Creative parents, pop culture lead to imaginative names

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Sadly, I’ve come to learn my parents lacked imagination. At least when it comes to baby names.

When I was born in 1953, I shared my first name with almost 85,000 other baby boys. Michael ranked third as the most popular name for boys born that year, behind Robert and James, according to the Social Security Administration.

My parents may not have been creative, but they were certainly trend centers. After I was born in December 1953, Michael ranked as the No. 1 name for baby boys for the next six years, before finally dropping to second place in 1960.

I’ve been thinking about names that have been in the news lately.

I just finished compiling the list of 2019 high school graduates. I found many unique names for young men and women – names that didn’t crack the Top 20 in 1953. Congratulations to their imaginative patents. But beware, some of the creative spellings, which will not be singled out here to protect the innocent, will create issues throughout life when registering to vote, getting a driver’s license, booking plane trips and dozens of other instances where an assumed common spelling means trouble.

The Social Security Administration recently published the list of the most popular baby names for 2018.

Here are the Top 10 boys and girls names:


1. Emma

2. Olivia

3. Ava

4. Isabella

5. Sophia

6. Charlotte

7. Mia

8. Amelia

9. Harper

10. Evelyn


1. Liam

2. Noah

3. William

4. James

5. Oliver

6. Benjamin

7. Elijah

8. Lucas

9. Mason

10.  Logan

This is the second time Liam tops the boys list and the fifth year in a row for Emma. Two long timers on the list, Jacob and Abigail, toppled out of the Top 10 for the first time since 1992 and 2000. There are two new names in this year’s Top 10 – Lucas for the first time, and Harper returns to the list.

In Minnesota, Henry, Oliver, William, Liam and Theodore top the boys’ list and Evelyn, Olivia, Charlotte, Emma and Harper top the girls’ list.

Each year, the list reveals the effect of pop culture on naming trends. Royalty seems to have influenced parents in 2018.

Meghan was the fastest rising girls’ name, moving 701 spots to number 703 from number 1,404 in 2017. This jump speaks to the popularity of Meghan Markle, an American who joined the royal family when she married Prince Harry in 2018. 

Will the most recent pop culture fad, “Game of Thrones,” influence future lists?

A decade ago, in the days before dragons and direwolves, Arya didn’t even crack the top 1,000.

But last year, 2,545 babies were given the name Arya, making the name of the “Game of Thrones” sword-swinging heroine the 119th-most popular for girls in the United States. Arya is now among a number of baby names inspired by “Thrones” characters that are pushing their way into the mainstream, according to data from the Social Security Administration.

Even difficult-to-spell names inspired by the show have crept up the list of baby names.

There were 560 babies named Khaleesi in 2018. Khaleesi, the name for queen in the fictional Dothraki language, is even more popular than the dragon-riding character’s actual name of Daenerys, which was given to 163 baby girls in 2018.

Some 434 baby girls were named Yara last year, boosting it to the 672nd most popular girls’ name, from a previous rank of 986th.

Despite the show’s popularity, the names of many key figures in the show simply haven’t spread as widely. For example, just 58 baby boys were named Tyrion, 30 boys named Jorah, 29 girls were named Sansa and 14 boys were named Theon.

There were 547 babies named Jaime in 2018, down from its most popular year in 2001 when there were 1,339 newborns named Jaime.

Thankfully, my parents must have been tuned out to pop culture in 1953, otherwise I could have been named Bing, Rock or Marlon.

Author: Mike Knaak

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