Heroes vs Villains in Baby Name Land
Are villain names becoming more popular with today’s parents? It sure seems that way. The rise of Anakin (Darth Vader) and Kylo (Darth Vader’s murderous grandson) has shown that bad guys often capture the hearts of baby-namers.
Loki‘s rise was no doubt helped by his high-profile role in several recent Avengers movies. The name barely registered on the Social Security database 20 years ago.
But Thor was also in those films, so it’s puzzling as to why his star would be falling relative to his evil brother.
Loki isn’t the only Marvel villain to attract baby-naming parents. Eight boys were christened Thanos last year, sharing a moniker with a cosmic warlord bent on destruction. (I’m rooting for Dormammu to pop up in the charts next year.)
Of course, some hero names are still doing well. Khaleesi, inspired by the dragon-charming queen in Game of Thrones, cracked the Top 1000 in 2014 and now ranks ahead of such names as Louisa and Louise.
Two of the fastest-rising boys’ picks last year were Creed and Adonis, names inspired by the Rocky films. (The elder Creed began as a villain before becoming Rocky‘s friend in the third film; his son, Adonis Johnson Creed, was featured in the franchise’s most recent installment.) Rocky itself remains in the Top 1000, though it’s way down from its peaks in the 1950s and late-1970s. (Sylvester Stallone’s other major character name, Rambo, was given to 10 baby boys in the U.S. last year.)
Many baby namers, though, seem to prefer bad boys.
This wasn’t always the case: Literary villains of yore didn’t seem to resonate as much with parents.
In 1931, when Bela Lugosi terrified filmgoers with his portrayal of Dracula, the name itself didn’t tempt Americans. There are zero Draculas in the Social Security database during those years (or now).
Shakespeare baddies also haven’t fared well over the years. You won’t find many Iagos at your local kindergarten. The same goes for Macbeth (Duncan, the good king murdered by Macbeth, has performed far better as a baby name).
But these days, villains seem to be gaining the upper hand.
In the Star Wars realm, the good-vs. evil battle is especially bleak. The year after Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in late 2015, 63 girls were named Rey (after that film’s heroine). But a staggering 238 boys were named Kylo (the film’s villain). That turned Kylo into the fastest-growing boys’ name of 2016.
I assume its recent surge is due in part to a demographic quirk. Americans who saw the Star Wars prequels when they were young (and, therefore, didn’t think they ruined the franchise) are now reaching childbearing age. Anakin was the hero of those films, at least until a dip in a lava pit turned him into the heavy-breathing Darth Vader.
Darth itself didn’t register on the Social Security database last year.
So in this struggle that may be a cause of optimism: Parents are at least choosing the name from the character’s good years, rather than his bad ones. Maybe we’re not turning to the dark side after all.