Why Are Parents Choosing “Evil” Names?
The latest attempt? In the most recent sitting of the Icelandic Naming Committee, the panel rejected the baby name Lúsífer, which they found inappropriate.
If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. They rejected the spelling Lucifer just a few months ago, and Lusifer (with no accents) is also off-limits in Iceland. Appropriate or not, there’s clearly ongoing interest in using this name, maybe inspired by the TV show Lucifer, with its likeable crime-fighting hero.
In the States (and other countries such as Canada, the UK and Ireland) the laws around baby naming are much more relaxed, which lets us see how many parents are really using names with a wicked reputation. The figures for Lucifer suggest that TV has indeed had an impact: in
2015, before the show started, 7 boys got the name. In 2018, after three seasons, it had risen to 26 boys. Yet it remains a name that provokes strong reactions, and even name experts categorically advise against it.
What makes parents choose Lucifer, and other names of dark and demonic figures? Here are some possible reasons, plus a poll for you at the end.
We know that pop culture makes waves in the baby name pool – just ask the thousands of parents who named their daughters Khaleesi. So we shouldn’t be surprised that a TV character named Lucifer is followed by a rise in baby Lucifers.
Another example: Azrael. Traditionally an angel of death, the name may be more familiar as a DC comic character and friend of Batman. This could explain why it has tripled in use in the last six years.
Should parents feel free to use the names of characters they see on screen? Or do you think they should consider the name’s wider background?
The baby name landscape is changing. There’s an ever-growing trend towards names that are individual and unusual, and some names that once seemed wild, grandiose and burdensome are now commonplace. Who’d have guessed that Maverick, Legend and Journey would ever be in the Top 300?
Within these trends, names from mythology and religion are fair game, including those from the dark side. With the likes of Apollo and Orion rising fast, it’s not surprising some parents turn to lesser-used gods like Hades (given to 13 boys in 2018).
Aesthetic appeal counts for a lot. Generally, parents only use “evil” names if they sound like names that are already popular. That’s no doubt why Leviathan, a biblical sea monster that could be mistaken for a mashup of Levi + Jonathan, is on a sharp rise, and why Lilith – which sounds like a member of the Lily family of names – is more popular than Lamia.
Likewise, it’s surely no coincidence that the name Demon reached peak popularity (with 35 boys) at the same time as Damon, in the mid-1970s. Lots of parents want a name that sounds stylish but a little bit different, and sometimes “different” equals “demonic”.
Names are only taboo because of their cultural meaning. So if you come from a culture where a name doesn’t have a bad association (but does have a cool sound), it makes total sense that you might use it.
Morrígan, for example, was once an Irish goddess of battle and death. But for hundreds of years she’s been more of a literary figure, so her name feels almost as usable as Maeve or Deirdre – as it did to 47 parents in 2018. Even Cain has lost his sting in secular society. The bible’s first murderer, sometimes considered an ancestor of monsters like Grendel in Beowulf, is number 863 on the US popularity charts.
We live in such a diverse world, it’s inevitable that some names will appear in multiple languages and cultures with different associations. Mara is a demonic king in Buddhist tradition, but it’s also a legitimate version of Mary, and a creative name from the same mould as Lara and Tara. Kali is the Hindu goddess of destruction, but also a reasonable alternative spelling of Callie, especially if it’s short for a K-name like Karolina.
Would you avoid these names because of their dark connections? Or are their other origins more important?
Ultimately, it’s a question of risk assessment (glamorous, I know). How much offence is the name likely to cause to people your child might encounter? How would you handle the reactions? Do your reasons for using the name outweigh the demons?
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on February 7th, 2020 at 2:39 pm
In the Jewish tradition, there are names that rabbinical consensus will not approve as Hebrew names, and I think, speaking for myself, those are names that I’d mostly avoid. I can’t understand at all why someone would want to name their child Cain or Jezebel or Ahab.
My ex-husband (who was not Jewish) had a cousin named Dathan, and I was flabbergasted. Even in American culture, why would you name a kid after the villain in Cecil B. DeMille’s horrible The Ten Commandments??
I’m old-fashioned, I guess, viewing names as honorifics (my children were named, in the Ashkenazi tradition, after family members) or tribute names. (But I reserve literary tribute names for my cats.)
on February 8th, 2020 at 9:17 pm
I don’t care for these names personally, but I have a very, very close friend who would absolutely give names like this to her future kids. So these are the rules I have planned for her. 😉
1) If people in your culture won’t recognize the meaning of the name, it can go on the Maybe list. So Morrigan is okay, but Demon is not.
2) “Forces of nature” can go on the Maybe list, but Consciously Evil Entities are automatic noes. Lucifer intentionally rebelled. The Leviathan was a giant monster. There’s a difference. There’s a reason Adolf is no longer popular.
3) You have to do the Starbucks test with the name.
4) You have to pick two people, plus your partner, to give feedback on the name. None of this “hide the name until the baby’s born”, if you’re going with a truly controversial name you need to be able to convince people it’s a good idea. If you can’t convince these people it’s a good choice, you gotta take the L.
5) If you are going to use this name, by golly I won’t be stopped, none of you understand the deep and precious connection I have with the name Khaleesi, then consider the middle name spot.
My qualms are with names that put too much pressure on a person. Naming a girl Chastity is mean, although not as mean as naming her Harpy, y’know?
on February 15th, 2020 at 4:02 pm
I think Carmilla is pretty cool, what with its similarity to Camila and its ilk. There’s even a webseries focusing on this vampire in college life, even entering a relationship with one of the main characters, Laura.
Abby Sandel Said
on February 18th, 2020 at 11:41 am
I think it’s hard to move beyond our own preferences and reactions to imagine how a name might be perceived by the wider world.
That’s why Lucifer is a “no” for me – no matter an individual parent’s beliefs, it would be burdensome for the child. Same with Adolf.
Beyond those clear, bright lines, though? If the name is familiar – in the US Top 1000 – I’m more likely to see it as wearable. The challenge with obscure names is that they have to be explained. So if you’ve got a great backstory for Azrael or Hades, I think that’s different than picking it just for sound.
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