To David Thompson, Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman is someone who hugs his teammates, the man “at the heart of actually leading this resurgence within the city, and within the fan base, and within the franchise.”
The blossoming baseball star is also something else: the namesake of David and his wife, Kaitlyn Thompson’s 3-month-old son, Trevor Adley.
“Last summer, I wasn’t pregnant, and Adley Rutschman was doing amazing things for the Orioles and just bringing such hope to the Orioles community, and so that’s what our story being pregnant was all about as well, having hope that he would eventually come,” said Kaitlyn, 28, a third-grade public school teacher.
The Pasadena couple said they refer to their son using his first and middle name, and that some friends just call him Adley. The Orioles played on the television when he was born at Anne Arundel Medical Center on July 3, though his moniker was settled on well before that (after his parents decided against Adley Gunnar).
“It’s kind of a shame that our son is only a couple months old, and he’s not older to see this season and actually understand it,” David, 31, said at the end of September. “It’s going to be a summer we literally will never forget.”
The Orioles’ spectacular 2023 season ended this week almost as quickly as it took off, but the players left their mark on a group sure to become lifelong fans: babies named after the team’s own baby Birds.
While big names in Baltimore baseball (think Cal Ripken Jr., or Brooks Robinson) haven’t always made a huge dent in the baby name charts following their successes, it’s a new generation’s turn to try to tilt the trends.
“It’s undeniable that, especially at the margin, popular celebrities or fictional characters — or even in some cases, athletes — influence names,” said Sean Mussenden, a professor and data editor at the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.
Could young players with standout names — Adley, Gunnar, Grayson, Félix or Cedric — inspire a new crop of mini-mes?
“We love to tell ourselves stories of overcoming challenges and triumphing,” said Victoria Harms, a senior lecturer in the history department at the Johns Hopkins University, where she teaches a popular seminar titled “The Cold War as Sports History.”
Sports is an easy arena for evoking pride and hope, “especially when rookies carry a team … it’s just the perfect story that we love to watch,” Harms added. “They come in and then just inspire an entire city.”
People naming their children after famous athletes is nothing new. “Kobe” made it into the nation’s top 1,000 most popular boys names in 1997, the year after NBA shooting guard Kobe Bryant made his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers, and has remained a top-600 name ever since, according to data from the Social Security Administration. In 2020, the year Bryant died in a California helicopter crash, it was the 239th most popular name.
For girls, “Serena,” safely within the top 1,000 most popular names for decades, hit a recent peak in 2000, the year after now-retired tennis great Serena Williams won her first major singles title at the U.S. Open.
But athletic acclaim doesn’t necessarily translate to contemporaneous baby-name fame.
Names of current players haven’t yet overwhelmed Baltimore delivery rooms or OB/GYN offices, according to representatives from Mercy and Sinai hospitals. “Adley” didn’t show up in the top 100 most popular baby names in Maryland last year, nor did Cedric, Gunnar or Félix (and Grayson was ranked 50th, for boys).
“Cal” never made it into the top 1,000 baby boy names documented by the Social Security Administration during Cal Ripken Jr.’s 21-season career with the Orioles, while “Calvin,” Ripken’s given name, remained steadily popular long before, during and after his career.
The boys name “Brooks” didn’t see a meaningful spike in national popularity until a few years after third baseman Brooks Robinson, who also played for over two decades for the Orioles, retired in 1977, according to Social Security Administration data. It’s become increasingly popular in recent years, reaching a high of 76th most popular boys name in 2022.
“I would think often about the fact that he was named after Brooks Robinson,” Westminster resident Mike Holden said of his 7-year-old son, Brooks. “But now, with Brooks Robinson’s passing, I think it’s just even more significant for me. I love that we have a son named as a tribute to someone who was such a great human being.”
Brooks is Mike and Erin Holden’s fifth child (fitting, since Robinson wore No. 5). As a kid himself, Mike Holden, who grew up in Laurel, received a baseball in the mail for his birthday, sent and signed by Robinson.
When his son Brooks was only about a year old, Holden took him and his brother, Nolan, to meet Robinson at a sports memorabilia store. The Orioles legend signed the outfit Brooks wore home from the hospital when he was born — a shirt with No. 5 on the back and the name Brooks.
“He’s so genuine and had so many kind interactions with people over the years,” Mike, 48, said of Robinson, who died Sept. 26. “He really had a bond with Baltimore and the fans.”
But Orioles-inspired names from past eras aren’t confined to the city and nearby counties, or even the state.
Pittsburgh resident Calvin Yoder grew up with a life-size poster on his bedroom wall of his namesake, Cal Ripken Jr., and said his parents “thought of him as a really good role model … not a super flashy guy or anything like that, but he’s someone who is just dedicated to getting it done and doing it well.”
Soon after Yoder was born, his father, who grew up in Baltimore, and mother drove their young son to Cleveland for an Orioles game and held him up in an attempt to catch Ripken’s attention.
Now, Yoder has a 12-year-old nephew in Pennsylvania named Camden, after the ballpark and as a tribute to Yoder’s father’s love of the team.
But as Yoder contemplates names for his own future child with his fianceé, he said the strongest contender aside from repurposed family names is one borrowed from the Orioles roster: Adley.
Pennsylvania couple Sarah and David Shepke, who both attended Orioles games growing up, named their son Grayson Adley in mid-July after Rodriguez and Rutschman — committing to the middle name only after Sarah underwent a cesarean section.
“Right after I woke up from my surgery, my husband said that the Orioles were playing at that time and he said ‘Adley just hit a home run,’ and Grayson had been pitching that night,” said Sarah, 32.
Grayson Adley Shepke is destined to play for the Orioles one day, or at least that’s Sarah’s hope. Girls named after Adley could also wind up wearing catcher’s mitts, if Rutschman’s devoted fan base continues to grow.
“Being a unisex name, it just made sense” for Ellicott City couple Jordan and Courtney Kenney to name their daughter born in September after Rutschman, said Jordan, 36.
They contemplated similar girls’ names, like Adalyn and Ainsley, Courtney said, but Adley felt like the “perfect” choice.
“We love his character and how much he’s transformed the team,” Jordan said, adding that his own Adley — though still an infant — is already a “sweetheart” with sass.
Some Orioles fans are still trying to convince their partners to run with a baseball-inspired name for their soon-to-arrive babies, like Harford County resident Chris Peacher.
“It’s the name of the person who’s brought joy back to watching the Orioles,” Peacher, 32, said of Adley, a title he’s considering for his second son, expected in early January. His wife, Caitlin Peacher, has been pushing for “unique” names, like “Crew,” Chris said.
But the name Adley would hold personal sentimentality. Chris attended Rutschman’s MLB debut last year with his son Cole and his late father, Glenn Peacher, the only game the three went to together before Glenn died in November 2022, Chris said.
“If he stays around here for the long haul … I do think that [Adley Rutschman] could live up to that namesake [like Brooks Robinson has], where we see a lot of kids named after him,” Chris said, adding that he and Caitlin are considering the name Brooks as well.
Interning in 2014 with WBAL, where his father — affectionately known as “Detour” Dave Sandler — worked for a long time, Brooks Sandler became familiar with the Orioles clubhouse, he said. Later he got a job working in player development for the Orioles, and he likes to think his name, Brooks, might have helped him stand out.
Now 30 and working in the University of Pittsburgh’s athletic department, he grew into the name — and all that came with it.
“You don’t really have a choice,” he said, “you’re just an Orioles fan.”