Were Parents Naming Their Babies Inspired By Amazon’s Alexa?

Its popularity peaked in 2015, when the Echo was released, but promptly slid as people realized it's annoying to be named after a robot

Photo Illustration: Vocativ
May 20, 2017 at 11:00 AM ET

Every year, the Social Security Administration releases data on the most popular baby names of the previous year. (They even release a YouTube video of the top 10 most popular male and female names.) And every year, we pore over the reasons some names become more popular while others seem to fade into obscurity.

This year, the media noted that “Star Wars” names like Kylo were enjoying a spike in popularity, while the name Caitlyn (and all its variations) nosedived — something a few outlets suggested could be linked to Caitlyn Jenner’s supposed “controversiality.” Of course, other names dipped as well, albeit not as significantly. One of those that slunk was “Alexa,” which slid from the #32 most popular name in 2015 — when it hit an all-time-high since becoming an annual top 1,000 name for girls in 1973 — to number 50 in 2016.

It’s hard to say exactly how typical this kind of change is, and pretty much impossible for anyone to say for certain why shifts like these occur. But we haven’t been the only one to infer that the release of the Amazon Echo equipped with voice assistant technology called Alexa might impact the popularity of the name, which is Greek in origin and is based off “Alexander,” meaning “defender of mankind.” In order to activate the Echo, users call out the name “Alexa.”

Certainly, there’s something suspicious about the fact the name Alexa shot to popularity the same year the Amazon Echo did, following a soft start in 2014.

“Is it possible it was a consumer product [that led to the spike]? It’s absolutely possible,” Laura Wattenberg, a name expert and author of “The Baby Name Wizard,” told Vocativ.  “Parents are willing to take inspiration from anywhere because the new generation of parents is constantly on the lookout for style ideas.”

Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has extensively researched why things (including including baby names) catch on, agreed.

“Names don’t catch on by luck or chance, there’s really a science behind it,” said “Popular culture certainly has something to do with that…[but] even beyond popular culture and celebrities, even more subtle things shape names.”

Like, say, the casual mention of a new product that one might hear about once and forget about until months later when it pops back into the mind.

Of course, it’s also totally within the realm of possibility that something else lead to the anomalous “Alexa” spike of 2015. For instance, a YouTube beauty blogger named Alexa Mae climbed in popularity that year, and a Norwegian film called “Alex (Alexa)” was released on Facebook to critical acclaim.

Regardless of why it happened, it certainly wasn’t long after that many Americans realized why this namesake may not be quite ideal. As described by 24-year-old Alexa Sussman in a recent Wall Street Journal article, sharing your name with a robot can be a real annoyance.

Since Alexa is the default “wake word” that triggers the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot to turn on (though this setting can be changed), confusion has ensued in Susskind’s parents home.

“I always liked my name,” she said in a humorous mini-documentary. “It was short but pretty. Easy to remember, easy to spell. It was cute. But lately it’s getting on my nerves.”

Another human Alexa — Alexa Duncan — told the newspaper that despite the fact she doesn’t own an Echo, the disambiguation makes its way into her everyday life regardless. She’s sick of people saying, “Oh, your name is Alexa, like the Amazon thing?” Alexa Seary, a 21-year-old whose surname is pronounced the same way as Apple’s Siri, told the Huffington Post that the robot jokes made at her expense have reached “nightmare” level proportions.

“It’s certainly possible that Alexa, the device, became popular and people didn’t want to name their child after a device,” Berger said. “It’s certainly possible this has hurt the success of [the name] Alexa.”

It also should go without saying that, speculation aside, it’s totally possible the slip of the name Alexa had nothing at all to do with Amazon, as it dropped just as significantly in popularity as the names Crystal, Amy, Catherine, and Heather. Though it is notable that most names experiencing such drastic drops were already far less popular to begin with. (We’ll keep an eye out for what happens in 2017.)

“It’s not that there was a sudden dip in Alexa so much as there was a one-year spike,” Wattenberg noted. “Which is a pretty common pattern. Last year’s fastest risers tend to be this year’s fastest fallers.”

Regardless, if deciding to shun the name “Alexa” for this reason, American parents are probably doing the right thing. Today, Amazon’s Alexa is more popular than ever, with over 8 million sold so far. Apologies if this is a name you’ve been considering. Maybe it’s time to ask your robotic helper, “Alexa, what should I name my daughter?”