The X Factor

October 13, 2011 § 9 Comments

These days it seems like everybody’s got the X Factor. While Simon Cowell’s  TV singing contest is creating watercooler chatter on both sides of the Atlantic, babies everywhere are popping up with X’s all over their birth certificates. Much has been made about X names of late, and it’s because the letter is hot! Most recently, it was used on January Jones’ son Xander Dane.

This trend was probably inspired by Alexander. One of the most popular names in the world given the immense popularity of it and it’s female variation, Alexandra, not to mention all the short forms and variations that come from both (Alexandre, Alexios, Alex/Alyx/Alix, Alexei, Alexis, Alexa, Lexi – which is the nickname of soap stars Alexa Havins and Justin Breuning’s daughter Lexington Grace, born in 2010, plus Lexa and Lex). We got used to hearing the letter in names for both sexes, and we like that it’s kind of cool in an offbeat way. It’s also an edgier stand-in for the letter Z, as with Xander Jones.

Malcolm X was also pretty cool, and he still stands for something good. Jimi Hendrix is a god for the musical set, and his surname has been used as a first name quite a few times over the years. The X-Men are cool for the comic lover, and even though Lex Luther was a bad guy, his cool name has provided decent naming inspiration over the years.

From all these cultural influences has sprung a long, long list of male names with X at the beginning (Xavier, Xander, Xan, Xen, Xaine, and even Xavi, born to Dutch field hockey player Minke Smeets this past May); in the middle (Dexter, Axel, Braxton, Jaxon, Brixton, which is so punk rock, and Baxter); and at the end (Max – or a double dose, Maxx, for Olympic champion figure skater Scott Hamilton, Knox, Tex, Maddox, Felix, Fox, Lennox, Bronx, Rex, and Jax). Twentieth Century American entertainer Hoagy Carmichael named his first son Hoagy Bix in 1938 after his greatest inspiration, jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke.

Parents of girls are in on it, too – Phoenix seems burning hot for girls these days. How fitting that a phoenix is a mythical firebird, not just a city in Arizona. And while so many male X names are seriously modern selections even if they come from old surnames, X has floated around in girls’ names for centuries. Maxine Vita, daughter of 311 frontman Nick Hexum, was born this year and is proof that with girl names these days, everything old is new again. Ancient Maxine is a feminine form of Max, Latin for “greatest.” Lest we forget other hot choices like Roxanne/Roxie and Beatrix, or fringe choices like Dixie and French Margaux (meaning “pearl”), like Ernest Hemingway’s tragic model granddaughter Margaux Hemingway; each of these names has been around a while.

And no name nerd will ever forget Moxie CrimeFighter, born to entertainer Penn Gillette in 2005. He explained the choice to the New York Times in 2006: “Moxie is a name that was created by an American for the first national soft drink and then went on to mean chutzpah, and that’s nice. It’s only the losers named Dave that think having an unusual name is bad, and who cares what they think. They’re named Dave.” You know, if you put Moxie with Maxie (from Maxine), Roxie and the Dixies/Pixies/Trixies of the world, it makes a lot of sense and it does have an energetic feel. Plus, it’s a perfect example of how languages are born and how they evolve, which is pretty cool.

Supernatural star Misha Collins welcomed son West Anaximander last year. West seemed like a solid choice – it’s a unisex name definitely gaining in popularity along with Weston, which Jenna Fischer chose for her son born September 24th. But Anaximander was a shock. It’s Ancient Greek – Anaximander (Latinized, from Anaximandros) was the author of the earliest surviving tome of western philosophy, and was said to be a teacher of Pythagoras. At Toronto Comic Con this year, Collins expressed name regret over his son’s name, but not in the way you might think. He said, “Here’s the problem with naming your son West: you’ve really got to hit the ‘t’ super hard, because everyone thinks it’s ‘Wes.’ So I find myself saying, ‘My son’s name is WesT.’ It just doesn’t feel that smooth anymore, so that’s hard. Fortunately, his middle name is Anaximander, which everybody gets easy!”

Andy Summers, guitarist of The Police (who wrote the smash hit “Roxanne,” about a prostitute), welcomed twin sons in 1987 with his wife, Kate – Maurice X, and his brother Anton Y – a nod to their chromosomes, of course!

X is also extremely popular in sibsets, the letter appearing in the same place in two or more sibling names often lately. Maddox (Welsh for “son of Madoc”), Pax (Latin for “peace), and Knox (Old English for “round-top hill”) Jolie-Pitt are the most notable, but Tiger Woods’ kids Sam Alexis and Charlie Axel boast the same trend. Australian golfer Stuart Appleby has sons Max and Rex while Biggest Loser US stars Matt Hoover and Suzy Preston have sons Rex Timothy and Jax Paul. Vern Yip welcomed son Gavin Joshua Mannox in 2010 and daughter Vera Lillian Beatrix this year, while Belgian soap star Ronny Daelman has two sons, Maxim, 4, and Axel, 1.

While it seems like this trend is maXed, with so much choice, and so many popular names right now, we namers know that isn’t true. This trend could expand yet.

Androgynous Lux is a hot new contender for X name supremacy and I see it rising yet. British radio DJ Jo Whiley named her daughter Coco Lux in 2008, Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie had son Lux in 2004, and Aussie Rules Footballer Andrew Embley had son Lux Edward in June. It’s strong and edgy like Lex, but alternately delicate, luxurious, and feminine.

Any X names you’re a fan of?

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