A is for Acela….Meet 26 intriguing new names that debuted in 2021
There is always something new under the sun. Over 100,000 different names have already appeared in US national baby name statistics, yet every year parents introduce hundreds of brand-new choices. These debuts come from every source you can imagine and represent an extraordinary range of cultures and interests. Because names, more than ever before, reflect every part of the world around us.
Meet some of the noteworthy, intriguing, and remarkable names that were given to five or more boys or girls for the first time in 2021.
A: Acela (F)
Amtrak’s high-speed rail service has a simple, fashionable-sounding name with an extra burst of acceleration. The biggest surprise is that this name didn’t happen sooner.
B: Biden (M)
How fitting that “Amtrak Joe” Biden makes his baby-name debut alongside Acela. Political homage names are rare today, so this one is notable. Yet it’s still extremely uncommon compared to presidential names of earlier generations.
C: Celaena (F)
Calaena Sardothien is an assassin queen in Throne of Glass, a popular young adult fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas. The first book in the series was published a decade ago, so its young fans are now coming of age.
D: Darlington (M)
There are dozens of places called Darlington around the globe, but it’s a fair bet that the one that matters most to this name is the NASCAR Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
E: Endymion (M)
In Greek mythology, Endymion was a beautiful human sent into endless sleep by the gods. Endymion is also the title of a Keats poem and the name of various characters in science fiction, fantasy and video games.
F: Five (M)
Until this year, the only numbers used as names were those ending in -n: Seven, Eleven, Million, Billion, Trillion. Now you can add both Five and Three to the equation.
G: Grit (M)
Grit is a German girl’s name short for Margrit. But for boys, it’s usually chosen for the meaning “resolve and strength of character,” as in the John Wayne film title True Grit. Not coincidentally, the name Johnwayne also made its first appearance this year.
H: Hiraeth (F, M)
Hiraeth is a Welsh word for a nostalgic, homesick longing for a departed past or unreachable homeland—perhaps even one that never really existed. It is not traditionally used as a name in Wales.
I: Ice (M, F)
This ultra-simple, ultra-chill name made a double debut on the boys’ and girls’ charts. Ice, Ice babies.
J: Jerusalema (F)
The uplifting Zulu-language song “Jerusalema,” by South African musicians Master KG and Nomcebo, was a global hit and sparked a viral dance craze.
K: Koufax (M)
49 years after baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax entered the Hall of Fame, he received a new honor in the form of baby names. Give credit to the fashion appeal of that final x. Based on current trajectories, in 2022 more boys will be named Koufax than Sandy.
L: Lobo (M), Lupine (F)
Lobo is Spanish for “wolf.” Lupine is the name of a flowering plant, but also an adjective meaning “wolflike.” This pair, combined with new all-time highs for the names Wolf and Wolfgang, makes for the wolfiest name year ever.
M: Maevynn, Maeverly (F)
America has fully embraced the classic Irish name Maeve: its popularity has risen by 350% over the past decade. And like a hit song, a hit name inspires remixes.
N: Nezuko (F)
In the manga and anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Nezuko Kamado is a demon girl who wears a bamboo muzzle to restrain her from tasting human blood.
O: Ohtli (M)
A Nahuatl word meaning “path” or “road,” Ohtli is the name of an award given by the Mexican government to individuals who have helped Mexican citizens around the world.
P: Praisely (F)
The US popularity map of the hit name Paisley is a remarkably close match for the map of evangelical Christianity. This faith-forward twist on the name seems like a natural next step we should expect to hear more in the future.
Q: Quimby (F)
The surname Quimby (and fellow new entry Quinsley) follow the rise of Quincy for girls. For a role model, Harriet Quimby was America’s first licensed pilot. The Simpsons’ Mayor Quimby and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, though, are more widely known.
R: Rivia (F)
Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of the tv series The Witcher, is a mutated monster hunter. To fans, Rivia will sound like a medieval fantasy kingdom. To everyone else, it will sound like a fresh cousin to Olivia.
