Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Common Names for Serial Killers

Hello, readers!

Today's post takes a bit of a turn from previous writing, as I'm incorporating one of my other major interests: serial killers. I'm a huge fan of true crime media, and over the past few months of traveling I've binged crime documentaries, podcasts (My Favorite Murder and Last Podcast on the Left in particular), and dramatizations on the lives and deeds of some of the most deranged murderers in history. Of course, I've been keeping an ear out for name-related trivia as well.

Edmund Emil Kemper III, the "Co-Ed Killer"

Years ago, I read an article online that claimed Wayne was more popular as a middle name among criminals (here's a more recent article on the "Wayne Theory") than in the general population. While there's no real evidence of this phenomenon - the United States doesn't collect or publish data on middle names, as far as I can tell - the idea that one's name might predict later criminal behavior was fascinating to me. Family relationships, class, financial status, race, gender, and environment all factor in to the likelihood of someone becoming a criminal - could names indicate these factors early on?

I'm not going to draw any dramatic conclusions until I can look at real data and sift through the complicated links between predictive factors for criminal behavior, but some theories have come to mind. What if men of a certain personality - hyper-masculine, traditional, intimidating - named their sons after a hero of mid-century cinema, John Wayne? And what if these men were more likely to raise children who would exhibit criminal behaviors?

What else can name data tell us about "deviants"? I decided to look at the data on the first, middle, and adopted names of serial killers in the United States. Using this Wikipedia entry (obviously not complete, but a decent representation) and discarding the names of female killers, I came up with a group of 201 names.


These are men of varying ages, mostly white, with some black and Latino individuals. A majority of these men were active in the twentieth century. Most common first/middle names:

12   - Joseph 
11   - Edward
10* - John 
10* - Richard 
10   - David
10   - Robert
9     - Lee 
8*   - Michael 
8     - Charles
7     - William
6*   - James 
6     - Anthony
6     - Wayne 

* = One name would be added if nicknames were to be included

Of the 13 names listed above, 11 fall into the 25 most popular names for men in the United States over the past century: Joseph, Edward, John, Richard, David, Robert, Michael, Charles, William, James, Anthony. The other two names rank much lower for the general male population versus the serial killer summation: Lee and Wayne.

Wayne! Based on my not-super-scientific data, there may be a correlation between criminals and use of the name. I'm eager to access real data someday and follow this theory.

Lee's popularity over time is directly related to the Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee - many Southern parents chose the name Lee to honor him in the decades after the war. The name has been decreasing in popularity since 1900, and since many of the killers listed were born in the twentieth century, it may indicate that their families had stronger-than-average ties to the South, or the tradition of using honorific names. Which brings me to another interesting finding...

The name community uses the term "honorific name" to refer to the practice of choosing a name for a child that celebrates a relative, friend, or place important to the parents. This could be anything from using Charlotte to honor Uncle Charlie, Ruby to honor Grandma's birthstone, Denali in honor of her parents' honeymoon site, etc. However, I'm going to use the term here to specifically refer to names directly taken from fathers and grandfathers, names that end in Jr., III, IV, etc.

Out of 201 names, 23 of these serial killers have Jr/III/IV at the end of their names. That's over 11% of them! This number seems particularly high, but the only article I found that listed data on the percentage of honorific names in the population referred to studies from the 1940's. At that time, 3% of the general population was named for a father, and that number has been supposedly decreasing over time. But among serial murderers, the tradition of naming a child after the father seems to be alive and well (excuse the terrible joke).

Using honorific names for children is a practice much more common in "honor states," where an emphasis on "traditional family values" is at play (these values include adhering to assigned gender roles, identifying as a Christian, and highlighting nationalism). Often, these communities also exhibit higher rates of patriarchal thought and the elevation of stereotypical masculinity. Honor states mostly include Western and Southern states - another connection to the Southernness of Lee and my John Wayne theory mentioned earlier.

What's the takeaway from this? Well, since it's correlative data and a small sample size, not much. But there's enough here to keep me asking questions... what questions would you want to ask?

