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Can I Name My Baby After the Bad Guy?

If a rare name is well-known for being a bad character in legend, mythology or a story, does it mean you can't use it? - Notorious Mom

One challenge of writing a baby name advice column is that you can't change names to protect the innocent. If you're wondering whether Matilda is too old-fashioned, you have to say Matilda. Similarly, if you're wondering if your favorite name is too evil, you have to spell it out. Because when it comes to names, bad is sometimes bad, sometimes good, and sometimes downright cruelty to children. It all depends on the individual name.

How can bad be good? I wrote about one way my column, "Is My Nephew the Spawn of Satan?" An appearance as a demon child in a horror movie has launched hit names from Adrian to Gage. If the evilness doesn't take the name over too completely, it leaves behind a fashionably dark gleam. The same dark magic can work for stylish adult villains, like Lucius in the Harry Potter series, Circe in Greek mythology and even Delilah in the bible.

When the bad guy isn't stylish though, things get ugly fast. Harry Potter's cousin Dudley has effectively killed off that name. Star Wars' Jabba the Hutt has no namesakes at all. Ditto for Rumpelstiltskin, the Grinch, and Medusa. (Medusa actually has some flair, but that snake hairdo is just too much.)

More seriously, there are limits to the villainy a name can handle. The name Delilah may have shaken off its bad associations, but Jezebel is still borderline and Lucifer well over the line. Though believe it or not, nine American boys were named Lucifer last year, proof of the rehabilitative powers of fashion.

To judge the evil-tinged name on your short list, try placing it in one of the categories above. Then consider: are there positive associations with the name as well? Will the other kids in school be familiar with the evildoer? When you suggest the name to friends do they laugh, in the sincere belief that you're joking? And above all, imagine introducing yourself by this name. Do you feel proud and confident, or nervous at what will come next?

Comments

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October 4, 2010 10:46 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think the playground test would work well here. Can you really yell "Jezebel!" (and I think there are far worse names you could choose as far as evil people go) across a crowded playground to get your kids attention? Certainly not. If yelling it out in a crowd will cause other parents to cover their children's ears or look at you like you have lost your mind it is probably not worth it. It is like the opposite of a girl I knew named Joy. I asked how her parents could ever yell at her because her name was so tied to happiness. Can you lovingly snuggle and sweetly sing a name that is so tied to evil?

October 5, 2010 11:49 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I really wanted to name my child Pilate, after an amazing character in Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon". My husband refused. Even though we aren't religious he just couldn't wrap his head around naming our child after the man that killed Jesus.

October 5, 2010 11:49 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I really wanted to name my child Pilate, after an amazing character in Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon". My husband refused. Even though we aren't religious he just couldn't wrap his head around naming our child after the man that killed Jesus.

October 5, 2010 11:55 AM
By almk (not verified)

I'm a big fan of the name Judas, but I fear it wouldn't go over so well in the south, where we live. I'm actually Christian, I just prefer this version of the name to Judah and Jude.

October 5, 2010 12:00 PM
By kalibrooke (not verified)

My name is Kali, the Hindu goddess which is often interpreted as one of 'death, destruction and disease.' Other interpretations cite Kali with a less negative connotation--one who is a powerful source. I've always loved it. I'm sure part of my love for it has been shaped by the fact that it seems exotic--I may have felt differently if it were commonly referenced in my own culture or country. Either way, I love that it has a somewhat unique spelling (and it's much more edgy than the version that reminds people of calico cats!).

October 5, 2010 12:18 PM
By Brittany (not verified)

It's why I won't name my son Damian. Very strongly tied to The Omen, even decades later.

October 5, 2010 12:33 PM
By Tiana (not verified)

Brittany, the Name Lady actually did her "evil name" post on the name Damian & The Omen. It's really NOT that strongly tied to the movie anymore.

Obviously, your own connotations are the most important, but if it's other people's opinions you're worried about, you might not have as much to worry about as you think. Just FYI.

October 5, 2010 12:40 PM
By luvdalz68 (not verified)

Not only that, but you'd have people pronouncing it wrong. Some might pronounce it "pilot" or "pi-late", or, because of the exercise craze, "pih-lotty".

