Asked about his children’s unusual names, Robert attributes them to side effects he sustained from his college years when he subjected himself to medical tests to make extra money.
“Rocket is the first one. And once you name your first kid Rocket, you can’t name your next kid Marty. Racer, Rebel, Rogue…I’m just gonna blame this on the medical experiments. But they do have regular middle names in case they don’t want to start their own wrestling team.”
(An Australian celebrity named Lara Bingle has two sons named Rocket and Racer…perhaps in homage to Robert Rodriguez?)
A generation ago — when more families had six or more children — babies without official first names were surprisingly common. Overwhelmed new parents would leave the hospital without completing birth certificate paperwork.
But what once seemed like a quaint oddity becomes a serious inconvenience in a world of identity theft and terrorism. Today, governments demand birth certificates.
As more Baby Boomers reach retirement age, vital statistics offices — including at Boston City Hall — continue to receive a trickle of people whose birth certificates carry no first name. Boston officials estimated that in the 1950s, roughly 1 of every 25 birth certificates lacked a first name.
Born in the little town of New Ulm, Minn., in 1892, the daughter of Franz Xavier Ulrich, an Army hospital steward, Miss Ulric (she dropped the H from her last name) used to say that she was predestined for the stage. Her father gave her the name of Lenore because of his fondness for Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” and her childhood was devoted to theatrical yearnings.
Name expert Kunio Makino, as quoted in What to call baby? by Tomoko Otake in The Japan Times:
“I think people who come up with bizarre names for their children tend to feel that they couldn’t live the life they wanted to, and they feel that they have been hindered by many rules and restrictions. The only freedom they have at their disposal, they think, is the right to name their child.”
I leaned toward names made of calm, feminine sounds that never sounded like someone was yelling at you. The harsh K in Kathy conjured up my mother’s words for me: kigibe, keoji, shikkeuro. Korean for girl, beggar, and shut up. But I still wasn’t ready. I switched from Kathy to “Kate,” which felt like a small step, but not one nearly big enough.
Once the universe gave me the OK, a little space seemed to open up for the name to find me. And so it was that Héloïse fluttered into my head one day, devastatingly perfect. I’m not sure exactly where it came from. Perhaps some derivation of Luisita (a friend) or Elio (a boy I used to babysit). I guess I have a thing for L names. I honed it, trying it with and without the H and with and without the diacritics. I didn’t want them to be an affectation. Is it gauche to use French spelling if you don’t even speak French? Eff it, I went with the French.
Some change their names by truncation, some by hyphenation, others by amalgamation, others by invention. Some changes are banal, done for everyday reasons – a divorce, a marriage, a mistransliteration (an imprecise conversion from one alphabet to another) – while others are poignant, playful, even poetic.
When I asked people about their choice while reporting this story, virtually no one was glib. Many would go on and on, grateful to talk about a decision that cuts to the marrow of who they are. Others became tearful and, in some cases, shuddered audibly at the sound of their birth names. Some even declined to discuss the subject.
From the book C.S. Lewis: An Examined Life by Bruce L. Edwards:
“[I]t was on one of these early holiday trips that Clive refused to be called by any other name than Jacksie, which was shortened to Jacks and then to Jack. He was either three or four years old when this name change occurred, as it was possibly in the summer of 1902 or 1903. […] Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, claimed that the reason he called himself Jacksie was due to his fondness for a small dog named Jacksie that had been killed.”
You need to understand why your parents gave you that name. It’s because they lack common sense. It probably came from playing video games all the time.
Deep inside, you possess the ability to make more of your name than you think you could. You are cursed of course, but you are blessed with an understanding that few people have. Your name doesn’t define you. You define you. Just love yourself and love others. That’s all I can say.
(Sephiroth has been on the SSA’s list since 2004.)
Your instincts are spot on here: you’re the one who’s carrying the baby and will birth him. You and your husband will raise the baby. It is presumptuous for anybody who isn’t doing that honest labor to assume naming — or vetoing — rights, or really to do anything beyond offering suggestions.
I was just Dita for many years. I had seen a movie with an actress named Dita Parlo, and I thought, God, that’s such a cool name. I wanted to be known with just a simple first name–Cher, Madonna. Then when I first posed for Playboy, in 1993 or 1994, they told me I had to pick a last name. So I opened up the phone book at the bikini club [I worked in at the time]. I was with a friend and I was like, “Let’s look under a Von something.” It sounds really exotic and glamorous. So I found the name Von Treese and I called Playboy and said, “I’m going to be Dita Von Treese.” I remember so well going to the newsstand and picking up the magazine, and it said Dita Von Teese. I called them and they said, “Oh, we’ll fix it. We’ll fix it.” The next month, same thing: Dita Von Teese. I left it because I didn’t really care. I didn’t know I was going to go on to trademark it all over the world!
