How Archer Affects Baby Names

Tonight the newest season of Archer debuts on television.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it’s basically James Bond in cartoon form.  The eponymous character does everything you would expect 007 to do, but with more vulgarity.  For most of the series, he works for a spy organization called ISIS (this changed when the conflict in the Middle East erupted).  His mother is his boss and the show’s equivalent of M.  Also working in the organization are a plethora of lively characters who are sometimes even more insane than Archer or his mother (note: Krieger).  Yet despite being the farthest thing from family-friendly, the show has actually managed to affect baby names.  A few names from the show have become more popular since its inception in 2009. 

My popularity analysis of the character names:

Archer: This name hadn’t even been in the American top 1000 since 1889.  The year the show hit the airwaves, Archer reentered the rankings with a ranking of #681 – impressive!  Admittedly the name was starting to build traction in the earlier years of the 2000s, but probably as an occupational name.  Still, there’s no denying that the series has catapulted Archer back into general use.  In 2014, it ranked at #303 with over 1,000 uses.  I project that it will climb further in the 2015 data. 

Sterling: This is Archer’s first name.  Sterling has the rare distinction of being in the top 1000 every year since 1880, but Archer has definitely affected its usage.  Sterling had his lowest-ever ranking of #897 in 2009, but has been climbing back ever since.  In 2014, this came in at #505, and I project that it will rise further.

Lana: Archer works with another spy, Lana Kane, with whom he eventually has a child.  This name doesn’t necessarily appear to be affected that much by the show, as it actually declined in popularity for a couple years afterwards.  But, the past couple of years it’s started to rebound.  So, it’s possible.

Cyril: Cyril Figgis is an office-worker who used to date Lana.  Cyril is currently a rare name in the U.S., and looking at usage data it doesn’t appear to be rising or falling.  He might be a namesake for a few children, but even so the show has had negligible effects on this appellation.  If anything, the name has stabilized in the range of 40-50 uses per annum.

Cheryl: Cheryl Tunt is an insane office-worker who happens to be a multi-millionaire. Cheryl fell out of popularity years ago, and continues to decline in usage.  It appears that there were a few more Cheryls in 2010 than 2009, but otherwise the show hasn’t affected popularity.

Pam: Pam is the human resources person, and absolutely hilarious.  But, as far as I can find, there’s no known record of any Pams born since the 1990s.

Krieger: Dr. Krieger is a mad German-Brazilian scientist who has a holographic Japanese wife and finds out that he’s one of several clones.  I have found no evidence of any baby Kriegers.

Ray: Like Archer and Lana, Ray is a field agent.  Ray is actually still popular, but is declining.  Like Sterling, it also has the distinction of being perpetually in the American top 1000.  However, Archer has little to no affect on usage here.

Malory: Malory is Sterling Archer’s middle name and his mother’s first name.  This name isn’t popular anymore, and if I can see anything it’s that Archer’s mother has actually made this name even *less* popular.  If you’re as familiar with the character as I am, it’s really not surprising.

If you’re interested in seeing the numbers yourself, I looked at these two awesome websites, Behind the Name and Nancy’s Baby Names.  Both use the SSA data that is publicly accessible to everyone.


Data Limitations and Double-Barrel Names

Those of us who study names tend to rely on public data produced by our countries of interest.  I primarily study American names; hence, I use the popularity info that the Social Security Administration publishes and updates each May.  But, I’m also very much interested in British naming practices, and so if I want to look at data for England and Wales, I can look at the info dispersed by the Office of National Statistics.  Scotland, oddly enough, produces data separate of those two, as does Northern Ireland.  Unfortunately I must admit that I know comparatively little about trends outside of the U.S. and Britain, and even my knowledge of British name popularity is limited.  My expertise revolves around the American national data.

I was spurred to write this post after seeing another blogger’s post, which mentioned what I call compound names.  Not sure if that’s the right term for them, but I understand compound names as those like Annabeth, Maryanne, and Rosemarie.  These are all mostly accepted as names in their own right, but you may notice that they are comprised of two separate names each – Anna+Beth, Mary+Anne, Rose+Marie.  But let me ask you this – is Maryanne just that or perhaps Mary-Anne?

If you look at American data, Mary-Anne doesn’t technically exist.  Sure, there are likely lots of Mary-Annes out there.  However, the data doesn’t accept hyphens.  This also means that Lily-Rose will appear as Lilyrose, Mary-Elizabeth as Maryelizabeth, and so on.  Interestingly enough, English and Welsh data does make the distinction.  From what I hear, hyphenated names (also known as “double-barrel”) are common enough in the UK to list Olivia-Rose as Olivia-Rose

The American data also doesn’t show apostrophes or other diacritical marks, yet many of us have met people with apostrophes in their names.  The data also only recognizes the first capitalized letter of a name, so RosaLinda actually appears as Rosalinda.  What the American data does differentiate is unique spelling; as a result, one can expect every single variation of Caitlin to appear as a separate name.  

