Popular Italian Baby Names that Most Americans Don’t Know About

When you think about Italian names, you probably think about ones that are really popular in the U.S., like Gianna and Leonardo.  But what about more distinctive names like Ludovica and Enea?  They’re popular in Italy, but so rare in America that you probably haven’t heard of them!

Every year, Italy releases a list of their country’s 200 most popular baby names.  We share many names with them, from their most popular (currently Sofia and Francesco), to our most popular (Noah and Emma), to oddball American invaders like Bryan and Mya.  Italian has even given America some names (i.e., Enzo) that are rare in Italy!

I’ve sought to create a list of Italian names Americans probably don’t know about but should consider.  Unfortunately, their 2016 data isn’t available yet, so for this post, I’m looking at the 2015 set.  For comparison, I will note whether the names below had any American usage in 2015 and 2016.  Italian rank will be listed first; American numbers are somewhere to the right of the semicolon.


  • Ginevra – #12 in Italy; 15 girls in the U.S. born 2016 (14 in 2015).  This is one of the few names on this list that Americans might be familiar with, since it’s Ginny Weasley’s formal name.  Ginevra is the Italian form of Guinevere.
  • Ludovica – #32 in Italy.  Only 5 girls were named Ludovica in the U.S. in 2015, and an unknown number (possibly zero) in 2016.  Ludovica‘s most popular American relative is Louis, though she’s more closely related to the German Ludwig.
  • Benedetta – #40 in Italy; hasn’t charted in U.S. since 1979.  Benedetta is an Italian form of Benedicta and a feminine form of the name Benedict, which means “blessed.”
  • Azzurra – #53.  English equivalent Azure (another word for “blue”) is cool, but Azzurra is stunning!  It’s possible that no American has named their child Azzurra, making it a truly unique name here.
  • Diletta – #58 and rising quickly!  This comes from the Latin dilecta, which means “beloved.”  Like Azzurra, Diletta is extremely rare or non-existent in America.
  • Sveva – #61 and rising; unknown or no American usage.  Sveva looks chic!
  • Ambra – #63; Stateside, 5 in 2015.  Ambra is the Italian word for Amber.  She also looks remarkably like the word “umbra,” so Shadow could make a punny (and awesome) middle name.
  • Lucrezia – #86; here, 14 in 2015 and 8 in 2016.  If Americans know this name, they probably know her through The Borgias, a TV show that ran from 2011 to 2013.  Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI.  Lucretia is the even rarer English form of this name.
  • Ilenia – #129; last appeared in 2012.  A version of Ilena that was a lot more popular around 1999/2000.  Ylenia (#200) is another spelling, which last appeared in the U.S. circa 2011.
  • Morena – #139; 9 girls in 2016.  Presumably, last year’s reintroduction of  Morena to the American charts has to do with Morena Baccarin, who played Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa. 
  • Siria – #171; in America, 6 girls in 2015.  Since Syria is also a popular name in Italy, I assumed Siria was a place-name.  That said, both spellings were popular before the Syrian Civil War, so maybe not.  Behind the Name suggests that Siria is a feminine form of Sirius.
  • Giusy – #173; unknown U.S. usage.  This is probably a nickname for Giuseppa or Giuseppina, making it an Italian version of Josie.  Visually Giusy is cute, but it’s supposed to be pronounced a bit like “juicy.”
  • Rossella #175; 5 in 2015.  Diminutive of a name that means “red.” 
  • Clelia – #187; last U.S. appearance in 2013.  Form of Ancient Roman Cloelia.
  • Elettra – #194; unknown American usage.  A sleeker form of Electra.

Honorable mentions include Carola, Federica, Flavia, Gioia, Ilaria, Letizia, Micol, Mariasole, Syria, and double first names.  How do you like Aurora Maria?