---

Here are some interesting articles I referenced in this post:

The Wayne Theory - Heather Sutfin, Sword and Scale

Deciding on a baby name? Steer clear of these because they’re the most common among MURDERERS - Hannah Ferrett, The Sun

Babies Named After Dads: Which States Have More (And Why) - Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

Junior Status: Sharing dad's name a mixed bag - Melissa Dahl, NBC News

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sesame Street Names

Hello, readers!

"Can you tell me how to get / How to get to Sesame Street?" are lyrics that have rung through many American homes since the groundbreaking children's show debuted in 1969. I myself was an avid fan (as well as a member of the Barney generation) and I got to thinking how many people grew up with the knowledge of these characters in the back of their minds.

Sesame Street is known for including characters of all races, genders, abilities, cultures, etc., making their Muppet names pretty diverse. I'll be including names of the Muppets and not the humans here.


Oscar
Everyone's favorite grouch was named for a particularly awful waiter that Jim Henson met in Oscar's Tavern in Manhattan - I wonder if his inspiration ever figured it out? This handsome choice is an excellent cross-cultural pick, and it's never been far from the top 200.

Elmo
Unfortunately, this adorable old-fashioned name has been claimed by the furry red Muppet, one of the most popular characters in the show's history. Elmo ranked on the top 1000 until 1957, but it's barely been recorded for babies during the 1990's and 2000's.

Zoe
Partially created as a counterpart to Elmo, vivacious Zoe debuted in 1993, during the period where her lovely name was skyrocketing up the charts. Today, both Zoe and Zoey are popular (along with Chloe and Khloe), with no sign of decline.

Ernie
Rarely seen without his best friend and roommate (below), Ernie is an original Muppet character - with more than a few memorable songs over the seasons. His name, a popular nickname for Ernest, ranks in the top 500 in the UK but has yet to bring its retro charm overseas.

Bert
The serious half of the duo, Bert is particularly fond of collecting bottle caps and advocating on behalf of pigeons (something he and I have in common). Though Brett and Brent have had fans over the years, Bert still feels incomplete and a bit awkward.

Grover
Friendly and adventurous Grover has been beloved on Sesame Street since his debut in 1970. His name is worth a second look: though it fits in well with popular -er names and occupational picks (like Parker and Cooper), this adorable choice has never achieved the same level of popularity.

Abby
A relatively new Muppet, Abby Cadabby is a three-year-old fairy with boundless girly-girl energy. Her name is everywhere these days - Abigail is currently at #8, and Abby ranks at #441 - and the nickname is a sweet mix of classic and modern.

Julia
She made headlines with her debut in 2015 - this first Muppet with autism, performed by the parent of an autistic child - very important for disability representation! The name Julia has ranked in the top 100 since 1980, and it's a gorgeous choice with even more lovely namesakes and connections.

Telly
Worrying and dramatic, Telly's arrival on Sesame Street in 1979 followed another famous TV Telly - Telly Savalas, from the popular series Kojak. In fact, the actor's name directly inspired a blip of Telly's on the top 1000, though the fad was short-lived.

Rosita
Bilingual Muppet Rosita was one of the first Spanish speaking puppets to grace Sesame Street, and she loves history, geography, and music. Though Rose and Rosalie have gained fans, Rosita is still flying under the radar - but this melodic Latin choice could appeal to many.

Alice
The little sister of Snuffy, Alice Snuffleupagus is a smaller character than her brother (not too difficult) but no less cute. The attractive name has been rising through the ranks, currently at #76 - might it one day join style sisters Abigail and Charlotte in the top 10?

Prairie
All grown up at seven years old, Prairie Dawn has been on Sesame Street since 1971 - and the name has been recorded in the US since 1973. Windswept and winsome, Prairie is a cool yet underused choice that would fit in well with nature and geographical names today.

Louie
Elmo's dad Louie first appeared on the show in 2006, as a stay-at-home parent who later joins the military. While Louis (and its spelling variants) has gotten popular, nickname Louie is at the bottom of the top 1000, and adds a more friendly sound to the handsome name.

Mae
Elmo's mother Mae also debuted in 2006, as part of a series of videos about families dealing with military deployment. After a 40 year hiatus, magnificent Mae is now jumping back up the popularity charts, appealing to parents who love its simple, retro sound.

