Modern Hero Names: Monroe Is Just The Beginning

I was sitting here last week, making a list of what I was thinking of as Modern Hero Names – you know, like Palin and Winslet – when the news came in about the names Mariah Carey had chosen for her newborn twins. She’d given her daughter the Old Man Name of Monroe, she said, to honor one of her heroines, Marilyn Monroe.

Bingo. I’d been hesitating a bit about whether this was a real trend, but Carey’s choice confirmed it. There’s a new generation of Modern Hero Names that are, typically, surnames and that honor heroes and heroines who may not have been considered baby-worthy before now.

Not only do the namesakes need to be surprising and cool; their names have to be too. So we’re going to disqualify choices like Armani, Chanel, Kennedy, and Lincoln that are feeling a bit too familiar these days.

Modern Hero Names we’ve heard:

BardotDavid Boreanaz put French screen siren Brigitte’s last name on the map when he chose it for his daughter.

Bowie – Are parents honoring rocker David Bowie or do they just like this Western-sounding name? Whichever: Three times as many baby boys received the name in 2010 as 2009 and 19 baby girls were called Bowie too.

Edison – As a Thomas Edison fan, I’m delighted to find this surname gaining favor among parents appreciative of one of our greatest geniuses.

Ellington – Musician Duke is a suave modern hero whose name sounds stylish and right for both boys and girls; used as a middle name by Cyntha Nixon for her son Max.

Finch – To Kill A Mockingbird hero Atticus Finch’s first name is newly groovy but we spot Finch on the horizon too.

HarlowNicole Richie made this surname of the original Platinum Blonde, Jean Harlow, into a modern first name.

HendrixJimi’s last name is a fresh, cool spin on Henry.

Jagger — Not one but two celebrities have given their children Rolling Stone Mick‘s last name as a first.  Jagger Jonathan is the son of Lindsay Davenport and Jagger Joseph Blue is the daughter of Soleil Moon Fry.

Jeter – Yankee great Derek’s last name was given to nearly 50 boys last year, up 20 percent over the year before. A new alternative to Peter?

KingMartin Luther’s last name is on the rise, given to 57 more baby boys in 2010 than the pervious year.

Landry – Legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry has spawned a legion of little boys and nearly as many girls – 230 and 208 last year — with his last name as their first.

LennonPatsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher have a son, now 10, named Lennon after John Lennon. There were over 200 boys and nearly 80 girls named Lennon in 2010, along with nearly 50 boys called Lenin – who is a whole different namesake.

— So…your husband wants to name your son after a football video game? Actually, John Madden was a pro football player turned coach turned sports commentator, and Joel Madden is a rocker who fathered Nicole Richie‘s famous children, so maybe he wants to name your son after one of them.

Monroe – After the President who proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine? Naaaaah. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon chose Monroe for their daughter in honor of Marilyn Monroe.

Palin – Twenty five baby girls were named Palin last year, the same number (for perspective), as were called Philippa, Mamie, and Nazareth.

PresleyElvis may have dropped off the Top 1000, but there were nearly 1200 girls named Presley along with over 100 boys.

Radley – Undoubtedly not all of the 50 boys and 5 girls who were named Radley last year are called after To Kill A Mockingbird’s Boo, but a few of them certainly were.

Rockne – We hadn’t really pegged Rockne, surname of football coach KnuteWin One for the Gipper” Rockne, as a New Hero Name, but how else did five boys get that name last year?

Rohmer – Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh and writer/director Noah Baumbach chose this name for their son, in honor of French director Eric Rohmer.

WinsletWinslet, as in actress Kate, may not show up on the Social Security list yet, but we’ve heard rumors that people are considering it as a baby name. Winslow and Winston, the first names of painter Homer and politician Churchill, are also in use.

Heard any others? Or can you think of any others you’d use?

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39 Responses to “Modern Hero Names: Monroe Is Just The Beginning”

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Stefanie Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 3:07 am

Speaking of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper, a la the book’s author, Harper Lee, has become super popular.

Abby Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 6:15 am

The Jolie-Pitts gave Shiloh her middle name, Nouvel, after the French architect, right? That’s the one that always springs to mind.

I’m hearing a lot of Harlow – it is really catching on. And Winslet, too.

Maybe I’m watching too much 30 Rock, but does Reagan count?

