As the race towards the Oscars heats up, Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain offers her annual analysis of possible award-winning baby names–the most interesting names attached to nominees and the characters they play.
Award season is in full swing, with the Golden Globes last month and the Oscars coming up soon.
A glance at any kindergarten roster demonstrates Hollywood’s impact on baby names. Audrey, Ava, Olivia, and Natalie all belonged to screen legends long before they were among the most popular choices for our daughters. Surname choices like Harlow, Monroe, Gable, and even Chaplin have been heard.
Whitaker – In Flight, Denzel Washington plays a pilot who lands his plane against the odds. Washington’s character is named William Whitaker, nicknamed Whip. With choices like Wesley and Archer in vogue, Whitaker seems like a name that could wear well. But is Whitaker a sister for Harper or a brother for Parker?
Pi – The posters of a scrawny teenage shipwreck survivor and a Bengal tiger sharing a lifeboat were everywhere this summer. If you missed the movie, you might not know that Pi was short for Piscine Molitor Patel. His parents named him after a French swimming pool. I doubt anyone will seriously consider Piscine for a child, but the mathematical Pi feels brisk and modern.
Django – Tarantino borrowed this name from a series of 1960s westerns. It’s historically improbable – Django is a Romani nickname made famous by jazz guitar great Django Reinhardt in the 1930s. That’s long after the West was won. Nonetheless, Djano is my pick for a breakout name from this season’s nominees, thanks to his –o ending and unusual Dj spelling. Having boy/girl twins? You can always call Django’s sister Djuna.
Patrick, Patrizio – The Silver Linings Playbook Solitano family included two Pats – Patrizio, played by Robert De Niro, and his son, Patrick, played by Bradley Cooper. Both actors are nominated for their work. While they’re both called Pat in the movie, the longer forms strike me as the more wearable alternative. Is it me, or is Patrick starting to appeal to parents disappointed that William and James are already taken?
Lincoln – Twenty-first century parents have embraced this nineteenth century presidential name. With the movie nominated for Best Picture and Daniel Day-Lewis in the running for Best Actor, could Lincoln be even more popular in the coming years?
Valjean – He’s the hero of Les Miserables, and Hugh Jackman has already won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the generous reformed convict. Valjean seems like a longshot for a child’s name, but the character is irresistible. With so few good virtue names for boys, Valjean feels like one worth some consideration.
Hugo – We can’t talk about the blockbuster musical without discussing Victor Hugo. Last year, Martin Scorcese’s Hugo was a Best Picture nominee. With the French literary connection keeping the name current in awards circles, could this be Hugo’s year?
Emmanuelle – Emmanuelle Riva’s career has spanned six decades. She’s the oldest actress to ever be nominated for Best Actress Oscar. Riva starred in Amour, a darkly romantic tale of late-life love. Vivienne, Genevieve, Evangeline, Emmanuelle. Isn’t this the kind of name that should work on a modern child? Nicknames Emme and Ellie are built right in.
Quvenzhané - There’s no way to talk about names of 2013 nominees and not focus on Quvenzhané Wallis. The Louisiana native is the youngest actor ever nominated for Best Actress played Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. As for her name? It is pronounced kwuh VEN zhuh nay. Her mother is Qulyndreia; dad is Venjie. The couple combined their names, then added zhané, which Mom says is the Swahili word for fairy. It’s the kind of name that appeals after you say it two or three dozen times – something we all might find ourselves doing if the young actress’s career takes off.
Hildi – Django Unchained has such great names, and the female lead is no exception. Kerry Washington plays Django’s wife, Broomhilda. Okay, Broomhilda is not a great name. But she answers to Hildi, and Hildi seems like a sister to Hayley, Harper, and Hattie.
Cora – One of the real life characters from Argo, Cora Lijek was played by Clea DuVall in the movie. Cora was in hibernation for years, but now that Downton Abbey has given the name to an American heiress turned duchess, she seems to be everywhere.
Cosette – If Django is the breakout name for the boys’ side, I think Cosette is his female counterpart. She’s French, she shortens to Coco or Cosi, and she’s been getting more attention in recent years. Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who starred in 2011’s Dolphin Tale was born Cozette.
Éponine – Another possibility from the movie, this time a wildly romantic one. Hugo may have borrowed Éponine from Charles Baudelaire’s poems, or both may have been inspired by Epponina, the wife of Julius Sabinus, a Gaul who attempted to lead a rebellion from the Roman Empire after the death of Nero.
Fantine – One last name from Les Mis. Anne Hathaway plays Fantine, the naïve but devoted mother of Cosette. The most repeated theory is that her name is derived from enfant – the French word for child. Despite her tragic ending, Fantine could appeal to some parents.
Maya – Back to the present time, with Jessica Chastain’s character from Zero Dark Thirty. Maya is a globe-trotting name long popular in the US and elsewhere. In the Oscar-nominated movie, she’s also a tenacious CIA operative.
Are there other names from this year’s batch of Oscar names that are worthy of consideration? Would you use any of the names from this year’s most celebrated films? And is Quvenzhané growing on you, too?