Rudy
A Muppet that debuted this year - Rudy is Abby Cadabby's mischievous younger stepbrother. Though the name has been on the decline, this unisex pick still has a lot of charm. Rudy could also honor a familial Rudolph or Ruth.

Which characters would you add to this list? Tell me in the comments!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Baby Names Inspired by Birth Control Methods - Yep, There's Enough of Them to Make a List

Hello, readers!

So I've wanted to write this post since I myself got the Skyla IUD. It cracked me up that a birth control option would have a brand name that's also in the top 1000 baby names for girls. And oh boy, what a style!

A baby with the birth control device meant to prevent his existence... 
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past"

Maybe you've found yourself unexpectedly pregnant - why not name this happy accident after the birth control method that failed you?

Chastity
I cannot figure out how this name was so popular for so long. Of all the virtue names, this seems the cruelest. Also, the misspelling Chasity has ranked for awhile too - how??? If you're name is Chastity/Chasity, please comment with how your life is going so far, I worry about you all a lot.

Rhythm
Using the term "rhythm method" to describe the practice of having sex only on certain days of the month to avoid pregnancy dates from the 1930's, but the name Rhythm only started getting recorded in the year 2000. It's now rising up the ranks for boys and girls!

Yaz
Though the Yaz birth control pill has been around since 2006, it was only in 2016 that Yaz was first recorded as a name for eight baby girls. This name also has the bonus of being worth 15 points in Scrabble!

Yasmin
When the Yasmin birth control pill debuted in 2001, the name was already near its peak popularity. Possibly thanks in part to the new association with the medication, the name has since dropped to the bottom of the top 1000.

Mirena
This sounds like a lot of names out there - Marina, Mira, Mariah - so I wasn't too surprised to see it recorded in past statistics. The name has been used sporadically between 2007 and 2014, but the birth control method has been around since 1990.

Skyla
My buddy, my pal - over 99% effective! It's been around since 2013, but the name has been recorded regularly since 1998. It's a more feminine form of Skylar, to be sure, but it will always remind me of the small plastic anchor in my uterus.

Errin
This creative spelling of Errin (or Aaron?) was recorded from 1964 to 2010 for both boys and girls. While this spelling is definitely unusual, I'd stick with either of the two originals for tradition's sake.

Kyleena
Ask and ye shall receive - I had hoped this name would be recorded, and by Jove, dozens of baby Kyleenas have graced this world since 1999. The IUD is pretty new, having been released about a year ago. Not sure why they picked this name, but let's all bask in the glory.

Richard
I'm serious - Sir Richard's is one of the more popular condom brands among vegetarians and vegans (The More You Know™). No idea which Richard the company's name refers to, but let's assume that all Richards were named after this brand - life's just more fun that way.

Caya
Though Kaia is in the top 400, homophone Caya just hasn't gotten attention. The birth control method it refers to is a diaphragm, and it's one of the only forms of this methods available in this decade.

Levora
This name was used between 1918 and 1960, and it's got a sound to prove it (think Laverne or Deborah). This birth control pill seems decently popular, though I've found nothing particularly interesting about it... or about the name itself, for that matter.

Natazia
It may sound like the name of a Slavic spy in a James Bond knockoff movie, but this name was mostly used in the 1990s, post-Cold War. I'd go with Anastasia or Natalia rather than the name of an oral contraceptive.

Crown
Another condom brand on birth certificates! With word names - Grace, King, West - being so in vogue, Crown seems like a natural fit. (And I bet they'd use "natural fit" in their ad campaigns, too).

If you think your birth control method is worthy of a human child's first name, comment below. And seriously, all the Chasity/Chastity's out there, let me know how you're doing.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Name Conventions - Japan

Konnichiwa, readers!

I'm currently on an extended trip through East and Southeast Asia, working and traveling for a year with my boyfriend. One of my favorite parts of this experience is the chance to talk to so many different people about their names - how they got them, what their cultures dictate, and what they think about them. In addition to collecting name stories, I'm going to take this opportunity to study first name conventions for each country I visit!

