The letter X has put its stamp on the past generation of American baby names. Over the last 25 years, names have included the letter seven times as often as in earlier generations. Beyond the numbers, we’ve seen a creative explosion in the way parents use X in names: inventing, multiplying, annexing extra letters, and taking over other letters’ territory. X is now a force to be reckoned with—but not for everyone.
The main story is clear from a glance at a historical popularity graph. Starting around 1980, X names took off for both boys and girls.
Traditional names initially led the charge. The top dozen X names of the ‘90s decade included 9 different names starting with Alex, plus Max, Maxwell, and Xavier. But around the turn of the millennium, the X scene began to change. It was the era of the X-Men superhero movies, and the extreme sports competition called The X Games. The letter X took on a bold, renegade spirit. Parents who liked the idea of pushing limits turned to the letter, and started pushing its limits.
No longer just another letter, X has become a tool of creative style. Only 12 of today’s top 100 X names existed in the US in 1900, and the new names use the letter in new ways. X can now:
- Turn a word into a name, as in Calyx
- Turn a surname into a baby name, as in Mannix
- Turn a place name into a baby name, as in Xcaret
- Double up, as in Onyxx
- Take the place of z as in Xachary
- Take the place of k as in Alexsander
- Take the place of ck as in Jaxson
- Take the place of ks as in Banx
- Team up with s as in Nixson
- Team up with z without changing the name’s sound, as in Axzel
- Team up with z creating a new sound, as in Xzekiel
- Fuse two names, as in Alexavier
- Unearth extremely obscure names, as in Abraxas
- Turn a word into a name despite being silent, as in Roux
- Inspire whole new inventions, as in Braxx
- Do several of these things at once, as in Jaxxton
But there’s a catch. You might notice that the examples above are mostly male. You might also notice that in the popularity graph, X names for girls have been declining for years while X boys’ names have hit new heights. It turns out that the new bold, “off-road” style is predominantly male. In fact, the more x-treme the X style, the more male-dominated it is. If you look just at names with a turbocharged XX or XZ in them, the ratio of boys to girls soars to 25:1.
The X revolution is yet another reminder that the creative freedom of modern naming has not erased gender differences in name choices. Parents choose ever more aggressive meanings and spellings for boys, while truly unisex names remain elusive. And even among boundary-pushing parents and their favorite boundary-pushing letter X, some borders remain uncrossed.
How do Spanish girls’ names like Xiomara and Ximena factor into this trend?
Latinx names have definitely been a part of the story, including the creativity story with spellings like Exequiel and new names like Yaxiel. Some like Xitlali and Xochitl have plateaued, but Xiomara and Ximena have been big in recent years, helping to slightly offset the Amazon-spurred girls’ exodus from Alexa and similar names. (Incidentally, 10 boys were named Exodus last year!)
Let us know when Deuteronomy makes it onto the baby-name lists.
Can we stop colonizing spanish language with such unpopular terms such as “latinx”? Its insulting
Thanks, I hear you. (I hadn’t previously used the term, but did so this time after receiving criticism for not using it!)
That’s an interesting question to me, partly because the X in those names is pronounced basically as an English ‘h’. It made me think more closely about Laura’s observation that people are using X as a substitute for letter combinations like “cks.” How much of the current popularity of the letter X is based on its sound, and how much is due to its appearance?
It’s interesting how the spelling of a name can change its whole feeling, at least for me. I pronounce “Carrie,” “Cary,” “Kerry” and “Cari” all the same – but I perceive them very differently. Carrie feels whiny and insipid to me, while Kerry is sporty.
I think this is a trend that is present nowadays in every naming style: there are classics like Felix or Axel, word names like Fox and Rex and modern re-spellings like Jaxon or Hendrix. It’s such a versatile letter, really, because it works on long names like Alexander as well as short names like Max.
I’m curious… was the 80s/90s surge for girls due to a small handful of names (I’m guessing Alex, Alexis, etc.) or was it spread out among many?