Thanks to Lex for suggesting Xander as our Baby Name of the Day.
For generations, Alexander was shortened to Alex. Mostly. It’s certainly not the only possible nickname for the name, but it became the default choice in the English-speaking world. If I had to guess, I’d put Al, or maybe Alec, at a distant #2.
English-speakers tend to form nicknames by lopping off everything after the first syllable or two. Maybe we’ll add a – y.
That’s changed in recent years, though. Christopher Grace became a star on That ’70s Show as Topher Grace. The Irish Liam, short for William, is now a Top Ten favorite in the US.
Xander: Then Came Buffy …
The name’s first big boost came courtesy of namer extraordinaire, Joss Whedon. Whedon had invented Buffy the Vampire Slayer and made a 1992 movie about his cheerleader-turned-enemy-of-evil. It wasn’t exactly a hit, but in 1997, Whedon had the chance to re-invent his unlikely heroine for the small screen.
This time Buffy was a hit, and she and her creatively named sidekicks battled the forces of darkness in a California town with dark secrets. Willow and Xander were both Buffy’s high school classmates. While Willow was a computer genius from the first season, and later developed into a super-powerful witch, Xander was an ordinary Joe.
We’d eventually learn that his full name was, in fact, Alexander. But he was never called Alex, and only rarely referred to by his full name.
Whedon wasn’t the first to think of the name. Five Xanders were born in 1990, and 14 in 1993. But in 1997, the year Buffy debuted, there were 34. In 1999, the name cracked the US Top 1000.
In 2001, there were 407 newborn boys given the name. Then came 2002, when over 1400 newborns were called Xander.
What explains the jump? Not Buffy.
Instead, 2002 was the year that Vin Diesel starred as Xander Cage in xXx. Cage was an extreme sports athlete – hence the Xs – with a shady past. The US government recruits him to infiltrate a Russian terrorist group because, well … it’s an action adventure movie, and you’ll just need to suspend some disbelief.
xXx made money, and inspired a 2005 sequel, along with a big jump in boys named just Xander.
Xander: With a Z
As of 2014, the X spelling of the name ranks #211. It’s yet to crack the Top 200, but has hovered around the same rank for several years. But there’s also Zander, just a few dozen places behind at #245.
Way back in 1915, Zander – with a Z – first cracked the US Top 1000. In this case, it’s probably the surname Zander, an alternate form of Sander used in German. Sander can come from Alexander. Another theory? Zander was an occupational name for someone who pulled teeth, from the word zant – tooth.
There’s even a 1925 silent film from MGM called Zander the Great, about a boy named Zander who heads West to search for his missing father.
It’s easy to argue that both spellings are valid, though I think that the Z form is perceived as the variant today.
In 2011, January Jones chose the X version of the spelling for her son’s name. Fitting for an actress known as the X-Men’s Emma Frost.
If you’re after a modern, mainstream name with traditional roots, and if high value Scrabble letters appeal to you, Xander could be a name to consider.
What do you think of Xander? Do you prefer it with an X or a Z?