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Lofty Mountain Baby Names

McKinley or Denali? Aspen or Atlas?

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By Nick Turner

President Obama caused a stir last week when he scrubbed the name Mount McKinley from America‘s highest peak, bringing back its traditional moniker — Denali.

Fans of William McKinley complained that our 25th president — assassinated in 1901 — was getting snubbed for political reasons. Supporters of the Denali name, meanwhile, pointed out that McKinley had no connection to the area (he never set foot in Alaska, which became a state almost 60 years after his death).

For me, the controversy is less interesting than the implications for baby name picks.

McKinley has surged as a girls’ name in recent years. After not ranking in the Top 1000 until 2006, it cracked the Top 500 in 2011 and reached Number 381 last year. That means it’s more common than Abby, Carmen, Elle or Helen.

It’s unlikely that parents are picking the name to honor President McKinley (or the mountain even). Instead, they see a name that blends Kinley and McKenzie — two other choices that are trending. It also feels fresher than a name like Lindsey, which had its heyday in the 1980s and ’90s.

Still, the McKinley vs. Denali debate may spill over into baby-naming circles.

Denali was already an increasingly common girls’ name over the past two decades, though it’s much less popular than McKinley. Fifty-five American girls were named Denali last year, keeping it out of the Top 1000.

Perhaps the recent controversy will put Denali in the minds of soon-to-be parents. The name means “the great one,” making it an inspiring choice for either a mountain or a human. The headlines surrounding Obama‘s move may give Denali a boost. (On the other hand, a backlash could work against it.)

In any case, people seeking inspiration from snowy peaks have plenty of other options.

Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, was used as the name for 12 girls and 80 boys last year. (Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas gave it to his daughter, helping put Everest in the spotlight.)

Rocky or Sierra also could be used to pay tribute to famed mountain ranges. Fans of Switzerland have an option as well: The name Alp was used on 15 boys last year.

You could go a little more subtle too — say, by using Brecken to tip your hat to Breckenridge. The name Bear could pay homage to Bear Mountain or the animals that live there. Atlas, meanwhile, may refer to the mythological character or the mountain range in northwestern Africa. (Sadly, Greece’s Olympus doesn’t register in the Social Security Administration’s database; no one sees that one as a valid name.)

Here’s a sampling of mountain-themed picks you might want to consider, along with how many US babies received the names in 2014.

GIRLS

Sierra, 932

McKinley, 850

Aspen, 812

Whitney, 463

Denver, 122

Denali, 55

Brecken, 33

Atlas, 20

Everest, 12

Ande, 10

Vail, 6

BOYS

Atlas, 404

Brecken, 304

Rocky, 208

Denver, 187

Bear, 129

Aspen, 91

Everest, 80

McKinley, 71

Denali, 20

Rainier, 20

Kailash, 17

Pike, 17

Whitney, 14

Alp, 15

Hill, 8

Creston, 7

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About the author

Nick

Nick Turner is a writer and editor living in New York City (by way of San Francisco). He and his wife have successfully named three kids. Follow him on Twitter at @SFNick.
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