U.S. News

02.19.14

Baby Names: Gunning For Trouble?

Calling your child ‘Facebook’ is a strange sign of the times. But the rise in firearm names is an even more alarming representation of society.

Yahoo, Terminator, Scrotum, Burger King.

What reads like a deranged movie plot is instead just four of the 61 monikers that parents in Northwest Mexico are now banned from naming their children after one family called theirs’ “Facebook.”

But yet going all wild, wild west on your child with a name like Remington or Colt after a weapon that kills one person every 17 minutes is A-OK corral here in America.

After three books  and a decade of studying name choices and their impact, Laura Wattenberg, creator of BabyNameWizard.com, an interactive visual exploration of baby name popularity, says she’s rarely shocked by any name. But what has astonished her this year, she says, is the firearm trend. “Babies are named after guns and alcohol [in America], not Facebook and Twitter.”

Statistics on top names for 2013 are not yet out, but Wattenberg says it’s not the Sophia’s or Jacob’s that we should focus on. A concept she explains on her blog: “The most popular baby names are the ones that make the news. The real action, though, is deeper down the name list— the names that are used dozens of times each year, not thousands. That's where you see parents' minds churning.”

Digging deeper, says Wattenberg, is where you will find the Gunners and Wessons, not Retweets and Tumblrs. While researching for her newest book, the baby name expert took stock of the increase in gun and hunting-themed baby names. Her statistics show a steady rise in firearm nomenclature.

In 2002, only 194 babies were named Colt, while in 2012 there were 955. Just 185 babies were given the name Remington in 2002, but by 2012 the number had jumped to 666. Perhaps the most surprising of all, however, is a jump in the name Ruger’s (America’s leading firearm manufacturer) from just 23 in 2002 to 118 in 2012.  “This name [Ruger] is more evidence of parents’ increasing interest in naming children after firearms,” Wattenberg writes. “Colt, Remington, and Gauge have all soared, and Gunner is much more common than the traditional name Gunnar.”

If 2012’s statistics are any indication; her point is sound. In 1999, Gunner ranked 739th on the list of the Official Social Security site’s 1000 most popular names for boys—by 2012 it jumped to 293rd. Remington, for both girls and boys,spiked in the last few years as well, starting at 731st place in 1999 and jumping to 421nd a decade later. In 2012 alone, approximately 1,607 babies per million were named Colton—a peak high for the name.

“I think of names as a fossil record of our culture. You can look back over generations and get a sense of what people were talking about.”

And while a solid argument could be made that these names are often chosen for their style alone and not for their relationship to firearms, the inclination towards them says something about our society. “I think of names as a fossil record of our culture. You can look back over generations and get a sense of what people were talking about—our obsessions, our dreams, etc,” says Wattenberg.

We can’t discount pop culture’s roll in this nomenclature trend either. According to Wattenberg, the fastest growing name for girls in the past year was Cataleya, the main character in the movie Colombiana, where Zoe Saldana plays a child of murdered parents who grows up to be an assassin. One-time Bristol Palin boyfriend—and the father of her child Tripp—Levi Johnston told ABC the film no doubt influenced him some when naming his second child (with girlfriend Sunny Oglesby) Breeze Beretta. “Like the gun,” he said of the Italian firearm moniker.

Whatever the inspiration for a baby’s name, Wattenberg says parents shouldn’t be excessively worried about names contributing to bullying. “Today’s kids have no sense of what a normal name is,” Wattenberg says. “Statistically there is no longer a ‘normal name.’”

Besides, whichever American child is the first to actually be named Facebook will have good company. The story that inspired America’s social media name game is a true one—based on a young father who named his daughter Facebook to honor the youth who toppled Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak. Try bullying that one.