Other limitations occur when the name consists of only one letter.  If and when those names occur, they won’t show up in the public data.  We’ll never know how many people there are just named “A” or “E.”  It takes two to tango, and it takes two letters to appear.  Numbers are utterly verboten.   

The biggest limitation is that excepting a few years in the 1880s, the SSA only publishes the data for names receiving 5 or more uses in a year.  This is considered a privacy protection.  Regarding historical research, another major limitation revolves around card distribution.  Many people born before 1937 died before they could apply for SS, and for a long time certain occupations (i.e., in agriculture or domestic work) were excluded from the program. 

Elegant Edward, the Not-So-Sparkly

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 1 : le roi Édouard le Confesseur

King Edward the Confessor, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry with Harold Godwinson

Long before Twilight imprinted the image of vampires upon us, Edward was (and still is) a classic, royal English name.  With Anglo-Saxon origins, it is one of the oldest native names in the English-language lexicon.  Respectively, its roots ead and weard mean something like “wealth” and “guard.”  A fitting name then, for the countless nobles and kings who’ve borne the name over the centuries.  Edward is also one of the few names to have been one of the top 1000 American names every year since 1880 – the earliest year for which the Social Security Administration provides its birth/name data.  It is also one of the few Anglo-Saxon names to have survived the Norman Conquest of 1066Supposedly, this is because of high-regard for St. Edward the Confessor, the king who pledged his throne to William I.  Though, for some reason the nomenclature for kings Edward I-VIII only includes the kings post-Conquest.

I was introduced to this name through Jane Austen, not Stephenie Meyer.  I was six or seven when the Harry Potter movies came out, and at some point Alan Rickman (may he rest in peace) became one of my favorite actors because I distinctly remember repeatedly watching the 1995 film rendition of Sense and Sensibility to catch yet another glimpse of the man who played Severus Snape.  However, Hugh Grant played another romantic interest – Edward Ferrars.  That entire movie instilled me with a love for classic, English names like Margaret, yet no name from that story captured my mind the way Edward did.   To be fair, Hugh Grant does tend to play the heartthrob.  Years later, I became a fan of another Edward – Edward Fairfax Rochester, love interest of the eponymous Jane Eyre.

The Twilight character Edward Cullen makes me less likely to use the name, honestly.  I don’t hate Twilight.  I have issues with the series, but in fact I like many of the names Ms. Meyer named her characters, and am glad her series brought a few old-fashioned names like Rosalie and Jasper back into relative popularity.  What I dislike is the way so many people now associate the name Edward primarily with glittery vampires.  Edward did increase in popularity briefly after Twilight was filmed, but now I think the series might ultimately be helping its usage decline in the long-run.  

If you have difficulty getting past the vampire associations, there are other “Ed” names that you can consider.  Edmund, Edgar, Edric, and Edwin are all good choices.  But if sparkles don’t deter you, reclaim Edward!

On Celtic Names

Many Americans have Celtic ancestry.  In a modern sense, we usually think of “Celtic” as referring to Irish, Scottish, or Welsh.  However, it also can encompass Cornish, Breton, and Manx. 

Growing up, I knew plenty of Ryans, Kevins, and Caitlins I also can say I knew of an Aidan and an EilidhMackenzie was another I would sometimes hear, along with the once extremely popular Cornish name Jennifer (cognate of the literary names Guinevere and Ginevra).  Celtic-derived names were everywhere.

You may have noticed that all the boys’ names I mentioned are basically Irish in origin.  Irish and Scottish Gaelic (Eilidh falling in the latter category) are notoriously difficult for most English speakers to spell and pronounce.  If you can figure them out, however, you’re potentially looking at an incredibly unique and distinctive name.

I plan on posting more on Celtic names in the future.  For now, here are just a few of my favorites:

Briallen – Welsh.  I’ve read it’s supposed to be pronounced “Brie-AHSH-en” but I think the phonetic “Brie-ah-len” will work just fine (and indeed, better) for American ears.

Blodwen – Welsh

Bronwen – Welsh.  Pronounce it as you see it.  From my research Bronwyn is more commonly used in the U.S.  However, in Welsh, names ending in “-wyn” are considered masculine, and “-wen” are feminine.  Americans mostly view Bronwyn as feminine. 

Caoimhe (pr. like Keeva) – Irish and Scottish

Ceridwen – Welsh.  Pronounced with a hard “c” sound, as in “care.”

Fionnuala, Fionnuaghla – Irish and Scottish.  I’m personally not sure about pronunciation, but Finola and Fenella are English forms. 

