Saturday, March 22, 2014


Jane Fonda as Barbarella in the movie of the same name has become an iconic image. The character is a young woman who travels among various planets having adventures - often daring, usually sexual. The movie was based on a French science fiction comic book created by Jean-Claude Forest and first published as a serialisation in a French magazine in 1962 before being given its' own comic book in 1964.

'Barbarella' became known as the first adult comic book due to its' sometimes erotic content. It is also lauded as anticipating the sexual revolution by depicting Barbarella as the embodiment of "the modern emancipated woman in the era of sexual liberation". The 1968 movie established Barbarella as the ultimate "space kitten", and actress Jane Fonda as a sex symbol.

The movie inspired 17 parents to name their daughter Barbarella in 1968, and another 8 in 1969, although it hasn't charted in the U.S since. As a name, it may seem a little outlandish, but is extremely close to Barbara, which it is reportedly based on, or possibly an international variant of. Barbara is a Latin name meaning 'foreign woman' which has never been out of the top 1000. She spent three decades in the top 10 in the 30's, 40's and 50's, peaking at number two and kept from reaching number one by the classic Mary. Ella is also thought to mean 'foreign' in Old German, as well as 'entire' or 'goddess'. These meanings seem well suited to a revolutionary heroine from a planet unknown.

Other possibilities for Barbarella's origin is that her name was inspired by the prominent B's and R's also found in French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot's name. Recently there was also character named Barbarella portrayed by Michelle Chong on Singapore TV comedy series 'The Noose', whose back-story is that she is named after a combination of two of her favourite role models - Conan the Barbarian and Cinderella. As both characters were well established before Forest created Barbarella, there is a slight possibility they also influenced him. Although it's more likely that these are connections that could just serve to make this name more appealing to parents who love fantasy, science fiction and fairy tales.

Barbarella is such an iconic character that she has become almost a caricature. For many she treads a fine line between bimbo sex kitten and empowered, feminist role model, making Barbarella in some ways quite a controversial name. There is no doubt that while this is a very feminine and fancifully pretty name, she would be extremely hard to wear.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Often these days we hear a lot of people complaining about how boys names have been hijacked by girls. You might find it surprising then than Leto is actually a name that has - for now at least - gone the other way.

The name Leto has it's origins in Greek mythology. Leto is the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, and sister of Asteria. She herself is the mother of twins Apollo and Artemis - the Letoides - with Zeus. Zeus' wife Hera was so enraged to hear of Leto's pregnancy that she hunted her across the Earth and banned her from giving birth on land. Leto sought sanctuary on the island of  Delos to give birth because it wasn't attached to the ocean floor. 

Leto is often depicted with her children, and is known as the goddess of motherhood, a protector of the young. It's also thought she may be a symbol of modesty and womanly demure as she is usually depicted in Greek vase painting as a woman lifting her veil in a gesture of modesty.

The origin and meaning of the name Leto isn't precisely known. One theory is that it has it's origins in the word "lethô" meaning 'to move unseen', which is suggestive of the modesty associated with Leto. Expanding on this is the idea that it's related to "lethe" meaning 'oblivion' and "lotus", the fruit that brings oblivion to those who eat it; hence meaning 'the hidden one'. This seems to be the generally accepted meaning. A third alternative is that it is of the same Lycian origin and "Leda", meaning 'woman or wife'. 

It's kind of surprising then that this name has only ever charted in the U.S for boys. It's Roman counterpart Latona charted regularly for girls from 1956 to 1991, albeit in small numbers each year. Conversely, Leto charted for the first time for boys in 2006 when it was given to just 5 boys, and has only charted a total of four years.

To see why Leto is skewing male, we only have to look to the two best known current examples of the name Leto in use.

The first is Jared Leto (pictured above). You may heave heard that he recently won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the Matthew McConaughey movie 'Dallas Buyers Club'. He started acting in 1992 when he was 21, and is also the frontman of rock band '30 Seconds to Mars' with his brother Shannon Leto. Jared Leto definitely gives this name some serious cool points.

If rock star actors don't get you excited though, how about some science fiction cred, courtesy of the world of 'Dune'? Written by Frank Herbert,  'Dune' is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of our time. It was adapted to a movie in 1984, which didn't do so well at the box office but has become a cult favourite. The story is set in the far future, when character Duke Leto Atreides and his family are sent to a sand world to obtain a spice that is essential for interstellar travel. However it is part of a plot to destroy the Duke (played by Jürgen Prochnow) and his family. His son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) escapes and seeks revenge. 
James McAvoy in 'Children of Dune'
'Dune' was also adapted to a TV mini-series in 2000, with William Hurt playing Duke Leto Atreides, followed by another mini-series based on sequel book 'Children of Dune' in 2003. In this follow up the Duke's son Paul now has twin children - daughter Ghanima and son Leto Atreides II. This young Leto is played by the handsome James McAvoy, which I'm sure helps add to the attraction of the name. Leto continues to be a major character in many of the book sequels. 

