What's In A Name
How A Girl With A Sword Got Everyone To Name Their Baby "Arya"
Winter came, and it was actually just a blizzard of babies named Arya.
Arya Stark was always going to be a bad*ss. She and her sword Needle proved in the very first episode of the iconic Game of Thrones series that Arya is not to be trifled with. She is the polar opposite of her older sister Sansa, who dreams of riches and a love to call her own, and her determination to prove herself feels literally heavy.
Arya was a fan favorite from the beginning, and her popularity peaked when the series ended in 2019, with Arya as the savior for all of Westeros. Her popularity can be measured in tweets and gifs and perhaps most strikingly, in baby girls named Arya.
Choosing a baby name isn't like picking what you want to eat for dinner (WHO EVER KNOWS). It's important, and it's a huge part of the becoming-a-parent process. "Gender socialization is such that women have often had names picked out for children long before they were even partnered or pregnant," Dr. Deborah Cohan, associate professor of sociology at University of South Carolina Beaufort, tells Romper.
Much like women who say they have planned their weddings their whole lives, people — especially women — will hold onto a name for years or even decades, knowing that when they have a child, they want to use that particular name. But sometimes, they watch a strong little warrior save civilization on their TV and think, "That. That is what I want for my daughter."
This graph above from the Social Security Administration charts the popularity of the baby name Arya from 1960 to now. The name first cracked the top 1,000 in 2010. Game of Thrones didn't premier until April 2011, but trailers for the series would have been running like clockwork in 2010, and a surge of people bought George R.R. Martin's novels, which the show is based on.
After the premiere, you can see where the baby name Arya — which is a Sanskrit name meaning "noble" — really took off. With each year of the series, the name became a little more popular, until 2019, when Arya slayed both the Night King and the top 100 baby names for girls.
The magic of the name Arya is that while it's an obvious nod to Game of Thrones for people familiar with the show, it's also "normal" enough to stand on its own. Scott Rubin, author of Naming Your Little Geek: The Complete List of Comic Book, Video Games, Sci-Fi, & Fantasy Names, did a lot of research into how people are naming their children, particularly those "geeks" that want their child to inherit the qualities of Leia Skywalker or just want a hip name like Harley Quinn. And he says the reason you see the popularity in names like Arya is because they are just geeky enough.
"Katniss, Anakin, Daenerys, and Legolas are obvious geek names, cool in their own right, but they will draw a very specific kind of attention and comparison. Meanwhile, there are names that don’t scream 'geek' at first glance like the ones we gave our children: Benjamin and Maximilian," Rubin says. These are "stealth geek names." (There are a whole lot of Bens and Maxs in pop culture, you guys. My favorite ones Rubin mentioned were Ben Kenobi and Mad Max.)
For those parents names little girls Arya at the end of the last decade, they no doubt wanted a moniker that projected strength and determination (if not an obsession with revenge killing). "We attach certain meanings, attributes, and qualities of personalities to names," Cohan says. "We might have expectations for how the person will behave, what they will do for work, what their values are. And assumptions are made — right or wrong — about names. For example, do we imagine that all the Brittanys will become neurosurgeons? They might, but the name may not denote that given its association with Britney Spears."
Over time, Arya may lose some of its direct associations with Thrones. Kids on the playground, after all, won't have read the books or watched the series. But for the parents who chose it, the name will always be associated with grit, determination, and power.
The perfect name for all the little girls to come after her.