  • Jacopo – #30; last appeared in U.S. in 2010.  As much as I love Jacob, his Italian form is much more flavorful!
  • Gioele – #36; 5 in 2016.  Also popular in Italy is another more Americanized spelling, JoeleJoele has only ever charted in the U.S. as a women’s name.
  • Enea – #54 and rising quickly; 5 in 2015.  Modern Italian form of Aeneas.
  • Valerio – #60; 5 in 2016.  Think Valeria or Valerie, only masculine. Valerio comes from the Ancient Roman Valerius.
  • Ettore – #64; hasn’t charted in U.S. since the 1980s.  Italian form of Hector.
  • Loris – #91; 6 in 2015.  A curious nickname for Lorenzo!
  • Achille – #95; hasn’t charted in the States since 2010.  Achilles has only just become popular in America, but if he continues to rise we might see Achille reappear.
  • Ludovico – #98; has never charted in U.S.  This is the Italian form of the French name Ludovic, and masculine form of Ludovica.  One namesake, Ludovico Sforza, famously commissioned The Last Supper.
  • Giordano – #125; stateside, 6 boys in 2015 and 7 in 2016.  This alternative to Jordan is probably most famous for its connection to Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600 for heresy.  Among other things, he promoted heliocentrism and speculated on the existence of exoplanets.
  • Umberto – #133; hasn’t charted in U.S. since 2014.  Umberto Eco famously wrote The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.
  • Biagio – #146; in U.S., 9 boys in 2015 and 6 in 2016.  Italian form of Blaise.
  • Tiziano – #159; 7 in 2015.  Tiziano is the real name of the artist we know as Titian.
  • Amedeo – #174; in U.S., 5 times both in ’15 and ’16.  The Italian form of Amadeus, this was the first name of Modigliani and many medieval rulers of Savoy.  Another Amedeo (and descendant of the Savoyards) became king Amadeo I of Spain in the 1870s.
  • Lapo – #189; never charted in U.S.  It’s a nickname for Jacopo, which would make this an interesting alternative to Jake!

Honorable mentions: Francesco Maria, Francesco Pio, Saverio, Zeno

What’s your favorite Italian name?  Would you use any of these?  Let me know in the comments!



Many of the most popular ‘L’ names for boys are surnames – Landon, Lincoln, Logan, etc.  Noticeably, they also end in the letter ‘n.’  So how about Lyman?

Lyman is an unusual baby name from early America.  Despite lukewarm popularity, this name managed to stay in the top 1000 until the 1960s.  It was never trendy, but steady.  Just 16 boys were named Lyman in 2016, though that’s more than double the number of Lyman‘s born even five years ago!


L. Frank Baum’s first name was Lyman

The most famous namesakes:

  • Lyman Hall (1724-1790): signer of Declaration of Independence
  • Lyman Beecher (1775-1863): minister, American Temperance Union co-founder, and father of many famous children including Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Lyman was his mother’s maiden name.
  • Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896); co-wrote the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery
  • Lyman Gage (1836-1927): United States Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt
  • Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919): author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • Josh Lyman: character on The West Wing.

Lyman is clearly a name with precedent.  So where is he now?

The lack of modern trendiness might be attributed to an association with another name.  Nameberry’s description says Lyman is “almost as passé as Hyman.”  Hmm…I’m not sure I agree with that statement.  We usually don’t discourage people from calling their sons Nick just because it rhymes with Dick, an old-fashioned name that – like Hyman – has taken on a sexual, usually negative connotation and headed for extinction.  Yes, Lyman happens to rhyme with “hymen,” but you’re probably only realizing that now that I’ve pointed it out.  Personally, I never made the connection until I saw Nameberry’s bit.  More interestingly, they don’t say anything about the name Wyman, which is also in use (though still rarer than Lyman).

Does Lyman sound too much like the word “hymen?”  Is Lyman still usable, and could he make a comeback?  I personally think Lyman is fine, but I’d like to hear y’all’s opinions.


Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 10.17.18 PMGrayson is what I think of as a balanced name; it sounds both rugged and refined, modern and old.  One of the trendiest boys’ names of this decade, Grayson has been in the American top 1000 since 1984.  Maybe you knew a Grayson in high school (I did), and until now it was the only time you’ve heard this common last name used as a first name.  Over 20-odd years Grayson trickled upwards, slowly permeating the American consciousness until an accelerating spark sent him shooting towards the top.  This ‘spark’ ignited in 2009, and in 2011 he breached the top 100.  In 2015, he reached the top 50, landing at #47.  He’s also brought a variation with him; Greyson ranks #111 and will likely enter the top 100 in the 2016 set.  Other existing spellings include Greysen and the unisex Gracen.

