Saturday, December 31, 2016

Names for a New Year

Hello, readers!

The concept of celebrating a "new year" varies greatly around the globe - the Chinese New Year is based on lunar cycles, the Jewish New Year is observed in the autumn, and the Thai New Year is celebrated from April 13-15. Still, it's nice to set aside time to reflect on the past year and make plans for the year ahead, no matter where you are. For babies born in January, choosing a name that reflects this celebration is one way to start the new year - and a new life - off right.

Image via Wikimedia

Baby "New" Year

Just hearing the word "new" calls to mind modernity and freshness - look at any advertisement with the word, and it's usually followed by an exclamation point! Including the word in a name is one immediate way to encapsulate this excitement; names include Newton, Newland, and Newman. Other names with the sound often include the Latin root novus, such as Nova, Novella, or Novak

If you're looking for less obvious choices, names that mean "new" or "fresh" are all over the map. Check out these names for ideas: Arata, Aviva, Naveen, Neo, Nouvel, Raanan, and Zelenka. Though they may take a bit more explaining in the United States, all are lovely choices worth the effort!

Father Time

Marking the passage of time is another way to bring the new year into naming. Choosing names like Winter, Day, Afternoon, Dawn, Evening, or January offers a clear connection to this theme; looking up names with those meanings is another, more subtle option. The Greek zodiac sign for December 22 - January 22 is Capricorn, which could add another element to the name search!

Another way to honor time is by looking at the past year. Are there family members, friends, or role models whose presence was particularly strong this year? Are there celebrities who passed away who made a special impact on your life or your family? Names of individuals in this category for 2016 could include Bowie, Prince, Fisher, Wilder, Cohen, and Harper


And onto the year ahead! Though 2016 was almost too much too handle at times, it has made a lot of people optimistic and determined to create a better 2017. Let's look at names specific to THIS new year: 
  • In the Chinese New Year, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster! Fowl names honoring this could include Gallus, Pavana, or Poe
  • The first total solar eclipse of this century will take place in 2017 - names like Sunny, Elio, Apollonia, Ravi, and Soleil relate to the sun. 
  • What are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!

Friday, December 30, 2016

I Miss Debbie Reynolds - Her Best Character Names

Hello, readers!

Because this sh*tstorm of a year isn't bad enough, within a day of losing Carrie Fisher, film audiences lost another icon - her mother, Debbie Reynolds. A talented actress and entertainer, Reynolds amazed many generations of filmgoers, from her roles in Singin' in the Rain to Charlotte's Web to Halloweentown. And of course, among these roles, we have some great names to consider!

Kathy Selden
Reynolds was only nineteen when she played Kathy Selden in the classic musical, Singin' in the Rain. The name Kathy reached its popularity peak only a few years after the film was released, rising to #14 in 1958. Today, long form Katherine is favored, with Katie and Kaylee among beloved variants.

Julie Gillis
In 1955, Debbie played Julie in The Tender Trap, another musical comedy - but this time, with Frank Sinatra! The name Julie rose over the following decades, but has been on the decline. If Julia and Juliana are too common for you, look at July or Julianne.

Polly Parish
The musical comedies continue - Bundle of Joy was filmed while Reynolds was pregnant with Fisher. The name Polly hasn't ranked on the top 1000 since 1977, despite it's similarities to Holly and Molly. This adorable retro nickname for Mary could definitely make a comeback!

A mid-century choice, Debbie played the title character in the film Tammy and the Bachelor. Today, a familial Tammy may be better honored by Tamara, Tamsin, or Tamayo. The name Tammy comes from the Hebrew word for "date palm tree."

Lilith Prescott
The classic western film How the West Was Won brought us Debbie Reynolds as Lilith Prescott. Though Lily names are the current trend, Lilith only ranks at #588 - possibly due to its association with a demon in Jewish mythology.

Margaret "Molly" Brown
The Unsinkable Molly Brown brought Reynolds her only Oscar nomination for portraying a real-life survivor of the Titanic sinking. Though Molly has long been a nickname for Mary, it's also been used sporadically as a nickname for any M-name.

