What names made an impression on you in 2012? What did you love? What did you hate?
Each year, the American Name Society votes for name of the year.
At our annual meeting in Boston last week, we chose top names in four different categories: trade names, place names, fictional names and personal names, as well as an overall Name of the Year.
Our “trade names” category includes any name that doesn’t fit in the other categories in addition to commercial names. This year, two nominees were “Romneysia,” a satirical take on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s name used during the campaign, and “Fiscal Cliff,” the precipice Congress faced at the end of the year.
Another political nominee was “Obamacare,” the informal term for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Though opponents of the act originally created the name, the president himself embraced it last year.
FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s blog that aggregates polling data to predict election winners, and Pinterest, the popular website allowing users to “pin” photos and share their collections, were two trade name nominees from the Internet. The final trade name nominee was “Pussy Riot,” a Russian rock group with members who have been jailed for protests in Orthodox churches.
Aurora, Sandy Hook and Newtown, all associated with tragic mass shootings during 2012, were nominated for place name of the year. Gaza also was nominated because of the Palestinian enclave’s frequent mention in the news due to armed conflict.
The other place name nominee, Gangnam, has happier associations. A trendy affluent neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, Gangnam received worldwide fame because of “Gangnam Style,” a video by Korean rapper PSY that has gotten more than a billion views on YouTube. Hundreds of parodies of PSY’s video are found on the Internet, and politicians and celebrities have gotten into the act doing the Gangnam dance or lip-syncing the words to his song. Gangnam means “south of the Han River” in Korean.
Nominees for fictional name of the year included Grey, surname of the hero of the bestselling sexually adventurous novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James.
Katniss Everdeen, heroine of Suzanne Collins’ young-adult series “The Hunger Games” and the March 2012 film based on it, was nominated for the second year. “Katniss” is an edible aquatic plant. Fans think Katniss Everdeen’s a great name for a strong young woman dealing with a bleak future world where teens chosen by lot fight to the death.
Bilbo Baggins, hero of “The Hobbit,” was nominated because of the new Peter Jackson film based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel. Lastly, “Downton Abbey,” the name of the popular PBS series about a wealthy British family and their servants, received a nod.
As usual, the personal name category had the most nominees. They included Willard Mitt Romney. Romney’s middle name originally was a nickname for his father’s cousin, Milton, which was turned into an official name by Mitt’s parents.
Other controversial names in the news that were nominated included Kony, the surname of the leader of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army, subject of a documentary film released last March, and Trayvon, name of the Florida teenager whose shooting last February sparked protests.
Malala was nominated partly because the woman with the name has become known by her first name only. She’s Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who became a worldwide symbol for human rights after the Taliban shot her for promoting education for girls.
Every year, at least one celebrity baby name gets a nod. This year it was Blue Ivy, daughter of Jay-Z and Beyonce, born Jan. 8, 2012. The fact that her parents actually tried to trademark “Blue Ivy” after their daughter was born — and were denied the trademark because a Massachusetts events planning firm already had registered it in 2009 — made it an especially good example of its kind.
A scientific breakthrough resulted in the nomination of “Higgs.” Physicists at the European CERN agency announced in July that they’d discovered a particle that may be the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle first theorized by Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh in 1964.
Two athletes also showed up on the personal names list. First was Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks point guard whose sensational season resulted in loads of publicity and the creation of words like Linsanity, Linspirational and Linderella by sportswriters.
RG III, the nickname for quarterback Robert Griffin III, was nominated because many fans never use his full name. The Washington Redskin is the first rookie quarterback who was named National Football League Offensive Player of the Week for his debut game. The nickname developed while he was a college player at Baylor University, where there were two Robert Griffins on the same team.
Finally came “Sandy,” the name of the hurricane or “superstorm” that hit New Jersey and New York in late October. The storm is still regularly mentioned in the news because of ongoing relief efforts and debates in Congress on how to pay for them. It was the second most expensive weather disaster in U.S. history, after Hurricane Katrina.
The results? The four category winners are Fiscal Cliff, Gangnam, Downton Abbey and Malala.
And Sandy is the overall name of the year for 2012.
Which would you have voted for?