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Parents are Breaking the One-Word Barrier

October 29, 2020 namerology 3 Comments

Parents are Breaking the One-Word Barrier

October 29, 2020 Namerology 3 Comments
Header image: "Namerology Trends"

Another baby name barrier is falling—a big one. Even this age of creative, high-impact naming, baby names have generally remained single words. But not any more. American parents have started to create names out of phrases.

Compound names like Mary Kate or Jon-Michael have always been common enough, as have names adopted from individual words that conjure up an image or sentiment. But until recently, multiword phrases like MyKing, AMiracle and HeavenlyJoy were essentially unknown. Today they’re still rare, but rising.

I searched through historical name data and found 77 phrase names that have registered in US national statistics in the last 50 years. My list is likely incomplete, since the search can’t easily be automated. An attempt to match names to a dictionary via a computer program yielded a slew of false matches like Mildred (“MildRed”) while missing actual phrase names like MyKyng. I also erred on the conservative side for borderline names like Theone, which might or might not be TheOne. Even so, the trend is unmistakable.

chart of rising popularity of phrase names 1970-2019

The first two multiword names, AMiracle* and SirCharles*, appeared in 1989. (*Official name data doesn’t include capitalization, spaces or punctuation, so families may write these names in various ways. For this article, I’ve standardized on a single string with intercaps.) The two names came about differently. AMiracle was an offshoot of the new girl’s name Miracle, while SirCharles was sparked by a nickname for NBA star Charles Barkley. The fact that both emerged at the same time, though, was no coincidence. It was the vanguard of a trend, one that has proven especially popular with African-American parents.

In the decades since, dozens more names have followed in the twin paths of those pioneers: joyous celebrations like AMiracle and titled exaltations like SirCharles. Some examples:

JOYOUS CELEBRATIONSTITLED EXALTATIONS
MyAngel (F)PrinceElijah (M)
ImUnique (F)MyKing (M)
ADream (F)SirRoyal (M)
HeavenlyJoy (F)MyHeir (M)
MyLove (F)KingMichael (M)

As you can see from this sample, the new name style breaks down along stark gender lines. The boys’ phrase name list is dominated by 52 different royal and aristocratic titles. On the girl’s side, the first exalted phrase name (HerMajesty) appeared just this year. The girls’ names are often expressions of emotion from the perspective of their parents, like MyJoy, while the boys’ names are more likely to position the children in relation to society, like SirPrince. The biggest point of unisex overlap is the name AMillion, a flexible phrase that could refer to anything from a million bucks to a million dreams.

An anything-goes name culture could, in theory, break down divisions. With no history restraining them, new names could shatter gender stereotypes. Instead, the names that speak their meaning most clearly, with common English words and phrases, continue to speak of a gulf between how we view our sons and how we view our daughters.

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3 Comments

  • lucubratrix October 29, 2020 at 11:03 pm

    QuoVadis shows up in 1973, a Latin multiple word construction! In general phrase names seem like very neo-Puritan revival, or at least a spin on the Puritan phrase names, for me.

  • lucubratrix October 29, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    Also, some female titled exaltation counterexamples: QueenAsia (1991), QueenEster (1922), and uh, the fabled Gilette-inspired Milady (1916).

    • Namerology
      Namerology October 30, 2020 at 1:31 am

      @lucubratrix Yes, I debated all of those! Queenasia was one of a bunch of names ending in -asia that appeared around the same time, including Quinasia and Quanasia, so I ultimately concluded that -asia was a suffix rather than a word. QueenEster would have made the cut except it didn’t appear in the past 50 years. And Milady I looked up in dictionaries and found that it’s consistently listed as a single word, despite its clear contraction origin.

      I am so, SO curious about QueenEster, especially since QueenEsther (with an h) never hit the stats. It’s an African-American name that seems to have been used at a super-rare level for generations, but I haven’t been able to figure out why that particular name.

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