Warning: Full spoilers below for Game of Thrones Season 8, episode 5, “The Bells.”
What do you do if you’ve named your baby after a genocidal maniac?
That’s the question facing thousands of parents in America this morning after last night’s Game of Thrones took a very dark turn in the story arc of one of the show’s chief characters.
In the world of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, Daenerys Targaryen is an exiled princess who yearns to reclaim a usurped throne. On the way there she liberates slaves, punishes their captors and gives birth (in a manner of speaking) to three dragons. These fantasy heroics inspired legions of real-world admirers, who turned her into a symbol of female empowerment.
Then, in last night’s episode, she wantonly slaughtered thousands of innocents in a fit of rage, becoming the very sort of tyrant she was previously dedicated to overthrowing. That could spell trouble for the thousands of American parents who have named their babies after the character.
Data from the Social Security Administration show that since the HBO version of “Game of Thrones” first aired in 2011, at least 3,500 American girls have been named either Daenerys or Khaleesi (one of the character’s royal titles). Included in this tally are a number of common misspellings (“Kaleesi” and “Danerys,” for instance). But since the database doesn’t include names that appear fewer than five times in a given year, the actual number of children named after the character is almost certainly higher.
Khaleesi alone was the 549th most popular name for girls in 2018, according to the Social Security Administration, ranking above such classics as Priscilla (575th), Anne (599th) and Rosie (619th).
Now many of those parents may be having second thoughts, underscoring the dangers of embracing fictional characters whose full story arcs have yet to be written. At one point in the recent episode, Daenerys incinerates a peasant woman and her young daughter, perhaps a nod from the showrunners to the parents feeling betrayed after propping the character up as a symbol of girl power.
Last month, the mother of a 1-year-old Khaleesi told the New York Times that in a decade or so, the name would be a familiar one. People would recognize that it means “strength,” she predicted, “a woman who knows her power, knows what she wants.”
This year, the oldest American Khaleesis are turning 8, perhaps old enough to watch the show with their own parents and wonder why the woman they’re named after just torched an entire city.
There’s one episode left in the series, leaving room for the possibility of redemption for the character. And in the end, the parents of today’s Khaleesis may not be particularly concerned about their daughters’ legacies: Children have a tendency to grow into their identities in unexpected ways, regardless of who they’re named after. And fictional names take on their own lives once they’ve entered mainstream consciousness, separate from what their creators originally intended. Just ask the Miranda or the Jessica in your life.