Interestingly, there is precedence for Grayson as a women’s name.  Actress Grayson Hall (1922-1985) played Dr. Julia Hoffman on Dark Shadows in the late 60s and early 70s.  Her real name was Shirley, which was once considered a men’s name.  I’m not suggesting that Grayson will be the next Madison or Ashley; merely, that our gendered perceptions of names can and sometimes do change.  Will parents appropriate Grayson for their daughters?  168 female Graysons were born in 2015, though I won’t personally call it unisex until it hits the top 1000 or 10% of all Graysons born in a year (whichever comes first).

Besides Grayson Hall, there are many other namesakes for a baby Grayson (real and fictional, first-name and surnames).  Here are a few of them: 

  • Sen. William Grayson (1740-1790), an Anti-Federalist from Virginia.  He was the first U.S. Congressman to die in office.
  • Frances Wilson Grayson (1892-1927), an early aviatrix and relative of President Woodrow Wilson.
  • Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mother in Star Trek. 
  • Grayson, a character in a Highlander episode from 1993.  The name Grayson noticeably jumped almost 100 places between 1993 and 1994, though I don’t know if a single episode can affect the charts that strongly.
  • Grayson Kent, a character on the show Drop Dead Diva.  The series began in 2009.
  • Grayson Ellis, a character on the show Cougar Town.  This series also began in 2009.
  • The Grayson family, characters in the ABC series Revenge (2011-2015)

From what I can see, Grayson has a lot of TV connections.  Grayson Kent and Grayson Ellis are leads that may explain why over 1,000 more boys were named Grayson in 2010 than in 2009 (and most years since).  Ultimately, I think Grayson would have grown more popular on its own, but pop culture and timing mean a lot in the baby-naming sphere.

I predict that we’ll find Grayson somewhere in the #30-40 range in the 2016 set.  These days, raw usage for names doesn’t just go up 1,000 babies in a year only to drop that same amount the next year!  Grayson boasts a strong upwards trajectory and if it continues he might soon land in the top 20.  I don’t think Grayson will enter the top 1000 for girls, but you never know!  

Fun fact: In 2015, Grayson appeared on the top 100 list for every state and the District of Columbia except California!  California is one of only two or three states where the population is so large that landing in their top 100 automatically secures a spot in the U.S. top 1000.  What does that tell you?  Anyhow, Grayson ranked highest in Kentucky (where there’s a Grayson County, named after Sen. Grayson) and lowest in New Mexico.

What do you think of Grayson?  Is there another spelling you like more?  And finally, what do you think about Grayson as a girls’ name: does it work either way, or should Grayson stay a men’s name?

*P.S. I’m honestly worried that part of Grayson‘s growing popularity has to do with sounding close to “Fifty Shades of Gray.”  Grayson is subtle enough to provide an alibi…

Florence; Or, My Naming Prometheus

When I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, I had to write a short story for homework.  I don’t remember the plot, but what I can recall is that I penned a 12-13 page saga and never finished it.  I think this project may have been the one where the teacher asked us to recount “tall tales” and I got away with writing a “tall tale from the future” – which is to say, not a “tall tale” at all.  My result was a story about some European princesses named Florence, Eleanor Brady, and Brady (?).  Eleanor and Brady were twins…and I seriously hope Brady‘s middle name wasn’t Eleanor.  It probably was, and I’m horrified!  To be fair, most adults aren’t familiar with a lot of names.

The names I did know as an 8-year-old came from a few sources.  I was introduced to Eleanor through viewing Sense and Sensibility; only years later did I learn that the character spelt it ElinorBrady was probably a reference to the “Brady Bunch”…but I don’t know why I ever thought that was a girls’ name!  However, I don’t think Florence Henderson was my introduction to Florence.  I suspect I’d read about Florence Nightingale at some point.

Florence was one of America’s most popular baby names in the late 19th century and early 20th.  Although the pre-1937 birth data from the SSA isn’t complete or always accurate (perhaps due to premature death or an unqualified occupation), the information we have from those early years can still tell us what the era’s most popular or trendy baby names were.  Think of a sample size.  Even according to a smaller sample size, Florence almost continually ranked in the Top 10 between 1886 and 1906.  Afterwards, she remained in the top 100 until 1940, and top 1000 until 1981.

