Where did the baby name Cortana come from in 2008?

The character Cortana from the video game "Halo 3" (2007)
Cortana from “Halo 3”

The baby name Cortana first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 2008:

  • 2010: 10 baby girls named Cortana
  • 2009: 7 baby girls named Cortana
  • 2008: 12 baby girls named Cortana [debut]
  • 2007: unlisted
  • 2006: unlisted

The debut was influenced by the (virtual) character Cortana from the popular military/sci-fi video game series Halo.

The first Halo game was released by video game company Bungie in 2001, and Cortana — who is described as a “unique and incredibly powerful artificial intelligence” — has been part of the series since the beginning. But Cortana began playing a larger role in the game starting with Halo 3, which came out in 2007, and this is what accounts for the 2008 debut.

In the game, Cortana acts as a guide to the protagonist, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. Here’s what the lead writer at Bungie had to say about Cortana’s evolving role in the game:

Over time, Cortana became a fully realized character — a friend and companion to the Chief, not to mention the only person to poke revealing holes in his tough-guy exterior.

Through his interactions with Cortana, the Chief revealed his humanity (e.g., players learned the Chief had a sense of humor when he banged his helmet to stop Cortana from talking). And it was for these reasons that we focused so much on the Chief-Cortana relationship.

Cortana’s name is thought to refer to a type of short, blunt sword more commonly known as a curtana (from the Latin word curtus, meaning “shortened”).

The baby name saw its highest-ever usage (so far) in 2015:

  • 2017: 6 baby girls named Cortana
  • 2016: 16 baby girls named Cortana
  • 2015: 30 baby girls named Cortana [peak]
  • 2014: 16 baby girls named Cortana
  • 2013: 21 baby girls named Cortana

This was the year after Microsoft introduced a digital assistant also named Cortana.

The name is no coincidence — Microsoft has owned Bungie since the turn of the century.

The digital assistant was code-named Cortana during development because “the Cortana character was a great description of the helpful, intelligent, intuitive character that you get to know and trust over time.”

The name wasn’t meant to be attached to the final product…but then it leaked to the public:

When it did, people just clamored for us to keep the name. They created petitions and voted on polls. It was that passion of the community that helped us do something a little, maybe, surprising for Microsoft

What are your thoughts on Cortana as a baby name?

Sources: Cortana (Halo) – Wikipedia, Cortana | Characters | Universe | Halo – Official Site, Cortana – Wikipedia, Why Microsoft Named Its Siri Rival ‘Cortana’ After a ‘Halo’ Character, Bungie: “Immersion was the main goal” in creating Master Chief

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