Before anyone accuses me of making up a name to post here, I can assure you that Mr. Francisco was an actual person, and while he shares his name with the famed California city, isn’t believed to have had any connection with that area (despite the latter portion of his life being spent in the neighboring city of San Diego.)
That’s one thing about having an unusual name, your solidarity lies with the Apples and Philomenas. You can point and laugh with all the Johns and Garys, but the laugh is a little anxious. More of a squeak. It could all go wrong so quickly.
It’s curios [sic] that when he left Hollywood, he also legally changed the spelling of his name from “Willis” to “Wyllis”. Radio Mirror magazine appears to be the first to mention it in 1940, saying “a numerologist advised him to change it” then Time magazine made a similar mention in 1941, but elaborated further that it was due to “his wife’s numerological inclinations”. Then in 1942 ‘Capital Times’ newspaper in Madison WI seemed to merge the two previous reports as: “a numerologist told his wife it should be spelled Wyllis and he’s done so ever since.”
Upon utilizing several present day numerology calculators found online, the results conclude that both spellings have virtually identical meanings in every respect.
When a major celebrity chooses an uncommon baby name, there’s a good chance that name will become trendy.
Seems like this might be a modern phenomenon, right? Maybe tied to the rise of the Internet?
Nope. In fact, I bet you’ll be surprised at just how far back it goes.
Let’s take a look at celebrity baby names through the decades, focusing on those that inspired debuts in the U.S. baby name data. (To debut, a rare names needs to be given to at least 5 babies of one gender or the other in a single year.)
Which name was the very first to debut in the U.S. baby name data thanks to a celebrity baby?
The answer depends on how strict you want to be about spelling.
If exact-spelling debuts are what you want, the first I know of doesn’t appear until the late ’40s.
If variant-spelling debuts are okay, though, there’s a celebrity baby name from the early ’40s that inspired a whopping six of them:
In October of 1941, actor/comedian George Jessel (43 years old) and showgirl Lois Andrews (17) welcomed a baby girl named Jerilyn.
The name Jerilyn itself had already been in the data for a few years, but usage rose significantly in both 1941 and 1942:
1943: 182 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 558th]
1942: 325 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 397th]
1941: 135 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 608th]
1940: 10 baby girls named Jerilyn
The popularity of similar names like Jerrilyn and Jerelyn also increased, and six other variants appeared on the national list for the very first time in either 1941 or 1942 (asterisks denote debuts):
I was skeptical about this one for a while, as I’d never heard of George Jessel before. Was he really high-profile enough for his baby to have that sort influence? Turns out he was indeed a popular entertainer from the ’20s until at least the ’50s. He’s the one responsible for the “Garland” part of Judy Garland’s stage name, and some sources even claim he invented the Bloody Mary.
Even more variants of Jerilyn (e.g., Gerilynn) debuted during the ’40s and early ’50s, when young Jerilyn was being mentioned in newspaper articles and appearing on TV and in films with her father. Here’s a fundraising film from 1953, for instance, featuring both George and Jerilyn.
Jerilyn Jessel’s influence on U.S baby names was impressive, but, technically speaking, she didn’t put “Jerilyn” on the map.
The first exact-spelling celebrity baby name debut was Yasmin, which appeared in the data in 1949.
In December of 1949, actor Rita Hayworth and her husband Prince Aly Khan welcomed a baby girl named Yasmin. The same year, the baby name Yasmin appeared in the U.S. data for the very first time.
(The name Yasmin was late addition to the post. Thank you, Becca!)
At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1950s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In October of 1951, actors Tyrone Power and Linda Christian welcomed their first baby, Romina, who was named after the church in Italy (Santa Francesca Romana) where they had married in 1949. The same year, the baby name Romina appeared in the SSA’s data for the very first time.
In September of 1953, Power and Christian welcomed their second baby girl, Taryn, whose name was likely inspired by “Tyrone.” The same year, the baby name Taryn debuted in the data.
In November of 1956, boxer Floyd Patterson and his wife Sandra welcomed a baby girl named Seneca. The same year, the traditionally male name Seneca debuted in the data as a female name. Patterson said the name was inspired by a street in Brooklyn.
In October of 1958, singer/actor Rosemary Clooney and actor José Ferrer welcomed a baby girl named Monsita — their fourth child. The same year, Monsita debuted. It fell off the list the very next year, though, making it a one-hit wonder.