Florence hit her lowest point in 2003, when just 50 babies were given the name.  Between 2010 and 2012, she started picking up again.  2013 was the first year since 1991 that more than 100 babies were called Florence!  To put things in even greater perspective, 2015 was the first year more than 200 babies were given this lovely handle since 1975!  She’s definitely making a comeback; the questions are ‘why’ and ‘how much?’


Florence Nightingale

First, let’s look at some of the more famous namesakes for Florence:

  • Florence Nightingale (1820-1910): British Nurse.  Easily the most famous Florence, and the ultimate namesake for most that followed.
  • Florence Harding (1860-1924): First Lady of the United States by her marriage to President Warren G. Harding
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944): Famous opera singer who couldn’t actually sing; Meryl Streep portrays the title character in the 2016 eponymous film.
  • Florence Henderson (1934-2016): Actress who played Mrs. Brady on the “Brady Bunch”
  • Florence Ballard (1943-1976): Singer in “The Supremes”
  • Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner (1959-1998): Olympic athlete
  • Florence Leontine Mary Welch (b. 1986): Leads “Florence and the Machine”
  • Florence Schelling (b. 1989): Swiss hockey player, Olympic athlete 

Florence Foster Jenkins may impact the charts in 2016.  However, since 2015 is the most recent data we have, it’s clear that this decade’s Florentine revival stems from other factors. Of all the namesakes, Welch, Henderson, and Schelling were the only ones alive between 2010 and 2015.  Florence Henderson passed away last year, which may also impact usage.  I definitely think Florence Welch and her band have had some influence, especially in the U.K. (Florence ranks #23 in England and Wales).  As for Florence Schelling…I don’t know enough about sports to comment about the naming impact of an athlete who doesn’t usually even play for the U.S., but her team (Swiss) received a medal at the Sochi winter Olympics in 2014.  Curiously, the name’s biggest jump was between 2013 and 2014, so anything is possible!

Of course, who can forget the magnificent Italian city of Florence?  Firenze, as it’s known, was the birthplace and namesake of the illustrious Miss Nightingale.  The city is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and is also currently ranked as one of the top 15 fashion capitals of the world.  Places and fashion are two things that always seem to influence baby names!


1835 map of Florence, Italy.  Miss Nightingale was born there, only a few years before.

More generally, old-fashioned names are “in.”  We’re seeing a revival of other great-grandma names like Ophelia and ClementineFlorence additionally has the benefit of sounding – well – floral!  Florence derives from a Latin word meaning “flowery,” “blooming,” or “flourishing.”  This makes Florence something of a flower name; a more general option for the person who can’t decide whether she prefers roses or violets.  The baby name Violet, incidentally, is more popular now than in her last heyday a century ago!

Final notes:

  • Similar Flora is also returning, but at a snail’s pace in comparison to Florence.  In 2015, 173 girls were named Flora; Florence, 214.
  • A part of me also wonders if any young Florences are named after Progressive Flo from the insurance commercials.
  • I really don’t want to explain why Flo is a terrible nickname.  Regardless, Florence doesn’t need to be shortened. 

I can’t tell if Florence will crack the U.S. top 1000 in 2016 or 2017.  She’s close, but it may or may not happen.  I’m honestly just happy that more parents are taking notice of such an exquisite antique and one of my childhood favorites. 🙂

What do you think of Florence?  Do you have any other ideas why the name is resurgent?  How about some childhood naming stories?  Let me know in the comments! 

Classic Rock Baby (Sur)names

I listen to a lot of classic rock.  By that, I mean rock music that came out between 1965 and 1977-ish, with a few exceptions.  Considering that that the Oldies (music from the 50s and 60s) enjoyed a massive proportion of my childhood music preferences, I’m baffled that 80s and early 90s rock is now considered “classic!”  Sure, it’s influential…but every time I think about this, I ask myself where the time went.  Maybe it’s because I was born in the early 90s, but I have a hard time processing the idea that Nirvana is “classic rock” now (or will be very soon).  Elvis and Chuck Berry don’t even receive that distinction!


