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20 Most Controversial Baby Names

20 Most Controversial Baby Names

What are the most controversial baby names?

Be it a polarizing style or a potentially problematic association, we polled our members to reveal the top names parents might just want to do more research into before choosing for their children.

Nominations range from the obviously divisive, like Lucifer or Khaleesi, to others that might surprise you.

Did you know that fashionable choices like Pippa and Poppy, Ziva and Zora all have off-putting meanings in other languages? Or that trendy surname names like Cohen and Blair really divide the crowd?

Read on for 20+ highly controversial names you should be aware of if you’re naming a baby today.

Not all of these have to be a dealbreaker, of course – but it’s always better to be informed!

1. Adonis

Many mythology names feel like a lot to live up to, but Adonis is even more on-the-nose than most. The name of a handsome young lover of Aphrodite in Greek myth, the name has become synonymous with masculine beauty.

Of course, baby Adonis may well grow up to be an Adonis… but it’s a gamble! Despite checking a lot of style boxes right now (it’s currently at #233 in the US), it could be an awkward name to wear for someone who doesn’t fit the dictionary definition.

See also: virtue names, both traditional (Grace, Joy) and modern (Legend, Divine).

Berry @ElrynTheBookdragon comments: “Virtue names like Charity, Modesty, Patience, and even newer expectation-heavy names like Royal, Queen, Princess tend to be pretty polarizing. Some people think they’re putting too much expectation on a child while some like the idea of passing on your values through names.”

2. Azriel

Despite being one of the hottest boy names of the past couple of years – blame that spiky Z and stylish ending sound – Azriel or Azrael is a controversial choice.

The name of the Angel of Death in Jewish and Islamic tradition, it has a heavy backstory that makes it, as @ethelmary puts it: “Usable and cool for some, inappropriate and strange for others.”

Other devilish boy names to beware of: Ares, Azazel, Damian, Hades, Leviathan, Loki and, of course, Lucifer – although 69 baby namers went even that far last year!

3. Blair

Blair is just one of a cool clique of sleek, tailored, preppy surname names that have really picked up in popularity for American baby girls in recent years: see also Sloane, Quinn and Greer. As @SparkleNinja18 notes, it’s a style that “people either love or hate”.

Across the pond in the UK, however, Blair is predominantly masculine and strongly associated with controversial former Primer Minister Tony Blair, dubbed “Tony Bliar” by his detractors.

Other commonly cited associations include cult classic horror film The Blair Witch Project, snooty Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl fame, and the interjection of disgust “bleurgh” or “blech”.

But despite dividing the crowd, Blair is currently riding at an all-time high of #315.

4. Bodhi

There was a time a few years ago when it felt like every second celebrity baby – boy or girl – was named Bodhi. Famous parents who have chosen the name include Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green, Teresa Palmer and Mark Webber, and Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder.

It has since leapt up the baby name charts in the US, going from #939 in 2011 to #284 last year. But its rise has sparked debate over its appropriateness as a baby name.

In Buddhism, bodhi is a state of enlightenment, awakening or insight gained by the Buddha while sitting under a sacred fig tree in Bodh Gaya, India circa 500 BCE.

Its beautiful meaning and bohemian feel is no doubt a big part of the appeal for many parents. But this spiritual significance is exactly what makes Bodhi such a contentious choice, particularly as it is not used as a name in Buddhist culture.

Bode (BOE-dee, as in skier Bode Miller) is a less controversial alternative that’s gaining ground in the US right now.

5. Cohen

The prize for the most hotly debated baby name of all time on the Nameberry forums has to go to Cohen.

A common surname in the Jewish community, it calls to mind famous bearers from legendary musician Leonard Cohen to The O.C.’s Seth Cohen. He catapulted the name from well below the Top 1000 to inside the Top 500 within two years of the series’ debut.

The surname derives from a Hebrew word for “priest” and originally denoted members of the kohanim, important Jewish religious leaders of direct patrilineal descent from Aaron. Its very specific sacred status in Judaism lead some to consider it inappropriate and offensive to use as a baby name, whatever your religious background.

