What’s In A Name? Ask Shaq And Kobe

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant Practice Photo

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — I celebrated my birthday two weekends back by going to see my beloved UGA Bulldogs take on South Carolina. While sitting in the stands, I perused the UGA roster, where I noticed UGA has not one, but TWO guys named “Shaquille” playing in the defensive secondary. (As it turns out, as a way of differentiation, the coaches call one of the guys Shaq and the other guy Shaquille.)

Baking there in the sun, we wondered if we were on the cusp of seeing a wave of kids coming of age with names at least inspired by Shaquille O’Neal. Our discussion was totally anecdotal, but we came up with a few other Shaqs just off the top of our head — for instance, the first TD of the college season was scored by South Carolina’s Shaq Roland.

Bringing hard data into the equation, Kem Pomeroy wrote a piece yesterday about the rise of the name “Shaq” in college basketball. If you consider that in 1993 the name Shaq was among the top 200 baby names in the US, that would make 2012, 19 years later, just about right for a bunch of kids named Shaq to make their way onto our radar as college athletes.

And which NBA name should we start seeing make its way into popular culture next? As with everything with Shaq, Kobe is involved: According to Pomeroy…

Kobe first appeared in the nation’s top 1000 in 1997, spanning the end of his rookie season and the beginning of his second season, and it’s stayed there every year since. The name’s popularity broadly peaked between 1998 and 2003, where all but one year was spent in the top 300. In 2012, it still ranked 506th. Parents may admire Bryant’s team loyalty or use of cutting-edge medical technology.

We can never know those reasons for sure, but we can say that since 1997, Kobe has been the name of choice for parents opting to name their children after basketball players. (Lebron has yet to crack the top 1000.) From this we can be confident we’ll see the first-ever college basketball player named Kobe sometime in the 2016 to 2018 seasons. And while the supply of Shaqs will peter out right quick, Kobe’s name will be appearing on college basketball rosters well into the 2030’s. Kobe Bryant may have skipped college, but Kobe will be playing college basketball for many, many, many years to come.

For what it’s worth, UGA is currently recruiting a guy named Raekwon. Are Wu-Tang names next?