But *this* is a gneiss, classic rock.  Photo Credit: By Huhulenik – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15036586

My 1965-1977 parameters for classic rock are admittedly a bit arbitrary and fuzzy.  I say 1965 for the beginning because that’s when the Beatles released Rubber Soul and the Stones sang “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”  I decided on the 1977-ish bookend because that’s when the Fleetwood Mac album Rumours came out.  Again, “classic rock” means something very particular to me, and it might mean something different for you!  However – until Van Halen gets the Guardians of the Galaxy treatment, I’m not including related baby names in a “classic rock” posting.


Yes, I have it on vinyl.

Going even just by my standards for classic rock, there are plenty of rocker baby names in circulation!  For this post, I’ve decided to focus on the surnames.  

Bowie – David Bowie died early last year, and I think many of us in the community of name enthusiasts expect a serious boost to the name in the 2016 data.  In 2015, 53 boys and 41 girls were named Bowie.

Cooper – School might not be out for the summer, but this week it was out for the snowstorm.  Alice Cooper lends his adopted name to thousands of boys and hundreds of girls in the U.S.  In 2015, Cooper ranked #77 for boys.

Derringer – This one might be a bit more obscure.  Rick Derringer was responsible for the song “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo.”  Before that, he sang “Hang on Sloopy” for the McCoys.  8 boys were named Derringer in 2015.

Harrison – The Beatles have always been my favorite band, so when it comes to famous rock guitarists I’m rather partial to George Harrison (funnily enough, “Here Comes the Sun” popped up on my Pandora as I was typing this).  Looking at the stats, Harrison‘s popularity seems more closely tied to Harrison Ford, since Star Wars saved the name from falling out of the top 1000.  Indeed, Harrison hasn’t ever been out of the top 1000!  That’s the definition of a timeless name.  Current rank: #119.

Henley – Before his solo career, Don Henley was a member of the Eagles.  Henley is a far more popular baby name for girls than it is for boys.  Current rank: #553 (girls), and 104 boys. 

Jagger – A rather jagged name, don’t you think?  The data certainly says so.  Just take a look at the popularity graph on Behind the Name or the numbers on Nancy’s Baby Names.  It also makes me think of “jäger” – the German word for “hunter,” though it’s pronounced more like “yay-grr” than “Jagger.”   Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones) is the probable namesake for the 389 boys and 9 girls named Jagger in 2015.  Current rank: #657 (boys).

Lennon – The SSA birth data suggests that American men have been given the first name Lennon since the early 20th century, but 1981 was the first time Lennon appeared as a girls’ name.  John Lennon died in December of 1980, and in 1981 the Grammy Awards accorded his last record (Double Fantasy) “Album of the Year.”  Lennon remained a rare name for both genders until 2008, when it entered the top 1000 for boys.  In 2012, it entered as a girls’ name.  Interestingly, 2015 saw Lennon become more for girls than boys!  A rapid-riser, Lennon currently ranks #515 for girls and #609 for boys.   

Lynne – Jeff Lynne is the genius behind ELO (Electric Light Orchestra).  Lynne was a top 1000 women’s name from 1931 to 1983, though only 9 girls were named Lynne in 2015.

McCartney – You’re more likely to encounter a female McCartney than male.  The SSA recorded 20 girls and 5 boys named Mccartney (yes, that’s how it’s rendered) in 2015.  I’ve noticed that when it comes to the Beatles and baby names, their surnames usually now veer feminine (see Lennon and Starr).  Harrison is the overwhelmingly masculine exception.

Mercury – 9 girls and 5 boys were named Mercury in 2015.  Whether they’re named after Freddie Mercury or in keeping with astrology is unknown, though other babies were named Aries, Taurus, and Gemini

Nash Graham Nash was a member of the Hollies and subsequently Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  Current rank: #343.

Page Jimmy Page was the guitarist for Led Zeppelin.  17 girls were named Page in 2015.

Rafferty – Gerry Rafferty was a member of Stealer’s Wheel, the band that sang “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  He also had a solo career.  Only 12 American boys were named Rafferty in 2015, though the name is much more popular in England and Wales (current E/W rank: #289). 

Santana Santana was briefly popular as a girls’ name in the 80s and is now a popular boys’ name.  I don’t think Carlos Santana is the namesake for most of them (I hear there’s a Glee character?), but there were definitely more babies named Santana after Woodstock.  Current rank: #867 for boys, though 119 girls also received the name in 2015.