However, Cohen has risen significantly in recent years, boosted by its appealing sound and cool surname style. But its ascent is now starting to slow – perhaps a sign that some parents are thinking twice before choosing such a polarizing baby name.

Other meaningful religious word names with the potential to raise eyebrows: Adonai, Messiah, Saint, Bishop, Prophet, Torah and Veda.

6. Dixie

Often featured on lists of Southern Belle names, Dixie has a considerably more checkered history than the likes of Scarlett, Savannah or Clementine.

As a common shorthand for the eleven states that seceded to form the Confederacy during the American Civil War, Dixie carries heavy historical echoes of slavery and racial segregation.

As a given name, it ranked as high as #167 in 1938, when it featured prominently in popular jazz and folk music of the time. But in recent years, groups and organizations from band The Dixie Chicks (now The Chicks) to Dixie State University (now Utah Tech) have dropped this controversial moniker from their names.

Dixie also belongs to a group of sweet, informal-style names that really divide the crowd. Berry @jujubesun comments: “I feel like everyone has an opinion on nicknamey names! Very often I’ve heard reactions calling them dog names or saying they won’t age well, but a lot of parents are still using them”.

7. Gunner

It may have its origins in a classic Norse name, but to most English speakers Gunner reads as an edgy, modern, hyper-masculine word name.

The violent connotations of Gunner make it even more polarizing than other dynamic options like Wilder or Maverick – particularly in light of the highly politicized debate surrounding gun legislation in the US.

Other gun names to watch include Colt, Cannon, Caliber, Kimber, Remington, Beretta, Trigger, Wesson and Winchester.

Nameberry member @berry-tea observes that these super-macho names could also put pressure on a child to “have no fear and be so tough,” adding: “I think this attitude is potentially quite harmful to a growing child.”

8. Harvey

The year 2017 was not a good one for the name Harvey, which was just starting to enjoy a revival thanks to its genial old-school charm. But then Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of the southern US, and accusations of sexual abuse surfaced against disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Although there are also many positive namesakes, such as politician and gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk, the name still hasn’t fully recovered from this double blow. Many American parents remain worried about the negative associations.

As @berry-tea notes: “It’s unfortunate that a common name, like Jackson, is never asked, ‘oh like Michael?’ or ‘like the place?’ or ‘like guitars?’ because it’s so unlikely that they are named after those well-known things. But as soon as it’s a less popular name, and it sounds more interesting, people think of anything they can to relate it to.”

Still, Harvey has a lot going for it: a stylish sound, retro charm, and widespread familiarity despite ranking below the radar at #420 in the US. We predict a bounceback for Harvey in the future.

9. Honey

Sweet or saccharine? Honey has never really caught on as a given name in the US, although it peaked at #152 in the UK in 2005. But it’s very common as a term of endearment, which is what makes it such a polarizing choice.

“I’ve seen a lot of comments about how it’s a name you wouldn’t want to hear a teacher, boss or stranger call you due to awkwardness,” says @planetnames, “but others think it’s perfectly usable as a first name.”

So-called “cutesy” names were one of the most nominated categories of love/hate baby names among the Nameberry members we surveyed. @Sophie_sawriter comments: “There’s no middle ground I’ve ever seen, it’s either 'name ‘em what you call them’ or ‘at least give an adult name to fall back on’.”

Others in this super-sweet category: Birdie, Buddy, Coco, Dolly, Gigi, Goldie, Kitty, Lulu, Minnie, Pip, Sonny and Teddy.

10. India

Pretty place name India features regularly in birth announcements in upper-crusty British newspapers like the Times or Telegraph. The parents who choose it are drawn to its fashionable sound and quirky, cosmopolitan feel.

But the long history of colonialism and exploitation between India and Great Britain makes it a very divisive choice there.

And even in the US, the appropriateness of using unconnected geographical names like India, Asia, Malaysia or Kenya for babies on the basis of their “exotic” image is up for debate.

For @LostMargaret, even the fashionable nickname Indie doesn’t redeem it. “It gets lots of love on Nameberry, but to me it’s like naming your baby Cool or Trendy. I just can’t not see it as an adjective describing lo-fi rock or coffee shops serving single-origin Ethiopian dark roast or upstart record labels.”

