The action-name trend for boys is a backlash

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Parents tend to be more conservative about naming baby boys, Isabelle Kohn says, but when they do get creative, they turn them into throat-ripping action heroes:

Recently, there’s been a surge in female babies being named things like Echo, Victory and Ireland, and the girls’ names coming out of Hollywood are even more flamboyant. We all know Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, but have you met Hilary Duff’s spawn Banks Violet Bair, Cardi B’s Kulture Kiari Cephus or Kylie Jenner’s mononymous child accessory Stormi?

Whereas it’s rare to see boys with more expressive names that set them apart, it’s normal — expected, even — to see girls with names or spellings that make them stand out (lookin’ at you, Maddisyn). Laura Wattenberg, a naming expert and self-proclaimed “Baby Name Wizard” who combs through annals of Social Security Administration (SSA) data to suss out naming trends, says the most popular “unique” girls’ names in recent years have been Genesis, Serenity, Heavenly, Promise, Legacy, Treasure and Egypt. Basically, she says, if it’s a word, it can — and will be — a girl’s name.

By contrast, expressive naming practices don’t seem to apply to baby boys at all. According to research from the SSA, parents are three times more likely to give girls “unusual” names than they are boys, a phenomenon often referred to by naming experts as the “originality gap.” The result of this gap is hordes of boys named Andrew. And Greg, and Michael, and Matt, Sam, Mark, Chris and Ryan — humble, simple and inoffensive names that convey neither the expressiveness nor poetry of feminine monikers like Eden, Phoenix or Diva Muffin, the label Frank Zappa so kindly applied to his daughter.

“For most of recent history, Western boys have been given drab, biblically informed names like Brian, John or Nicholas,” says Matthew Hahn, a professor of biology and informatics at the University of Indiana who co-authored a 2003 study comparing baby name trends to evolutionary models. “In general, they’ve been nowhere near as ‘creative.’” They’ve also been extremely patriarchal — it’s an honor to be named after the (male) head honcho of your family, and first-born boys are particularly prone to being gifted with grandpa’s nominative legacy.


According Wattenberg, a new breed of rugged, hyper-macho and blatantly “action-oriented” names for boys has exploded in popularity in recent years, and their inventiveness is starting to match the creativity and expressiveness that girls names have always enjoyed. Combing through pages of recent Social Security Administration data, she found that the usage of “doer” names like Racer, Trooper and Charger have risen more than 1,000 percent between 1980 and 2000, and have increased exponentially ever since.

In a recent Namerology article on the topic, she lists several of the burlier, more aggressive names that have been picking up steam: Angler, Camper, Tracker, Trapper, Catcher, Driver, Fielder, Racer, Sailor, Striker, Wheeler — deep breath — Breaker, Roper, Trotter, Wrangler — still going — Lancer, Shooter, Slayer, Soldier, Tracer, Trooper — wait, “Slayer”? — Blazer, Brewer, Charger, Dodger, Laker, Pacer, Packer, Raider, Ranger, Steeler, Warrior — kill me — Dreamer, Jester and — wait for it — Rocker.


For today’s parents, it seems the more aggressive and bloodthirsty the name, the better. Wattenberg’s research found that 47 boys were named “Raider” in 2018, and “Hunter” tops the brawny baby charts as the country’s most popular hypermasculine name. According to Hahn, names like these give parents a way to be creative without breaking the masculinity mold. They’re expressive, vivid and undeniably unique, but they’re also pulsating with testosterone and so certifiably burly that he suspects some parents are using them as anti-bullying shields. “Who’s going to make fun of Striker?” he says. By the same token, names like “Shooter,” “Gunner” or “Slayer” seem particularly resistant to playground taunting.


It’s also possible, he says, that the action-name trend for boys is a backlash to the evolving definition of masculinity. As the concept of masculinity evolves into something more dynamic, personal and sensitive than the John Wayne stereotype of the past, groups of conservationist parents are staking a claim on the increasingly endangered species of traditional manhood by naming their children after the most stereotypically masculine things possible. “It could be a backlash to changing norms around what it means to be a man, and a staking of a position about masculinity and traditional values,” he suggests.


