How Bad Are These Names?
Some names are so taboo that no one would dare use them… or would they?
Parents are now naming their babies Lucifer — 69 of them in 2021 — and many other names of notorious figures that might have been off limits a generation ago. Some parents may not know that Lucifer is the proper name of the biblical devil; others may not care.
But more and more, people may choose these names not despite but because of their Bad Boy and Bad Girl image.
What makes a name change from unthinkable to a naughty-but-nice option? It can be cultural shift, like religion playing less part in many people's lives. A character’s reputation can change, like Jezebel getting a feminist makeover. Or the associations might be diluted by other namesakes, like Benedict Cumberbatch overtaking Benedict Arnold in popular association. Style plays a huge role too: if a name sounds on-trend and edgy, parents will find a way to use it.
Here, we check in on where 28 notorious names are now, ranked in order of acceptability from Totally Fine to Do. Not. Use. Ever.
The statistics are for the USA in 2021, the most recent data available.
Popularity: Number 58
This biblical bad girl has been in moderate use since records began, but really started trending upwards around the year 2000, just like Lilah and Layla. It’s now the most popular girl name starting with D.
Notoriety rating: 😈 — melodic with just enough naughtiness.
Popularity: Number 991
Revolutionary defector Benedict Arnold put the brakes on his name in the States, but it’s finally made it to the Top 1000. It got a boost when Pope Benedict XVI was elected, and Benedict Cumberbatch gives it extra quirky British charm.
Notoriety rating: 😈 — more blessed than cursed now.
Popularity: Number 280
The horror movie namesakes lost Damien a little popularity in the 1970s, but even then, this French classic never dropped out of the Top 500.
Notoriety rating: 😈 — no bad omens here.
Popularity: 5 girls
This tragic heroine name is rare but not unheard of: it first charted in 1962, inspired by a movie, and has been used for a few girls most years since then.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — dramatic heroine potential (and Tiggy is a cute nickname).
Popularity: 160 boys
Draco debuted as a baby name in 1997, the year the first Harry Potter book introduced Draco Malfoy to the world. It rose steeply from 2018-21, perhaps as fans start their own families and -o ending names grow more popular.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — flawed, but not evil.
Popularity: 46 boys
Stymied by Scrooge, Ebenezer was only very occasionally used until the 1980s. But as Old Testament names have come back into style, parents have started to reclaim it, and use it for girls too.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — we’re not saying bah humbug to this one.
Popularity: Number 420
Vintage Harvey was rising fast, until 2017 dealt the double whammy of Hurricane Harvey, and Harvey Weinstein’s crimes coming to light. It dropped over 60 places in the charts the following year, but so far it hasn’t fallen further. It’s a longstanding Top 100 name in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — stronger than its worst namesakes.
Popularity: 5 boys
Never on the charts until 2002, this Shakespearean name has now been given to at least 68 boys in total.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — villainous, but reassuringly fictional (and a bona fide Galician name).
Popularity: Number 526
When Kylo Ren first appeared on screens in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, his name was almost zero-use. It quickly jumped straight into the Top 1000, then the Top 500, though it may head down now the trilogy is finished.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — super-cool sound, with just enough of the Dark Side.
Popularity: Number 268
Lilith’s appealing sound is trumping her history as a demon in Jewish legend. The name has a strong subversive streak, as feminism has reinterpreted the figure of Lilith as a strong, free-willed woman.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — it might shock the grandparents, but there’s no stopping it now.
Popularity: 153 boys, 12 girls
The mischief-maker of the Norse gods was unheard of as a baby name until 1996. Then parents started to look for alternative mythological names, and Nordic culture became cool. Loki was already rising when the first Thor movie came out, and Tom Hiddleston’s pale-and-interesting villain boosted it further.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈 — bold and playful, we low-key love it.
Popularity: 8 boys
Best known as the leader of the Huns — with a fearsome reputation — Attila first appeared on the charts in 1958. It has been a steady but rare option ever since, mainly as a heritage name, as it’s common in Hungary and Turkey.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — if it’s from your culture, great. If not, a bit menacing.
Popularity: Number 837 (281 boys), 29 girls
The angel of death’s name first made the charts in 1994, and has risen fast in the last 10 years, along with other darkly angelic names like Castiel.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — a grim namesake, but it belongs to 1600+ children now.