Similarly controversial: Indigenous tribal names such as Dakota, Lakota, Cree, Cheyenne and Cherokee.

11. James

What is such a timeless classic doing on a list of the most controversial baby names? Well, we’re specifically talking about James for a girl.

Famously chosen for their first daughter by Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds in 2014, James quickly took off as one of the girl middle names du jour among celebrities and regular parents alike. It’s a quirkier, edgier alternative to the ubiquitous Rose or Grace.

We recently polled our Instagram followers for their thoughts – and feedback was very divided! Some, like @heymrsdavis, find it cool but overdone: “Liked it at first but it’s definitely the Marie or Anne of this generation.”

Others, like @petrichara, have stronger objections: “It’s so common to use masculine names for girls, and think it’s strong/cool, yet people won’t ever give boys feminine names. Misogyny.”

Other controversial celeb-inspired boy names for girls include Arlo, Dashiel, George, Maxwell, Osian, Wyatt and, most recently, Ed Sheeran’s newborn daughter Jupiter.

12. Jemima

A Biblical classic with a warm sound and literary pedigree, Jemima feels like it should be among the most stylish girl names of the moment – a successor to Jennifer and Jessica.

But in the US, the immediate association for many is the Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix, which until as recently as 2021 featured a strongly stereotyped image of a Black “mammy” character prominently in its marketing.

The products underwent a much-publicized rebrand last year, but unfortunately it will take a lot longer for the racist stereotype to fade from public consciousness.

13. Karen

The undisputed queen of the memes, back in 2020 Karen came out of quiet decline to suddenly pop up all over the internet as “a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman”.

Even the meme itself is controversial, with many pointing out that there isn’t a widely known and used male version of Karen, despite the behavior it describes being far from a female-only phenomenon.

But whatever your stance on Karen the meme, Karen the name has undoubtedly taken a big hit. Still ranking at #660 in 2019, it plummeted to #831 in 2020 and then dropped out of the Top 1000 entirely in 2021, for the first time since 1927.

14. Khaleesi

Khaleesi is something of a cautionary tale when it comes to names from pop culture. It’s always best to wait until a series has definitively ended before naming a baby after your favorite character!

Not a name but a royal title in Dothraki, a language invented by George R. R. Martin for the Game of Thrones universe, Khaleesi ranked as high as #549 in 2018. But the character’s story took a dark turn in the final season the following year, and the name has dropped significantly since then.

@Emarkulics lists “names very distinctly associated with a character” as one of the most polarizing styles – and this doesn’t just apply to modern references like Draco, Elsa, Finnick, Mazikeen, Renesmee, Ursula or Vanellope.

Names like Guinevere, Ophelia and Cain that have tragic backstories dating back centuries or even millennia still feel too loaded for some modern parents.

15. Lilith

It may be one of the fastest rising girl names in the US right now, but Lilith remains a divisive choice, especially in certain faiths and cultures.

Deriving from an Akkadian word meaning “of the night”, Lilith was a demon in Ancient Mesopotamian mythology and the first wife of Adam in Jewish tradition. She was banished from Eden for refusing to submit to him, and their children became the evil sprits of the world.

This heavy history has led many modern parents to view Lilith as a feminist icon, punished for refusing to subordinate herself to a man. But for others, the demonic undertones are just too strong.

Still, at #268 and rising in the US, Lilith is now being rehabilitated alongside Biblical bad girl Delilah, boosted by its fashionable sound and pop culture usage from Supernatural to True Blood.

And other controversial Bible names for girls, like Salome, Athaliah and even Jezebel, are starting to follow suit.

16. Nevaeh

Completely unknown until the late 1990s, Nevaeh was chosen by musician Sonny Sandoval in 2000 and instantly became one of the fastest rising baby names in American history. It went from 8 births in 1999 to well over 1000 births in 2001 – leading critics to dismiss it as “trendy” and likely to “date badly”.

A modern invention created by spelling “heaven” backwards, Nevaeh has since taken on a life of its own, spawning spelling variants including Neveah, Nevayah, Nevaeha and Neviah.

