YA Names of the Future
In the wake of The Hunger Games, YA bookshelves are overflowing with novels set in the future. As a name enthusiast (okay, name nerd!), I’m intrigued by the names authors choose for their characters. I find myself evaluating futuristic names according to current name trends, pondering the likelihood of these names being used decades or centuries from now. If we examine the rise and fall in popularity of some of these names over the past 150 years or so, what predictions can we make for the future?
Everything Old Is New Again
Expectant parents are increasingly choosing names that were popular with their great-grandparents. Antique names sound fresh, and while the following names aren’t exactly common yet, their gradual upswing in popularity may indicate a continual rise, positioning them for widespread use by the time these futuristic heroines are saving the day.
Beatrice: Divergent by Veronica Roth (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, 2012 Readers’ Choice selection, 2012 Teens’ Top Ten nominee) features a society divided into factions and a girl who doesn’t fit into just one category. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA)*, the name Beatrice was among the 50 most popular names during the early 1900s. After a long absence on the popularity charts, it’s recently crept back into the top 1,000 names.
June: The ambitious heroine of Legend by Marie Lu (2012 Teens’ Top Ten nominee) bears a surprisingly sweet name, considering she’s determined to avenge her brother’s murder at any cost. The name June was most popular in the 1920s. It reappeared in the top 1,000 in 2007, and is now #470 on the SSA list.
Eve: In Eve by Anna Carey, girls are taught to fear men after a plague destroys most of the earth’s population. The name Eve, a Biblical classic, has hovered around the middle of the SSA’s top 1,000 list, rising to modest popularity in the 1910s and again in the 1960s. It fell off the charts for several decades, but we’re now seeing more Eves born in the United States than ever before. The name is definitely plausible for Carey’s book, set in 2032.
These names don’t rank on current popularity charts and aren’t obvious choices for futuristic settings — but their current obscurity doesn’t necessarily make them implausible.
Cassia: The contemplative heroine of Matched by Ally Condie (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, 2011 Teens’ Top Ten selection, 2012 Readers’ Choice selection) discovers darkness beneath the surface of her utopian society. Her name has never appeared in the SSA’s lists of top 1,000 baby names, so gauging the potential popularity of Cassia in a distant future is difficult. It certainly has a beautiful sound, though. I’d personally like to see more of this name.
Rhine: In Wither by Lauren de Stefano (2012 Teens’ Top Ten nominee), a genetic engineering disaster has sent the human race into chaos, and young Rhine is forced into a polygamous marriage for breeding purposes. Her name seems unusual, but fits the contemporary pattern of place names like Savannah or Brooklyn. It also has a masculine sound, putting it into the ever-growing category of boy names for girls. Although we don’t see many little Rhines running around nowadays, I declare it a plausible future name.
Tally: What kind of name suits a girl living in a society that exerts control through insidious ritualized plastic surgeries? For the protagonist of Uglies (2006 Best Books for Young Adults selection, 2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults selection), author Scott Westerfeld chose an uncommon name with an accessible sound. He explains, “I needed something that’s not a current name, but that doesn’t make your brain fritz when you read it. So I chose a regular word in English.”
Names that rise swiftly in popularity tend to have a swift fall, firmly cementing them to one particular era. If a name has a slow build, it’s likely to have more staying power, but a sharp rise to the top may make the name sound dated to later generations. (See name expert Laura Wattenberg’s thoughts on “date-stamped” names.)
Juliette: The tortured heroine of the action-packed Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi has quite a romantic name for someone who can kill with a mere touch. Both this name and its more traditional sound-alike, Juliet, are currently experiencing a significant popularity spike, having suddenly climbed hundreds of places in eight years after hanging out in the bottom of the 900s for the past two decades. Will its sharp rise inextricably link this name to the 2010s? Or could its long history (Hello, Shakespeare!) place it as an ever-present classic despite rising and falling? Only time will tell.
Not Likely… But You Never Know
The following names aren’t necessarily plausible future names according to current trends — but their implausibility makes them bold, unexpected, and interesting choices for futuristic heroines.
Katniss: The revolutionary heroine of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2009 Best Books for Young Adults selection, 2009 Teens’ Top Ten selection) is named after a bog plant. This botanical name was not on the radar before the book series became wildly popular, so there’s no way anyone could predict it as a name of the future. Ironically, the name now appears in baby name message board discussions, so who knows? Maybe a future Katniss will change the world.
Amy: In Across the Universe by Beth Revis (2012 Teens’ Top Ten nominee), a girl is cryogenically frozen and transported via spaceship to another planet — only to be unfrozen 50 years early. Her name, Amy, is firmly tied to the mid-20th century, peaking at #2 in the 1970s. Though likeable, this name’s popularity is steadily decreasing, making it a curious choice for a futuristic setting.
What would you name a character of the future?
– Allison Tran, currently reading The Diviners by Libba Bray
* The data for my analysis comes from the Social Security Administration’s popular baby names lists, perhaps best visualized at the Baby Name Wizard.