I'm currently in China, but my first stop was two months in Japan, so I'll start there. If you're Japanese and/or you have a Japanese name, please tell me your story in the comments!


The Basics:

Japanese names usually include just a family name and a given name (middle names aren't common). Unlike most Western styles, Japanese names are said as "family name - first name," such as Kurosawa Akira. Unlike current trends in the English-speaking world, very few surnames can become given names, so they're usually easy to differentiate.

As seems to be the global trend, first names in Japan are increasingly unique. Since names are written primarily with kanji - complex characters of Chinese - the same kanji can have different readings depending on the context. This means that the same name can be written a multitude of ways, or that the same character can be read as different names.

Example: The unisex name Ryō (written phonetically in hiragana asりょう) can be written with the following kanji, each with a different meaning.

了: "completion"
涼: "cold"
燎, "to burn", "to illuminate"
椋: Aphananthe aspera (a species of tree)
良: "goodness"
亮: "light"
綾: "silk"
諒: "forgiveness"
龍: "dragon"
遼: "distant, far"

Because so many names can be read in so many different ways, many Japanese individuals also write their name in the katakana phonetic alphabet - Ryō isリョウ - or romanize it (Ryō).

Boys vs. Girls:

As in Western culture, first names are usually male, female, or unisex. Japanese laws currently do not dictate that names match the assigned gender at birth, but they do have a list of approved "name kanji" and "commonly used characters."

Historically, many Japanese boys had names ending with -ro ("son" or "bright") and many Japanese girls had names ending with -ko ("child"), though this is no longer a rule. Within the name, certain elements have historically denoted gender, such as -ichi- and -kazu- for boys, both referring to "first [son]." Boys were often named via a numbering system, with characters meaning "one," "two," and so on included in the written name. Other traditional endings include -ta ("great"), -hiko ("boy" or "prince"), and -suke ("assistant") for boys, and -mi ("beauty"), -ka ("flower"), and -na ("greens") for girls.

A recent trend is for parents to choose names for their daughters written in hiragana (one of the phonetic alphabets) for various reasons, one being that the script has historically been seen as "feminine" and was the only form of writing taught to women for centuries. Even today, few boys' names are written in hiragana.

Trends:

In the past few decades, traditional forms of naming have been on the decline; for example, the -ko suffix is rarely used for girls today. At the same time, Western names written in kana have been trending: Emirii (for Emily), Merisa (for Melissa), and Kurisu (for Chris).

Another trend is using a traditionally written name with an alternative pronunciation. The boys' name 大翔 was historically pronounced "Hiroto," but pronunciations "Taiga" and "Masato" (among others) have recently appeared. This also allows parents to get around the approved lists by choosing traditional kanji, but pronouncing them in a variety of ways.

A current extreme example of this trend is the "kira-kira" phenomenon. "Kira-kira" is an onomatopoetic word meaning "shiny," and it's a style of naming in which parents choose both an unusual sounding-name and a written kanji form that can't be pronounced without context. One example I've heard multiple times is as follows: "Cheri, pronounced not sherry but cherry and written with two characters, one of which is 'sakura,' or cherry blossom" (Japan Today). This style of naming is debated passionately - many people dislike the difficulties in reading/speaking, but many parents like the idea of unique and inspiring choices.

Another fun name-choosing route is through seimei handan, a "fortune-telling" practice that correlates luck with the number of written strokes in name kanji. While it's no longer a common practice, it is a cool aspect of a written name to consider.

Current Top Five (2016):

My source for this list is Sora News 24, through data collected by Japanese company Tamahiyo. If you know where to find a more accurate (preferably government-issued) data set, please let me know!