  1. Graham says:

    So, parents for mysterious reasons spare a generation of boys from stupid names and this is called an “originality gap”?

    There’s insight into the mind of the age, right there.

  2. Albion says:

    Whenever I hear a boy being given what I call a surname as a first name, I can almost guarantee the lad’s parents are reasonably stupid. Mind you, I came across one lad called Jordan J Jordan, though thankfully the initial in the middle was just J and not actually another Jordan. Perhaps his parents thought the boy needed that to distinguish him from one of the many other Jordan Jordans one meets.

  3. Carl says:

    In terms of hypermasculine names mismatched with milquetoast men can anyone compete with Wolf Blitzer?

  4. Grasspunk says:

    “can anyone compete with Wolf Blitzer”

    Rip Torn is pretty good.

    These will be great for nicknames. All Dodgers must be be called Artful. And I want any kid called Slayer to have his name said like this:

  5. Sam Vara says:

    “Who’s going to make fun of Striker?”

    If he’s bookish and non-combative, absolutely everyone.

  6. Graham says:

    Occasionally I notice that large chunks of the English speaking world are cut of from names that actually have meaning in our own language- they’re originally surnames, or they are from Old English, French, Latin, Greek or Biblical Hebrew, among others. Some, like my own, have lost or disputed meanings as well as having been surnames first.

    It stands out when dealing with folks whose names still have actual meanings in the living language they speak everyday. Or near enough.

    Short forms, nicknames, and diminutives/affectionates makes it worse: from Stargate SG1

    Criminal Minds tackles the issue of whether the name makes the man:

  7. Graham says:

    There was also the 1998 Spike Lee movie with Denzel Washington, “He Got Game”. [I don't know if it was made, but in 2018 there was talk of a sequel that "needs to happen": She Got Game. Inevitably.]

    Denzel’s character gets paroled because his son is a high school basketball star and the governor wants the kid to enrol at his alma mater & Denzel’s exemplary coaching/parenting is called for.

    The kid’s name is Jesus Shuttlesworth. Jeezus, not Hayzoos.

    SO the kid confronts his father with the comment, “why’d you gotta name me Jesus, anyway?”

    Denzel deadpans, “It’s a Biblical name.”

    Kid replies, “I know it’s a Biblical name.”

  8. Graham says:

    As an Xer who watched Friends, I can’t hear the name Striker without thinking of the character Joey Tribbiani’s career as a soap actor. He first played a character called Dr. Drake Ramoray, who got killed off.

    Then they brought in some other guy to play his brother, Dr. Stryker Ramoray.

    And it has to be Stryker, not Striker. Nonstandard spelling is a must.

    I always figure my Ivy League name should be Remington Drake IV.

  9. TRX says:

    > girls with names or spellings that make them stand out

    And those which they insist are pronounced in some weird way, so they can get double-butthurt when you try to say it.

    “Your parents hated you and wanted you to be miserable, and your continued use of your ‘special’ name marks you as too stupid to petition the court for a change to something better.”

  10. TRX says:

    >Dr. Stryker Ramoray.

    And it has to be Stryker, not Striker. Nonstandard spelling is a must.

    Some scriptwriter probably new that some doctors use Stryker saws to cut bone, so they thought it was kewl. “Stryker, geddit, hur-hur-hur!”

  11. Wang Wei Lin says:

    It’s tribalism. The first unusual English names, if you can call it that, began showing up in Black society in the 80s as I recall. Now that the civil society is dissolving the symptoms of tribalism are spreading. One of them is weird, mispelled or neo-pagan names.

  12. Harry Jones says:

    Stupid parents give their kids stupid names.

    How old do you have to be before you can legally petition for a name change?

    By the way, there are cultures where it’s expected for each child to have a unique given name. It’s the convention.

  13. Red Arrow says:

    My next son will be named “Testosterone”. Take THAT, Bruce er…Katelyn Jenner!

  14. Graham says:

    Yes, but you have to make sure he knows to always tell people it’s pronounced tes-TOS-ter-on-ee. And tell them it’s a traditional name from his culture.

    I assume they were apocryphal, but I used to see an ancient meme about African-American kids named Female [fem-AHL-ee] and Lemonjello [lem-ON-jel-o].

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