In 1973, Reynolds voiced the title character in Charlotte's Web, the animated film based on E.B. White's children's book. Charlotte is a literary favorite, appearing in all sorts of books dating from the nineteenth century forward. Today, Charlotte has settled into the top 10, and may rise to the top 5 soon - thanks to the little princess across the pond.

Agatha "Aggie" Cromwell
Everyone's favorite witchy grandmother, Debbie Reynolds joined the Disney Channel Original Movie family in 1998 with Halloweentown. Though Agatha has long been regarded as a less-than-attractive choice, it's getting more followers who love its offbeat yet feminine vibe.

Bobbi Adler
Portraying a semi-fictional version of herself, Debbie played Grace's mom Bobbi in Will & Grace over the span of a few seasons. Boyish classics like Billie and Bobbie (with the ending e) have been rediscovered for girls in the UK, but haven't quite yet reached the US.

One of her final film roles, Reynolds played Liberace's mother Frances in Behind the Candelabra. Frances is also her middle name (she was born Mary Frances Reynolds) and her daughter Carrie's middle name. This beautiful choice is rising quickly, thanks partially to the 100-year-rule.

Are there particularly beautiful names I missed? Debbie Reynolds had dozens of film roles not listed here. Tell me in the comments!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I Miss Carrie Fisher - Her Best Character Names

Hello, readers!

Sadly, this week we lost a great actress, writer, and activist - Carrie Frances Fisher. From her early iconic role as Princess Leia in Star Wars to her recent advocacy for mental health education, she's been a fantastic cultural figure and inspiration to women and girls everywhere. As a name nerd, I figure the best way that I can honor her is to make her the focus of a name article!

Alright, so it's not a character name. Carrie was born to actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in 1956, at which time the name ranked #208. Carrie left the top 1000 in 2007, but could make a comeback, especially in the next year. 

Her first movie role was Lorna, the daughter of two main characters in Shampoo. The name is a literary invention from the nineteenth century, and it ranked in the US throughout the twentieth century. Despite its similarities to Lauren and Laura, it never garnered similar popularity. 

Leia Organa
While audiences were introduced to this Star Wars name back in the 1970's, Leia's popularity only rocketed in the past decade. With names like Lily and Layla so enticing, Leia was bound to follow! The name is still rising and will probably get a boost in 2017, but it will take awhile to find out for sure.

Annie Clark
Carrie played Annie in Under the Rainbow, a 1981 comedy with Chevy Chase. While Annie ranked in the top 10 in the 1880's, it was surpassed by more formal names - and delegated to nickname status. Today, Annie is an adorable, retro choice - not unlike Carrie!

Starring alongside Tom Hanks in the comedy-thriller The Man with One Red Shoe, her character name of Paula is a mid-century standard. While Paula may not be ready to return to birth certificates, similar-sounding Paulina, Paulette, and Paloma are cute options for baby girls today. 

Still in the top 500, April is a bright and friendly name perfect for springtime babies. The name comes from the Latin for "second," and counts sisters May and June as sweet, timely alternatives. Carrie Fisher played April in the Woody Allen classic, Hannah and Her Sisters.

Carol Peterson
Another comedy-thriller with Tom Hanks, The 'Burbs gives us Carrie Fisher as Carol Peterson. Carol is another mid-century name not yet ripe for revival - try Caroline, Charlotte, or Cora for a more contemporary take.

The quintessential French female name and a popular middle name for Americans, Marie is currently at one of its lowest points. Carrie played Marie in When Harry Met Sally (one of my favorite films), transforming from an insecure mistress into a strong and supportive wife and friend.

Carrie voiced Angela in Family Guy over a ten-year span, proving her acting abilities extended into animated comedy. Angela is currently on it's way out after a long career in the spotlight, but longer variations Angelina and Angelica are still in use.