Boys:

  1. Ren (蓮), meaning "lotus"
  2. Hiroto (大翔), meaning "big flight"
  3. Haruto (陽翔), meaning "good flight"
  4. Minato (湊), meaning "harbor"
  5. Yuma (悠真), meaning "calm truth"
Girls:
  1. Himari (陽葵), meaning "good hollyhock"
  2. Hina (陽菜), meaning "good greens"
  3. Yua (結愛), meaning "connected love"
  4. Sakura (咲良), meaning "blossoming well"
  5. Sakura (さくら), meaning "cherry blossom"
None of these names have ranked in the US top 1000, though feminine Wren has. My personal opinion is that Ren and Yuma could get fans in the States - Ren for its simple sound and unisex appeal, and Yuma for its place-name connection and its similarities to Noah and Ezra

*I read quite a few articles online for this post, and I've listed them below. Please let me know if you see anything amiss! I recognize that the Internet is sadly not completely reliable.*

Sources:
Behind the Name - Kanji Readings
How do Japanese names work?
Japanese Miscellany
Japanese Naming Conventions 1
'Kirakira' names still excite strong passions
Let's write your name in Chinese characters - TarchBlog
Quora - Japanese Names of Western Origin
Seimei Handan - Nancy's Baby Names
Top Japanese Baby Names for 2016...
Wikipedia - Japanese name
Wikipedia - Ryō (given name)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Names from My Travels

Hello, readers!

I’ve been posting quite a bit less because my once-sedentary lifestyle has been upended - I’m currently on an extended trip through East and Southeast Asia with my boyfriend! So far, I’ve spent two months in Japan (Tokyo, Nagano, Osaka, Matsuyama, Hiroshima, Kyoto), one week in Hong Kong, and one month in mainland China (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo) working in hostels, exploring amazing cities, and meeting all kinds of new people - with excellent name stories. We’re exploring more of mainland China, then heading to Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam over the next 3-4 months - check out our travel blog at aireande.com!

Ethan and me in Tokyo

Now, onto names: while traveling, I’ve been explaining my interest and study of names to all kinds of people, leading to some cool conversations about naming conventions in other countries. I’d like to explore name traditions for each country further, but with my current spotty access to wifi, I’ll just start with a list of cool names and stories I’ve come across so far.

Last names (and anything particularly identifying) have been removed!

Christopher called Kit
A good friend of mine told me how he got his nickname, one that’s unusual for our age group. He enrolled late in preschool when he was about three, and the teacher told him and his parents, “We already have two Christopher’s and two Chris’, you’ll need to pick a new nickname.” So they researched alternative options and found Kit! He likes his name, and it suits him well.

Sibset: Yua and Kanoa
These two sweet girls have equally sweet Japanese parents, who were very gracious about answering my questions about the kids’ names. They likes these names particularly because of their meanings, which I remember as “good help” and “kind help” (but Google is being unhelpful on confirming this!)

Frank’s family
An American friend living in Japan (who I miss dearly) comes from a big family - and he sent me a detailed explanation of all of their names! (One of the many reasons Frank is the best). Pretty much every child has been given names to honor a close friend or relative:
Frank Rowley, I'm named after a minister who lived… in Colorado and was as a grandfather to my mother. My father as a gift gave her the choice of my name and that was her choice.
Joseph Charles is next. Joseph is my mother's father's name and Charles is my father's father's name.
Mary Ellen Rose is the third child. (First name Mary Ellen) Her name is my father's mother's name and his grandmother's name.
Fourth is Billie Ann Margret. (Billie Ann is first name, double names for every girl actually) Billie Ann is my mother's mother's name, Margret is my mother's grandmother's name.
Fifth is George William, George is my father's name and William is my father's grandfather's name as far as I know.
Sixth is Helen Elizabeth Mae. Helen is my father's stepmother's name, Elizabeth and Mae I'm not sure about.
Seventh is Maureen Kimberly Alice. Maureen and Alice are my father's closest sisters name, and Kimberly is my mother's youngest sisters name.”

Kate
A fabulous Australian woman told me that she was supposed to be named Marissa, but her mother was helped by a kindly Kate whose birthday was near her baby’s due date. She said “If the baby is born on your birthday, I’ll name her after you,” not thinking that it could actually happen. Lo and behold, baby Kate was born on that exact day.

Aya 
One of my favorite names! I met an Aya at a concert for the band YAY - she pointed out to me and the band members that it was her name flipped. Perhaps that’s why she attended?

Apolline (called “Apo” or “Apple”)
I was introduced to la belle Apolline while working with her a hostel in Ehime prefecture. Another worker told me her nickname was “Apo,” which I misheard as “Apple”. I definitely think that name-nickname set could work in the US! Note: the Japanese word for apple is ringo, and my boyfriend began referring to Apolline as “Ringo-chan,” much to the delight of our Japanese hosts.

