When Katherine Acosta, who lives in Houston, was prescribed bed rest after a miscarriage in 2017, she started watching “Game of Thrones” for the first time. Within a week, she had seen all seven seasons. Then, she watched all of the episodes twice more.
So when she became pregnant again that year, Acosta knew exactly the name her daughter would have: Khaleesi, which essentially means “queen” in the made-up language Dothraki. It is also one of the many titles held by Daenerys Targaryen, a main character on the show and one of the contenders for the Iron Throne.
“Her character loses the baby and then she gets stronger again,” Acosta said. “She defeats all the odds. She knows what she wants.”
Acosta’s own Khaleesi defeated some odds, too. Her daughter was born two months early and spent two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (where a nurse said she was planning to name her own daughter Arya, after another of the show’s female leads).
INFLUENCE IN HAWAII
Since the launch of the “Game of Thrones” series in 2011, Hawaii parents have shown their devotion to the show by naming their newborns after popular characters. The most common? There have been 69 Aryas and 18 Khaleesis named in the last eight years, according to the state Department of Health. Other characters — including Daenerys, Drogo, Sansa, Cersei, Tyrion and Theon — had only a few or no appearances on state birth certificates, though there may have been a few combination names or variant spellings.
“I saw her as my little miracle,” Acosta said.
Since “Game of Thrones” premiered on HBO in 2011, the name Khaleesi has moved from the screen into real life; in 2017, it was the 630th most popular name given to girls, according to the Social Security Administration, making it more popular than Brittany or Britney. By contrast, Hermione and Katniss, the names of two other extremely popular female characters in literature and on the screen, never broke into the top 1,000.
Khaleesi has also been on the rise in the U.K., where some parents are adding creative flourishes. In 2017, Scotland welcomed a Khaleesi- Destiny and a Khaleesi-Grace, and last year, a Khaleesi-Marie joined their ranks.
But the most popular baby name associated with “Game of Thrones” appears to be Arya. It’s not clear how much the show has to do with that; variations of Arya have been around long before the book came out (in India, Indonesia and Iran, for example). But Arya did not break into the top 1,000 U.S. names until 2010, and instances of the name before then appear to be mostly for boys. Since 2010, Arya has steadily risen in popularity to 135th place, with 2,156 babies born in 2017 taking the name.
One of those babies is the daughter of Marina Lippincott, founder of MAKDigitalDesign, a company based in New Jersey, who has been a devoted “Game of Thrones” viewer since the show’s debut. She read the books before the show came out, and has re-watched all the televised seasons before each and every new season premiere. Her baby shower had a “Game of Thrones” theme.
“Some people think I took my obsession with the show too far,” Lippincott said of naming her daughter Arya. “I don’t really care. Arya knows who she is, and that’s who she wants to be. She goes and gets it. Nothing stops her — not even that she’s a small girl.”
Also cropping up on birth certificates is Daenerys, which is less popular than Khaleesi despite the fact that it is that character’s given name. The year 2017 also saw the arrival of 20 Sansas, 11 Cerseis, 55 Tyrions and 23 Theons in the United States. Pet parents are joining the trend, too, with dogs named “Jorah Mormutt,” Asha and Tyrion, and cats called Lady and Drogo.
One pair of parents-to-be plan to honor the show in a less obvious way, and naming their daughter, due in August, Winter. Christina Jettie and her husband, the proud parents to be, often say to each other: “Winter is coming.”
“My husband and I met when Season 1 started,” said Jettie, an environmental engineer based in South Carolina. “He invited me over to watch it with his roommates. They were the only ones who had HBO. We got hooked immediately. Our first dates were getting together on Sundays and watching it.”
For their honeymoon, the couple went to Iceland, where a number of the show’s scenes were shot, and joined a “Game of Thrones” tour.
A name like Winter skirts an issue some parents have run up against: confusion around spelling and pronunciation. Kaylee Finney, mother of a 4-month-old named Arya, watches “Game of Thrones” with her family, who are equally compelled by it.
“We watched all seven seasons within four days,” Finney said. “I have seen the first seven seasons at least 100 times. I know it word for word.”
But other people she meets in Oklahoma, where she lives, do not know the show that well.
“Nobody knows where I got the name,” Finney said. “They have trouble pronouncing it. They call her Ay-ria.”
Mispronunciation is a problem that Jamie Chang also knows well when it comes to her 15-month-old daughter Khaleesi.
“At the doctor’s office they call Kuh-less-ee, or by her last name,” Chang said.
The spelling is tough, as well.
“The H throws everybody off,” Chang said. “Some people think it’s two Ss, some people think it ends with a Y.”
But Chang thinks that in a decade or so, when Khaleesi is a teenager, her cohort will recognize the name, where it originated and what it stands for: “Strength,” Chang said. “She’s definitely a woman who knows her power, knows what she wants.”
Overall, Chang said she is happy with the name, despite the spelling errors and some of the backlash she has received.
“Someone on Twitter was like, ‘How stupid. You named her after a fictional language,’” Chang said. “It might be fictional, but everybody knows what it stands for. It means queen. Anyway, who is to say what is a real name and what isn’t?”