May is quickly approaching, and so is my college graduation. Despite that milestone, I’m even more excited for something else – within the next two or three weeks, the Social Security Administration will release the data for the most popular American baby names of 2015. Most people will likely be looking to the top 10 names or even just the #1 names for boys and girls, but I especially look forward to seeing the entire top 1000 and extended lists!
I will post my predictions for the top 10 later, but as of now I am officially kicking off speculation season by writing about a name that’s not yet in the top 1000, but may soon enter.
In the past year alone, I’ve been surprised by how many times I’ve encountered the name Achilles in real life. Another blog I follow, For Real Baby Names, publishes lists of names used on actual babies; if you type “Achilles” in the search function several instances will appear. The variant “Achillies” also appears a couple of times. I’ve been reading that blog for years and yet only recently have there been so many instances of this one name. Indeed, the extended SSA data indicates some rise in the usage of Achilles over the past few years. Mainly this is because of the massively popular 2004 movie Troy, which is Hollywood’s take on Homer’s Iliad or more broadly, the Trojan War. Before that movie, Achilles was a very rare name. It wasn’t unused, but oftentimes there would be fewer than 10 American boys named Achilles born in a given year. The French form Achille was always about as rare, but unlike Achilles, Achille has not enjoyed extra usage after Troy.
The latest data we (currently) have is from 2014. In that year, there were 169 baby boys in the U.S. given the name Achilles. In 2013, there were 142. In 2012 there were 147, but that was up from 123 in 2011. Note that in 2003, there were only 6, as opposed to 32 when the movie came out in 2004. So even if in one year there was a slight dip, usage is generally trending upwards. While it is possible that Achilles may drop in the 2015 data, it’s rather unlikely. I will explain why.
One of the current naming trends is the growing popularity of names from Greco-Roman mythology and history. Deity names like Luna and Aurora are wildly popular right now, and at least one of them may enter the top 100 in the 2015 data. Human characters aren’t left out either; Penelope entered the top 100 in 2013 and is skyrocketing. Ariadne entered the top 1000 in 2014. Among the other ancients, Apollo, Atlas, and Ares are all up there too. Alexander is perennially popular, and currently a top-10 name. Maximus, first popularized in a modern context by the movie Gladiator, is in the top 200 and rising fast. Titus is also getting up there, ranking at #285 in the last count. Achilles would be right at home with all of these.
Why then, are these names becoming so popular? In many cases, I can’t really say. Penelope supposedly received a boost from a Kardashian (unfortunately), and Maximus is definitely a result of Gladiator, but the others? Luna’s popularity might have partially to do with Luna Lovegood, but Harry Potter doesn’t usually have very strong effects on American naming, so I’m unsure about that one. I’ve heard that some old Roman and Late Latin names are receiving boosts from Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S., which could explain the reclaimed popularity of names like Valeria and Valentina.
For names like Ares, Apollo, and Achilles, though, there’s separate and major factor. In August of 2015, Nameberry published a piece on a large trend towards violent baby names. Besides all the weaponry and bad-behavior appellations, there was a section about “historical warriors.” Although Achilles wasn’t listed there, Hector was (though as myth characters, not sure how much they count as historical, unless you consider their greater context within ancient military history…Alexander the Great, I’m looking at you). There was also a part about war- and destruction-bearing gods, mentioning Apollo. The thing is: if all this talk about the popularity and trendiness of violent names is true, then Achilles is almost certain to end up a top 1000 name at some point. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Iliad, but it begins with an invocation to recall Achilles’ extreme, deadly rage. As a baby name, he’ll fit in with the rest.
Will Achilles enter the top 1000 for 2015? It’s certainly possible. The boys’ name that ranked #1000 in 2014 only had 205 uses. Assuming a steady rise, and assuming there are even fewer names represented in the SSA data as with the last few years, then yes! Expect Achilles somewhere in the rankings. He may even pull an Ariadne where usage suddenly jumps; on that note, watch out for Persephone! If Achilles is not in the top 1000 for 2015, I anticipate he’ll be in the 2016 data.
What do you think?
- Homer’s Iliad (Robert Fagles Translation)