October 5, 2010 1:01 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I love the name Cain, but I'm just not sure I can bring myself to do it. I'm not religious at all, either. My sister has a friend named Kane, but I don't like that spelling as much.

October 5, 2010 1:04 PM
By Allison Margaret (not verified)

I think the usability depends on how well-known the story is as well as the name's stylishness.

Like amlk, I love the name Judas. I don't think Judas would go over well anywhere in America. The name is synonymous with "traitor" and I wouldn't use it on a child - but I so wish it wasn't associated with Judas Iscariot, because otherwise I'd use it in a heartbeat!

On the other hand, I know a little girl named Medea, and I was a little surprised to see the name used since Medea is not a favorable character in my mind - she kills her cheating husband and then her children for good riddance. However, I barely remember the Medea myth, and I'm sure plenty of people haven't ever read it or have no recollection of the character.

October 5, 2010 2:16 PM
By Summer Bradshaw (not verified)

This reminds me of a new story on tv about a pair of nazis that named their innocent baby Adolf hitler and tried to sue a supermarket for not putting the name on the cake.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28269290/

October 5, 2010 3:00 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I actually know somebody who recently named their little girl Jezebel!

October 5, 2010 4:24 PM
By Lisa (not verified)

I think the strongly historical/Biblical names are the ones that are 'harder' to consider using just because they are so well known, in my opinion anyway. The more temporary 'evil' names are those from popular culture, literature, tv etc.

So Jezebel, Judas and Lucifer are less acceptable than Damian, Adrian and even Dudley (which I personally wouldn't use but it's got nothing to do with Harry Potter LOL)

I think Kali is acceptable in Western society because it's similar to an already common name and the Hindi association isn't as well known. I'm sure in Hindu society it would be like calling your child Jezebel or Lucifer.

Oh, and I love the name Kane (with that spelling) and I see no reason not to use Cain unless you plan to call his brother Abel LOL

October 5, 2010 4:29 PM
By Penni (not verified)

I think literary & tv characters are okay. Silas is often a baddy name - Silas Greenback from Danger Mouse, there's apparently a Silas in that Da Vinci book by Dan Brown), and to me actually has that baddy sibilance but lots of people seem to love it. Lucius and Draco are fine by my book too. Even Ebeneezer - Scrooge actually finds redemption.

But I think historical baddies like Adolf Hitler are pretty much out for me. And though I am not religious, I personally wouldn't use a name like Judas because I respect that for a large proportion of the world, these are historical figures too.

October 5, 2010 4:35 PM
By Julie (not verified)

I think you need to think beyond the sandbox and classroom...how will the name look on a résumé or a scholarship application? I recently received a résumé for a young man named Loki. My first impression was that he was that he would be too immature and young for the job. However if his name had been L., Luke or even Lachlan, I wouldn't have thought twice about his name.

October 5, 2010 6:44 PM
By Samaria (not verified)

Judas, Lucius, Bellatrix - all some of my favorite names, and it's a shame that the associations would make them extremely difficult to use as a first name. Lucius can slide and I can see it as the next Delilah (does anyone remember her role in Samson's demise???), and Bellatrix may gain some ground one day, but Judas not so much. Its associations are too ingrained in the public pysche.

October 5, 2010 10:30 PM
By Nicholas Hentschel (not verified)

Two possibly helpful guidelines:

-My opinion has long been that exotic names are often best reserved for MIDDLE names, so that kids can decide for themselves whether or not to use them. My own name, for example, is thankfully "Nicholas Ivan," and not "Ivan Nicholas."

-It helps if an exotic name can either be shortened to something more familiar, or IS a nickname unto itself. For example, "Bellatrix' could easily be "Belle," or "Bella," while "Lucius" could easily be "Luke." And so on. Meanwhile, "Kali" could probably be short for something: Calliope? Callista?

October 6, 2010 12:02 AM
By Taylor (not verified)

Actually, Pilate didn't kill Jesus. The JEWS were the ones who *asked* him to kill Jesus. Pilate wasn't in agreement with them, so he "wiped his hands clean" of the act and let them do what they wanted.

Back on topic: Truthfully, I favor "bad guy" names. There's something I like about a name connected to a dark character. It makes the name deep and mysterious. I wouldn't worry about watching my back for Damien, because I know that it's the child that makes the name, not the other way around.

