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 answer this question, 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:
(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…
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.
- Long was the fastest-rising boy name.
- 19 [23%] were born in California, 11 in Texas, 5 in Oregon.
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.”
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.
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:
- Ryunosuke and Ryusei debuted in 2000.
- Ryuki and Ryujin were one-hit wonders in 2012.
- Ryuji saw peak usage in 2012.
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…
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…?).
The next Year of the Dragon 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.”)
Update, Jan. 2023: I’ve found more “Year of the Dragon” baby names! They’re all based on the Japanese word tatsu…
- Behind the Name
- Online Etymology Dictionary: Kumquat
- Peace, David Neil. Patient X: The Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa. New York: Penguin Random House, 2019.
- Wikipedia: Dragon (zodiac), Chinese dragon, Chinese zodiac, Japanese dragon
- Wiktionary: Thiên
Top image by sherisetj from Pixabay. Second image by Nancy.