It's a boy! It's a girl! It's a Pikachu!
Pokémon—the massively successful Japanese video game and media franchise, in which human trainers capture and battle with fictional creatures—is enjoying a renaissance thanks to the July launch of the augmented reality mobile game Pokémon GO. You may love your favorite Pokémon dearly, but just how dearly? Would you name your child after them?
Believe it or not, you wouldn't be the first. "I've gotten a few text messages from friends saying, 'I'm gonna catch you,'" Tangela Large told me in an email.
I cross-referenced the Social Security Administration's annual baby name records with all 151 original pocket monsters back through 1995, the year the Pokémon franchise was created. Five species of Pokémon have proven to be appealing baby names for U.S. parents: Tangela, Abra, Paras, Onix, and Eevee.
(Important note here: The Social Security Administration's public database only lists names that were used at least five times in a given year. That means it's possible that a single year's crop of, say, one baby named Pikachu, three named Mewtwo, or even four named Mr. Mime could have easily flown under the radar—so the true total is almost certainly higher than 698. Throw in the Pokémon-named Americans born before the series launched and that number is higher still.)
Paras, according to the modern-day Rosetta Stone that is The 2016 Baby Names Almanac, is a Hindi word meaning "touchstone." Onix is seemingly a less common form of Onyx, a name that refers to both a semiprecious stone and a shade of black. Abra, the first name of a character in John Steinbeck's East of Eden, may be a feminine form of Abraham. It's also a name used by the Ewe people of West Africa to refer to girls born on Tuesday.
Of course, American babies didn't start getting these names in 1995—in fact, some of them appear to have tapered off significantly post-Pokémon. Although Tangela hasn't surfaced in the SSA records since 2011, it's the only one of these five names ever to have cracked the top 1000 nationwide, which it did from 1965 through 1975. Tangela peaked in popularity in 1973, becoming the 759th most popular name in the country for girls that year.
Tangela Hamilton “absolutely loves” her name. Her mother nearly called her Angela, then added the T at the last minute. “It was a game-time decision,” Tangela told me over the phone Thursday. “Back then, there weren’t any Tangelas around.” (The Pokémon Tangela, for what it's worth, is pronounced "Tang-ela" with a hard G—which makes sense, given that it resembles a tangle of vines. As a general rule, human Tangelas pronounce their name like Angela.)
The 41-year-old singer has only spontaneously encountered one other Tangela in real life—and actually, come to think it, that was a Tanjela with a J. But a few years ago, she was inspired to search for other Tangelas on Facebook. She’s since befriended about 10 other women who share her name.
Tangela doesn’t know too much about Pokémon, but ever since the game (and cartoon) first arrived in the United States in the ’90s, the Texas native has always thought it was “cool” to be associated with the franchise. That feeling hasn’t changed now that the Pokémon GO craze has taken hold: “I just mentioned the other day, ‘I hope you know I’m a Pokémon.’ And my boyfriend’s like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, Google it. Pokémon. Tangela.’ And he was like, ‘Ahhh, no crap, you are!’ Yeah, I’ve got some pretty weird vibes going on. Don’t mess with me, kid.”
Eevee seems to be the only name that's taken off in popularity now that we've entered the age of Pokémon. It's a name that Eevee Saucedo, born Yvette, chose to give herself at the age of 13, when she and her friends would play the Pokémon video game on the school bus and in the cafeteria. "Just like how a person named William would choose to go by Bill, I just prefer to use Eevee instead," she told me in an email.
Today, the 24-year-old goes by Eevee not just personally but professionally, working as an animator in Los Angeles. (In fact, I found Eevee Saucedo in the first place because that's how she identifies herself on the business-oriented social network LinkedIn.) "I feel like Eevee suits me better since I am constantly in pretend world for my job. Animators are just kids in adult bodies," she said.
Is it ever annoying to go through life with a Nintendo-approved name? Not as annoying as you might think. "Typically only 20-somethings make the connection or ask me if my mom named me after a Pokémon," said Eevee, an avid Pokémon GO player who belongs to Team Mystic. As for Tangela Hamilton, she can’t remember a single instance of a Pokémon enthusiast asking about her name. "I’m not surprised, because the people I meet, they’re generally around my age, a little bit older,” she explained. “If I did meet someone that knew that [Tangela] was a Pokémon, I would definitely have to stay connected with them, because that lets me know that they’re nerds like I am.”
Tangela Large, a 28-year-old actress, said she "actually grew up with [Pokémon protagonist] Ash," watching the animated series before school every morning as a child, so she's always thought her shared name was a "cool thing."
"Because I'm an actress it's great for marketing purposes," Large said. "I use the graphic to embellish my comedic side. I use the graphic for my Twitter account."
As far as Tangela Hamilton’s concerned, the more Tangelas—be they human or grass-type Pokémon—the better. “As a kid, I always wanted to have a name like someone else’s,” she said. “You know, like, there’s 31 million Jennifers in a classroom, but there’s never a Tangela. So, I get to live it out as an adult.”
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.