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.