Honorable mentions from the ’50s include:
Liza, which became more popular after Liz Taylor named her daughter Liza in 1957.
Tyrone, which became more popular after Tyrone Power named his third child Tyrone in 1959. The increased usage could also have been influenced by the death of the actor himself the same year, though.
At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1960s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In September of 1961, singer of Nat King Cole and his wife Maria welcomed identical twin baby girls named Timolin and Casey. The same year, the baby name Timolin debuted in the data.
In September of 1965, actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands welcomed a baby girl named Alexandra “Xan” Cassavetes. The same year, the baby name Xan debuted in the data.
In October of 1967, singer Eddie Fisher and actress Connie Stevens welcomed a baby girl named Joely. The same year, the baby name Joely debuted in the data.
In June of 1968, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed a baby girl named Maryum. The same year, the baby name Maryum debuted in the data.
In March of 1969, singers Cher and Sonny Bono, welcomed a baby girl named Chastity. The same year, the baby name Chastity debuted in the data. In May of 2010, Chastity legally changed genders and adopted the name Chaz.
Honorable mentions from the ’60s include:
Devera, which became more popular after actor Vince Edwards and his wife Kathy named their daughter Devera in late 1965.
Dodd, which became more popular after Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee named their son Dodd in late 1961.
At least eight of the baby names that debuted during the 1970s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In August of 1970, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed twin baby girls named Rasheda and Jamillah. The same year, the baby name Rasheda debuted in the data.
(Both Jet magazine (in 1970) and Ebony magazine (in 1971) misspelled her name “Reeshemah.” The misspelling debuted in 1970 and saw peak usage in 1971.)
In 1971, comedian/activist Dick Gregory and his wife Lillian welcomed a baby girl named Ayanna. The same year, the baby name Ayanna debuted in the data.
In July of 1973, Dick Gregory and Lillian welcomed a baby boy named Yohance. The same year, the baby name Yohance debuted in the data.
In March of 1974, musician/producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton welcomed a baby girl named Kidada. The same year, the baby name Kidada debuted in the data.
In August of 1975, singer Tito Jackson (of The Jackson 5) and his wife Dee Dee welcomed a baby boy named Taryll. The same year, the baby name Taryll debuted in the data.
In April of 1975, singer Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) and her husband Pedro welcomed a baby girl named Turkessa. The same year, the baby name Turkessa debuted in the data. Turkessa was just 3 babies away from being the top baby name debut of the year. Here’s how Mary came up with the name:
Pedro brought me a beautiful plant. I asked him was it was called. “Turquesa,” he replied, “Spanish for turquoise.” So we named our daughter Turkessa.
In November of 1975, singer Diana Ross (also of The Supremes) and her husband Robert welcomed a baby girl named Chudney. The next year, the baby name Chudney debuted in the data. Here’s how Diana came up with the name:
Friends kept suggesting popular names like Courtney, but so many girl babies were getting that. I suddenly thought of something I liked very much — chutney. Only I didn’t know how to spell it — I put a ‘d’ where the ‘t’ should have been on the birth certificate. And that’s how my little girl became Chudney!
In 1978, Puerto Rican dancer/singer Iris Chacón and her husband Junno welcomed a baby girl named Katiria. The same year, the baby name Katiria debuted in the data. Most of these babies were born in New York.
At least three of the baby names that debuted during the 1980s were inspired by celebrity babies, and at least one was inspired by a celebrity grandbaby:
In September of 1984, singer Gladys Knight didn’t have a baby, but her son James (b. 1962) and his wife Michelene did. They welcomed a boy named Rishawn. The next year, the baby name Rishawn debuted in the data. It was one of the top debut names of 1985, in fact.
In November of 1986, football player Willie Gault and his wife Dainnese welcomed a baby girl named Shakari. The next year, the baby name Shakari debuted in the data.
I wrote about Condola a few months ago, but here’s a recap: In December of 1986, actress Phylicia Rashad and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad welcomed a baby girl named Condola. The next year, the baby name Condola debuted in the data.
In December of 1987, filmmaker/actor Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow welcomed a baby boy named Satchel. The next year, the baby name Satchel debuted in the data. He now goes by Ronan, and rumor has it that he is *possibly* the biological son of Frank Sinatra.
Kady, which became more popular after Pia Zadora named her daughter Kady in early 1985.
At least three of the baby names the debuted during the 1990s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In July of 1991, actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis welcomed a baby girl named Scout. (And in August, that famous image of 7-months-pregnant Demi ran on the cover of Vanity Fair.) The next year, the baby name Scout debuted in the data, for both genders.
