American Names

Alistair and Co.

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I’ve noticed two primary and near-universal signs that a name is about to be popular: a) meteoric rise in usage and b) a plethora of alternative spellings appearing.  It also matters how far the name is from the very bottom of the popularity pool.  

Alistair is on my radar for entering the American top 1000 in 2016. 194 baby boys were given this particular spelling in 2015, up from 178 in 2014 and 132 in 2013.  Compare those numbers to 42 in 2005 and 19 in 1995.  In 2015, the least popular boys’ name was used 202 times, putting Alistair at a precipice.

Alistair is an alternative spelling of Alasdair, a Scottish Gaelic form of Alexander (#8 in the U.S.).  Alasdair was given to 36 boys last year, up from 29 in 2014.  After Alistair, the most popular ones are Alister (84 boys) and Alastair (47 boys).  The total count of Alistair-spellings within the 2015 SSA data is nine; the others are Allister (46 boys), Aleister (28), Alastor (10), Allistair (8), and Alistar (6).  All of those spellings were more common in 2015 than in 2014, excepting Alistar.  Additionally, Alyster appeared in the extended data between 2012 and 2014, and Alastar in 2011 and 2013.

My introduction to this name was the Harry Potter character Alastor Moody, paranoid “auror” (a kind of specialized magical law-enforcement officer) and presumed professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Ironically, Alastor isn’t even related to Alistair and co., though Alistair, via Alexander’s definition (approximately “defender of men”) is probably closer to the character’s personality than the meaning of Alastor, which originally meant “avenger” in Ancient Greek and was an epithet for Zeus.  Of course, the question now is this: are baby Alastors named after Moody, mythology, or in conjunction with all the Alistairs? The extended data suggests the third option. Alastor first appeared with 5 or more uses in 2011, long after the character was first introduced and indeed, a year after his last movie appearance in Deathly Hallows: Part 1. In 2015, there were 10 boys given this spelling, up from 7 in 2014. It’s certainly possible that the parents of the boys called Alastor rather than Alistair, Alasdair, etc. are Harry Potter fans, but if we start to see more Alastors it’s because we’re seeing more of the other renditions.  If anything, the rise of Alistair may have granted a little visibility to an otherwise overly eccentric baby name from the Potterverse.

The rise of Alistair in the U.S. has been a slow and steady percolation over decades.  Perhaps strangely, as popularity rose here, it mostly decreased in the U.K.  Alistair is barely still a top 500 name on the England/Wales charts; 20 years ago he was solidly in the top 200, but now straddles the line between top 300 and top 400.  It doesn’t even rank in the Scottish top 100, despite its provenance.  Other spellings, including not-anglicized Alasdair, fare even worse.  I suspect that American popularity of Alistair is aided by the trendiness of other other Scottish names like Lachlan (#768) and Callum (#683), which are both relatively new to the top 1000 and our naming lexicon.  Both those names are rising throughout the U.K. as well as the U.S., which leads me to wonder if Alistair might be due for a revival on their side of the pond…or at least a stabilization.

Thoughts on Alistair?  Do you have a favorite spelling?  I’m partial to Alastair and Alasdair, though I’m even fonder of good old Alexander

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