That aside, I don't really see things like Jezebel or Lucifer (which was Satan's name as an ANGEL) as evil. Rather, I find them only centimeters unusable because of their negative connotations in society, even though I wouldn't blink at hearing someone call out "Jezebel!" (heck, it follows the -bel trend!).

Judas I would say is a perfectly usable name, except for the fact that the Judas in the Bible is known for being a traitor AND hanging himself. No parent wants their child to live up to THAT, even if the child *is* the one who makes the name. Maybe if Judas' fate hadn't come to that (or wasn't mentioned), his name wouldn't be seen as so negative.

I would love to use Desdemona myself, if anything as a middle name, but that's probably not being practical... Although I wonder if any of the new parents of today know anything about that particular character?

I say don't use a name associated with a truly evil character if it doesn't go over well with everyone else.

October 6, 2010 8:20 AM
By PiiNK (not verified)

@Julie
Wow, Loki? That is the name of the Nordic trickster god that caused mayhem and chaos in the world. No wonder you think its immature, the god is impulsive and often weaves webs of lies with a smooth tongue!

Jezabel, really? It's like naming your daughter whore! That is what she is, I'm not religious either but it's just TOO obvious, what about Jesabel? The "s" lightens the whore-ish name.

October 6, 2010 10:21 AM
By Dearest (not verified)

Funny how my two favourite bad guy names haven't been mentioned yet, Iago and Salome. Iago is apparently the bad guy in Othello and thus unusable as a name, and no one can forgive Salome for being tricked by her mum to ask for John the baptist's head on a plate after she had danced in her father's court.
That in spite of the fact that another Salome visited Jesus's grave on the third day (accompanied by two Marys)...

There's also Ophelia and Circe, but people seem to adore Ophelia enough to give her some slack, and most people have no clue who Circe was....

October 6, 2010 1:19 PM
By Essay (not verified)

Jabba namesake: Joba Chamberlain pronounces his name 'Jabba' and it kind of fits him, he's a huge dude - although Joba is not his real name it's a nickname but I kind of like it, it's a cute nn

I think Judas would be an extremely popular name if it didn't have the baggage - I actually like the name, but it'd be pretty cruel to name a kid Judas esp. in North America - it'd go so well with all the Jacobs, Jonases, Jonahs and I think it sounds the best too but impossible.

I think the problem with Biblical names is because there are no other examples of these people - there are no other Judas/Jezebels before Judas and Jezebel to balance it out - they are their names in our written history (and I mean that in terms of Judeo-Christian cultural history) Biblical Judas and Jezebel are the most famous Judas and Jezebel so they take precedent

October 6, 2010 3:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Actor Alex Kingston named her daughter Salome.

It's too bad people aren't really biblically literate. Jezebel was a queen who was killed in a religious power struggle. Another powerful Biblical woman ( a pagan one granted) turned into a prostitute in popular culture. Bummer.

the "bel" ending is quite fashionable now.

Jezebel would fit in a playground with Isabel and Anabel.

October 7, 2010 5:27 AM
By Karma (not verified)

Just to add my two cents worth on the name "Jezebel", I personally would never use it because (a) the Jezebel mentioned in the Old Testament schemed the murder of an innocent man to get his vineyard for her husband's vegetable garden, and (b) the Jezebel mentioned in the New Testament - specifically in the Book of Revelations - was referred to as a harlot and a sinner. Neither connotation is something I'd want to saddle a little girl with!!

October 7, 2010 3:13 PM
By Charly (not verified)

Pilate in the Bible is definitely pronounced "pilot." What were people thinking of as the "right" pronunciation?

I agree with the author that this is near-useless without the name itself. Are we talking Voldemort or Fernand? Cthulhu or Jesse? That's a pretty wide range.

I was named after the heroine of a book with definitely positive connotations. As a child, I would be disappointed, to say the least, at any idea that my mother thought of me as "bad."

October 8, 2010 2:25 AM
By joye (not verified)

@Alison Margaret: Medea didn't kill her husband. No matter what version of the myth, she definitely murdered "the other woman"; in some versions, she kills her children by accident, but the most famous one is that she kills them on purpose to get revenge on Jason. In no version does she kill Jason. She then runs away.