Jesba Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 6:51 am

Anniston and Jolie both come to mind. Hopefully never as sisters! Not sure the numbers, must be low, but I feel like they’re on the radar suddenly.

Cupoclark Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:01 am

I choose to believe the babies named Palin have Monty Python fans for parents.

pam Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:03 am

Anniston and Jolie — how could I have forgotten? Excellent. Nouvel is a good one but I chose not to include that because I figured it was too iconoclastic — but it certainly fits the theme. Harper, no, because it’s also HER first name.

And Cupoclark: hahaha

Tarat3232 Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:15 am

I love this (not the trend really, but that we are talking about it!) There were 7 little boys named “Swayze” in 2010. There were also 6 boys named “Ringo.” And 14 named Zoltan…..anyone else remember this from Dude, Where’s my Car?

daisy Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:26 am

I know two babies named Manning, after the football playing brothers. However, I’m a patriots fan, and I know that Tom Brady is responsible for all the little boy Bradys of course 🙂

pam Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:29 am

Brady, yes!! That’s a perfect one. Swayze and Manning: wow.

ycw Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:41 am

Jeter is not an alternative to Peter. Not in the same league at all. Pun not intended.

For a while I was in a group of moms due in December (my son was born December 11, 2009) and one mom in the group named her daughter Lennon.

And I’ve been wondering for a while when Palin would catch on. It’s a surname and it ends in -lin. Sounds a lot like Peyton too. I like the politician but I’m not fond of the name… but I can see the appeal. Reagan is nice too, Abby, on either gender.

pam Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 8:08 am

Agreed on Jeter-Peter, ycw. And Abby, forgot to comment on Reagan and 30 Rock — it’s hilarious but think Reagan has been around too long, in honor of the president and not, to qualify. Ditto Kennedy, Roosevelt, even Lincoln. At some point it crosses over and ceases to signify the hero (unless they point it out every other sentence on TV) and just becomes a name, don’t you think?

ycw Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 8:18 am

I think Reagan and Lincoln are still sometimes (but not always) hero names, but I wouldn’t call them modern hero names at this point.

I tend to like names for more than just their sounds. My boy is Peter, and Jeter and Peter just don’t seem similar to me–nor do June and Jane, or Eve and Niamh. Others are much more attracted to sounds of names, so Isla, Kyla, and Lilah might seem equally attractive to them… whereas I might have trouble deciding among Rebecca, Leah, Rhoda, and Elizabeth 🙂

Sara A. Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 8:23 am

But wouldn’t it just suck if you thought you’d found the perfect Shakespeare name for your daughter, only to have everyone think you’re a fan of one of the worst presidents of the past hundred years?

Reagan was one of the daughters in King Lear, and one of the most wearable names he’s crafted. It’s not overly feminine and has few character associations.

ycw Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 8:26 am

I think of Regan as the Shakespearean name, whereas Reagan makes me think of the president (but could also be an Irish name, or a family surname).

Dotsmom Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 8:51 am

Redford. Love it.

Speaking of which, why not Newman?

names4real Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 9:29 am

Ha! I know cousins named Manning and Swayzee, although in this case Swayzee is a girl. 🙂

I did a post on this a while back, although I focused more on the Hollywood heroes like Brando, Clooney, & Gable.

And I agree that once a name gets popular it loses its namesake like Lincoln, Kennedy, and so on.

I’m working on a combined spellings popularity list and if you added up all the Anniston, Anniston, and so on, she would be in the Top 1000. Currently, she stands at #481.

Lola Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 9:46 am

Harlow makes me think harlot everytime I see it, quite unfortunate.

But I’m generally not a fan of surname names up front, especially on girls, where it seems really super trendy to me. I’d much rather see most of these in the middle (and Palin, not at all, thanks!)

My heroes are long, long dead ones and usually church or myth related too, as well as masculine: Anselm, Bede & Remus/Remy. I keep my girls family related. My heroes are my great Aunts, Parents and my MIL! You’ll never see me with Monroe or Harlot, I mean Harlow on a girl. Bah!

Whitney Gigandet Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 10:24 am

I’m a Miami Dolphins fan, and I have always loved the name Marino – after Dan Marino – for a boy!

corsue Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 11:26 am

Seriously, Reagan the worst president of the past 100 years? Get political at odd times much? I’ve got to take issue with calling most of these people heroes. I agree they’re icons, but most of them are just celebrities and no where near hero status.