S: Saturn (M)
It was a big year for planets and Roman deities. In addition to Saturn, Neptune made its first appearance in the boys’ stats.
T: Trhue (F)
The name Trhue demonstrates the continuing growth of the “ornamental H” in American names. Another new example is Rhip, which also corresponds to a military acronym meaning “rank has its privileges.”
U: Umayr (M)
U is America’s least common name initial. Out of over a thousand brand-new names, this Arabic and Urdu name was the one and only debut starting with U.
V: Vignette (F)
In writing, a vignette is a brief, evocative narrative of a scene or episode. In art, it’s a small design that fills a space, or a small borderless portrait. The French -ette ending that indicates the small scales is also familiar from diminutive names like Annette.
W: Whiskey (M)
This spirit adds a rare male example to the mostly female roster of intoxicating baby names.
X: Xoán (M)
Xoán is the Galician form of John. Xoel, the Galician form of Joel, premiered in the US a few years ago. Other Galician X names like Xurxo (George) still await discovery.
Y: Yasuke (M)
The anime series Yasuke was inspired by a true historical figure. Yasuke was a swordfighter of African origin in 16th-century Japan, fighting for the “Great Unifier” Oda Nobunaga.
Z: ZaZa (F)
ZaZa is the performing name of child rapper, dancer and internet sensation Zahara Bean. It is also a slang term for high-end cannabis, and the title of multiple rap songs.
Beverly Cleary died last year at age 104. Her death may have prompted a fresh look at Ramona Quimby at just the right time for expectant parents.
“Biden” may be an unusual political name, but stylistically it seems to fit the Jaden/Caden pattern.
The “Maeve” blends may be influenced by the steady rise of “Maven“ in brand naming over the last 15 or so years, a topic I’ve been researching myself. In many cases the brand names have been inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” (2000), in which he categorized some influential people as mavens (from the Yiddish word meaning “one who understands“).
The male lead in the YA series of books and films ‘Divergent’ is called Five (after the number of his deepest fears).
Whiskey’s presence on the list of names here is fascinating to me because it may be an alcohol name, but it’s also something cooler: the most recent letter in the NATO phonetic alphabet to break into actual namehood! There’s only nine left to break that barrier, too. I suspect that it’s the NATO alphabet that ultimately is the root of that name’s usage, with the short-lived TV show Whiskey Cavalier (codename of protagonist Will Chase) as its intermediary. There was also a Whiskey on the show Dollhouse (who had about a dozen characters named for the phonetic alphabet), although she was a woman – I suspect the name’s use will ultimately shake out to be unisex if it sees wider adoption.
Putting aside actual very common names Charlie (2202F, 1988M), Juliet (1074F), Mike (159M), Oscar (1681M), Romeo (925M), and Victor (1803M), whose use as names long predates NATO, the 2021 data gives us these names:
Alpha (10F, 49M) <- the Alpha character on the aforementioned Dollhouse was a villainous male character, even though you'd expect this to be a feminine name just going off the sounds. Probably in the Wolfgang vein of lupine names, with a slightly subtler machismo. "Alfa" doesn't chart for boys or girls.
Delta (105F, 5M)
Echo (149F, 37M)
Papa (7M) <- this is a fairly common Ghanaian name, as in baller Papa "Pops" Mensah-Bonsu, or actor Paapa Essiedu; I'm not sure if it's unisex in use like Nana is (see: Nana Mensah the footballer vs Nana Mensah the actress)
Of the nine remaining option: Bravo is a somewhat common Hispanophone surname with an unambiguously positive meaning, so that's my guess for the next name to break though. Tango strikes me as a great name for a pet moreso than a human, but ostensibly unisex musical names are pretty popular right now. Foxtrot is a bit more audacious but has a similar Tango vibe. Yankee is probably too associated with "New York values" to see use among the Dixie crowd. Quebec *might* be a place-name for parents who want something that has roughly the cadence of Rebecca??
Golf, Hotel, and Uniform are obvious no-gos. But X-Ray – now, I bet you there are dozens of kids out there named Xavier Ray Jones who go by X-Ray. And if there aren't, there should be.