

  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 8 baby boys named Colt
  • 1958: 10 baby boys named Colt
  • 1957: 7 baby boys named Colt [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

The show may have given the name Christopher a boost as well, though it’s hard to tell, as the name was already on the rise in the late ’50s.

But the name that got the biggest boost from the show wasn’t Colt or Christopher — it was Wayde, from actor Wayde Preston, who played Christopher Colt. The name saw peak usage in 1959:

  • 1960: 135 baby boys named Wayde [rank: 674th]
  • 1959: 252 baby boys named Wayde [rank: 493rd]
  • 1958: 153 baby boys named Wayde [rank: 622nd]
  • 1957: 33 baby boys named Wayde
  • 1956: 15 baby boys named Wayde

But getting back to Colt…the name remained relatively rare until another show, The Fall Guy (1981-1986), introduced TV audiences to the character Colt Seavers, played by Lee Majors. This character wasn’t a gunslinger but a stuntman (who moonlighted as a bounty hunter).

The name jumped straight into the top 500 in 1982:

  • 1983: 351 baby boys named Colt [rank: 444th]
  • 1982: 344 baby boys named Colt [rank: 459th]
  • 1981: 20 baby boys named Colt
  • 1980: 9 baby boys named Colt

The next rise in usage was kicked off by football quarterback Daniel “Colt” McCoy, who had a successful college career at the University of Texas (2005-2009) before going pro in 2010.

  • 2009: 820 baby boys named Colt [rank: 369th]
    • 162 (19.8%) born in Texas
  • 2008: 500 baby boys named Colt [rank: 532nd]
    • 85 (17.0%) born in Texas
  • 2007: 428 baby boys named Colt [rank: 593rd]
    • 67 (15.7%) born in Texas
  • 2006: 212 baby boys named Colt [rank: 910th]
    • 38 (17.9%) born in Texas
  • 2005: 186 baby boys named Colt [rank: 943rd]
    • 21 (11.3%) born in Texas
  •  2004: 143 baby boys named Colt [outside top 1,000]
    • 13 (9.1%) born in Texas

And the most recent rise in usage seems to be attributable to the Netflix series The Ranch, which premiered in mid-2016 and stars Ashton Kutcher as a character named Colt Reagan Bennett.

So, going back to the beginning now….where did the name of the Colt .45 pistol come from?

The pistol was made by Colt’s Manufacturing Company of Connecticut. The company was named for founder Samuel Colt (1814-1862), whose English surname originated as “a metonymic occupational name for someone who looked after asses and horses, or a nickname for an obstinate or frisky person.”

What do you think of the baby name Colt? (Do you like it as a standalone name, or do you prefer it as a nickname for Colton?)

Source: Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

The Entrance of Nattiel

In the late 1980s, the unusual name Nattiel was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1990: unlisted
  • 1989: unlisted
  • 1988: 10 baby boys named Nattiel
  • 1987: unlisted
  • 1986: unlisted

(In fact, Nattiel is one of the top one-hit wonders overall.)

Where did the name come from?

It was the surname of Florida-born professional football player Ricky Nattiel [pronounced nah-TEEL].

A wide receiver, Nattiel was chosen by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft. He ended up playing for the Broncos for six seasons (1987 to 1992).

I’m not certain about the origin of his surname, but my best guess is that it was based on the Biblical name Nathaniel.

Do you like Nattiel as a baby name?

Source: Ricky Nattiel – Wikipedia

The Beginning of Billie Jean

billie jean horton, country music, baby names, 1960s
Advertisement in Billboard (July 1961)

When I think of the name Billie Jean, I think of the Michael Jackson song. Next, I think of the tennis player.

But the name Billiejean first appeared in the U.S. baby name data way back in 1962, decades before the song, and years before the tennis player was at the height of her fame.

  • 1964: unlisted
  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: 5 baby girls named Billie Jean
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted

My guess on this one? Country singer Billie Jean Horton.

Today she’s best remembered for her relationships with various country singers: Faron Young, Hank Williams (married 1952-1953), Johnny Horton (married 1953-1960), and Johnny Cash.

But she was a recording artist in her own right, and her most successful single, “Ocean Of Tears,” peaked at #29 on the country chart in August of 1961. The next year, for one year only, Billiejean popped up in the data.

The name didn’t return until 1973, when tennis player Billie Jean King defeated male player Bobby Riggs in tennis’s most famous “Battle of the Sexes” match. This time it stuck around until the late ’70s.

billie jean, michael jackson, song, 1980s, baby name,

It emerged a third time with the help of Michael Jackson, whose song “Billie Jean” was the #1 song in the nation for seven weeks straight in March and April of 1983.

What are your thoughts on the name Billie Jean? What’s your strongest association with the name?

Source: Billie Jean Horton – Wikipedia