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January 04, 2019  |  Friday words #154: Name of the Year 2018 edition  |  1002 hit(s)

You'll remember that last week I offered a list of potential words of the year (WOTY) that I'd been scribbling down throughout the year. This week I have another special edition, this time for Name of the Year. Inspired by the WOTY selected each year by the American Dialect Society (ADS), the American Name Society (ANS) chooses some names that have had particular significance that year.

The ANS selections are a bit more specialized—the candidates, after all, have to have some sort of onomastic angle—but they're just as much fun. As with the WOTY votes, anyone can just show up, nominate, and vote. And I've done that the last several years.

Both societies are having their Of The Year votes today (January 4, 2019). I thought I'd try to sneak my names list in just in time before they officially vote.[1] As with the words of the year, I am following the ANS's categories as best I can with the names I have.

Personal Name

Christine Blasey Ford. In September, Professor Ford appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about her claim that she had been sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when both of them were teenagers. Her appearance galvanized an already rancorous nomination process; her testimony, the reaction to it, and the subsequent confirmation of Kavanaugh became a drama played out at the highest level of government about the #MeToo movement.

Stormy Daniels. The professional name of an adult-film actress who claimed in March to have taken hush money to cover up an affair with Donald Trump. A legal tangle ensued concerning whether this constituted a violation of campaign financing laws; what seemed like something of a sideshow has rippled outward to bring down various people associated with the president. The name Stormy Daniels could fade away in 2019 and beyond, or she could became the Christine Keeler of this administration.

Fictional Name

Gritty. As sports characters go, Gritty is not particularly good-looking; as many people have noted, he seems like a giant, crazed muppet. But Gritty unexpectedly become popular far beyond his primary job as the new symbol for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, moving from mascot to meme to political avatar (and counterweight to Pepe the Frog). An article on Vox explains the emergence, spread, and popularity of this unlikely character.

Place Name

Parkland (High School). After an endless series of school shootings, none of which resulted in any willingness in the US to change our gun culture, the February 2018 tragedy at Parkland seems like it might have finally become an inflection point. Media-savvy Parkland students became articulate voices for sensible steps to try to avert future acts like the one that they survived; if any of the students run for office, their association with Parkland will be a defining part of their political bio.

Trade name

Tide pods. In earlier generations, kids stuffed themselves into phone booths or swallowed goldfish; for a brief period ending in 2018, the equivalent stunt was for kids to swallow detergent packages. As with earlier fads, most kids didn't do this, but the few who did got tremendous attention, which became both an easy metonym for "dumb things that kids do for attention, 2018 edition" and a commentary on how social media drives this type of behavior vastly more effectively than before.

Fortnite. The most popular video game ever, Fortnite has enraptured the tween generation, both as players and as spectators. Twenty and thirty and forty years from now, people will be talking about what they probably will still think was the best game they ever played.

Miscellaneous name

Amazon Go (store). In January, Amazon opened a cashierless grocery store to the public. Customers who have the Go app can walk into the store, pick out their items, and just leave. Sensors in the store track their choices and automatically debit the user's account. The name is clever enough (you can just "go"), but more significantly, it heralds, or might, a new era in retail sales, as innovative as self-serve supermarkets were when they arrived. It's not impossible to imagine the brand name becoming genericized, and people talking about whether an establishment is a "go store."

#MPRaccoon (also #MPRRaccoon). (My personal favorite name of 2018.) For 2 days in June, it seemed like half the world was fretting about a raccoon in St. Paul who'd gotten trapped on the side of a 23-story building. People anxiously followed the critter's progress as it climbed the building and stopped to nap, and there was widespread relief when the raccoon got to the roof and was safely trapped. Not unexpectedly, people read a lot into this animal-interest story:

[1] You can follow the ADS votes in near real time via their Twitter feed. I don't know if the ANS will use their Twitter feed to also keep us up the minute on nominations and voting.

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