I’m not one of those joyless people who thinks there’s something wrong with giving children creative and unusual names — I’d rather meet a little kid named Killarney than Kevin any day. But parents are tying their offspring to the associations people have with certain names, so they should at least consider what they’re in for before they write “Adolph” on the birth certificate.
Below are a dozen once-unremarkable names that have shifted in meaning thanks to historical and pop cultural events. Since these associations can change over time, I’ve included a predictive forecast for how long the current meaning of the name in our collective unconscious is likely to survive.
“Karen” used to be a perfectly normal thing to name a baby girl. It was actually among the most popular baby names in the 1960s, and therein lies the problem. Those 1960s babies became middle aged women in the 2000s, and when the cultural hive mind needed a (usually sexist) pejorative for a specific kind of entitled white lady, “Karen” stuck.
Longterm Forecast: Calling someone a “Karen” isn’t all that funny or clever, so it will probably stick around for a long time. Forecast not good.
Mario (and Luigi)
Mario is an awesome name. It’s a shame that it’s nearly 100% associated with a video game character. That said, Mario the character is heroic, funny, loyal, and can jump on turtles really well, so it’s not like people are going to assume anything negative about your offspring should you choose that name. But everyone is going to think “It’s a me, Mario!” when your kid walks into the room, and only about half of everyone will be polite enough to not blurt it out. Naming your kid Luigi is like naming them “Player 2.”
Longterm Forecast: Judging by Nintendo’s constant release of Mario games, it’s going to be a long time before anyone forgets the association.
On disreputable corners of the internet, “Chad” has become shorthand for a young man who is handsome and successful with women in an obnoxious way. It’s synonymous with “alpha dudebro,” especially when the last name “Thundercock” is added. Chads are basically the imaginary enemies of the involuntarily celibate men who lurk around online. This doesn’t seem like a bad thing to be named to me, but you run the risk of your kid not actually being very Chad-like, and having a name that’s a constant reminder.
Longterm Forecast: No one listens to the kinds of people who hang out on 4chan/reddit, so I don’t think this one will last.
Most hurricanes don’t ruin the names they are given, but Katrina wasn’t an ordinary hurricane. 2005’s category 5 storm’s 282 km/h winds and 20ft storm surge resulted in an estimated $US81 ($112) billion in damage and over 1,800 deaths. So it’s a pretty heavy weight to put on a newborn.
Longterm forecast: Climate instability is certain to result in worse hurricanes in the coming years, so Katrina might lose its cultural meaning soon.
If you were a certain kind of hyper-literate/pretentious parent in the mid 1990s, you might have named your daughter “Hermione” to ensure she would have an exotic, unusual name to mark her as the child of parents who like old books. You’d have no idea that you were actually sentencing her to the most cheugy name possible and a lifetime of explaining, “Actually, I was named after Hermione Seymour, the main character in Charlotte Lennox 1791 novel Hermione, or the Orphan Sister.”
Longterm Forecast: Because people don’t read books as much any more, the Harry Potter association with “Hermione” is likely to wane, but the meaning of the name is forever tainted. It will never have the same cachet it did before Harry Potter.
“Adolph” is the king of negatively associated names. It was never that popular in the United States, but it was fairly common in Germany before World War II. Afterwards, it basically disappeared worldwide. There are exceptions, of course (you’re not fooling anyone, Dolph Lundgren), but for the most part, “Adolph” remains a name that shall never be spoken.
Longterm forecast: Not good. Adolph isn’t going to change in meaning anytime soon.
Two perfectly respectable names that have become synonymous with eerily friendly “digital assistants.” That said, both Siri nor Alexa are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible — no one wants an AI with a personality — so there isn’t a specific kind of person associated with either name, good or bad.
Longterm Forecast: Pretty good, actually. Tech changes pretty fast, and tech “mascots” are forgotten quickly. No one worries about naming their child “Bob” because of Microsoft Bob.
We need slang terms for our genitals; it’s just a shame when people’s names get associated forever with body parts that’s aren’t polite to talk about. On the other hand, it’s only the most juvenile adult who might giggle at meeting someone named “Dick,” and I say this as someone with the last name “Johnson.” It’s only between the ages of like 11 to 25 that your kid will catch the brunt of their name.
Longterm Forecast: “Dick” and “Fanny” aren’t going anywhere, but most people aren’t going to care if they meet someone with these names.
No matter how you feel about Donald Trump, naming your child “Donald” risks forever linking your new baby with the former president. And that’s just to adults — to kids, he’s going to be “Donald Duck.”
Longterm forecast: Poor. I have a feeling MAGA America is never going to let anyone forget about Donald Trump.
Waldo is really cool name. It’s a shame that it’s so thoroughly connected with a series of picture books with a main character who is perpetually lost. If your child is given this name, he or she has only a couple of strategies for dealing with people saying, “I found you.” The first is a cold nod that says, “I’ve heard this before.” The second is to lean into it by always wearing a beanie, round glasses, and a red and white shirt.
Longterm Forecast: The connotation of the name “Waldo” with the character is likely to stick around for your child’s lifetime, mainly because it goes so well with “Where’s.” That’s some memorable alliteration.
The original The Omen came out in 1976, and the name Damien has been connected with supernatural evil since.
Longterm Forecast: Pretty good. Most people don’t remember the specifics of The Omen, and no one liked the reboot, so your darling Damien likely won’t be thought of as the antichrist. They might be thought of as vaguely menacing and mysterious though, which is a good thing in my book.
There’s no specific pop culture connection to the name “Guy,” but it’s so widely used to mean “generic member of the male species” and “what you have three of in Defender,” that giving your child this name might make him seem boring and basic. Just a guy.
Longterm Forecast: Medium.