Aslı 
A new Turkish friend told me her name meaning via email before I even asked - of COURSE we became friends. It means “origin,” and is used for girls in Turkey. She apparently gets called Ashley a lot, though.

Youhei, Kouhei, and Kyouhei
Three of our hosts in Ehime had VERY similar names, listed above - one of them joked we could call them all “The Hei’s.”

Twins: Sydney (f) and Tucker (m)
Their mom was ahead of the curve - these two are 25 years old, but their names sound incredibly modern. I like that the names fit well together but don’t feel matchy-matchy. Sydney recently had a baby girl named Maeve - a very stylish choice.

Yvanne (Yiwan)
While her official name is Yiwan, meaning “beautiful cloud” in Chinese, Yiwan told me that she goes by Yvanne when working with English speakers since it’s easier for them. But once I heard her name’s meaning, I had to call her Yiwan!

Nadia
While in Osaka, I met a friendly Frenchwoman named Nadia - which intrigued me, since I thought that the name wasn’t popular in France (checking the data, that’s an incorrect assumption!) She told me that she was named after Nadia Comăneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics. So cool!

Momen Morgan
Disclaimer: we were speaking at a loud open mic night, so there’s a chance I misheard his Chinese name! While talking with a family in Hong Kong, I met a man with two interesting name stories. His Chinese name, which I heard as Momen, means “no news” (can’t confirm online, but he probably knows better than Google). For years he didn’t know why his parents named him this, but as an adult his father told him the name comes from the saying “no news is good news,” echoing the virtues of peace and contentment with the present in Buddhism. His English name Morgan comes from a movie that his parents watched and loved, called “Morgan!” (1966) - but the main character spends the movie descending into madness. Sounds like this man’s parents were a kick!

Chun Nam 
I met Chun Nam (English name Stephen) in Hong Kong, and he gave us an amazing tour of the Kowloon Walled City - AND answered a bunch of my name questions! When he was born, his name was Tsin (展) Lung (龍), with the meaning of "an unfolding dragon, symbolising something good, like [positive] development in [his] life." However, another word (剪) also sounds like Tsin in Cantonese, meaning "scissors" or "cutting," making his name sound like "cutting a dragon in half." His parents, fearful of the implications of this inauspicious name, took him to a feng shui master to make a new name: Chun (震) Nam (楠). "Chun means shaking, like in an earthquake, and Nam is a very valuable type of good wood... The names means if you place the piece of wood in the river, it would resist the wave and stand still (won't shake)." I love this name history for all of the universal elements of naming it brings in - parental preferences, etymologies/meanings, aural confusion, and looking to outside professionals for help.

Sofi and Rumi
Alright, so these are border collies, but I found it delightful that in the middle of Guangdong’s (China) countryside, there were two dogs with such star names - with Sofia and Sophia being the world’s current favorite for girls, and Beyoncé making waves with a daughter named Rumi.

Nicolai
I met the incomparable Nicolai while in the Chinese countryside, and this Danish man surprised me with (what sounds to me like) a Russian name. He’s one of five children, and their sibset is fantastic - Rasmus, Nicolai, Frederik, Christina, and Josefine.

Fabian (f)
I met wonderful and Welsh Fabian while at a hostel in Guilin - her name is actually spelled creatively, but because it’s so unusual, I’ll simplify it for privacy’s sake. She’s the only female Fabian she’s ever met! She also comes from a great sibset: Seren (m), Phoenix (f), and Siaman (m) are her brothers and sister.

Katy
I met English Katy at the same hostel in Guilin, whose name sounds fairly popular - until she pointed out to me that no one in the UK spells her name correctly (Katie is preferred). The midwife wrote the incorrect spelling on her birth records, and it stuck!

