I just read a Los Angeles Times article with a provocative headline: “Naming Babies Goes Over to the Dark Side.” According to data released last week by the federal Social Security Administration, 238 social security cards were issued in 2016 to American newborns named Kylo. That finding makes Kylo the 901st most popular boy’s name for the year. Kylo’s ranking isn’t nearly as impressive as that of old-fashioned names like Noah, William, and James, which (along with Liam and Mason) make up the 2016 top five. But it’s the Hollywood connection that renders the fast-rising popularity of Kylo so noteworthy.
The name Kylo wasn’t on anybody’s radar until late 2015, and the debut of the hugely popular Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Obviously the character of Kylo Ren, played by a charismatic Adam Driver, captured the imagination of a great many moviegoers, some of whom were soon to become parents.. Thing is – Kylo Ren, the lovechild of Han Solo and Princess Leia, has been wooed over to the Dark Side. In the course of the film, he takes on many of the characteristics of his evil grandfather, Darth Vader. At the risk of spoiling plot surprises, let’s just say he’s not the sort of son who does his father proud. (As a matter of fact, he does his father in.) So proud parents who bestow this name upon their offspring would seem to me to be asking for trouble.
Nobody asked my advice, of course. And I’m well aware that the American public is susceptible to choosing baby names based on Hollywood celebrities and their most famous roles. The wonderful Bette Midler, who’s now triumphing on Broadway in a revival of Hello, Dolly!, was named after her mother’s favorite star, Bette Davis. (The difference in pronunciation stems from the fact that Midler’s mom, living in Hawaii, had never actually heard the name of the great Davis pronounced aloud.) The mother of Dustin Hoffman gave her firstborn the name of matinee idol Ronald Colman. When a second son arrived, she bestowed on him the moniker of an old-time cowboy star, Dustin Farnum. And I know a Baby Boomer, an African-American woman, who was so impressed with the dignity and courage of Sidney Poitier that she was determined to include the name Sidney on her son’s birth certificate. The only problem was that she didn’t particularly like the name itself. So she agonized throughout her hospital stay, until finally committing to the Nigerian name Kamau.
Popular movies can encourage a whole spate of babynaming. In 1970 it was Love Story, a sappy novel that became a weepy film about a perfect romance that ends in tragedy. I’m certain it was the popularity of Love Story that led to the naming of so many little Jennifers and Olivers shortly thereafter. Long before that era,, Jenny was the name of my elderly great-aunt. But the Seventies ushered in a whole flock of little Jennifers. Many of them are now in their mid-thirties, and busy dubbing their kids Kylo.
The article in the Times points out that names in the news can discourage as well as encourage babynaming. In the Nineties, with the popularity of TV’s Friends, lots of little girls were dubbed
Monica after the character played by Courtney Cox. But by the end of the decade, the sex scandal involving President Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky made the name suddenly far less attractive. And Caitlin, in all its variations, plunged in popularity in 2016. This doubtless related to public scrutiny when a certain Bruce was transformed into Caitlyn Jenner.