It’s not just Carter and Cooper anymore. Check out some of the types of “doer” names that have appeared in the US baby name statistics in recent years:
Fishing, hunting, camping: Angler, Camper, Caster, Tracker, Trapper
Speed and sport: Catcher, Driver, Fielder, Racer, Sailor, Striker, Wheeler
Rodeo and horses: Breaker, Roper, Trotter, Wrangler
Combat: Lancer, Shooter, Slayer, Soldier, Tracer, Trooper
Pro sports teams: Blazer, Brewer, Charger, Dodger, Laker, Pacer, Packer, Raider, Ranger, Steeler, Warrior
…and more: Dreamer, Jester, Rocker, Tripper, Winner
This explosion of creativity has its roots in the great surname boom of the 1990s. Snappy British surnames of all stripes became popular, including many occupational names ending in -er. The active sound of the -er names was part of their appeal, but their meanings were secondary to their surname style. In fact, many of the literal meanings of the names were obsolete or obscure. When was the last time you met a tucker or a spenser? (A tucker was a cloth finisher, a spenser a servant who dispensed goods on a manor.)
A few of the -er surnames, though, were different. Names like Hunter and Rider retained the strength of their meanings—meanings that had shifted over time from prosaic occupation to energetic avocation. The result was a two-fer, with the style of a surname and the punch of a vigorous meaning name.
The two-fers set a new blueprint. Surnames with the sound of action words, such as Saylor and Stryker, soared. The classic Germanic name Gunnar turned into the action-first name Gunner. Soon, the familiar shape of these names made almost any appealing “doer” word fair game, especially for boys.
The graph below shows the combined popularity of 137 boys’ “doer” names, old and new, over time. Between 1980 and 2000 their use rose by over 1,000%.
As the early big hits like Tyler and Spencer retreated, new, often more aggressive choices rose to take their place. This new approach brought boys’ names into a realm long occupied by brand names. Overlaps with ruggedly named brands like SUVs and sports teams became increasingly common.
Babies named, say, Raider and Blazer sound ultra-modern. Yet they also connect back to the meaning-centered roots of occupational names, when they actually reflected occupations. Of course, the original names were given to adults based on their daily jobs. The new names are given to infants, based on their parents’ dreams. Those dreams, notably, seem to have little to do with careers. 47 American boys were named Raider last year; almost none were named after modern professions.
The active, “doer” names, then, may not really be about doing any activity in particular. They’re about action and inspiration, all wrapped up in a surname-styled package.
Meanwhile, the girls are harping and piping.
It would be interesting to come up with strictly modern action/occupation names. Coder? Hedger (as in hedge funds)? Spinner (as in PR “spin”)? Marketer? Influencer? Blogger?
– When I read your suggestion of Spinner, I thought that you were referring to someone who leads SoulCycle classes ?
– Naming your child Influencer is even worse than calling yourself one and it’s also the most inspired suggestion if one really wants to capture current trends in one’s baby’s name.
– Coder is actually a really good one! It sounds quite name-like due to Cody.
I know at least one from each category-wow! I’m not personally a fan of word/descriptors for names and some listed come across much more so until they are more popular. I don’t really get what that other comment is trying to say regarding female versions but that it’s clever making some point? I don’t think it’s accurate to equate them as it stands- So Harper (harp player?) and Piper (musician?) are reduced to a negative stereotype female trait or something? ER names and ER sounds are here to stay for a while! (And it’s a potentially androgynous ending looking at two last letters, likely it will be come more so.)
It’s really not news that naming reflects sex-based stereotypes. Why do you think girls aren’t being named Wrangler or Slayer? Why do you think musical names are overwhelmingly given to girls? You could also try comparing the number of flower names in the top 1000 for girls vs. boys.
I certainly don’t think there’s anything negative about a musical name per se, but I do think that stereotyping is always negative.
I also noticed that the only real -er names for girls are Harper and Piper, which seem pretty gender-stereotype-consistent. BUT Saylor is actually trending more strongly for girls than for boys, even though sailing is stereotypically a more masculine pursuit. I suspect this has something to do with the name’s similarity to Taylor (which started out masculine but then flipped over to be slightly more feminine, statistically), especially given the spelling. I wonder if it also has anything to do with Sailor Moon?
my son is Tr3mp3r. I think it also fits this trend. It’s a family name though we have no idea where it came from not what it means. Nevertheless, tr3mp3r it is. It gets misheard a lot especially for Trevor. I imagine Trooper has the same issues.
Wait… so a tucker… is someone who tucks things in?