Seger – I admit: I don’t listen to much Bob Seger (“Against the Wind,” anyone?), but I noticed his surname towards the bottom of the 2015 data.  10 boys were named Seger at last count. 

Starr – Ringo’s adopted surname was actually a top 1000 girls’ name before the Beatles were popular.  Starr went out in the 50s and then returned for brief periods in the 70s and 90s.  Only 74 girls were named Starr last year, and considering she’s trending downwards, I don’t think the 20-year cycle will apply this decade. 

Tyler – Steven Tyler is still a member of Aerosmith!  Tyler is still (barely) a top 100 name in the U.S., ranking #87 in 2015. 

What do you think?  Are there any names you’d add to this list?  Do you agree with my classic rock parameters? 

P.S. Curiously, I didn’t find any Claptons in the data.  Eric Clapton definitely influenced baby naming; his 1970 song “Layla” led to Layla‘s first foray into the top 1000 (circa 1972).  To be fair, that wasn’t a solo song; the band name was Derek and the Dominos.

P.P.S. I didn’t notice any Springsteens either. 

Names and Doctor Strange

I just saw Doctor Strange!  There’s something so fantastic about Benedict Cumberbatch acting in a Marvel film.  Imagine Dr. House + Inception, and you have this movie. Maybe Cumberbatch is turning into a character actor for the “eccentric/misunderstood/rude genius” trope, but I for one can’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes-types.

Speaking of Cumberbatch…I relish the fact that there are two (!) actors named Benedict in this movie!  The other was Benedict Wong, who ironically played Wong…eponymous, much?  Benedict is a fairly rare name in the U.S.  Already ranking in England and Wales at #341, it’s not yet a top 1000 name on this side of the pond.  Still, Mr. Cumberbatch inspires an American rise in popularity.  151 boys were named Benedict in 2015, up from 137 in 2014 and 108 in 2013.  There was another usage spike about 10 years ago, probably from the accession of Benedict XVI to the papacy.  Otherwise, Americans encounter the obstacle of the Benedict Arnold association.  Even if people have forgotten the history after over 200 years, they remember that name connotes “traitor,” in the way that “John Hancock” also now means “signature.”  The name Benedict itself has a much more pleasant meaning – “blessed.”  Ultimately, I think the Marvel treatment could finally push Benedict into the American top 1000 despite historical connotations.  I estimate this will happen in 2017. 

Many of the other actors in Dr. Strange have really unusual names too.  Besides the Benedicts, the cast also includes a Chiwetel (Ejiofor), Tilda (Swinton), and Mads (Mikkelsen).  Rachel (McAdams) is the popular outlier.  Chiwetel doesn’t appear in the extended data, though I wonder if it will as that actor becomes better-known (Fun fact: Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor were in The Martian together).  Tilda was given to 18 girls in 2015, and is rising – that might have more to do with the rising popularity of Matilda (#533)Mads is a recent newcomer to the extended data, first appearing in 2011; 13 U.S. boys were named Mads in 2015. 

Nicodemus is the name of a minor character!  Given to 30 boys in 2015, it’s a Biblical name which derives from Greek and means “victory of the people.”  A boost in 2016 and 2017 is possible but not necessarily going to happen; he’s listed as Dr. Nicodemus West in credits and cast lists, but he was always called Nick or Dr. West if I heard correctly. 

Two character names I think we should watch out for as potential debuts in 2016 or 2017 data are Mordo and Kaecilius.  They might be too strange (heh heh) for most parents, but Drax debuted last year via Guardians of the Galaxy.  I also think it will be very interesting to see if Strange becomes a baby name, though I don’t hope for that to happen.  Wong is a contender to reappear. 

Have you seen Doctor Strange yet?  What did you think?  And how about the names?  Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

P.S.  If you haven’t seen it, there are two scenes during the credits – one at the beginning and one at the end.  I always see people leaving the theater after a Marvel film because they don’t realize there’s more. 