@Charly: The traditional English pronunciation for Pilate is basically identical to the word "pilot", but that is not the case for other languages. Pilatus, as his name would have been in Latin, is pronounced "pee-lah-toos". That's the reason we pronounce Pilates in that fashion; it's the surname of the founder, who was a Greek-German.

Regarding Jezebel, when your name is in the dictionary with the meaning like "a wicked or shameless woman", and in the thesaurus with a list of synonyms including things like "slut, tramp, golddigger", that ship has sailed. Some names are beyond any attempt to renovate them.

October 8, 2010 11:21 PM
By Viv (not verified)

@Piink
I actually liked Loki. He goes evil later on, but he was never evil in the beginning, just mischievous. But he totally helped Thor regain his hammer and other stuff like that. He was smart.

I'm a bit surprised that nobody's mentioned Morgan. She's the woman who constantly tried to kill King Arthur, and even tricked him into incest (in some versions). Then confusingly enough, when Arthur dies, she comes by in a boat and takes him to Avalon/paradise. But anyway, people use Morgan all the time.

I'd suggest stay away from historically or Biblicallly evil names, because everybody knows at least some history and most people are Christian. But eh, most people don't know mythology very well. If it's a lesser-known character, you're probably safe. You might want to stay away from gods or heroes, though.

I'd say, it's preferable not to use a 'bad' name. I'd just feel bad for the kid, honestly. But if it means something important to you, go ahead.

October 16, 2010 2:28 PM
By Taylor (not verified)

I think Jezebel is a beautiful name, but like joye said, it's an actual English word in the dictionary. Jessabel or Jesabel could be alternatives, but at that point you're just making up names. I guess it's best to reserve names like that for fictional characters and not real children.

October 28, 2010 1:54 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I really love the European name Ivo for a boy (pronounced EE-VO). Does it sound too much like the word 'evil'? I am worried about negative reactions...

November 2, 2010 12:27 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I don't think that's always true. A name like Jesse James is fairly known for the American outlaw, but most people have either forgotten or don't really notice anymore. However, if you're choosing the name of a famous evil person, I'd suggest you just keep looking and pick a new name. It's true that you spend a lot of time picking a name and by the time the child is an adult, you probably won't love the name as much as you did. You'll find another bunch of names that you'll love if you move past this one name and look for another one with the intention of finding one and not just looking until you decide there's not another name out there that's right and just keep the original one.

November 4, 2010 5:50 PM
By Anna (not verified)

I would probably think twice meeting a little Jezebel, but it certainly wouldn't be the most outrageous name I've heard and I think people can easily see how it's quite fashionable-sounding.

And she's not really an evil character, but having a name very similar to 'Anna Karenina' weirds me out. I know my parents were aware of the book but I don't know if they really knew what happened in it, so I've always been like, did you realize I would share my name with an adulteress who ends up throwing herself under a train...?

I just think that ideally, it's best for your sense of identity if your name is completely free of any overwhelming connotations.

November 13, 2010 11:03 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I lost count of how many kids were named Damien. Didn't understand that but the little girls named Layla were, likewise, rather frequent. Such a sweet name for a young lady.

July 6, 2011 5:05 PM
By Sasha (not verified)

@Taylor--
So you'd be the one who named your kid "Adolf Hitler" then?

July 19, 2011 11:29 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My sons name is Damian Luke and I love that name..Plus The Omen is not based on a true story!!

July 19, 2011 11:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

what dont you understand??

October 2, 2011 10:11 AM
By Miranda (not verified)

Judas is a beatiful name. judas was jesus' brother. Judas iscariot was the traitor. I named my son judas.

May 31, 2013 12:23 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would love to name my child Judas but it's it bad. Will people think I'm evil?

November 9, 2014 2:45 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I am named Ivo and believe me this name has nothing evil about it. It ancient slavian language it means Mountain Willow.

December 3, 2014 12:12 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My 12 year old son is named Judas.
He likes to be called Jude for short. He knows the biblical story, but isn't bothered by it. Besides there were other Judases in the bible if anyone actually looks it up. It hasn't been a major issue. But we also know how to shut down anyone who has something to say about it. So, my advice is know there will be a few more opinions about it than other names but so what?

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