Popularity: Number 956
Fashion wins over the biblical bad reputation here. Cain started to be used regularly in the 1970s, tying in with trending names like Caleb and Shane. It first broke into the Top 1000 in the 1990s, and has been there every year since 2009.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — spell it Kane for all the benefits without the murder.
Popularity: 11 boys
Decades after the first Godfather movie, parents started using the gangster family’s surname in 1997. (Real-life gangster name Capone entered the charts the year before.) Up to 12 boys a year have been named Corleone ever since.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — baby names inspired by organized crime? That’s an offer we can refuse.
Popularity: 6 boys
Goliath was never in the US charts until 2015, but has been given to a handful of boys most years since then — proof that parents are looking ever-further for rare, edgy biblical names.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — a giant weight to bear.
Popularity: 18 boys
Believe it or not, Hannibal has become more popular since Lecter came onto the scene, than it was when the only namesake was the Carthaginian general. It vanished from the charts the year after Silence of the Lambs, and again after Red Dragon, but it has been rare-but-steady for the last 15 years.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — ancient names are cool, but this one is still too cannibal for most people’s taste.
Popularity: 15 girls
Jezebel, the pagan wife of an Israelite king, used to be shorthand for a false prophet or promiscuous woman, but modern feminism has reclaimed her as a practical queen. It was never used as a baby name until 1980, but has been on the charts ever since.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — cool sound, strong character, but a big statement.
Popularity: 23 boys
Judas first entered the charts in the 1960s, and in the last 30 years has trended upwards. Sure, some interpretations paint Judas Iscariot in a better light, and there are other namesakes like Judas Maccabeus. But for many people, it’s synonymous with betrayal.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — try Judah or Jude instead.
Popularity: 6 boys
Always a rare choice, parents almost completely stopped using this name after Charles Manson’s conviction in 1971. The singer Marilyn Manson didn’t help; in fact, the name charted even less after he rose to fame in the 1990s.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — almost any other -son name would be better.
Popularity: 33 boys
The fiddling Roman emperor’s name was very uncommon in the twentieth century, but things have changed. It’s made the charts every year since 2009, and 2021 is the most popular it's ever been.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — plenty of emperors were murderous in one way or another… at list this one's name sounds on-trend.
Popularity: 12 boys
This Arabic name meaning “lion” debuted in 1968 and rose steeply until 1999, then plummeted in the years that followed. Most parents are still avoiding any hint of association with Bin Laden.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈 — outside the Arab world, there’s only one Osama.
Popularity: 23 boys
The Greek god of the underworld first appeared on the charts in 2006, and tripled in popularity in 2020, perhaps inspired by a video game (and lockdown gaming sessions).
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈😈 — dark…almost certainly too dark.
Popularity: 10 girls
This charming diminutive was used steadily, though never hugely fashionable, through the twentieth century… until the 1962 movie of Nabokov’s novel sent it soaring into the Top 1000. But the connotations of obsession with a young girl became less and less acceptable, and now few parents want anything to do with it.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈😈 — there’s nothing “lol” about this namesake.
Popularity: 69 boys
This fallen angel-turned-devil is one of the most controversial names around. It was completely unheard-of until it debuted on the charts in 2002. While still rare, it’s risen sharply since 2016, when the TV show Lucifer first aired — helped by the trend for all names with a “Lu” sound.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈😈 — very seriously loaded.
Popularity: 6 girls
Disney’s dark fairy inspired a handful of parents to use her name in 2014, 2020 and 2021, after the two movies were released.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈😈 — we love the character, but not the ill-willed meaning: maleficent literally means doing evil.
Popularity: fewer than 5 boys
The Soviet leader’s pseudonym, meaning “man of steel”, is rare but not completely unused in the States. It first charted in 1971, and has been given to up to 9 boys a year ever since.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈😈 — a deeply problematic namesake.
Popularity: not on the charts since 1990
Adolf was never used much outside Germany, so it’s very strongly tied to one person. Hitler is just within living memory, and his legacy lingers on in sinister ways. The statistics bear it out: no one is going there.
Notoriety rating: 😈😈😈😈😈 — never would still be way too soon.