Pandemic and politics dominated names last year, along with the rest of our lives.
This year, like most organizations, the American Name Society (ANS) held its annual meeting online. On Jan. 24, ANS voted COVID-19 and Kamala as co-winners of the Name of the Year – the first time ANS has had a tie, fitting how unique 2020 was!
ANS chooses Names of the Year for Place Names, Artistic-Literary Names, Personal Names, Trade Names, ENames and Miscellaneous Names before picking the overall Name of the Year.
COVID-19 won the Miscellaneous Names category. On Feb. 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced “COVID-19” as the official name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It’s short for “coronavirus disease first recognized in 2019.” Certainly no name, not even created until six weeks after a year started, has ever dominated the world’s consciousness as COVID-19 has.
Other nominees for Miscellaneous Name of 2020 included USPS, initialism of the United States Postal Service, prominent in 2020 because of the increase in package delivery and the huge rise in mail-in ballots in the 2020 election; and NXIVM, a sex cult based in Albany, New York, whose founder, Keith Raniere, was sentenced in October to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other federal crimes.
Kamala was a nominee for Personal Name of the Year. The first name of our new vice president, Kamala Devi Harris, became an issue when U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia referred to her as “KAH-mah-la, or Kah-MAH-la, or KAH-mah-la or Kamala-mala-mala, I don’t know, whatever,” at a Trump rally on Oct. 16. This mockery, considered racist by many, led Perdue Foods to issue a statement pointing out the senator had no connection to them, and was widely perceived as one reason why Perdue was forced into a runoff with Jon Ossoff in the November election. He lost the runoff on Jan. 5.
Kamala, pronounced “Comma-lah”, is a Sanskrit name meaning “lotus,” inspired by the Hindu heritage of Shyamala Gopalan, Harris’ mother.
For the overall Name of the Year vote, category winners are automatically in the running, but other names can be nominated from the floor at that point. That’s what happened this year — Kamala was nominated from the floor at the final vote.
Two other times the overall Name of the Year winner was not a category winner: in 2012 “Sandy” (the hurricane) and in 2017 “Rohingya” (the name of the persecuted ethnic group) won the overall vote when neither had won in a category.
George Floyd, the Black man killed while being arrested in Minneapolis on May 25, beat Kamala for Personal Name of the Year by one vote. Floyd’s death sparked international protests against police brutality. At least 13 universities have created scholarships named after him.
Other Personal Name nominees included Trump, surname of the 45th President; and Karen, now used as a mocking slur against insensitive self-absorbed Generation X white women — even though in the United States the name Karen is more common among Baby Boomers than Generation X.
QAnon won as EName of the Year. This disproven conspiracy theory, which says a secret group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotted against Donald Trump, derived its name from Q, supposedly a U.S. government official who anonymously revealed the conspiracy’s secrets online. Though the conspiracy only exists as a cyberspace fantasy, it spawned an online cult with real-life political influence. Twitter and #BlackLivesMatter were other nominees.
Zoom was the overwhelming choice as 2020’s Trade Name of the Year. Zoom Video Communications, which provides videotelephony and online chat services through a cloud-based software platform, was the way many attended work meetings, school and college classes, and family gatherings during the pandemic, making its name known to millions worldwide.
Other nominees included Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies who produced the first vaccines approved for COVID-19; DoorDash, the restaurant food delivery company which was the fastest-growing service during the pandemic; and Dominion, the voting machine company whose machines were falsely accused by former President Trump and his lawyers of altering votes.
Wuhan, the city in China where the first major outbreak of COVID-19 occurred, making its name famous worldwide, won as Place Name of the Year by one vote over Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the Philadelphia business site where Rudy Giuliani held a press conference on Nov. 7, prompting much social media speculation that someone had mistaken it for Philadelphia’s luxury Four Seasons Hotel.
“Schitt’s Creek” triumphed as Artistic-Literary Name of the Year. This Canadian sitcom, shown in the United States over Pop TV, became on Sept. 20 the first to win all seven comedy Emmys. Most television news programs ruled the show could not be mentioned without its spelling being visually displayed, but it was noted for being warm and endearing, belying the connotations of its name.