The most notable names of 2012 take a colorful direction this year, with influences that range from presidents to K-pop, celebrities and the characters they play, and from the web to the weather.
Our picks for the 12 names most emblematic of 2012 – plus the dozen also-rans – are:
Malala. Runnerup: Dilma
Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani 14-year-old who was gunned down by the Taliban for championing girls’ education, wrote that her melodious name means “grief stricken.” Malala could well become an inspiration name choice for young girls in the Western World. Another female name to emerge from world politics this year is Dilma, via Brazil’s first woman president Dilma Rousseff, who was named after her mother.
Daniel Day Lewis’s brilliant film portrayal brought Abraham Lincoln alive in a way he hasn’t been since, well, 1863. As a modern hero name, our first choice is the fresh-sounding Lincoln, initially heard as a first name in the Mod Squad as the proper name for the cool character called Linc. Abraham relates more to the brethren of gray-bearded Old Testament names – Noah, Moses, Isaiah – than to our arguably greatest president, but that still puts it in step with our times.
London takes the title of the place name of the year, given the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee (more on that in a moment) as well as Prince Harry’s antics and the ongoing royal bump watch. The name London leapt into the Top 100 for girls this year and we see the city’s stature elevating it even higher; while London is sagging a bit as a boy’s name, it’s not out of the running. Runnerup name Jubilee is a celebratory new word name heard increasingly for girls.
The ancient Greek name Penelope became an unlikely reality star this year when Kourtney Kardashian chose it for her high-profile newborn. Meaning “weaver,” the name of Odysseus’s long-faithful wife was also placed in the limelight by Spanish star Penélope Cruz. Runnerup Greek sister Sophia makes our list because she became the Number 1 girls’ name in the U.S. this year, only the 16th name to take first place honors since 1880.
There aren’t many baby name inspirations less likely than the erotic 50 Shades of Grey blockbusters, but parents are indeed naming their children Grey – and Gray and Grayer and Grayson, the only one of the series to make the Top 1000. On the more literary end of literary inspiration, we nominate author Junot Diaz, this year’s Pulitzer novelist whose name is the Spanish variation of the Latin Junius, which means “born in June.”
Impresario Lena Dunham took HBO by storm with her series Girls, a Sex & the City for a new generation of women. The name Lena, adhering to the Hundred Year Rule, was in the Top 100 from 1880 until 1920. Originally a short form for Helena or any other name that ended in those four letters, Lena can now stand on its own and is headed back toward the top. Fellow series star Jemima Kirke makes her British-accented first name US-appropriate.
The lead male character on Showtime’s smash Homeland bears the handsome hero name Nicholas, but he’s always called by his surname Brody, emblematic of our times and our naming tastes. Brody is an Irish surname that means “ditch” and is in the Top 100. Charismatic actor Damian Lewis, who portrays the character, may help promote his upper class British name to Americans.
The mild-mannered Sandy was anything but as the superstorm that swamped the northeast in October 2012. While the name may be still stuck in the Sandra Dee–Sandy Koufax 1960s, Sandy now joins Katrina in the pantheon of bad-by-association names. Followup storm Athena was the first of the non-hurricanes named for a mythological figure by The Weather Channel.
Game of Thrones was one of the year’s breakout series and Arya was its breakout baby name, the appellation of a sword-wielding young heroine. Musical twin name Aria, which stars in television’s Pretty Little Liars, has been zooming up the popularity charts by hundreds of points a year.
Sévérine. Runnerup: Bérénice
The sensationally successful new Bond movie, Skyfall, introduced a sensationally gorgeous new Bond girl, and with it her sleek, sophisticated French name. The charismatic character was played by Bérénice Marlohe, (yet another possible spelling of Marlow/Marlowe?) who, coincidentally, shares her Gallic first name with last year’s Oscar nominee Bérénice Bejo, the female lead of The Artist.
No, these are not the names of the ladies in your Grandma’s canasta group, but all three belong to hot young singers (average age 28). And each of them has been influential in the renewed interest in her name’s use for babies– especially Adele, which rose 282 points on the charts in the last year.
PSY. Runnerup: Gangnam
Notorious as well as notable, PSY (pronounced sigh) is the South Korean rapper/songwriter/ dancer (born Bak Jae-sang), whose infectious international hit single “Gangnam Style” now holds the record for being the most accessed YouTube video of all time, generating close to a billion views.