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YA Names of the Future

2012 September 4
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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.

Outliers

Matched by Ally CondieThese 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.”

Dated? Classic?

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.

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13 Responses
  1. Karen permalink
    September 4, 2012

    I love articles that combine my passions – in this case over-analyzing baby names and YA fiction! I definitely think that Amy was an odd choice for Across the Universe, I think it gave it the feel of an old-school 70s sci-fi novel instead of something fresh and new.

    They did at least explain Katniss in the books, and I love how Suzanne Collins helped clarify the immense differences between the districts just through the names we see. Yay for authors thinking hard about the powers of names!

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      September 4, 2012

      Thanks for commenting! Glad to meet another name “enthusiast.” I would like to ask Beth Revis how she chose the name Amy- did she just like the name, or was she thinking it might sound charmingly antique to later generations? (I absolutely LOVE the Across the Universe series, by the way, and can’t wait for book 3.)

      Suzanne Collins rocked the names in The Hunger Games. Katniss is a striking choice, but the name choices I found especially amazing were the kids from the wealthier districts. I could definitely see names like Glimmer and Gloss coming into fashion as people try to give their babies names that evoke luxury. We see it already with names like Lexus, which entered the top 1000 over the last couple of decades. I love that Collins took that trend even further. It’s almost parody, but there’s truth to it, too! I agree, you can tell she really put a lot of thought into the names.

      • September 4, 2012

        Glimmer and Gloss are indeed not far off if you consider that at my son’s daycare (which is indeed in a “wealthier district” (where I work, not where I live) there is a kid named Awesome.

        • Allison Tran permalink*
          September 4, 2012

          A kid named Awesome?? Really! I love that the parents just laid it all out there– “Our kid is AWESOME.” Why not, right?

          • Roclibrarian permalink
            November 28, 2012

            Perhaps his parents are Turkish? I dated a man named Asim before — his name was pronounced like the English work awesome.

  2. Justin Lovette permalink
    September 4, 2012

    Apparently in the future, YA males have become extinct, which makes since they are an endangered species today.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      September 4, 2012

      Justin, you’re right, I didn’t include any male names in this analysis. I could have gone on and on, believe me, but the word count was too high already! I would have liked to have discussed Thomas, from The Maze Runner, for example. A classic name– typical of the way male names tend to be less prone to trends than female names. I think parents are more willing to be fanciful or experimental with their girls’ names, but boys are expected to be sturdy and dependable, and parents often stick with the classics. So, Thomas fits into a futuristic scenario perfectly.

      What male names stand out to you in futuristic YA novels?

      • Matt permalink
        September 6, 2012

        The characters in Maze Runners were named after famous scientists and philosophers.

        • Allison Tran permalink*
          September 6, 2012

          Good point, Matt! So, a lot of very traditional names in that series.

  3. September 5, 2012

    Of course, I’m partial to Beatrice, and June is a family name as well. There’s an elegance, timelessness and uniqueness to old-fashioned names that make them so without seeming “way out there”. And when you’re able to tie your name to significant female role models, I think it gives girls something to aspire to, or at least admire and have affinity to. (Same for boys/male names too.)

    One of the by for most unique – and I imagine loaded – name to live up to was a K-12 classmate whose given name is Ms. Kindness. Yes, “Ms.” is a part of her formal first name…. which has tempted me more than once to suggest naming our child “Dame or Duchess [girl's name here]“. ;)

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      September 6, 2012

      Sherry, thanks so much for commenting! You’ll have to read Divergent and see what you think of the character Beatrice. I think you’ll find a positive role model there. (And I’m with you, I love old-fashioned names. I love that they seem to come back into style eventually, too.)

      Ms. Kindness!! That’s amazing. I love the idea that these parents want to bestow certain qualities on their children with their name. It may be quirky, but it’s definitely sweet.

  4. Juliann permalink
    September 11, 2012

    My paternal grandmother’s name was Cassia. She was born in Sicily in the late 1800′s. My father wanted to name me after her but, my mother didn’t really get a long with her mother-in-law so I am named after my variation of my mother’s name instead.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      September 12, 2012

      Cassia is such a pretty name. That’s pretty funny about the fact that your mother didn’t want you named after her mother-in-law, though– a timeless conflict!

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