Kerensa – Cornish

Niamh (rhymes with Eve) – Irish

Nolwenn – Breton

Rhiannon – Welsh mythology.  Americans started using this name in the 1970s because of  the Fleetwood Mac song.

Saoirse (pr. Seer-sha) – Irish name.  Namesake-wise, there’s actress Saoirse Ronan, who was recently an Academy Award nominee.

Alasdair/Alastair – Scottish forms of Greek Alexander.

Cadwalader – Welsh

Cadwgan/Cadogan – Welsh, and as in “Sir Cadogan” from Harry Potter. 

Caradoc – Welsh.  Caradoc Dearborn is a very minor Harry Potter character.

Ciarán (pronounced like Kieran) – Irish.  Namesake Ciaran Hinds.

Cormac – Irish.  Cormac McLaggen is a character in the Harry Potter series.

Duncan – Scottish

Emrys – Welsh.  I’ve been seeing a lot more of this name lately, actually.

Gawain – Welsh, cognate of GavinThink “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and King Arthur.

Riordan – Irish

Persistent Penelope


Penelope and Odysseus

Penelope is a name that intrigues me.  It first entered the naming lexicon a few thousand years ago as the long-faithful wife of Odysseus in Homer’s epic The Odyssey.  And unlike many other ancient and classical names, she has become a sort of modern staple.  Whether for the Ithacan Queen’s unusually virtuous nature (as far as Greek Mythology goes) or for the name’s sweet-sounding syllables, this appellation endures.

Stateside, Penelope‘s popularity has been volatileShe first appears in the 1880s, then virtually disappears until the 1920s, becomes trendy in the 1940s and 1950s, and only hits stardom in the 21st century.  Indeed, for a time, the nickname Penny was much more popularOne of the reasons I call Penelope a “persistent” name, though, is because she always reappears at some point or another.  Naturally, her ancient namesake is the other reason.

There are a few possibilities as to why Penelope has grown exponentially more popular in the last few years.  For one thing, I suspect Penelope Cruz has something to do with it.  Secondly, classical names are trendy now.  Finally, and the most concrete possibility for popularity, is that one of the Kardashians named her daughter Penelope.  Look – I strongly dislike the Kardashians.  And as much as I shudder at the idea of a Kardashian namesake, I can appreciate that one gave her child a really good name.  Anyway, this likely explains why the name has jumped over 100 places in the rankings in less than 5 years.  This decade is the first that Penelope has ever been in the American top 100!  She ranked #34 in 2015.

What do you think of Penelope?  Will she continue to rise? 

Originally published March 2016, edited Oct. 11 2016.

Cute Nicknames for Roman Names (Girls)

Just as there are some gorgeous Greek names out there, there are also some great Roman names too.  Several of the following are already very popular – especially Aurora and Julia – while others are very rare, like Hadriana and Saturnina.  I’ve brainstormed to find some nicknames that could make some of these names more usable for parents, but also because this is simply a fun exercise!

Aurelia: Aura, Goldie, Lia, Ellie, Relia, Elia

Camilla: Millie, Cam, Amy, Mila, Cami

Cornelia: Nellie, Ellie, Cora, Lia, Cori

Lucretia: Lucy, Lucky, Rettie, Tia, Lux

Severina: Vera, Erin, Erina, Ever, Verina

Valentina: Vale, Tina, Ina, Valley

Hadriana: Hattie, Ana, Ria, Addie

Petronia: Ronnie, Pet, Petra, Nia

Antonia: Toni, Annie, Nia

Aurora: Aura, Rory

Virginia: Ginny, Nia

Lucia: Lucy, Lux

Julia: Jools, Lea

Livia: Liv, Via

Saturnina: Nina, Ina

Juno: June, Junie

Salacia: Sally, Lacy (okay, maybe this one sounds too much like “salacious.”  Great nickname potential though!)

Mildly edited May 5, 2017

Bible Names in the Top 100

Following up on my earlier claim that there were likely far more boys in the U.S. than girls with Biblical names, I decided to examine the 2014 popularity data more closely.  I’ve picked out the Bible names and done some data visualization. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.40.46 PM

As you can see, the few girls’ names are dwarfed by the sea of boys’ names.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t more feminine names from the Bible, but that there are a) comparatively fewer of them and b) a lot of the ones that would traditionally have been popular have fallen out of favor.  Rebecca is hardly in the top 200 these days, and whenever I type it online somewhere the spell-check shows that characteristic red line for “misspelled.”  Including right now as I type this.

If you’d like to study the 2014 data more thoroughly for yourself, you can do it here.  I recommend switching the detail from “standard” to “extended.”

Language Origins of the American Top 10

I’ve been studying the popularity data of names for years, and their origins for even longer.  Yet, it only just occurred to me to combine the two.

