American Names · Analysis

Names and Doctor Strange

I just saw Doctor Strange!  There’s something so fantastic about Benedict Cumberbatch acting in a Marvel film.  Imagine Dr. House + Inception, and you have this movie. Maybe Cumberbatch is turning into a character actor for the “eccentric/misunderstood/rude genius” trope, but I for one can’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes-types.

Speaking of Cumberbatch…I relish the fact that there are two (!) actors named Benedict in this movie!  The other was Benedict Wong, who ironically played Wong…eponymous, much?  Benedict is a fairly rare name in the U.S.  Already ranking in England and Wales at #341, it’s not yet a top 1000 name on this side of the pond.  Still, Mr. Cumberbatch inspires an American rise in popularity.  151 boys were named Benedict in 2015, up from 137 in 2014 and 108 in 2013.  There was another usage spike about 10 years ago, probably from the accession of Benedict XVI to the papacy.  Otherwise, Americans encounter the obstacle of the Benedict Arnold association.  Even if people have forgotten the history after over 200 years, they remember that name connotes “traitor,” in the way that “John Hancock” also now means “signature.”  The name Benedict itself has a much more pleasant meaning – “blessed.”  Ultimately, I think the Marvel treatment could finally push Benedict into the American top 1000 despite historical connotations.  I estimate this will happen in 2017. 

Many of the other actors in Dr. Strange have really unusual names too.  Besides the Benedicts, the cast also includes a Chiwetel (Ejiofor), Tilda (Swinton), and Mads (Mikkelsen).  Rachel (McAdams) is the popular outlier.  Chiwetel doesn’t appear in the extended data, though I wonder if it will as that actor becomes better-known (Fun fact: Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor were in The Martian together).  Tilda was given to 18 girls in 2015, and is rising – that might have more to do with the rising popularity of Matilda (#533)Mads is a recent newcomer to the extended data, first appearing in 2011; 13 U.S. boys were named Mads in 2015. 

Nicodemus is the name of a minor character!  Given to 30 boys in 2015, it’s a Biblical name which derives from Greek and means “victory of the people.”  A boost in 2016 and 2017 is possible but not necessarily going to happen; he’s listed as Dr. Nicodemus West in credits and cast lists, but he was always called Nick or Dr. West if I heard correctly. 

Two character names I think we should watch out for as potential debuts in 2016 or 2017 data are Mordo and Kaecilius.  They might be too strange (heh heh) for most parents, but Drax debuted last year via Guardians of the Galaxy.  I also think it will be very interesting to see if Strange becomes a baby name, though I don’t hope for that to happen.  Wong is a contender to reappear. 

Have you seen Doctor Strange yet?  What did you think?  And how about the names?  Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

P.S.  If you haven’t seen it, there are two scenes during the credits – one at the beginning and one at the end.  I always see people leaving the theater after a Marvel film because they don’t realize there’s more. 


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