KalelIt’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s …

… Superman’s Kryptonian name, a new entry the US Top 1000 for boys in 2013.

Our Baby Name of the Day is Kalel.

Kalel: From Fiction

We borrow lots of names from fiction, even scifi and fantasy. Anakin and Atreyu, Arwen and Khaleesi.  None of those have made it into the US Top 1000 yet – though Game of Thrones certainly deserves some credit for the rapid rise of musical Aria.

Marlon Brando as Jor-El, with Kal-El played by...

Kal-El is the name given to Superman at birth.  If you don’t know your superhero origin stories, it goes like this: Jor-El and Lara have a very young son on the planet Kyrpton.  Jor-El is a brilliant scientist, and foresees the planet’s destruction.  The couple saves their son by sending him to Earth in a tiny pod spacecraft.  The Kent family finds the infant, and raises him as Clark.

You know the rest of the story: he grows up to become mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, never in the same room when Superman saves the day.

Kalel: From Hollywood

Superman was a long-running comic and a television show before it became a smash hit movie in 1978.  It’s been rebooted and reinvented along the way, with television’s Smallville exploring Clark’s life growing on the Kansas farm.

According to Smallville, Kal-El means star child in Kryptonian.  I couldn’t find the reference in any other Superman works, but maybe it’s there.

For years, it was rumored that Nicolas Cage would star in a new version of a Superman film.  Tim Burton spent the better part of 1997 working on Superman Lives.  Kevin Smith wrote the first draft of the screenplay.  But it never happened.

Instead, Nicolas Cage married Alice Kim in 2004.  A year later, the couple had a baby.  And they named him Kal-El.

Kalel: The Case for the Name

Everything about this story is pretty outlandish.

It’s not just a fictional character’s name – it’s a complete invention, with an etymology from an invented language.

Except, Kalel hits a few notes that make it seem less ridiculous:

  • We like Cal names.  From retro Calvin to imported Callum to artistic surname Calder, friendly Cal is a name with plenty of positive associations, like baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr.
  • Cal and Kal names are nicely cross-cultural.  Think of Indian-American actor Kal Penn, born Kalpen.  You might even argue that this name is a respelling of enduring Arabic name Khalil.
  • Names ending in ‘el’ are traditional for boys: Samuel, Daniel, Gabriel.  And that’s no fad.  In Hebrew, ‘el’ refers to God.  (You can have a lot of fun with this factoid.)  A little more stretching, and the name means “voice of God.”

Kalel: Catching On

And yet, Kalel’s use is deniably tied to the Man of Steel.

In 1996, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was on television, and nine boys were given the name Kalel.

Fast-forward to 2004, and that number was 53.  Kalel was going places.

Nic Cage gave the name to his baby.  A total of 70 boys were called Kalel in 2005.

By 2013, that number was 205 – a new high, and enough to break into the US Top 1000.

We’ll have to wait for the 2014 data to learn if Kalel is climbing, or if this name will fizzle.  For the moment, though, the name of Krypton’s favorite son is having a good moment here on Earth.

What do you think of Kalel? Does it seem impossibly tied to Superman? Or do you think this name could evolve to be more than a comic book hero?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. On the face of it, it’s outrageous, but so similar to other names that it does seem quite mainstream in some ways. It’s just one letter different from Kael – I see a lot of boys with variations of this name. The meaning of “star child” is certainly attractive, although to me it doesn’t really make sense for Superman – he only came from the stars after he’d already been given his name.

  2. I actually thought it was a Khalil variant when I saw the post. I know a boy named Khalel which is almost the same but pronounced like “Khalil”. I do think the Kal/Cal sound is really strong, and it works in an age where lots of appealing sounds become names without much more to it, and take off. It would work almost as a masculanization of Kaylee, Kaylee and Kalel. It also reminds me a little bit of Jamal, rhythm wise.

    I don’t like this one for myself, probably because I’m not a superhero fan, but I do like it for other people. I have seen plenty of really awful fan service names (I used to work in insurance where I once encountered a little Sylvanas) and this one’s really not bad at all if it’s your style.