Mohamed
We met while working at an English school in Yangshuo, China. He’s from Egypt, and when I asked him how many Mohamed’s he knows, he said “More than you can ever imagine.” (HA!) He was born on the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday (peace upon him), hence his first name (his middle name is after his father, Ayman). He told me some great stories about his siblings’ names too: it’s customary for the grandmother to name the first child, but since Mohamed (firstborn) was named by his father, his grandmother insisted on naming his next oldest sister - Sarah. His brother Yousef was given one of the more popular names of his birth year, and in Egypt the name Yousef implies strength, handsomeness, and kindness. His youngest sister is Dina, but Mohamed couldn’t remember why that name was chosen :) His mother's name is Ghada, meaning "graceful woman" in Arabic.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Famous Fictional Bookworms - Sara, Matilda, Belle

Hello, readers!

One thing I've noticed from my time in the name community is how many name nerds discovered their passion through reading. It makes sense - if you're exposed to dozens of different character names, you're likely to find their names interesting and/or meaningful. I'm definitely a part of this group, and one of my favorite character types was that of the Female Bookworm.


Bookish and nerdy but headstrong and opinionated, these ladies were inspirations in my youth - and now inspire some fantastic name ideas! Why not name a child/pet/character after someone with smarts and personality?

Matilda
Full disclosure - I've never read Matilda, by Roald Dahl. A brief clip of the film version frightened me at a young age, and I never got the courage to try the book. Still, Matilda (Wormwood) Honey is frequently cited as one of the most influential bookworms, and for good reason - her devotion to books despite constant derision is moving. Her sweet name also has the courageous meaning of "battle-mighty," making it a lovely choice that balances strength and style.

Velma
Who doesn't love a character whose catchphrase is "My glasses, my glasses!"? Velma from Scooby-Doo frequently got the gang out of trouble with her intelligence and cunning. Being that this sassy name last peaked in 1912, Velma could gain popularity along the same lines as Alma and Zelda.

Belle
Though her name literally means "beautiful," Belle is definitely the most bookish out of all the Disney princesses. Then again, were any of the others given access to a gigantic castle library, they'd probably follow suit! Belle returned to the top 1000 this year - its vintage sound and bright spirit matches its kindness.

Hermione
The heroine of the Harry Potter series, Hermione has practically become an identity for fans of the books. Her early preoccupation with exams turns into a passion for knowledge over time, and she's an excellent example for young nerds. Unfortunately, her name is so unique that it's hard to bestow upon a child - perhaps in a decade or two, Hermione will soar.

Connie
Friendly yet formidable, Connie is Steven's well-read best friend in Cartoon Network's Steven Universe. Though the audience discovers that Connie's strict parents are the reason for her fixation on school, she certainly enjoys learning for learning's sake. Connie is a diminutive of Constance, and neither appealing name currently ranks in the top 1000.

Anastasia
I devoured the Anastasia Krupnik books in elementary school - precocious and blunt, Anastasia appealed to me on a personal level. She frequently mentions books, from Gone With the Wind to The Interpretation of Dreams, and uses her intelligence to help solve the problems in her dramatic twelve-year-old life. Once frilly, Anastasia has become a popular, elegant name in today's world.

Josephine (Jo)
The oldest American bookworm on this list, Jo March was based on the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Of the book's four sisters, Jo is the best read and the most bold, and (spoiler alert) ends up writing a few books of her own. While Josephine and Josie rank in the top 300, nickname Jo is perfect for tenacious and boisterous girls.

Gretchen
For fans of the Disney cartoon Recess, Gretchen was the smartest (and arguably most mature) of the crew. In fact, one episode shows Gretchen besting her teachers in a battle of knowledge. While the name Gretchen has never been very popular, it did have a brief peak in the early 1970's. It's originally a short form of Margaret, and it has an amicable and adorable sound.

Sara
Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess introduced many readers to Sara Crewe, a formerly rich little girl left penniless and forced to find her own way in the world (with the help of a few friends). Sara's cleverness and warmth towards others ultimately helps her more than money - an excellent lesson for young readers. The simpler version of the Biblical classic, Sara is especially great as a cross-cultural pick.

Liesel
The titular heroine of The Book Thief, Liesel Meminger is a bright young girl enamored with books in the midst of WWII Germany. Many have heard this charming name via The Sound of Music, but Liesel is actually a diminutive of the perennially popular Elizabeth. Liesel is unusual but accessible, the kind of name that will fit all kinds of personalities.

