The Name Of This Dating App Is The Fastest Rising Baby Name For Girls

Experts weigh in on this increasingly popular baby name choice.

Parents draw baby naming inspiration from all manner of sources ― music, geography, food items, luxury brands and, apparently, even dating apps.

According to the US Social Security Administration’s latest data, Raya is the fastest-rising name for baby girls in America. The name jumped up 441 spots on the official popularity list from No. 935 in 2020 to No. 494 in 2021 – making it the name with the biggest increase on the girls’ list.

What makes this trend particularly interesting is that Raya is also the name of an exclusive dating app that has made headlines due to its celebrity user base. The private, membership-based app reportedly has a waitlist of more than 100,000 people.

In 2021, 631 baby girls in the US were named Raya, more than double the 274 newborns given the name in 2020, and three times the 204 babies named Raya in 2015, the year the app launched.

“Could the app have some influence? Maybe at the edges,” Abby Sandel, creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain, tells HuffPost.

“Luxury brands like Armani and Dior have a long history of use. Given the app’s exclusivity, it adds some luster to Raya. This would not be true for, say, Tinder.”

Raya is an exclusive, invite-only dating app known to be used by celebrities.
Raya is an exclusive, invite-only dating app known to be used by celebrities.

Indeed, the invite-only nature of the app lends it an air of grandeur and desirability.

“As something becomes prevalent in pop culture, it enters parents’ consciousness as a name – especially if the ‘brand’ is exclusive, high-end or luxury,” says founder Jennifer Moss. She pointed to the names Porsche, Bentley, Chanel and Tiffany as additional examples.

There is another recent cultural influence that could help explain the rise of Raya: the Disney movie Raya and the Last Dragon, which premiered in March 2021.

The family-friendly film was a critical success, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. The story revolves around the titular character, a warrior on a mission to save humanity.

“Raya and the Last Dragon gave us a fearless and noble warrior princess with a name that was just different enough for parents to take notice,” Sandel says. “I’d say the movie gets credit for Raya’s dramatic rise in use, but I wouldn’t rule out the way that an exclusive brand might reinforce the name’s desirable image.”

The rise of streaming – and our reliance on it during peak pandemic times in 2020 and early 2021 – might even further the impact of TV and movie character names.

“Before now, Raya had been growing incrementally since the 1970s,” notes Sherri Suzanne, a baby name consultant and the founder of My Name for Life. “Around 2006-2007, Raya had a tiny growth spurt when a character Raya was introduced on the popular ‘Smallville’ television series. But it was not enough to even lift it into the Top 1000 at the time.”

The titular character of "Raya and the Last Dragon" is a strong, brave warrior princess.
The titular character of "Raya and the Last Dragon" is a strong, brave warrior princess.

But beyond the dating app and movie references, there’s an even simpler explanation for the increasing popularity of Raya: the way it sounds.

“It may have some appeal because short, vowel-heavy girls’ names like Isla, Ava, Ayla, Mia, and Maya have become much more popular since the turn of this century,” says Pamela Redmond Satran, co-founder of the popular baby names website Nameberry. “And there are similar-sounding names that have gained traction over the past handful of years: Riley for both girls and boys, Rye, Rylan, and Ryland for boys.”

Indeed, many experts noted that the name is compact and ends in ‘a,’ which has become an incredibly popular feature in parents’ choices in recent years. It’s also fairly easy to spell and pronounce.

“There’s a high demand for unique-sounding four-letter names,” explains baby name consultant Taylor Humphrey. “Parents love these names because they’re short and sweet.”

She points to other popular four-letter names of the moment, including Luna, Ella, Aria, Mila and Nora.

“Raya also joins other popular ‘hard i’ sounding names like Isla, Ivy, Rylee, Delilah, Skylar, Piper, Iris, Lyla, Eliza, Alaia and Kylie,” Humphrey adds.

It's unclear if Raya will continue to increase in popularity as a name for newborns.
Anna Blazhuk via Getty Images
It's unclear if Raya will continue to increase in popularity as a name for newborns.

As with many other names with simple sounds, there’s also a global sensibility to the name Raya, which exists in several different cultures.

“In Hebrew it means friend or beloved woman/wife,” Moss notes. “In Slavic countries, it’s a short form of Raina, which means queen.”

Thus, the name Raya gives parents the opportunity to choose something that feels universal, rather than overly rooted in one specific place or heritage.

“Raya is a multicultural name, with origins found in Arabic (sated with drink), Persian (thinker), Hebrew (friend), Sanskrit (stream, current), Japanese (night orchid), among others, which is really appealing to modern couples who increasingly come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds,” Humphrey adds. “The name is strong, versatile, and unique.”

Although there are many clear reasons behind the appeal of Raya as a baby name, what we don’t know is if this period of increased popularity will last. Suzanne is optimistic, however.

“I think Raya has some staying power,” she says. “Many names that make a big leap into the Top 1000 disappear as fast as they came. But Raya sounds like an alternative to Maya, and that is a recipe for success. A name that sounds like a beloved name but with a ‘twist’ is very attractive to parents who like a ‘proven’ name but appreciate being a bit different.”