Other Carolyn Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 11:59 am

I tend to agree with Sara A. re: Reagan, but regardless of your political opinion, it brings up a good point. If you name a child Reagan, some people are going to assume it’s after the president, and some people are going to have a very negative reaction to that (Reagan is the only president to consistently make both best and worst president lists). It’s definitely something to keep in mind when choosing a name, probably no matter what country you live in. (Children named Thatcher would have similar problems in the UK).

In other news, I like several of the people on this list, but none of the names. I can’t say I understand this surnames-as-first-names trend at all. They just look clunky and uninspired to me…

kgcg31 Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 1:16 pm


I had a feeling Aniston (Anniston, Annistyn) was more popular than it seems. I have met little girls under two with the name. (One spelled Aniston, the other Anniston)

And I have to say . . . I think Winslet is gorgeous. I am not usually a fan of surnames on girls . . . But, with it’s soft, whimsical sound, I think Winslet is just lovely.

Claire Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

This is fun! Here’s a list of “hero” names that I found on the 2009 SSA list for boys. Some of them are pretty out there, but my I love Dillinger, Cobain and Mattingly. I could see them catching on for either gender.

Gehrig (Lou)
Gere (Richard)
Deniro (Robert)
Dre (Dr.)
Vedder (Eddie)
Strummer (Joe)
Mcgwire (Mark)
Brosnan (Pierce)
Cobain (Kurt)
Autry (Gene)
Dillinger (John)
Manson (Marilyn)
Ledger (Heath)
Ventura (Jesse)
Mattingly (Don)
Reznor (Trent)
Davinci (Leonardo)
Brolin (James or Josh)
Stalin (Josef)
Heston (Charlton)
Geffen (David)
Beckham (David)

anniebee Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Agreed on Reagan bringing up politics regardless of the parents’ intention. I guess the alternate is an Exorcist reference, which is worse!

In Tennessee, there are a ton of Peytons and Elis (probably a bunch of those sib-sets too!) because Peyton played for the Vols in college.

I believe Landry may be a shout out to Friday Night Lights, on which one of the characters is named Landry – probably a real reference to Tom Landry in that case.

I like Winston for Winston Churchill, Georgia and Jackson after the artists, and Porter after Cole Porter. But speaking as the girlfriend of someone who was named after a rockstar, I think it’s lame to explain to people that the name was an homage to a rockstar, unless you really want to underscore your priorities in such a way.

Jen Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I really like Hepburn for a girl after both Katherine and Audrey Hepburn.

corsue Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I think there are a lot of controversial names on the list/comments from which I would stay completely away (ex. Lennon, Palin, McGuire, Cobain). Why make a kid go through that? IMO, you should always take into consideration famous people with the same name because, fair or not, your kid is going to be judged, in part, by that association. Obviously, you can’t make everyone happy, but why not try to avoid obvious controversial names (even if you really like the name) so your kid doesn’t have to deal with that the rest of their lives.

pam Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Lots of interesting comments. Claire, thank you so much for pulling that list together. Very illuminating. I hope none of those little Mansons are named after Charles.

lemon Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Claire – Are you serious? Gehrig and Stalin were on the 2009 SSA list for boys? Gehrig would certainly get disease comments, no? And Stalin? Wow. A lot of people are up in arms about Reagan, and it just goes to show that if you use a political figure’s name, whether they be heroic or not, you’re going to get mixed reviews.

What is a “hero” anyway? I did a Google search of heroes in history and came up with (Florence) Nightingale, (John) Bunyan, (David) Livingstone, (George Washington) Carver, etc. Do I agree with all of those? No. But, could I see a kid being named any of those? Sure, well, maybe not Bunyan (bunion?), but the others, potentially. What about Einstein? Eh, that might be a little too ironic if the kid turns out to be, well, a dunce. Gandhi? Cool. What about explorers? Columbus, Magellan, Cabot? Curie? Wright? For the brothers, not Robin, though I guess it could go both ways. Newton? That could honor Isaac or fig cookies! I think a “hero” is what you make it, so this list could change depending on who makes it…

M Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Boreanz and wife changed their baby name to Bella after finding out Bardot has gotten a little controversial in her golden years.

I hope anyone who named their baby girl Palin doesn’t actually live in Alaska, state with the highest per capita forcible rape rate in the country and tops with sexual assault against children and domestic violence against women.

