Television has introduced plenty of names to expectant parents, from Maverick to Downton Abbey, with countless influences in between. Factor in actors, sports, and newscasters, and the TV has probably helped name more kids than your average baby name book.
Among all of the namers to christen characters on television, I think I’d give the blue ribbon to one: Joss Whedon.
Very few of the characters he’s named have been babies. In fact, a number of them have been space cowboys, vampires, or other unlikely creatures. But a surprising number of his choices have found their way from the small screen to the nursery.
Let’s take a closer look at the names Joss and company have given to fictional characters over the years: the trend-setting, the wearable, and the just plain intriguing.
Slayers and Actives: Joss Whedon Baby Names for Girls
Anya – A former demon charged with doling out punishment to wronged women, she’s many centuries old when she loses her powers and is forced to live as a regular person. Anya is a Russian spin on Anna, and she’s definitely increased in use since Joss added her to his cast.
Buffy – The name that started it all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually started out as a less-than-successful movie. But when Buffy transitioned to the small screen in 1997, it found success. Buffy is “the one girl in all the world” who can successfully track and kill vampires, though conveniently, most of them gravitate towards Sunnydale, where she attends high school. Buffy may be a pop culture heroine and a pet form of Elizabeth, but it is rarely bestowed as an independent name today.
Cordelia – Buffy’s extracurricular activities make her the odd girl out in high school. Cordelia Chase is her opposite, the head cheerleader and top banana at Sunnydale High. She eventually moves to L.A. for spin-off series Angel and becomes a heroine herself. As for her name, isn’t it incredible that in our Amelia, Sophia, Olivia moment, Cordelia hasn’t ranked in the US Top 1000 since 1950?
Darla – The first vampire we see on Buffy, Darla dressed liked an innocent schoolgirl. Her sweet, retro name was so ill-fitting that it became the perfect choice. Darla peaked in the 1960s, so today she feels a little bit dated … but also a little bit like a hipster baby name.
Drusilla – An ancient appellation, Drusilla was a deadly – and deranged – vampire on the show. While the name enjoyed some use in the first half of the twentieth century, today she’s rare. But with nickname option Dru or Drew, Drusilla is a good choice for parents looking for a feminine formal name with a boyish short form.
Echo – Dollhouse was one of Whedon’s less successful series. It starred Eliza Dushku as Echo, a doll who could be hired for secret missions. Only she wasn’t a doll – she was a real person who had her memory wiped and ended up as an “active.” The Actives’ names are borrowed from the NATO Phonetic Alphabet – we also meet Victor and Sierra. Echo has yet to make herself heard in the baby name world, but she’s slowly inching up.
Faith – Back to Buffy, where Faith was another vampire slayer introduced in the third season. Faith had been on the rise for a decade when Joss used the name, and would peak a few years after the character slayed her first vamp.
Fred – On a girl. Well, her real name was Winifred, which is much more pleasing. She was a physicist who earned a trip to another dimension, only to be rescued by Angel, the vampire with a soul.
Glory – An evil god on Buffy, but a virtue name in real life. She feels like an update to Gloria, but is Glory too much to live up to?
Harmony – It’s a musical, meaningful, hippie chic name worn by another cheerleader in the Buffy ‘verse. She ended up a vampire part-way through the series. The name has been catching on ever since the character was introduced.
Inara – An ancient Hittite goddess, Inara is seldom heard as a given name. The Firefly character was appealing – a strong-willed companion (i.e. courtesan) with an ability to help the crew in countless ways. While she’s been used sparingly since the 1990s, Inara’s use clearly grew as a result of the television show.
Kaywinnet – Firefly was set in the year 2517, so you’d have to assume that we would be choosing novel names. Kaywinnet answered to Kaylee, a name completely ordinary in 2013. I can’t find any history on the creation of the name Kaywinnet, nor can I find anyone who has dared bestow the name on a child. But I remain fascinated by this invention …
November – Like Echo, another of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet members to be worn by a Dollhouse character.