Emma: Character [Sur]names


I’ve just finished reading Jane Austen’s Emma.  Normally I love anything Austen wrote, but this book was a chore.  The first third of the story (Volume 1, actually) was unimaginably boring, and I perceived Emma Woodhouse herself as annoying.  Amazingly, I persevered to Volume 2, at which point I started to enjoy it more.  Having finished it (there are 3 volumes), I can actually say that I liked it…but for a while I hated it.  This, coming from someone whose favorite book is Pride and Prejudice and who adored the obscure but deliciously scandalous Lady Susan

The character names were excellent but nearly as boring as I found Volume 1.  Almost everyone was named some classic like Henry or Isabella.  The only really unusual names of interest were Hetty and Augusta, but overwhelmingly there were few rarities.  To be fair, most characters were referred by their surnames.  So, why don’t we look at those and their usage?

Bates: 8 boys in 2015.  I considered Miss Bates was an interesting example of the Regency-era spinster.  She’s not especially old, but is unmarried at a much later age than most women would wed.  Her community regards her highly for a kind and optimistic personality, even if she tends to ramble.

Campbell: 224 girls and 136 boys in 2015.  There is some mention of a Colonel and Mrs. Campbell. 

Churchill: Under 5 uses in 2015, if any.  Churchill hasn’t been used regularly since World War II (not that it was ever common), but it did appear in the extended data back in 2012.  I am looking at American data, so there’s that too.  However, I think Winston Churchill tends to be a more likely namesake than Frank Churchill.  Speaking of which: Winston is experiencing a revival – he ranked #523 last year! 

Cole: 3475 boys (#115) and 14 girls.  The Coles are a newly wealthy and up-and-coming family in Emma’s town who seem mostly to serve as social catalysts – i.e., they host parties.  The name Cole always makes me think either of Cole Porter or Nat King Cole. 

Dixon: 70 boys.  Mr. Dixon never actually appears except in passing mention, though one mention was apparently enough to upset Jane Fairfax.

Elton: 62 boys.  I can’t say I liked Mr. Elton very much, and I was even less fond of his wife.  Even so, any child called Elton will surely be associated with Elton John long before the rude vicar. 

Fairfax: Unknown usage, though I did encounter one several years back who’s probably around my age.  If you want some Austen-Brontë crossover material, I think Mr. Rochester’s second name was Fairfax.  The most probable namesake, I imagine, is not literary but historical.  In the 18th century, the 6th Lord Fairfax once owned over 5,000,000 acres of land stretching across what are now Virginia and West Virginia. 

Hawkins: 57 boys.  Mr. Elton marries Miss Hawkins, who frequently errs and refers to Jane Fairfax by her “Christian name.”  Proper protocol was to address her as ‘Miss Fairfax’; calling her ‘Jane’ was considered vulgar. 

Knightley8 girls in 2015.  Although the book refers to Mr. Knightley and his brother Mr. John Knightley (with the one Mrs. Knightley often and simply designated Isabella), Americans usually treat this as a girls’ name.  Knightley is even more modern than it is rare, having only officially entered the naming pool seven years ago.  The sound and style of the name may be responsible for its usage, though curiously other Austen-related names like Fitzwilliam (8 boys) are very new to the data too.  

Martin: 1332 boys (#276).  Emma soon persuades Harriet to turn down a proposal from Mr. Robert Martin and disastrously attempts to set her up with Mr. Elton. 

Perry: 139 boys and 87 girls.  I believe Mr. Perry was the physician. 

Smith: 154 boys and 11 girls.  Harriet Smith is an illegitimate child, which is one of the only things I found particularly interesting about the first third of the book. 

Weston: 3305 boys (#120) and 5 girls.  Easily the most popular character surname from the story, Weston is taking off – possibly responding to the exponentially increasing popularity of counterpart Easton (#78).  In a couple years, Weston could be a top 100 baby name! 

Woodhouse: Unknown usage.  Emma’s surname hasn’t inspired parents in any decade.  If any baby Woodhouses exist, they’re more likely named after Sterling Archer’s butler. 

Thoughts?  Have you read Emma, and if so, how did you like it? 

Wise William

William is one of the most popular names around!  In America, it ranks #5 nationally, but ranks #1 in D.C., Utah, Montana, and every Southern state except Florida.  Interestingly Liam, an Irish nickname for William, ranks even higher on the national level.  Liam comes in at #2, and ranks #1 in more states than the overall #1, Noah (which is probably only first because of California and Texas).  William also ranks highly in other English-speaking countries, and is currently the most popular boys’ name in all of Scandinavia.  That tidbit is especially curious when you consider that Scandinavian languages share their own form of the name (Vilhelm), yet speakers apparently prefer the English cognate! 


