I have to believe that back in 1959, grandparents and neighbors and friends at church would sniff at the idea of naming a new son Jason. “What’s wrong with Robert or Gary,” you can imagine them saying. “Or why not name him after uncle Frank?” Then Jason slowly made his way to the top of the popularity charts, and people still rolled their eyes, but only sometimes, because everyone got used to calling little boys Jason.
Today, of course, Jason is the dad, the neighbor, the pastor of the church. And the name in the spotlight prompting wrinkled noses? That would be Jayden.
It was actually Jaden that appeared on the scene first, debuting in the US Top 1000 back in 1994. When mega stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith gave the name to their son in 1998, Jaden jumped from #456 in 2007 to #328 to #203 to #154 by 2000.
It quickly turned epidemic.
Jaden Christopher Syre Smith is now an artist in his own right, but his spelling is waning. By 2002, Jayden sailed past Jaden. In 2006, pop sensation Britney Spears gave the name to her second son, and that seemed to be the point of no return. In 2010 and 2011, Jayden occupied the #4 spot in the US.
This isn’t just an example of a name becoming wildly fashionable. Unlike Jacob or Jason or Mason, there’s almost no backstory for Jayden. He is the first name of recent coinage to surge into the Top Ten. On the girls’ side we’ve had Brittany, but she’s a time-tested classic compared to Jayden.
So where did Jayden come from in the first place?
- There’s a powerful argument that he was born out of popular sounds recombined: a mix of the Jay from Jacob, James, and Jason, added to Aidan and all of those other ends-in-n names that have dominated for decades.
- Aidan, of course, was racing up the charts at the same time Jaden and Jayden appeared. But so was Hayden, the other aden name with a considerable pedigree, as well as notable bearers from Hayden Carruth to Hayden Christenson.
- There’s a minor Jadon in the Old Testament, a figure in the Book of Nehemiah who helped build the wall of Jerusalem. Jadon was almost certainly to be found in a few baby name books, probably with the meaning “thankful” attached, though I’ve also seen “he will judge.” All of those parents attracted to Noah and Joshua might have liked Jayden’s claim to a Biblical origin.
- Could there be a sci fi twist? In the seventh and final season of wildly influential Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data – the android – suffers from amnesia on a mission to a pre-industrial settlement. His rescuers decide to call him Jayden. It sounds bizarre, but the episode’s February 1994 showing tracks very neatly with the debut of Jaden and Jayden into the US Top 1000.
Jayden found a ready and willing world, whether parents first encountered him on television, in People Magazine, or in the Good Book. He came to us at a moment when our love affair with letter J was unquestionable, as was our willingness to try something just a little different for a son. Jayden might not be your style, but he’s a good example of how much freedom American parents have to invent and re-invent appellations for our children. That’s something to appreciate, even if the -aden epidemic makes your ears bleed.