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.
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:
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.