Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ken - not just Barbie's boyfriend

Barbie and Ken making eyes at each other in 'Toy Story 3'

I've recently been referred to a blog by a man named Kenney. At first I was a little confused, as it's not a naming related blog. But then it became a little clearer - you see, Kenney really likes his name. Really, really likes his name. So much that he has devoted several posts to famous Kens and Kennys from all walks of life, such as authors, politicians, actors and singers.

Admittedly, Ken or Kenny is not really a name that I would normally consider. My main associations with the name are Barbie's boyfriend, saxophonist Kenny G (who always seemed a little wimpy to me) and a great uncle Ken (Kenneth) that I barely remember. So to me it felt a little "soft" and dated.

But Kenneys' obvious enthusiasm for his name stuck in my head. Then recently while I was having a look at the list of names I keep for potential upcoming posts, I realised that while I'm not a fan of Ken or Kenny, I actually have my eyes on a few Ken related names. I guess I just prefer a less traditional path to Ken. There are a surprisingly large number of names starting with Ken, such as  Kent, Kendra, Kenzie, Kenlee, Kennedy, Kenzo, Kendrew, Kenway, Kennelly, Kensington and Kenisha. But the next three would have to be my current favourites.

Kenyon - I find myself strangely attracted to Kenyon. It has quite an earthy, spiritual feel to it, maybe because of it's similarity to both the word canyon and the East African country Kenya. While Kenyon may feel like a new, possibly made up name, it actually has roots in Gaelic, and means 'blond' or 'white haired'. Not very exciting, I know. It also has a history of use in the US since 1914 for boys and 1969 for girls. While for boys it has entered the top 1000 a number of times, it spends more time skirting around just outside the top 1000. It's usage is much rarer for girls.

Kendall - not so strange anymore thanks to a younger Kardashian (well, technically Jenner) sister, Kendall is a great example of a  Ken-surname-turned-versatile-unisex-name. Kendall is an Old English name meaning 'of the Kent river valley'. Kendall first entered the US charts for boys in 1906, and has been in the top 1000 since the 1920's. For girls it first charted in 1929, and despite a few appearances in the top 1000 it wasn't a consistent performer until 1980. In 1993 female Kendalls started outnumbering the boys, and in 2011 it was positioned at #123 for girls and #606 for boys.

Kendrick - Kendrick has a definite strong male feel to me, maybe because it contains Ken and Rick, both traditional male names. Obviously, this would be a fantastic choice for anyone wishing to honour both a Ken/Kenny/Kenneth and a Rick or Richard at the same time, while still having a quite "modern" sounding name. The origins of Kendrick are unsure, but it seems to be an English/Scottish name meaning 'royal ruler, champion'. Kendrick first hit the US charts for boys in 1912, and peaked in the 80's around the #320 position. And while I'd probably steer clear of it for girls, it has been given to a handful of girls most years since the 1970's.

It's interesting to note that all three of these variations first appeared in the US charts (for boys) between 1906 and 1914, a fairly narrow window. I thought that maybe Ken was peaking at this time and people were interested in alternatives, but Ken itself was only just appearing at this time too. However it was the more formal Kenneth that was extremely popular at this time. A Gaelic/English name with the romantic meaning 'born of fire, handsome', Kenneth ranked #170 in America in 2011, and was a top 100 name from 1898 to 2001. So I guess that makes it "King of the Kens"!

However you like Ken, there are plenty of alternatives if you just can't get over the Barbie reference. What would be your pick for the "King of the Kens"?


  1. I wouldn't name a boy Ken or any "Ken" name. Besides barbie there is South Park as well ("OMG they killed Kenny, you bastards!).

    That said, I like Kensley for a girl.

  2. Kenver is my favourite.
    Kenzo is also very cool :)
    Another alternative is Kenelm, but I really like the combination of R, V and N in names. (Devran, Trevelyan, Severin and Valerian + Verbena for girls and Vervain as a unisex GP.)

  3. I quite like Kendrick, and Kenneth actually increased in popularity last year. Go Ken! :)