How often do people name their children after cars?
Given the breadth of creativity applied to children of the 21st century, I thought this was a question worth investigating. To find out, I analyzed the 33,044 names registered for newborns in 2014 with the U.S. Social Security Administration. To get on the list, a name has to be used a minimum of five times. (The most popular name for a girl, “Emma,” was given 20,799 times last year.)
First, I looked for names that were also car brands. Obviously, some brand were named after people at their inception — Lincoln, Mercedes — and there were several others that would be coincidental if they showed up. But I was still curious about how much overlap there would be. Here’s the answer:
I was surprised the list was as long as it is. Some of these words — Audi, Infiniti and Kia, for example — didn’t really exist in our culture before the automaker came along. Chevy can claim another victory over Ford, at least for 2014, although it’s close. And I don’t really know what to think about boys named Jaguar.
Naming your child after an automotive inspiration turns out to be a decades-old trend. Laura Wattenberg, founder of BabyNameWizard.com and an inveterate watcher of the data in spawn signifiers, says the first burst of car-related naming began in the ‘20s and ‘30s, when mothers started moving further away from relatives and no longer put their relatives’ names on their offspring. Names like “Pearl” and “Golden” became popular for their intonations of luxury and value — and along with them, “Royce,” after the Rolls-Royces driven by the powerful.
“You do see a lot of luxury brands cross the line onto baby names,” says Wattenberg. “Any kind of brand associated with a lifestyle, like Armani or Prada…an obvious place to look is things you like and admire” (She notes as an aside the trend in boys’ names today like “Colt,” “Remington” and even “Beretta” — all drawn from guns.)
Wattenberg said that Lexus and Infiniti fit neatly into the pattern established by Royce many decades ago, with Lexus getting a bump because it’s close to the more popular Alexis. But it’s not the reason for the popularity of “Bentley,” which has spiked a few years back due to its infant-branding choice by one of the stars of MTV’s “Teen Mom” show.
What about car models? I decided to go back through the data and match current models for sale (and yes, I threw “Dakota” in there). Out popped a much longer, and somewhat stranger, set of matches:
|Model & baby names||Girls||Boys||Total|
For starters: There were no Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes (or Vettes) or Hellcats born in 2014 (sorry, muscle-car dads.) There might be a Prius running around somewhere, but there haven’t been the minimum five kids with that name born in the past decade.
Obviously, most of these like Sienna (the Toyota minivan), Journey (Dodge SUV) and Cooper (Mini everything) are coincidence, but Wattenberg says that’s not surprising. “Babies that are getting named the same way that products are — parents are trying to come up with a creative positioning in the marketplace. They’re looking for the same impact.”
It’s at the lower end of this list where I see stronger signs of car-culture influence. “Camry,” for one, was a word that didn’t exist here before Toyota introduced it, but has some crossover in Japanese culture; its the English-ized phonetic pronunciation of the Japanese word for “crown.” The name “Renegade” didn’t make the list until the same year Jeep launched a SUV with that name. As for the five boys named “Wraith?” I only hope that’s someone who thought “Royce” was just too highfalutin’ and decided to borrow the model name instead.
And as for those luxury automakers who have switched to handfuls of letters and numbers for their models instead of old-fashioned names: See what kind of free advertising you’re missing?