Here are the top ten most popular American boys’ and girls’ names in 2014 and their backgrounds.  If you have any questions about names not here, please ask.  At a later date I will provide analyses for the top 100 and for popular names in other countries.


  1. Noah – Hebrew
  2. Liam – Irish nickname for William
  3. Mason – An English professional word deriving from Old French, in turn Germanic.
  4. Jacob – Hebrew
  5. William – Germanic
  6. Ethan – Hebrew
  7. Michael – Hebrew
  8. Alexander – Greek
  9. James – Another form of Jacob, but came to English via Late Latin and Greek detours
  10. Daniel – Hebrew


  1. Emma – Germanic
  2. Olivia – English, from Shakespeare.
  3. Sophia – Greek
  4. Isabella – Ultimately Hebrew, as it’s related to Elizabeth
  5. Ava  – Can come from multiple sources.  I’ve read English, Germanic, and interestingly enough, Persian.
  6. Mia – Considered a nickname for Maria, which would indicate Hebrew roots.
  7. Emily – Latin, related to Aemilia.  Not to be confused with Amelia, which is Germanic.
  8. Abigail – Hebrew
  9. Madison – Here’s a fun one.  It’s an English last name meaning “son of Maud.”  Germanic, then.  Still think it’s feminine? 😉
  10. Charlotte – Germanic

So – 6 of the boys names are originally from Hebrew.  3 are ultimately Germanic and one is Greek.  The girls are more diverse.  3 Germanic, 3 Hebrew, 1 English (coined), 1 Greek, 1 Latin, and one unconfirmed.  If this suggests anything, it’s that in America boys are more likely to have Biblical names than girls, and if you consider that the male names on the list tend to come directly from the Bible (whereas Isabella and Mia come to English through other means), then boys are far more likely to have Biblical names than girls period.

The Importance of Memorable Names

I saw this blurb in the Guardian a couple of days ago.  All the students mentioned have distinctive names, and although some (like the person named Fragile) have run into problems like having to constantly explain or even change their names, others (looking at you Xanthe) have noticed benefits.  Having a name that helps people remember you is awesome.

For some people like me, we remember people more easily through their names than their faces.  And, there’s something to be said about a unique name.  Where there’s a unique name, there’s often a really interesting story about that person.  And, as much as I may love names like Emma or William, I’m far more likely to ask about Mariel or Annalene.

Lately I’ve been remembering some actors because of their unusual names.  I started watching House of Cards last week and two of the actors have such distinguished names as Sakina and Mahershala – the latter originally being short for Mahershalalhashbaz, considered by some to be the longest name in the Bible.  Considering that I think they’re also rather minor actors right now, I definitely wouldn’t remember who they were without the those names.  (Side note: Seriously, how cool a name is Mahershalalhashbaz?!)

More generic names do have their benefits though, I’m sure.  Just as someone can be remembered for their great deeds, they may also be remembered by their misdeeds. And if privacy is an issue, I imagine a John Smith could much more-easily disappear into the crowd than an Apollodorus Smith.  But if memorability is what you want, who will indeed remember John Smith?

Can we not call names stupid?

Two days ago Gene Weingarten wrote this article for the Washington Post.  He discusses the growing popularity of fandom names like Anakin and Khaleesi, unusual spellings of common names, and the famous backwards name Nevaeh.  And of course, there’s a mention of the naming laws that many other countries have.

It’s an interesting article, and I see his point, but I dislike the semantics.  Calling a name “stupid” is like calling the person with that name stupid.  Children have no control over what their parents name them.

Anyway, Anakin and Khaleesi aren’t even that bad.  They’re nerdy, and they have meaning to a lot of people.  My only beef really with Khaleesi is that it’s supposed to be a Dothraki title, not name.  Her actual name is DaenerysKhaleesi seems like more of a cat name, honestly.

I’ve never personally liked Nevaeh.  It sounds pretty, but it’s backwards for “Heaven,” and I’ve never quite figured out if that makes it mean “Hell.”  But a lot of people don’t think that, and to them it does mean “Heaven.”  There’s nothing “stupid” about liking a name for its meaning.  Though Mr. Weingarten’s not wrong about other backwards-spelled names popping up too, sarcastic as he is…ever heard of “Semaj?”

I will tend to advise against many alternative spellings.  There are so many names out there that there’s no reason to spell a name differently simply to make it more “unique.”  They might look different on paper, but Jayceon and Jason will most likely hear the same name when called on the playground.  However, depending on the person, Emma may sound like Emmer and Emmalee like Emily.  I suspect that phonetic spelling is the cause for many alternate renderings of popular names.

Finally, the naming laws…the 1st Amendment makes it so that the U.S. has some of the least restrictive naming laws in the world.  May I just say, God Bless America?