Think of a catchy word or brand name associated with guns, and you’ve probably thought of a hot baby name. From Cannon to Pistol, Remington to Colt, firearms are making their mark on American names.
Firearm names are hardly alone as as a creative baby name trend. Just last week, I was tallying up the wave of new X names from Xxavier to Roux. But gun names stand out because they break the one restriction today’s parents usually observe in naming. They edge close to politics, a once-common naming theme that has been all but off-limits for the past generation.
I first reported on the firearms trend several years ago, looking at 2012 baby name statistics. The 2017 stats show a continued surge. Over that five-year period, the number of American babies receiving gun-related names rose by 58%. The total of firearms-named babies is now over 8,000 per year, and counting.
To accurately assess this name phenomenon, I started not with the names, but with the guns. I combed through multiple glossaries of firearms terms and lists of manufacturers, collecting any that sounded like remotely plausible baby name choices. (Caliber yes, Decocker no.) The resulting list included 60 potential names, 20 of which turned out to appear in last year’s baby name statistics. That means they were given to at least five newborn American boys or girls last year:
The majority of the 20 names were unknown a generation earlier, including terms like Trigger and Shooter and brands like Benelli and Ruger. Not a single gun name from previous generations had disappeared. That expansion of names in use reflects a broader movement toward creativity and individuality in baby naming. The direction of the creativity, though, is telling. Other categories of goods and possessions haven’t shown the same rapid growth.
There is no more honest indicator of values and culture than the names we give our children. Siblings named Magnum and Beretta make a statement about a family’s interests and identity, just as siblings named Gandalf and Éowyn or Coltrane and Ellington would. But unlike other interests, firearms have become a cultural and political dividing line in America. That makes a name like Ruger not just unconventional, but potentially controversial and divisive.
Despite the political discord that increasingly defines our times, parents today steer away from political names. In past generations, every new presidential candidate or military leader would be greeted by a spike of namesakes. Since Watergate, homages to living leaders have essentially disappeared. The spouses and children of politicians may spark trends, since they’re treated more like regular celebrities, but partisanship in baby naming is right out.
Why then, are we seeing such of wave of firearms names at a moment when they are a fraught partisan marker? While some parents may be deliberately staking out ideological ground, I suspect that the vast majority who choose gun names just consider them fun and energetic. In many families and communities, the image of firearms is overwhelmingly positive. A name like Trigger or Gauge could be chosen to connote sport and power, similar to a name like Rider or Ace, or to conjure the Wild West, like Maverick or Zane.
Parents choosing the names in this upbeat spirit might be dismayed by the very suggestion that their child’s name could be divisive. If you’re in that position, please take this not as a judgment, but simply as a heads-up. For many non-gun-owners, the first associations that come to mind aren’t fun and sport, but acts of mass violence. While some firearms names like Colt and Barrett are flexible enough to be welcomed everywhere, the more aggressively styled names may be seen as inflammatory.
Firearms names aren’t the only polarizing choices on today’s baby name charts. A creative baby name era is inevitably a divisive baby name era. The word for “broadly liked,” after all, is “popular.” As parents turn away from anything perceived as too popular, they turn toward names people disagree on. The more distinctive and eye-catching the choice, the stronger the disagreement will be. And when the eye-catching choice falls along a political fault line, the response to a name can be inflamed by existing societal polarization—as the response to this column doubtless will be.