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…)

“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

The Entry of Taysom

The unusual name Taysom debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 2012:

  • 2019: 75 baby boys named Taysom
    • 17 (23%) in Louisiana, 14 (19%) in Utah, 5 (7%) in Nebraska and 5 (7%) in Oregon
  • 2018: 19 baby boys named Taysom
    • 6 (32%) in Utah
  • 2017: 25 baby boys named Taysom
    • 14 (56%) in Utah and 6 (24%) in Idaho
  • 2016: 24 baby boys named Taysom
    • 8 (33%) in Utah
  • 2015: 42 baby boys named Taysom
    • 16 (38%) in Utah and 6 (14%) in Idaho
  • 2014: 32 baby boys named Taysom
    • 15 (47%) in Utah
  • 2013: 24 baby boys named Taysom
    • 14 (58%) in Utah
  • 2012: 10 baby boys named Taysom [debut]
    • 6 (60%) in Utah
  • 2011: unlisted

As you can see by the numbers, usage was particularly high in the state of Utah until last year, when Louisiana suddenly became the state with the most baby Taysoms.

Where did the name come from?

Football player Taysom Hill, who was born and raised in Idaho. Hill played for Brigham Young University from 2012 to 2016, then for the New Orleans Saints from 2017 onward. (He wasn’t on the field full-time until the 2018 season, though, which explains why the usage of “Taysom” in Louisiana didn’t rise until 2019.)

Hill is officially a quarterback, but he has played in various offensive positions professionally, leading the Saints to dub him the “Swiss army knife” of their offense.

So, how did Taysom Hill get his name?

Some sources say he was named after a park in his hometown. Others say his name came from his family tree. In either case, “Taysom” was originally a surname. The surname seems to be a variant of Tyson, which has several potential derivations, including the Old French word tison, meaning “firebrand.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Taysom?

Sources:

Image: Adapted from Taysom Hill playing for the Saints by GrabitMike under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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 Emergence of Mychal

mychal, sports, baby name, 1970s

The name Mychal first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in 1978, when it was suddenly given to nearly five dozen baby boys:

  • 1981: 29 baby boys named Mychal
  • 1980: 26 baby boys named Mychal
  • 1979: 35 baby boys named Mychal
  • 1978: 59 baby boys named Mychal
  • 1977: unlisted
  • 1976: unlisted

That number was impressive enough to make Mychal not just the top debut name of 1978, but also the 26th-highest boy-name debut of all time.

What was the influence?

Bahamian basketball player Mychal Thompson. He was the #1 pick in the 1978 NBA draft (chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers) and also happened to be the first foreign-born player to be a #1 pick.

Later in his career, he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, winning two championships with them in the late ’80s. As a result, the baby name Mychal shot into the top 1,000 in 1987 and saw peak usage in 1988.

So how did he get the name “Mychal”? He gave it to himself, actually. In an interview with Lakers Nation, he told the story of why he changed the spelling from the original “Michael”:

When I did start playing basketball in high school, all of a sudden people started talking about Michael Thompson in all the [newspaper] write-ups. […] So every time they’d write my name they’d go, Mike Thompson. And my name is Michael.

Now I understand Mike is short for Michael, but I wanted to be known as Michael, so I said, ‘How can I get them to stop calling me Mike?’ I’ll tell you what, I’ll change the spelling of my name so that way, and I figured I wanted to make it kind of a unique name, so people know it’s me, cause there are a million Michaels out there, it’s one of the most popular names there is.

So I figured, ok, just [so that] everybody knows that it’s me when I write Michael Thompson, I started writing M-y-c-h-a-e-l, nah, M-y-k-a-e-l, nah I don’t like that one, M-y-c-h-a-l, oh that looks cool, I’ll just go with that. So I started signing my name that way and to make it legal, I actually had to go back home [to the Bahamas] and change my name legally to Mychal.

All three of Mychal’s uniquely named sons — Mychel (different spelling; “I didn’t want him to be a junior”), Klay, and Trayce — now play professional sports. In fact, much of the recent usage of “Klay” is in California, where Klay Thompson has been playing for the Golden State Warriors since 2011.

Mychal admitted that his eldest son doesn’t like that his name is often mispronounced Michelle, but also noted that, while Mychel is “always complaining about it, […] he’s never changed it back to the original spelling.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Mychal? Do you like the spelling?

Sources: Mychal Thompson – Wikipedia, Lakers Nation Special Feature, Part 1: Getting to Know Mychal Thompson [vid]