While I have to confess to not having read the 'Dune' books, I can see how this character is likely one of the main reasons Leto seems suited for a boy. Dare I say it, it also looks a little more masculine - probably because overwhelmingly, names ending in "O" tend to be male. The pronunciation would probably cause a few problems - some sources say it is LEE-toe, some say LEH-toe. Either is pretty cool though. He's a little less heavy than Cato, a little edgier than Arlo. I could easily see him as a brother to Kaius and Altair; Lux and Nova.

It sometimes surprises me how often it is that when I look into names with a futuristic sci-fi feel, they prove to be ancient gems that have been lying almost dormant until someone re-purposes them and brings them to light. To find out that a modern sounding crush actually has a history and is not necessarily a newly invented name often gives me a little thrill. Leto is one such name. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


You may remember a 1997 movie that featured Bruce Willis in an orange singlet, Milla Jovovich with orange hair, and a man named Ruby. 'The Fifth Element' is a futuristic sci-fi action adventure in which Willis plays Korben Dallas, an ex-taxi driver who finds himself tasked with saving the universe.Willis is great in this, and the movie itself is fun and funky, filled with snappy dialogue and somewhat bizarre characters.

Korben is a variation of another name, although there is some debate as to whether it stems from the Latin Corbin or the Hebrew Korban. They all sound alike (pronounced KOR-bin) and are so intertwined though that it's probably a bit of both.

The Latin Corbin meaning 'crow, raven' or 'raven-haired' is name that was once used by the Anglo-Normans in Old French and Old English times. It's thought it may have started as a shorter form for the longer and less wieldy Corbinian - a seventh century Frankish saint. Possibly it was just used a nickname for people with dark hair. It also saw use as a last name.

The Hebrew Korban (or Corban) is a biblical name, meaning 'gift or consecrated to God'. It wasn't used as a person given name though, it seems if was more another term for a gift, the purpose of which was to bring one closer to God. Many theorise that this is more like a sacrifice or sacrificial offering than a gift, and hence feel it can have negative undertones, but your viewpoint may depend on your religion.

What we do see here though is a myriad of spellings. With C and K spelling both having "legitimate" origins, this is one name where spelling it with a K isn't necessarily a case or Kardashian syndrome, or trying to create a "trendier" spelling. Variations that charted in the U.S in 2012 (in order of popularity) were Corbin (#221), Korbin (#559), Korbyn (#1052), Corban (#1069), Corbyn (#1166), Korben (#1422), Corben (#1992), Korban (#3932). Spellings Korbyn, Corbyn, Corbin and Korbin also chart for girls, but at a distant #4875, #7848, #11414 and #18167 respectively.

What I do like about this particular spelling - other than the sci-fi action hero reference - is that it lends itself to the nickname Ben, which is a great friendly and familiar nickname. Especially for a more distinguished, somewhat formal sounding name such as Korben. These contrasting feels makes this a very wearable name - a man with this name could be Ben when out drinking with the guys, but the respectable Korben when in the boardroom.  And I feel that in this particular case the K does make it a more powerful, masculine feeling name.

It's easy to pronounce, not super popular but still easily recognisable. It may look invented, but it has some very respectable origins And it doesn't hurt to tell your son that his name was inspired by an action hero who saved the universe.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I have to admit, Serenity is far more popular than I thought it was before I started researching this post. It's rarely seen in Australia, and I thought it might be similarly rare in the U.S - somewhere in the top 1000, perhaps in the 800-900 range. But to my surprise, positioned at #58 in 2012 Serenity is a top 100 name for girls in the U.S, rising quietly for the last 21 years.

Serenity caught my fancy this week as a name inspired by the short lived Joss Whedon TV show 'Firefly'. There is a great range of name styles on the show - the exotic Inara, perky Kaylee, serious River, popular Zoe, occupational Shepherd, classic Simon, quirky Hoban "Wash", timeless Malcolm ("Mal") and the gender-bending Jayne. But Serenity is special - she's the spaceship they travel in, the reason the characters are together and the way the crew make their living. She may not be a person, but she has character. And like her name, she is a place where the characters find some sense of peace in their world. The first episode of the series 'Firefly' was named 'Serenity', as was the movie follow up to the TV show.

But of course there are plenty of reasons to love this name, even if you're not a fan of the show.

Pronounced suh-REN-i-tee, this is a very pretty sounding name. The dictionary gives two meanings for this word. One is that it is a title of honour, respect or reverence used when speaking to certain members of royalty, as in "Your Serenity" or "His Serenity". The best known definition though is "the state or quality of being serene, calm or tranquil', and hence Serenity is most often thought of as a peaceful virtue name, in the same company of names such as Amity, Felicity, Harmony and Verity.

Serenity could also be thought of as a spiritual name. You may be familiar with the Serenity Prayer:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference" 

This is the most commonly recognised form, adapted from an originally untitled prayer by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It's quite well known due to it's use by many twelve step programs (such as alcoholics anonymous) and appearance in songs, movies and books such as 'Slaughterhouse-Five', 'Flight' and 'The Fault in Our Stars' to name a few.

