Millions of babies are named every year, but only a few of them ever make the news. When there’s something really unusual about a name, or its story, or the parents, or the world’s reaction to it – that’s what makes it newsworthy.
The biggest name stories of the last decade aren’t just about names. They’re about politics, religion, entertainment, sport, technology, global brands, diversity, gender, the weather…all the things that matter to us, captured in a name. Some are fun, some are shocking, and some make us wonder what all the fuss was about.
Let’s look year-by-year at the name stories that have captured the world’s attention over the last decade.
In the US presidential election, names play a role on both sides. Barack Hussein Obama’s name reinforces his multicultural image. His middle name is used as both a slur and a cheer of support. It’s also noted that he would come across differently had he kept his childhood nickname Barry.
On the Republican side, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin brings a new style of names to the public’s attention. By the end of the year, her children Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig are one of the world’s most famous sibsets. Bristol shoots up the charts the next year, as does Tripp, her son born in December 2008.
Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, a nine-year-old girl from New Zealand, is so embarrassed by her name that a court takes her into custody to change it. Ever since then, no list of banned baby names is complete without it.
Twilight is the big pop culture influence of the year. Main character names Jacob and Isabella are the top boy and girl names in the US (probably a coincidence), and other names from the series like Rosalie and Cullen get more popular. The invented smoosh name Renesmee charts for the first time, though Meyer later said she’d never give the name to a real kid.
Possibly the first article is published in what will become a yearly tradition of reports that Muhammad is the most popular boys’ name in the UK, if you combine spellings. Followed by the inevitable responses that this isn’t necessarily true: it depends which other boys’ names on the list you choose to combine. (Oliver and Ollie? Harry and Henry?) And even if it is true…so what?
Social media-inspired baby names make the news. An Israeli couple call their daughter Like (as in a Facebook “like”), and an Egyptian girl is named Facebook to celebrate the role of the social network in Egypt’s revolution.
Game of Thrones name Khaleesi makes the US charts for the first time. Little do we know that seven years later, it still gets mentioned every – single – time – new baby name statistics are released. Can we move on?
Other newsworthy starbaby names include the incredibly long Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence (aka Luna – Uma Thurman’s daughter), controversial Breeze Beretta (Levi Johnston’s daughter), and gender-bending Astala Dylan Willow (Peaches Geldof’s son).
Someone spots an announcement for baby girl “Hashtag”, and the media goes crazy at the idea that parents are using the symbol as a name – despite it probably being a) a cute placeholder nickname and b) not meant for the public. Seen through the lens of 2018, this story says more about the need to be critical of the news we read, than about baby name trends.
Icelandic teenager Blær Bjarkardóttir wins the right to use her name legally and not be called “girl” on official documents.
Outsourcing baby names reaches a new level as father-to-be Stephen McLaughlin sets up the site NameMyDaughter.com. It goes viral, and thousands of people suggest and vote for names: the winner is Cthulu All-Spark. Fortunately there’s a disclaimer that the parents get the final decision – they name their daughter Amelia Savannah Joy.
At the Oscars, John Travolta creates the phantom star Adele Dazeem when he flubs the name of singer Idina Menzel (of “Let It Go” fame). Menzel has since said that the gaffe was the best thing that ever happened to her career.
There’s more name controversy in Iceland as a British-Icelandic girl named Harriet is not allowed a new passport unless she changes her name to an acceptable Icelandic one. Her brother Duncan’s name is also not officially recognised.
Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman is published, showing Atticus Finch in a new, more complex light. Some fear that the name Atticus will become stigmatized. It drops a few places in 2016, but in 2017 it seems to be back on an upward trajectory.
Another presidential election means the candidates’ names are up for analysis. Donald is a baby-boomer name and Hillary was big in the 80s but never recovered from Hurricane Hilary in 1993. So it’s no surprise that neither had much impact on the 2016 or 2017 baby name charts. However, First Lady Melania is one of the fastest-rising names of 2017.
The Chicago Cubs baseball team wins the World Series, and many parents give their babies names to honor the occasion, such as Wrigley (for Wrigley Field, the stadium), Clark, Addison and Waveland (nearby streets).
A British teenager makes thousands of pounds helping Chinese parents to choose a baby name. Name nerds everywhere wonder why we didn’t think of it first..
Two megastar couples welcome twins just days apart, and their naming style couldn’t be more different. George and Amal Clooney choose unobtrusive classics Ella and Alexander. Beyoncé and Jay Z pick rare, meaning-laden Rumi and Sir.
Harvey is on course to make a vintage revival…until Storm Harvey causes devastation and scandal surrounds producer Harvey Weinstein. Yet Harvey still rises in 2017. It may be another year before we see if the negatives have put parents off.
The solar eclipse over North America in August leads to several babies with sun-related names, including Eclipse Alizabeth in South Carolina, Jordyn Eclipse in Indiana, Isabella Solei in Florida, and Niall Apollo in British Columbia.
2018 (so far)
Have we missed any big name news? What do you think are this most important stories of the decade?
Our thanks to Clare for coming up with such juicy name news every week of the year!