James Cheng / msnbc.com
By Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz
The hottest baby names of 2012 – those attracting the biggest spikes in views on Nameberry for the first six months of this year – are an astonishing group: Highly unusual yet strangely familiar, heavily influenced by pop culture yet boldly individualistic.
The strongest baby name influences right now: "Hunger Games," "Game of Thrones" and ancient Rome. Many of the names relate to nature and to worlds beyond our own. And most share a transcendence of traditional gender identity, containing elements of names for the opposite gender if not crossing over to unisex territory.
Nameberry’s hottest names so far this year, based on over six million views of our individual name pages, are:
Senna – The female Senna and its near-identical male twin Cinna dominate the top of Nameberry’s hot list, both up a mind-blowing 1500 percent over last year. (Senna had 2,269 views on Nameberry for the first half of 2012 compared with 146 views in the first half of 2011.) We predict Senna, name of a Twilight vampire and a tragic racecar driver, will be used more often in real life. Like Cinna, Senna carries a "Hunger Games" influence: It’s an obscure botanical name meaning “brightness” in Arabic, an ingredient in a dieters’ tea.
Niall – An ancient Irish name that means cloud and was borne by several high kings, Niall seemed an unlikely hottie until Niall Horan of the rock band One Direction came along and made it cool again. He pronounces it like the river – Nile – which gives it a nature element as well; pronouncing it like Neil definitely makes it more old school.
Arya – We talked about the hotness of Aria earlier this year, but now we’re seeing an even bigger rise – over 800 percent – in Arya, the cognate used in "Game of Thrones." Arya Stark, daughter of a ruler of one of the kingdoms, is separated from her family and raised as a boy and expert sword fighter.
Decimus – Decimus, which means tenth, is an ancient Roman name of the kind that is suddenly all the rage, thanks to a combination of "The Hunger Games," in which many of the male characters have ancient Roman names. Decimus was the middle name of Maximus, Russell Crowe’s Gladiator character. Other Latin names such as Nero and Tiberius are also hot on Nameberry right now.
Caia – If vampires and ancient Romans can influence baby names, why not werewolves? Caia is the name of the half-witch, half-lycan main character of the Lunarmorte series of novels by Samantha Young. And Caia has an ancient Roman connection too: She was the goddess of fire and of women.
Gatsby – Literary names from 20th century classics, including names of characters and literary figures alike, have become stylish. The unusual Gatsby, the namesake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, is sure to rise even further when the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio debuts at Christmas. Gatsby’s hotness follows last year’s Hadley, real name of "The Paris Wife" of Ernest Hemingway, along with Atticus and Harper, the hero and the author of "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Blue – Beyonce and Jay-Z’s choice of Blue for their daughter catapulted this stylish but quietly-used color name to superstardom, up over 600 percent on Nameberry in the first half of the year. The name Blue might also be thought of as the ultimate nature name, relating to sky, water, and flowers.
Zebulon – Zebulon is an ancient name that relates to both the Bible and the Old West, a combination that made stars of names like Joshua and Benjamin. The biblical Zebulon founded one of the tribes of Israel and the Western Zebulon’s namesake is Pike’s Peak. Bonus: Cool nickname Zeb.
Sybil – The lovely Lady Sybil Crawley has restored the image of this name as expertly as she nursed the wounded soldiers at "Downton Abbey." The taint of multiple personality disorder is gone now that the other Sybil has confessed she was faking, and that few people remember the ancient oracle who first defined the name. The original but less-used spelling is actually Sibyl.
Calix – There’s a major trend afoot of boys’ names rising on the heels of their stylish female counterparts: Emmett after Emma and Emily, Everett after Eva and Eve, and now Calix, a Greek name meaning beautiful and the male version of Calista and Callie. The X ending makes it particularly appealing, a cooler version of Alex.
Halcyon – Is Halcyon the new Nevaeh? The Halcyone was a mythical kingfisher bird who could calm the seas, and Halcyon is getting fresh attention as a first name for both boys and girls, despite the sleeping pill association. TV actress Beth Littleford recently named her daughter Halcyon Juna.
Django – The title character of the next Quentin Tarantino movie is a freed slave, but the most famous real-life Django was Belgian jazz guitarist Reinhardt, who adopted the Gypsy nickname meaning “I awake.” If you’re confused on pronunciation, the d is silent and the g is hard.
Nova – Another heavenly name relating to the stars and meaning “new,” Nova is on the rise along with celestial sister names like Luna and Aurora.
Theon – Theon is another unusual name from the George R. R. Martin books that has ancient roots: Theon was a Greek teacher of mathematics and astronomy who was father to the first woman mathematician.
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