Ambiguous or creative spellings are one of the most controversial categories with the members we surveyed. As @Sophie_sawriter comments: “It’s either ‘the kid has to be able to find it on a personalized key chain rack’ or ‘we want it to be unique like our child’. I’ve never seen a middle ground.”

17. Nixon

On the face of it, Nixon should be a hit. It has the fashionable two-syllable, ends-in-N shape of top boy names like Mason, Logan and Nolan. And soundwise it would make a great unusual alternative to popular Jackson/Jaxon, without the ambiguity around spelling.

But controversial former president Richard Nixon has kept this otherwise appealing name from ever ranking above #482 in the US.

Names with strong political connotations are always a big risk. Views and values change, children’s politics don’t always line up with their parents, and there’s always the possibility of an embarrassing scandal coming to light, even years later.

Other names whose political associations are hard to break: Reagan, Clinton, Donald, Rudy, Hillary, Thatcher, Winston, Indira, Fidel, Franco and, of course, Adolf.

18. Pippa

This peppy nickname for Philippa is often given as a name in its own right in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. It has a cute but classy air, personified by its most famous bearer Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge.

But if you love to travel – or think your daughter might – beware! Pippa has seriously unappealing slang meanings in multiple European languages, including Swedish, Italian and Polish.

Other names that suffer the same fate include Poppy, which sounds like the word for “butt” in Russian, Ziva, which can mean “gonorrhea” in modern Hebrew, and Zora, which is a little too close for comfort to the Spanish zorra, a slur meaning “prostitute”.

And then there are the English names whose meanings vary wildly based on region, like Randy, Fanny, Willy or Wally.

Some parents prefer to avoid undesirable name meanings altogether, however subtle. Berry @emeraldsea says: “I’ve even seen comments that Calvin and Cecilia aren't usable because of their meanings of ‘bald’ and ‘blind’ respectively. I find it really interesting how meanings come in to play when people choose a name. Some people really care and others don’t so much!”

19. Rex

Baby name trends often lag a few years behind dog name trends, as people opt to use their guilty pleasure names or braver favorites on pets rather than human babies. But after a few more years of exposure, names like Charlie and Milo, Sadie and Luna start to feel totally usable.

Some names, however, have a harder time escaping their animal associations, and classic dog name Rex tops the list. Other so-called “dog names” nominated include Max, Rufus, Bruno, Duke and Bella.

Common cat names include Felix, Simba, Cleo and Tabitha, while quirky flower names like Clover and Primrose, Bluebell and Blossom are often associated with cows.

20. Saoirse

Until recently a one-person name outside of Ireland, actress Saoirse Ronan has given her lovely name a big boost in the US. There are now over 300 American baby girls named Saoirse each year.

Pronounced SEER-sha, SUR-sha or SAIR-sha depending on dialect, it means “freedom” in Irish Gaelic and was first used as a name in the 1920s, when Ireland gained independence from the United Kingdom. A century later, Saoirse retains its connection to Irish republicanism, being the name of a monthly magazine published by the political party Sinn Féin.

Saoirse, even more than other Gaelic names, is contentious due to its very specific cultural roots. But Irish names in general – and their spelling – is a common point of debate on the Nameberry forums.

@almostactually observes: “If it’s spelled traditionally (Aoibhe, Caoimhe, Fiadh, Niamh), commenters chime in that it shouldn’t be used because it’s difficult to spell and pronounce, and it also raises the question of whether it’s even appropriate for a person from another culture to use. If the spelling is changed to follow phonetic patterns or typical pronunciation patterns in English (EvaKeevaFia, Neve), it can be seen as making the name less authentic or Anglicizing something that shouldn’t be.”

More Controversial Baby Names

About the Author

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse joined the team in 2017, writing about everything from the baby names to watch in 2022 to how not to choose the next big baby name. As Nameberry's head moderator, she also helps to keep our active forums community ticking. A linguist by background, Emma speaks several languages and lives in England's smallest county with her husband and four young children. You can reach her at emma@nameberry.com.