Times have changed at the start of the alphabet.
Once upon a time, businesses would start their names with AA to score the first alphabetical position in the phone book. And once upon a time, Aaron was the entire “Aa” section of any baby name dictionary.
Times have changed. Aaron’s monopoly has gone the way of the yellow pages: US baby name stats now feature 200 different Aa- names from Aabha to Aaziyah. How did we get here?
The letter A doesn’t usually double up in English. If you do encounter an aa word, chances are it’s borrowed from another language. Aardvark, for instance, is Afrikaans Dutch meaning “earth+pig.” The standard spelling of the biblical name Aaron is a roundabout case of borrowing too. The original Hebrew אַהֲרֹן, “Aharon,” lost its h in Greek translation (Ααρών). English borrowed the Greek double-a spelling but pronounced it as a single a.
That chance translation gave Aaron an absolute lock on the beginning of the English name alphabet for centuries. Take a look at the historical popularity of Aaron vs. all other Aa- names. These graphs run from the start of US baby name stats through 1993, the year a name dictionary was published with the comprehensive title From Aaron to Zoe.
The non-Aaron Aa names scarcely even register until Aaron’s 1970s surge. (At that point the name became so popular that that variant spellings, typos and spinoffs were common enough to make their statistical mark.) Then in 1994, the picture suddenly shifted.
In the spring of 1994, singer Aaliyah Haughton released her debut album under the mononym “Aaliyah.” The album launched multiple hits, including the singer’s own name. Previously rare, it was an alternate spelling of an Arabic name with a striking, contemporary look. Hundreds of baby girls were named Aaliyah that year, and the name continued to grow until it became a perennial top-100 hit. For African-American families in particular, it helped shape the sound of a generation.
Aaliyah’s own popularity wasn’t the end of the story. Modern parents are eager for the new and different, in names and in spelling. When a spelling idea strikes a chord, they run with it.
Khloe Kardashian sparked a rush of new “ornamental h” names. The Nintendo Wii game platform helped inspire new ii names. And Aaliyah opened parents’ eyes to the possibility of the double-a. By 2004, a decade after the singer’s debut, US name stats featured dozens of new Aa- names including Aaden, Aalexis, Aalisha, Aaralyn, Aarianna, Aalyssa, Aaniyah, Aamani and Aanika.
Today, the Aaron vs. Other Aa graphs look very different. The orange line represents Aaron’s current popularity.
There’s one more piece of the story. For the first 10-15 years after Aaliyah’s debut, that name and other African-American names it inspired drove the rise of the Aa category. Since then, a whole new group of names has gathered momentum. Aaron and Aaliyah are still #1 and #2, but the rest of America’s top 10 Aa names are now Indian names.
3. Aarav (M)
4. Aarna (F)
5. Aarya (F)
6. Aadhya (F)
7. Aanya (F)
8. Aayan (M)
9. Aadya (F)
10. Aariv (M)
It’s not just the names that have taken off, but the double-A transliterations. 20 years ago Arav and Aarav were both uncommon names of equal popularity. Today Arav is still rare, while Aarav ranks #635 among all American boys’ names.
More Indian names with an interior aa like Ayaan, Kiaan and Vihaan also rank in America’s top 1000. Meanwhile a historic popularity surge for Isaac and parents’ eagerness for new biblical ideas like Canaan have opened even more options. From now on, aanything goes.
Gotta link the classic Key and Peele sketch about A-aron https://youtu.be/Dd7FixvoKBw