William the Conqueror at center

Besides near-universal popularity, the name William also boasts longevity.  The Normans brought it from France to England in 1066, when William the Conqueror invaded and became king.  However, the name predates even that date.  One earlier William that comes to mind is William of Septimania, born in 826 AD.  He’s not particularly important on his own, but his mother Dhuoda addressed a book to him (incidentally, she’s the only female writer of the Carolingian era whose work survives!).  Nor was he the first William in his family.  Ultimately, this name has existed for at least 1200 years!

Those 1200 years of Williams are continuous and plentiful.  The name belongs to four U.S. Presidents, four (eventually five) English kings and more PMs, Shakespeare, saints, writers, actors, athletes, etc.  You will encounter Williams in every profession.  In America at least, William is popular in every age group too; it’s never been outside the top 20. 


Why use a name that’s popular in every age group?  William certainly is ubiquitous and wizened.  But, parents, let me say this: William is timeless; tried-and-true.  He never sounds too old-fashioned or too new.  The only thing that really changes with age is the freshness of the nicknames that accompany William.  Few children will answer to Bill or Willie, I think.  The young Williams I know are mostly called William or LiamMaybe Will or Billy

What do you think of the name William





King Jotham

I recently learned Jotham might be a family name!  Jotham is a surprisingly unusual Bible name.  In 2015, only 26 boys were given this name, which means “Yahweh is upright.”    

One of the Jothams listed in the Bible was a king of Judah.  The relevant passage (2 Chronicles 27) is fairly short but portrays a pious man who focused on infrastructure.  The other Biblical Jotham was a son of GideonGideon apparently had 71 sons, and one of them, Abimelech, tried to kill the other seventy to become king.  Jotham was the sole survivor of this assassination attempt (Judges 9). 

There are more ‘recent’ instances of the name Jotham Jotham Post, Jr. served as a U.S. Congressman (from New York) between 1813 and 1815, and a Jotham Johnson served as an archaeologist in the mid 20th century.

All in all, Jotham isn’t someone you’re likely to meet in the 21st century.  This is a name ripe for the picking – especially as a radical alternative to Gotham (which was given to 46 boys last year…na-na-na-na BATMAN!) or more radically to classic Jonathan (given to over 7,500 boys last year).  And because it belonged to a Biblical king, it’s an unusual royal name too.  With all the babies named Henry and William running around, equally handsome Jotham would stand out in the crowd! 

What do you think of the name Jotham?  Bonus points – King Jotham’s parents were named Uzziah and Jerusha…respectively bestowed on 49 boys and 9 girls in 2015!  

Daring Daedalus

Sometime this week I noticed the name Daedalus in the SSA data.  Whoa…as a former classics student, may I remark just how hardcore that is?  2015 saw the birth of 7 American baby boys named Daedalus.  Pronunciation: “Dead-uh-lus.”

The seemingly obvious namesake is mythological Daedalus.  He constructed the labyrinth for the Minotaur, but he’s even more famous for what came afterwards.  Stuck on the island of Crete and yearning to return home, he decided to travel by sky.  Daedalus fashioned wax-wings for himself and his son Icarus.  Unfortunately, during their escape, Icarus flew too close to the sun.  The wings melted and he fell to his watery grave.  Note: 10 boys were named Icarus last year, and that name has appeared in the SSA data since about 2010.



Several far more obscure references exist, however, that are also possible namesakes. There is a minor filmmaker from California named Daedalus Howell, and also a musician who goes by Daedelus.  Serious Harry Potter fans like myself are aware of a character named Dedalus Diggle, whom Harry meets in Sorceror’s Stone.  And like many other names from Greek and Roman mythology, Daedalus has astronomical and maritime ties; ever heard of the Daedalus crater, or the HMS Daedalus?  Funnily enough, it also seems that Star Trek uses Daedalus as a class of starships.  

What do you think of Daedalus?  


Further reading: Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The edition I own is one of the “Oxford World’s Classics,” but since the story is thousands of years old and therefore public domain, you can also find it on Project Gutenberg.  The tale of Daedalus is contained in Book VIII.