Claire Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

@lemon Compiling that list left me both shocked and very entertained.

Columbus and Magellan, I love these! I used Magellan in my email address when I was younger, but as a name? Maybe…

Leslie Owen Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Please remember that Harper Lee’s first name is Nelle, after her grandmother Ellen, and that’s what she was originally called….Like the Willis’s naming their daughter Rumer when her name was Margaret and she hated the name Rumer….or naming your kid after my cousin Dashiell Hammett and then pronouncing it wrong.

I agree about surnames. As a Leslie, which originally was a surname, I would have preferred having a more normal, feminine name. That’s why my daughter was Kate after Hepburn (and her great-grandmother Katarine) not Hepburn.

And King Lear is full of great names: Cordelia, Edmund, Edgar, Thomas….much better than Regan.

Jenny Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I remember Jeter from high school Spanish, but there we pronounced it “Hay-tair”. But, you know, softer and more Spanishy.

Regan has associations for me. “Ungrateful daughter” is not the character archetype I want a my own kids associating with.

@Dotsmom – I see Newman, and all I think of is Seinfeld. This is perhaps the answer to your question.

Stephie656 Says:

May 10th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Everytime something is amiss in my life – I miss a cab, I can’t find a shoe – I say under my breath, jut like Seinfeld did, “Newman..!”

tarynkay Says:

May 11th, 2011 at 7:33 am

I have a cousin named Reagan- she is a brilliant and beautiful girl, and wears her name well. But when my aunt named her (back in the 1980s) we did all ask, “like the president?” My aunt said, “No, like the daughter in King Lear.” And we said, “You mean the BAD daughter?” And she said, “Oops…” Despite the associations, Reagan is still more wearable than Goneril. Cordelia might be a better option though, if you want people to think of Shakespeare.

Stephie656 Says:

May 14th, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Also… Maddow and Brinkley are great for girls.

Abby Says:

May 15th, 2011 at 11:54 am

M, is that true about Bardot/Bella?! I’m intrigued …

Sunday Summary: 5/15/11 | Appellation Mountain Says:

May 15th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

[…] How did I miss this?  David Boreanaz and wife Jamie had everyone talking when they named their daughter Bardot Vita.  Only they never called her Bardot.  They call her Bella, and apparently have made the change legally, too.  (Though it looks like they added Bella, so she’s Bella Vita Bardot.)  Hat tip to M for mentioning it on the Nameberry post about Modern Hero Names. […]

pam Says:

May 15th, 2011 at 12:59 pm

The Bella-Bardot thing is fascinating — thanks so much for finding that and letting us know about it, M. Is this a new publicity tactic: Tell everyone you’ve chosen outrageous name for child, but really call child by secret “normal” name? Do Ashlee and Pete really call little Bronx something like Ben or Bobby? Is Moxie Crimefighter known to her friends and family as Mary Catherine?

Or is it that what sounds cool and great when the child is in the womb seems confusing and, uh, dumb once you are living with the real live baby?

And Abby, this puts me in mind of your question on why Louisianna Ray is called “Lewi” along with another issue I’ve noticed on our forums: Why pick a really distinctive or even outrageous name like Bardot or Louisianna and reduce it to something everyday like Bella or Lewi? I can see wanting to give a child a more accessible nickname but you can go too far, when Persephone becomes Penny, for example. I may have to blog about this!

iris1973 Says:

May 17th, 2011 at 12:46 am

Lear’s Regan wasn’t a nice daughter (supremely nasty, in fact). And the other thing that comes to mind for that name is the child in the Exorcist. Both are negative allusions, regardless of ones politics, so I don’t think you’d want to make it a literary reference, should you choose the name.

For my “hero” name, I choose Beckett. It’s in my Top 5. I’m not sure why it’s gotten so popular for the masses; but for me, a theatre professor, it’s after Samuel Beckett, the playwright.

iris1973 Says:

May 17th, 2011 at 12:48 am

Pam, I just watched the newer version of Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Theatre, and there was a character named Persephone – called Persie by most. I kind of liked it, though I understand your point.

naviz Says:

July 22nd, 2011 at 9:55 am

We named our son born May 8th Felix Newton. Newton to honor Sir Isaac. I do call him “my little fig newton” every once in awhile! 🙂

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