Rosemary Howard
Emmy-nominated for her guest role in 30 Rock, Carrie Fisher played comedy writer Rosemary Howard, Liz Lemon's hero. On the rise again, this botanical choice is at once vintage and vivacious, perfect for a modern girl. Rosemary also signifies remembrance - an excellent choice to remember an excellent woman.

What are your favorite Carrie Fisher roles? Any of these names on your list of favorites? Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Suspending Disbelief - The Accuracy of TV Show Names

Hello, readers!

Many of you (my family members included) may be big fans of Law & Order - Special Victim's Unit: over 8 million viewers watch the show regularly. Me? I can't get past the first name of the main character, Olivia Benson. Her character was born in 1967, towards the low point of the name's popularity (then #512). While it's possible a baby girl born at that time would have been named Olivia, it's much more probable that she would have been a Lisa, Jennifer, or Michelle. But then again, television shows often take liberties with character names!

I suppose that if statistics were the only factor in naming television characters, we'd see a lot more Jennifer's - and every man would be named Michael. But at the same time, it can be hard to believe that an adult character has a name that wasn't common until recently.

I'll admit that Olivia is more common than Mariska, at the very least - but how well do other television shows fare when naming their main characters? Let's look at some examples!

That 70's Show - A

"What a long strange trip it's been... in Foreman's basement." This love letter to the late 1970's brought teenage Boomer culture to Gen Xers and Millennials alike. Main characters Eric Foreman, Donna Pinciotti, Steven Hyde, Jacqueline Burkhart, and Michael Kelso also have the distinction of wearing statistically probable names - all first names were in the top 100 in 1960, around the year their characters would have been born. Why no + after the A? Dear sweet Fez never has his true name revealed!

The Big Bang Theory - B

One of the highest-rated television comedies in recent years, this gem has welcomed guest stars from Neil DeGrasse Tyson to Stephen Hawking - hardly comedic masterminds. But the lovable nerdiness of its five original stars (and two subsequent additions) has kept this science-oriented show in the spotlight. First names at play include Sheldon, Howard, Leonard, Rajesh, Penny, Bernadette, and Amy.

Though their ages range a bit, the only character whose birth year is given is Howard - 1981. Going off that year, I was surprised to find that five out of seven names have similar popularity levels, ranking between #208 and #517. Though these names weren't popular, these characters have more in common than just proximity and academic interests. The two outliers are Amy, at #6, and Rajesh, off the list entirely. While I wasn't able to find name data for India (where Rajesh was born), Amy's popularity definitely lends itself to the show's accuracy.

Friends - C

A cultural touchstone of the 1990's and early 2000's, Friends rocketed six actors to stardom and still appears in writings on television criticism. The term "friend zone" first appeared in an episode of the show, and lines like "How you doin'?" and "Unagi!" are now popular references. The six characters are as follows: Chandler Bing, Phoebe Buffay, Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Ross Geller, and Joey Tribbiani.

While Joseph, Monica, and Rachel rank in the top 100 for the year 1968 - the year in which most characters were born - Ross ranks at #245, and Chandler and Phoebe don't even appear in the top 1000. While this could be due to their characters having uncommon parentage, the white, middle-class success they exhibit seems a bit unlikely. Incidentally, both Chandler and Phoebe jumped noticeably in popularity after Friends debuted in 1994, and both names are well-used today.

How I Met Your Mother - D

While the show garnered mixed reviews from fans and critics alike - especially when it aired the series finale - it was still incredibly popular during its run: between 8 and 11 million viewers tuned in every season. The antics of Barney, Lily, Marshall, Ted, and Robin have given rise to countless Internet memes, as well as memorable quotations - "Challenge accepted," "Suit up," and "Legen-wait for it-dary!"

The character names are all over the map, from popular Robin to incredibly rare Barney. Lily barely makes the top 1000, and Marshall and Ted are middling. I'm giving the show a low score, because there doesn't seem to be a trend or theme in naming - almost like the names were picked out of a (gargantuan) hat.

How do your favorite shows rank? Does a main character's name affect your enjoyment? Tell me in the comments!