Suzy
In Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy Bishop runs away from home with just a suitcase full of books - we've all been there, haven't we? Though Susan is taking a well-deserved break, cute Suzy fits in with current retro names like Sadie or Sylvie. Might this nickname become a possibility in our modern age of diverse names?

Jane
The original fictional female bookworm (correct me in the comments), Jane Eyre turns to books when her family and boarding school prove subpar. This ends up empowering her, allowing her to leave a sheltered life behind and get working #girlboss A classic feminine choice, Jane has begun creeping up the popularity charts again, proving that it's anything but plain.

Phoebe
Shy but intelligent, Phoebe from Hey Arnold! is also memorable as one of the few early Asian-American characters on Nickelodeon. She's the smartest kid in class, but also shows an emotional side in a few episodes. This Greek name is a friendly and beautiful choice, made popular by the character in Friends, too.

I'm sure I missed a few - tell me your favorites in the comments!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Terms of Endearment - Terrific or Tacky?

Hello, readers!

As name tastes continue to widen and diversify, all sorts of monikers that would never have been considered a decade ago are suddenly available. Celebrities have been given free reign, and this type of freedom is starting to extend to everyone - from nicknames to three middle names, birth certificates are more exciting than ever! But are there pet names too saccharine for even the quirkiest parent to use?

"Honey" (2003) theatrical poster, Wikipedia

In 2003, Jessica Alba starred in a film called Honey, playing a music video choreographer named Honey Daniels. Though the film received negative reviews, the effect of this character on name records was undeniably positive: while only twenty-five babies were named Honey in 2003, seventy-seven were given the name in 2004 and 109 in 2005. The name plateaued and declined, but the impact of this rather minor film is worth noting. Not even "Honey Boo Boo" (Alana Thompson) had this much name influence when she rose to fame after 2008. 

Did Honey get popular because of Jessica Alba's star power? Or, since this name was already a familiar pet name, were parents just more open to it? Let's look at some other terms of endearment that have made it into official records: 

Sweetie - Recorded regularly between 1889 and 1948 (and, surprisingly, in 2001), Sweetie had an adorable retro sound - think Hattie or Sadie - but not much substance to back it up. 

Darling - First debuted in 1920, but this stylish pick had its highest number of babies born in 2014, with twenty-nine girls given the name. 

Dearie - Only showed up in 2010! Less than ten girls per year have been given the name since, but it continues to show up as a first name. This pet name is admittedly a bit dated, and Dearie could have gotten its boost from such vintage vibes. 

Babe - Now associated with the cinematic pig, Babe was used for both boys and girls between 1880 and 1980. It could have some of the same pitfalls as Baby (see below), but the Babe Ruth influence is too important not to mention. 

Baby - Many times, this was written in birth records because the parents hadn't decided on a name, or didn't feel it was important to report - check out Laura Wattenberg's interesting article on "no name" babies before 9/11. But in 1987, Dirty Dancing introduced American audiences to Baby Houseman, played by Jennifer Grey, and by 1989, Baby was in the top 1000. It remained there until the early 2000's, helped in no small part by Baby Spice of the Spice Girls. But this name has spent its pop culture credibility, and was given to less than fifteen babies last year. 

Lovey - Honestly, I've heard this name applied to cats more than humans, but it was recorded for over 120 years! Today, Love is more likely to make it onto birth certificates, along with the other modern virtue choices sweeping the charts - Serenity and Genesis among them. 

Sugar - The definition of sweetness, Sugar has the cheerful benefit of featuring in a lot of popular music, from Sugar Sugar by the Archies to Sugar by Maroon 5. But it's a bit too glucose-heavy for many tastes.

Bae - Conflicting origin stories aside, Bae has entered the lexicon of terms of endearment used by millennials. It's arisen around the same time Bailey and Baylor have become popular - coincidence, or co-evolution? It's also been given as a first name to a couple dozen babies in the past five years.

Are more parents destined to bestow names in the same way that Jamie and Jools Oliver do? Or are these names just flukes, and unlikely to catch on the way "traditional names" do? Tell me your opinions in the comments!