About A Name: Bowie

January 24, 2016 § 2 Comments

(c) Masayoshi Sukita, 1977/David Bowie Archive: David Bowie from the Heroes album cover shoot, among my favourite incarnations of Bowie's sound.

(c) Masayoshi Sukita, 1977/David Bowie Archive: David Bowie from the Heroes album cover shoot, among my favourite incarnations of Bowie’s sound.

The death of iconic musical journeyman David Bowie earlier this month caught most of the world by surprise, and the long line of tributes for the artist who helped bring down the Berlin Wall, who changed the face (and sound!) of popular music, the conversation around gender and sexual identity, and even the digital accessibility of music, inspired me to wake up from a three-year slumber, so imposed by a long list of incredibly non-interesting reasons (that I can’t guarantee are entirely in the past). So, now that we’ve established that I don’t know if I’m back back, let’s get back into things with a look at a unique baby name that trended just under the radar for years before Bowie’s death, and will probably trend higher in tribute to a man whose mere existence inspired so many. I’ve had this post in the draft folder for years (and yes, I know Abby at Appellation Mountain has already done this name better than I could possibly – twice, and I digress), but it’s well past time to write it now.

The name Bowie is said to mean “yellow/fair-haired” in Gaelic. It’s believed to derive from the Old Irish buidhe, meaning “yellow”, and from this derived the surname Bowie. Bowie himself (born David Robert Jones) was inspired by 19th Century American frontiersman Jim Bowie and his popular ‘Bowie knife’ when he changed his stage name in 1965. Then known as Davy Jones, he was frustrated by confusion with The Monkees frontman, and wanted something more unique. In 1976, he called his use of Bowie as a show name “the medium for a conglomerate of statements and illusions.”

He had two children, Duncan and Alexandria Jones. When Duncan, now an acclaimed filmmaker, was born in 1971, Bowie and then-wife Angela famously named him Zowie Bowie (it rhymes with itself if you’re not sure of pronunciation), but by 11 he was going exclusively by his nickname, Joe, and had it legally changed to Duncan Zowie Hayward Jones at 18. Alexandria Zahra, his 15-year-old daughter with supermodel Iman, goes by Lexi.

As David Bowie, his androgynous alien alter ego Ziggy Stardust, or even The Thin White Duke, his imprint is exceptional, illustrated by the outpouring of sadness from his death, too soon, from cancer.

It’s not just the worlds of music, technology, and social politics that have been touched by David Bowie – the cultural influence he’s had over baby names has felt especially significant in the past decade. Though Major League Baseball’s fifth commissioner Bowie Kuhn wore the name before the musician got his hands on it, Jim Bowie lived over a century and a half ago (dying a hero at the Alamo, which doesn’t get a lot of attention in Canadian history classrooms, I’ll just say rather obviously). Though the Bowie knife remains well-known (I’m sure every character on The Walking Dead has at least one!), music tends to influence baby names more often than weapons, and it feels safe to claim that the majority of parents choosing the name today are at least partly influenced by the eponymous rock star.

In 2012, British musician Paul Weller welcomed twin sons with his wife Hannah Andrews, and he named both John Paul and Bowie for British rockers (John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, if you’re wondering). In 2011, Aussie Rules Footballer Brodie Holland and wife Sarita named one of their twin sons Bowie (the other, Kip), and Anna at Waltzing More than Matilda thinks the rocker inspired them, too. It’s not certain what Star Trek actress Zoe Saldana and her husband Marco Perego-Saldana were inspired by when naming one of their twin sons Bowie Ezio in 2013 (the other is Cy Aridio), except to note that she told Ellen DeGeneres while appearing on her show when still pregnant that she and her husband were “kind of hippies,” dodging family suggestions for traditional Italian or Latin names, as per their heritage. As a side note, it’s kind of interesting the number of celebrity twinsets using uncommon Bowie in such a short span of time. Finally, while not a twin, Apollo Bowie Flynn, son of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, was born in 2014 and, despite the obvious musical connections, was not named for David Bowie. Instead, Bowie and Flynn are the maiden names of Apollo’s grandmothers.

It is perhaps owing to Bowie’s androgynous stage persona that the name is also accessible for girls (though I’d say the unofficial jury is split on whether it skews more masculine or feminine). Dutch celebs Nathalie Hoop, a model, and singer-songwriter Odilo Giroud separately welcomed daughters Keet Bowie and Bowie Abby within a month of each other in 2013, and American fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff welcomed daughter Bowie Lou with her husband Gavin Bellour in 2014.

Bowie feels accessible alongside fellow trendy B names Bowen or Bodhi, and lends itself to the simple, unisex nickname Bo/Beau, but Bowie itself has never stepped inside the U.S. Top 1000, and is given to less than 100 babies, of both sexes, in the US every year. That said, I don’t see any reason why it can’t rise, especially with its closest contemporary, Jagger, just outside the Top 700. It will be interesting to watch whether it charts, momentarily or permanently, much like surname-name Kennedy.

The parallels between the two names are already obvious: a Gaelic surname name already moderately accepted as a given name but never charting, the bearer of the surname is instantly identifiable, globally, by surname alone, both bearers are credited with positive social change and widely beloved, who then die suddenly causing a wave of grief. I’m by no means comparing grief levels between the assassination of President Kennedy and the crap disease that killed Bowie and millions of others, or even ranking their historical influence in any way, just comparing the scenarios overall and wondering if, now that the name would be a tribute, it might finally chart as a baby name, considering Kennedy did for the first time the year after JFK’s assassination, and is today commonly accepted as a given name.

What do you think? Is Bowie the sort of name you’d like to see stick around the Top 1000, or will the bump this name gets be just temporary and more negligible?

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§ 2 Responses to About A Name: Bowie

  • There can never be too many posts about Bowie! Love the round-up of celebs who used the name for their kids – so many. I’m sure it’s going to take off in 2016 …

  • Good to see you back, even if it isn’t definitely back-back!!!

    It was definitely confirmed at some point that Brodie Holland’s son Bowie was named after David Bowie; his twin brother Kip was named after the model/actor Kip Pardue.

    As far as gender goes, Bowie is twice as common for boys as girls in the US, and is rising for boys but falling for girls. In the UK, numbers are roughly even for boys and girls. To me it seems very unisex, but maybe seems more boyish in the US because of Jim Bowie.

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