Monday morning was challenging for Dre Campbell. The 35-year-old Tacoma, Washington, resident and longtime fantasy buff had just witnessed one of his favorite Game of Thrones characters take a turn for the worst. Daenerys Targaryen—long destined to be a hero, a brave leader who would save Westeros from a vicious cycle of violence—transformed into the Mad Queen and burned thousands of innocent citizens alive. But maybe worst of all, Campbell needed to delicately explain all of this to his 6-year-old daughter, Khaleesi.
In 2012, Campbell and his then-wife binge-watched the show during the latter half of her pregnancy. Inspired by the Mother of Dragons, the two decided to name their daughter Khaleesi, the Dothraki word for “queen” and one of Dany’s many titles. “What I liked about [Game of Thrones’] Khaleesi is that she was strong,” Campbell says. “No matter what happened to her, she always found a way to survive and come out on top.” As his daughter Khaleesi has grown up, Campbell has given her updates on her namesake’s latest accomplishments—which made their Monday-morning commute to school somewhat awkward.
“I said that she used her dragon to kill a lot of innocent people,” Campbell says. “Khaleesi was like, ‘Wow. Oh, that’s kind of scary.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. That’s not you, though.’”
Campbell is one of many parents who, fresh off of Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode, must now reckon with the idea that the so-called Breaker of Chains who inspired his daughter’s name is now also the Burner of Civilians. Since before the show premiered, George R.R. Martin fans have been giving their children Westerosi names. (In fact, in a 2011 New Yorker profile, Martin posed for a photo with an infant named Daenerys.) But since the show premiered on HBO that same year, that population has grown considerably larger. While The New York Times reports that the most popular baby name associated with the show is Arya (a wise bet), Khaleesi is also very common. In 2014, it was the 757th most popular female baby name in the United States, according to the Social Security Administration. By 2018, it had become the 549th. (The names Daenerys and Dany have never ranked in the top 1,000 most popular baby names in the U.S., even if babies with the name have become more common.) Records show that similar Khaleesi-centric monikers have become a trend in the U.K. as well.
But Martin has a way of surprising his audiences in new and increasingly cruel ways. And maybe his most unforeseen twist of them all was that the A Song of Ice and Fire author would procrastinate so much that HBO would have enough time to pass him up and turn his work into eight seasons of the most popular television show of all time, encouraging millions of people to grow deeply attached to its protagonists—quote them! dress up as them! name kin after them!— before anyone knew how their character arcs ended. For many, this has resulted in a semipermanent zeitgeisty hangover. The actress who plays Dany, Emilia Clarke, has those dragon tattoos. And thousands of parents have children accidentally named after someone who committed mass genocide. As one Twitter user put it Sunday night, to name a child after Dany is “basically like naming your child Joseph Stalin at this point.”
As the internet collectively snickers at the latest slice of chaos served by the series, the parents who once fully embraced the Mother of Dragons are sorting through the aftermath. “I did feel a type of way, If I’m being honest, when I was first watching it,” Campbell says. “When the bell sounded and she was still going in and burning all the people, I was like, ‘Oh my god, wow.’” But Campbell says that the term “Khaleesi” is just far enough removed from Daenerys’s actual name that it doesn’t seem like a problem. “I didn’t name my daughter Daenerys, I named her after the queen,” he says. He jokes that #NotAllKhaleesis are like their namesake.
Ira Godbold, a New York–based musician who gave his daughter the middle name Khaleesi in 2017 and frequently uses it as a nickname, tells me that despite Dany’s decision to burn women and children alive, he does not regret the name. For one, he delights in giving his children unique names. His 7-year-old son is named Zeta, after the Transformers’ original leader of the autobots, Zeta Prime. For another, he feels his daughter deserves a name that reflects her family. “Her mother is a very strong woman. I come from a family of very strong women. I just see Daenerys as the ultimate symbol of strength,” Godbold tells me. “A lot of people after last night’s episode are like, ‘Oh my god,’” he says. “I’m not one of those people. I still think the legacy of the character is going to live on even when it’s over. I’m a little upset with her. But not upset to the point where I’m going to look at my daughter and be like, ‘I can’t believe I named you that.’” Even so, as a fan of the show, Godbold acknowledges that Dany’s time is over. “She’s gotta go. I know that,” he says. “I hate to say it.”
Other parents have waved off the idea that their child’s name will have some kind of negative connotation, given how accustomed we’ve become to individuals of questionable moral character, both on dark HBO series and in real life. “I don’t think she’s mad at all; I think her actions are justified given her life [and] family history,” Chanel Stout, a 27-year-old medical scheduler who has a 14-month-old daughter named Daenerys, tells me via email.
“We all have a little crazy in us right?” says Katherine Acosta, a 23-year-old mother who has been featured in both The New York Times and Good Morning America for naming her daughter Khaleesi. Perhaps we should’ve never expected Daenerys to be a perfect character in the first place. “It’s Game of Thrones,” she adds. “If you were expecting a happy ending, go watch Disney.”
Danny Cisneros, who has a 6-year-old daughter named Daenerys, points out that barely anyone on the show is a good person. “A lot of the characters have done some pretty horrific things on the Game of Thrones,” he says. “Tyrion strangles Shae, Arya cut up the Freys and fed them to Walder. I think that Brienne is the only one with a squeaky clean conscience at this point.” He says that as he watched “The Bells,” he was far more concerned about things other than the implications of his daughter’s name. “I was just more irritated about how my show was ending,” he says.
Nevertheless, he and his wife, Amanda, will be taking the Ned Stark route in raising their daughter: Choosing to be strategic about what to tell their 6-year-old, Daenerys, about her namesake, and when. “She actually thinks Dany still has three dragons,” he says. “We went into GameStop the other day and she saw the Night King on Viserion, and she was like, ‘Oh, that’s my dragon.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, he borrowed it.’ When she gets older, she can watch the show herself, and read the books, and all that. She’ll know. For now, she’s still a princess with three dragons.”
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.