What Influenced the Baby Name “Tiger”?

Tiger Woods

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?

Sources: Tiger Woods – Biography, Tiger (zodiac) – Wikipedia, Tiger’s dad gave us all some lessons to remember

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…)

The Debuts of Dhahran & Riyadh

map of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia (Dhahran is very close to Dammam)

In 1991, the names Dhahran and Riyadh both debuted in the SSA’s baby name data:

19935 baby boys.
199113 baby boys [debut]9 baby boys [debut]

Riyadh has re-appeared in the data several times since, whereas Dhahran remains a one-hit wonder.

Where did they come from?

Well, literally speaking, Saudi Arabia. Both are the names of important Saudi Arabian cities. Riyadh is the country’s capital, and Dhahran is where the oil company Saudi Aramco is based.

But what turned them into baby names in the United States in the early 1990s specifically?

The news. Both cities were mentioned repeatedly in the American news during the Gulf War (Aug. 1990 to Feb. 1991) — particularly during the first two months of 1991, when Iraq was launching Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel. On February 25, for instance, a Scud missile fired at a U.S. Army barracks in Dhahran killed 28 U.S. soldiers (all reservists from Pennsylvania) and injured more than 100 others.

So, what do the place-names Dhahran and Riyadh mean?

The name Riyadh, in use since at least the 17th century, was derived from the Arabic word for “gardens” or “meadows” because the location is “a fertile spot just north of the confluence of the wadis Hanifa and Batha.”

The settlement of Dhahran, on the other hand, is much newer. It was constructed in the late 1930s “on who barren hills in the area” known in Arabic as dhahran (“two backs”).


The Arrival of Versace

Gianni Versace

Fashion designer Gianni Versace was born in Italy in late 1946. His eponymous fashion house was founded in the late 1970s. But the surname Versace, despite its strong association with haute couture, didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data until 1997:

  • 1999: unlisted
  • 1998: unlisted
  • 1997: 10 baby boys named Versace [debut]
  • 1996: unlisted
  • 1995: unlisted

Brands often pop up in the data due to events like product launches and/or marketing campaigns. (And sometimes rap songs.) The event that put this brand on the onomastic map, however, was quite different.

On the morning of July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace was shot point-blank outside of his Miami Beach mansion. The murderer, who committed suicide days later, was a spree killer who’d had an obsession with Versace (the man, not the brand).

So that’s the unfortunate explanation behind “Versace” getting extra media attention in 1997, which resulted in the surname seeing higher usage as a baby name — high enough to end up in the SSA data for the first time. (It remained a one-hit wonder until just recently.)

The Italian (Sicilian) surname Versace can be traced back to the Greek personal name Barsakios, which could be of Arabic origin.


Storm van der Zee

In October of 1636, Albert Andriessen Bradt and his wife Annetje boarded the Wapen Van Rensselaerwyck in Amsterdam and set off for the New World. (Interestingly, neither one was Dutch: Albert was originally from Norway, and Annetje originally from Germany.) They arrived in New Netherland in March of 1637.

During the sea voyage, they welcomed their third child. He was born on November 2nd during a violent storm, and so they named him, fittingly, Storm. (The word is the same in both Dutch and English.)

During his early adulthood, Storm adopted the surname van der Zee, meaning “from/of the sea.” This was the name he gave his wife Hilletje and their four children: Annatje Storm, Gerrit Storm, Wouter Stormsz, and Albert. (The “sz” ending in Dutch names is a contraction of –s zoon, or “-‘s son.”)

The name “Storm” ended up being passed down to many people — not just to Storm’s direct descendants, but also to Storms’ seven siblings’ descendants, and even to one of the children his widow had with her second husband (!).

What are your thoughts on the name Storm?

Sources: Storm Vanderzee – New York State Museum, Albert Andriessen Bradt – Wikipedia, Albert Andriessen Bradt (1607-1686) – WikiTree, Hilletie Lansing Vanderzee Ketelhuyn – New York State Museum, Hard to Kill (1990) – IMDb

Image: Dutch Merchant – Ships in a Storm (1670s) by Ludolf Bakhuizen

P.S. The baby name Storm saw a steep rise in usage (as a boy name) in the U.S. in 1990. The next year, it reached the top 1,000 for the first time and it remained there until 1997. Why the jump? My guess is the 1990 movie Hard to Kill, in which star Steven Seagal played Detective Mason Storm.

The One-Hit Wonder Trinere

The baby name Trinere has appeared a single time in the SSA’s baby name data so far:

  • 1992: unlisted
  • 1991: unlisted
  • 1990: 5 baby girls named Trinere
  • 1989: unlisted
  • 1988: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Miami-based freestyle vocalist Trinere, who saw the most success from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Although the name was a one-hit wonder, Trinere herself was not — a number of her songs ended up on Billboard’s Hip Hop and Dance Singles charts.

Trinere’s full name at birth was Trinere Veronica Farrington.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Trinere?

Sources: Trinere – Wikipedia, Rare and Obscure Music: Trinere

P.S. Another Latin freestyle singer we’ve talked about before? Lisa Lisa!