River – Yes, a girl called River. She’s the psychic assassin trained by the bad guys in Firefly. But River isn’t a villain; instead, she’s the victim, and keeping her safe provides several of the series’ more interesting plotlines.
Veruca – Okay, she appears in just a few Buffy episodes. She’s worn by a werewolf, a gorgeous but badly behaved creature who gets her just desserts. Veruca owes her use to Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and it is tough to overlook her meaning – wart. It’s never really been used as a given name. But the sound appeals to me nonetheless, part-Veronica, part-Lucy.
Willow – When Buffy begins, Willow is a super-smart outcast still wearing jumpers to junior year. By the time Buffy ended, Willow was a witch powerful enough to change the world, and a worthy ally for the vampire slayer. Willow is one of Whedon’s biggest name hits.
Zoe – An unflappable fighter, Zoe is second in command to Captain Mal on Serenity. She’s a battle-tested veteran when we meet her. Zoe was steadily gaining when Firefly debuted in 2002, but the capable character might explain some of her popularity.
Watchers and Gunslingers: Joss Whedon Baby Names for Boys
Angel – He’s a vampire attempting to make up for past sins when we meet him in Sunnydale, and his journey continues on a spin-off series. It’s proof that feminine names can wear well on a masculine character – but then, vampires don’t have to deal with middle school. The name had a good run while the character was on TV, and remains in the US Top 100 for boys. But this one probably has less to do with Whedon, and more to do with Angel’s popularity among Spanish-speaking parents.
Forrest – At one point, Buffy graduates from high school and goes to college, where she gets mixed up with a secret US military initiative to harness supernatural creatures as weapons and soldiers. Forrest is a member of the secret group.
Giles – When we first meet Buffy, she’s assigned a Watcher – an older mentor for her vampire-slaying responsibilities. His full name is Rupert Giles, and he’s very British at the start of the series. Rupert, a medieval form of Robert, is also in the spotlight thanks to Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint, but it is Giles that appeals to me. Miles is big … why not this saint’s name?
Jayne – Is it possible that twenty-sixth century parents will consider naming their sons Jane? The name has always been a feminine form of the evergreen John. But in Firefly, burly Adam Baldwin plays a man named Jayne. He’s a hired gun aboard the ship, a mercenary and ruthless fighter. (Note: Thanks to Kelli for setting me straight – I’ve always assumed Adam was related to Alec Baldwin!)
Malcolm – The captain of Serenity, the ship in Firefly, Mal is a thoroughly appealing character – witty, fearless, and loyal. It’s also a great Scottish heritage choice.
Rupert– See Giles.
Shepherd – Technically, this isn’t a name. It’s a title, the equivalent of reverend or pastor, used in the future world of Firefly. But one of the characters is referred to almost exclusively by his title, making it seem like a given name.
Simon– In Firefly, he’s a promising surgeon until he goes on the lam to rescue his sister, River. Yes, Simon and River are siblings. It’s another great imagining of how names might change in the twenty-sixth century.
Spike – He starts out a deadly vampire and ends up an ally of Buffy and company. Spike is a good name for a vampire, but a bit of a stretch as a baby name. I almost omitted it from the list, save that Mike Myers gave the name to a son in 2011. So did four other parents.
Wesley – Like Giles, he was another Watcher. Wesley moved to Los Angeles and became an ally of Angel’s in the spin-off series. Wesley has a long history of use, and has been in the US Top 200 since 1880, reaching the Top 100 in more than one decade.
Xander – One of the original Buffy characters, he’s an ordinary guy who manages to help Buffy save the world again and again. Short for Alexander, Xander is another name clearly launched by Whedon. When the series debuted in 1997, Xander was a rarity. By 1999, he was in the US Top 100, and he’s gained quickly since. Alt spelling Zander is now also seen.