In February of 1995, actor Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy welcomed twin baby girls named Aquinnah and Schuyler. The same year, the baby name Aquinnah debuted in the data. (I wrote more about the name Aquinnah a few years ago.)
In July of 1998, model Christie Brinkley and her husband Peter welcomed a baby girl named Sailor. The same year, the baby name Sailor debuted in the data as a girl name. It had debuted as a boy name the year before.
Honorable mentions from the ’90s include:
Ireland, which became more popular after Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger named their daughter Ireland in 1995.
Seven, which became more popular after Erykah Badu named her son Seven in 1997.
Zion, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her son Zion in 1997.
Selah, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her daughter Selah in 1998.
Ronan, which became more popular after Daniel Day-Lewis named his son Ronan in 1998.
At least five of the baby names that debuted during the 2000s (the decade) were inspired by celebrity babies:
In August of 2001, singer Shania Twain and her husband Robert welcomed a baby boy named Eja. The same year, the baby name Eja debuted in the data (as a girl name).
In August of 2001, actors Tisha Campbell-Martin and Duane Martin welcomed a baby boy named Xen. The same year, the baby name Xen debuted in the data.
In May of 2002, actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Rebecca Miller welcomed a baby boy named Cashel. The next year, the baby name Cashel debuted in the data.
In March of 2003, singer Toni Braxton and musician Keri Lewis welcomed a baby boy named Diezel. The same year, the baby name Diezel debuted in the data.
In June of 2005, magician Penn Jillette and his wife Emily welcomed a baby girl named Moxie (middle name CrimeFighter). The next year, the baby name Moxie debuted in the data.
In September of 2006, model Anna Nicole Smith and her partner Larry Birkhead welcomed a baby girl named Dannielynn. The next year, the baby name Dannielynn debuted in the data.
Honorable mentions from the ’00s include:
Massai, which became more popular after Nia Long named her son Massai in 2000.
Rocco, which became more popular after Madonna and Guy Ritchie named their son Rocco in 2000.
Denim, which became more popular after Toni Braxton named her son Denim in 2001.
Maddox, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted son Maddox in 2002.
Carys, which became more popular after Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas named their daughter Carys in 2003.
Stellan, which became more popular after Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany named their son Stellan in 2003.
Apple, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their daughter Apple in 2004.
Coco, which became more popular after Courtney Cox and David Arquette named their daughter Coco in 2004.
Zahara, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted daughter Zahara in 2005.
Moses, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their son Moses in 2006.
Kingston, which became more popular after Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale named their son Kingston in 2006.
Suri, which became more popular after Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes named their daughter Suri in 2006.
Shiloh, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their daughter Shiloh in 2006.
Pax, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their adopted son Pax in 2007.
Harlow, which became more popular after Nicole Richie and Joel Madden named their daughter Harlow in 2008.
Knox & Vivienne, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
Honor, which became more popular after Jessica Alba named her daughter Honor in 2008.
Nahla, which became more popular after Halle Berry named her daughter Nahla in 2008.
Bronx, which became more popular after Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz named their son Bronx in 2008.
Decades before Beyoncé had daughter Blue Ivy (2012), and years before Cher had son Elijah Blue (1976), the color-name Blue debuted in the U.S. baby name data:
1970: 10 baby boys named Blue
1969: 13 baby boys named Blue
1968: 11 baby boys named Blue [debut]
What put it there initially?
I have two theories.
The first is Billy Blue “Blue Boy” Cannon, a character from the TV western The High Chaparral, which started airing in September of 1967. Blue Boy, played by actor Mark Slade, was a young man who was the son of main character, “Big John” Cannon. (The show also launched the name Manolito.)
The second is the movie Blue, which was released April of 1968. It was a western in which the main character, played by Terence Stamp, was called Azul/Blue on account of his blue-colored eyes. The movie was panned — critic Roger Ebert said Blue was “not just a bad movie, but a painfully inept one” — and it didn’t do well at the box office, but the advertising campaign may have been enough.
(Incidentally, the name Blue was used again in the title of western just a few years later with the release of Kid Blue (1973) starring Dennis Hopper.)
What are your thoughts on Blue as a baby name? Do you like it better as a male name or as a female name? How about as a first vs. as a middle?
Please note that I did include names in the gray area between one syllable and two syllables. The deciding factor on these particular names will be your own interpretation/accent, so be sure to test the names out loud before making any final decisions. (“Hayle,” for instance — would you say it like Hale, or like Hailey? Or “Rise” — is it rize, or ree-sah?)