Eleven remains a number, rather than a name. But could that change?
Our Baby Name of the Day comes from they mysterious character at the center of Netflix series Stranger Things.
We don’t think of numbers as words with fascinating meanings. But this story captivates.
It comes from an Old English phrase meaning “one left” – literally, one left after counting to ten. We can find forms of the word in use by the 1200s, with similar words occurring in other European languages.
Eleven: This One Goes To …
References to the number occur in all sorts of places, including:
- After Judas betrayed Jesus, the remaining apostles were sometimes referred to as “the Eleven.” It implies loyalty.
- In Babylonian mythology, there are eleven monsters to be defeated as part of the creation myth.
- Apollo 11 became the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon, under the command of Neil Armstrong.
- The Grateful Dead gave the name to a song, inspired by its unusual time signature. (The number does not occur in the song lyrics, though 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 do.)
- Sandra Cisneros penned a short story titled “Eleven,” but it turned out that was the character’s age, not her name.
- And here’s my favorite: in the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, Nigel Tufnel explains that his amplifier goes to eleven – way louder than ten. (The interviewer asks the obvious question – why not just make ten louder? A bewildered Tufnel replies, “These go to eleven.”
That last reference has made eleven a synonym for above and beyond. On a scale of one to ten, it’s even better/louder/higher/more.
Eleven: Stranger Things
Then along came Netflix’s Stranger Things, and the word transformed to a name.
I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free. In brief, a group of boys meet a mysterious girl. She’s their age, but possesses supernatural powers. They learn she escaped from a nearby facility. As the season goes on, we learn more about her – and she helps the boys solve the mystery of their missing friend.
It becomes clear that the number is not her birth name; instead, it identifies her as a test subject.
That’s pretty bleak, and yet hearing the boys repeat it time and again makes it seem more name-like. When they’re trying to pass her off as an ordinary girl, they refer to her as just plain Elle.
Eleven: Number Names
The idea of a number name might seem outlandish, but there’s history here.
Birth order names, like Octavia, have been used since ancient times. Children named after their parents and grandparents sometimes take nicknames based on numbers. Firstname Middle Lastname III might answer to Tre; I’ve come across Firstname Middle Lastname Vs who answer to Finn and Cinco. Names like Primo and Segundo persist in romance languages, too.
Then there’s Blue Ivy Carter, her middle name said to be inspired by the Roman numerals IV, representing the number four. Harper Seven Beckham’s middle name reflects dad’s jersey number, but also lots of positive associations with the number.
Call them rare, and call them bold. But number names are far from unknown.
Eleven: Evelyn’s Twin
Of course, it helps that Eleven just plain sounds like a name.
In fact, it sounds an awful lot like the fast-rising vintage name Evelyn. Re-arrange the sounds, and you’ll arrive at the number.
We’re also wild about El- names in general, and that great ‘v’ sound.
And Eleven brings to mind other tailored, feminine choices, from Allison to Madison to Brooklyn.
As of 2016, the name has never been given to even five boys or five girls in a single year. But the name appears in the 1940 US Census, with well over 100 listings. A few could be typos or misspellings. But it appears that men and women were once given this number name more often than you might guess.
Perhaps they came from bigger families, at a time when that was more common, and were named for their birth order. Or maybe it’s cousin to some long forgotten name that just happened to be the same as the number. I found records for men and women named Four and Seven and Five, too.
In any case, this seems like a stretch as a given name. Then again, so did Khaleesi – now #765 – and Anakin – ranked #778. And with the sci-fi series still going strong, it’s possible we’ll see some parents cautiously considering Eleven in the coming years.
What do you think? Is this name just bananas? Or could it work on a child?