It's hard to pinpoint though exactly when the tide turned for this name though. Serenity first charted in the U.S for girls in 1972, a decade when peaceful, hippy type names were a trend. That year also saw Psychadelic Funk inspired group Serenity release an album titled 'Piece of Mind', an episode of TV show 'Kung Fu' featured a male character called Serenity Johnson. It increased in popularity but remained outside the top 1000, losing speed in declining slightly in the 80's.

In the early 90's it started picking up momentum once more. In 1992 'Sailor Moon' was highly popular, the title character also known as Princess Serenity, daughter of Queen Serenity. This was followed by another anime character named Serenity Wheeler in 1997 on 'Yu-Gi-Oh'. 1997 was also the year that the name Serenity entered the top 1000 for girls in the U.S. And the year that 'Firefly' premiered - 2002 - was also the first time it charted as a boys name, although it remains overwhelmingly preferred for girls.

With so much exposure in so many different arenas, it's a little less surprising that Serenity is actually such a solid performer. There is something very pleasing about the soft, lyrical sound of this name. It has such an uplifting feel. And while nicknames for this four syllable name may not seem plentiful at first, Seren - a Welsh name meaning 'star' - is one great option. Others include Ren, Rina, Nita, Reni or maybe even Zen.

Whether you love it for it's virtue, spiritual or varied geek cred, there's a lot to like about Serenity. At first it may feel like just another trendy flash-in-the-pan. But more and more people seem to be searching out names with deeper spiritual connections, particularly ones that emphasise peace, tranquility and personal understanding, such as Pax, Bodhi, Dove and Shiloh. Serenity is definitely one of the more feminine names of this ilk. I think this alone may give it more staying power than it is given credit for.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Quill and Gamora

The 'Guardians of the Galaxy' - Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana),
Quill "Star Man" (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel) & Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper)

You may have seen recently the trailer for the upcoming latest Marvel movie adaptation, 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. It looks like it's going to be a very fun and cheeky almost anti-hero superhero movie (although having not read the comics it's based on, I'm not sure how accurate that actually is). When watching the trailer though, like many of us name enthusiasts I found myself oohing and ahhing at the names just as much as the action and special effects.

And there are some great character names in this! Nebula, Rocket, Drax, Ronan, Taneleer, Meredith, Korath, Rhomann and Yondu - such a great mix of different, "spacey" and futuristic sounding names. But the two that struck me the most were Quill and Gamora, which I think are most like to get a small boost in popularity when this movie is released.

Quill is actually the surname of main character Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt. Quill (pronounced KWIL) is a pretty cool sounding word name. Its a great name if you love writing. I love that it evokes images of an old fashioned time when people wrote with feather quills and inkwells, yet also feels kind of futuristic. That's possibly because Q names aren't very popular - it's a good example of the "scrabble effect".

This is not the only character named Quill to grace our screens in recent years. One of the 'Twilight' werewolves was Quil Ateara, and Quill was an Australian love interest introduced to the 'Luann' comic strip in 2009. These examples are all males, but Quill feels like it could easily be a unisex name like Quinn. It's never charted for either in the U.S.

There's a few different given meanings for Quill, which include:

  • It is an English name meaning 'feather'
  • It's a diminutive of Irish name Quillan (pronounced KILL-an) meaning 'lion cub';
  • It's an anglicised version of Gaelic surname O'Cuill, meaning 'descendant of Coll'
  • It's a diminutive of English occupational name for a scribe or writer, Quiller 

On the other hand, there is very little history behind the name Gamora. It has never charted in the U.S, which isn't to say it is never used as a first name, just that it has never been used more than five times in one year. It seems it is more likely you'll see Gamora as a middle or surname.

Gamora's resemblance to the biblical city of Gomorrah pretty much guarantees that this will never be a widely used name. The tale of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah means it is permanently associated with unbridled sin, and while Gamora is not spelled the same, phonetically it's far too close for comfort.

Which is a real shame. Gamora both looks and sounds pretty enough to be an attractive name. I was convinced I had heard it before as the name of a planet or star, but it seems that it was largely created for this character by Jim Starlin for her first appearance in 'Strange Tales #180' in 1975.

But if anyone can get a name off the ground it's the beautiful Zoe Saldana, who plays Gamora in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. She's starting to build a solid reputation playing smart, sexy, brave, dangerous and exotic characters, a winning combination. Zoe has put the names Neytiri and Cataleya on the charts in recent years - perhaps her magic touch will work for Gamora too.

Both have great potential - old world yet futuristic sounding, fresh and spunky. And the movie will likley only help with this perception, especially if it's turns out to be as successful as the promoters are hoping (it's not even out for another five months yet!) What do you think - are Quill and Gamora be your picks for breakout names inspired by 'Guardians of the Galaxy'?