Menu

Why Are Parents Choosing “Evil” Names?

February 7, 2020 Clare Green
Boy dressed up with devil horns

Names with negative meanings are not top of every parent’s list. But each year, hundreds of new babies get names that some would consider controversial at best, downright devilish at worst.

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.

Pop culture

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?

Changing tastes

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).

Trendy sounds

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”.

Culture change

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.

There are also names that we see in a different light nowadays. Take Lilith again, the first wife of Adam by some traditions. Feminism has rebranded her as not a demon, but a strong woman.

Coincidence

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?

About the author

Clare Green

Clare Green writes Nameberry's weekly round-up of the latest baby name news, including celebrity announcements, unusual naming stories, and new statistics from around the world . Clare, who has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, lives in England, where she has worked in libraries and studies linguistics. You can follow her personally on Instagram and Twitter.

View all of Clare Green's articles

Comments

4 Responses to “Why Are Parents Choosing “Evil” Names?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.