The Arrival of Ryder

ryder, baby name, movie, 1960s
Ryder Smith

The baby name Ryder became trendy in the early 21st century, thanks in large part to actress Kate Hudson naming her son Ryder in early 2004.

But Ryder wasn’t new to the data at that point. It first showed up in the early 1960s:

  • 1964: unlisted
  • 1963: 7 baby boys named Ryder
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 6 baby boys named Ryder [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted

The source? Looks to be Where the Boys Are, which was actually three things: a bestselling novel published in early 1960, a successful movie released in late 1960, and the movie’s title track, which peaked at #4 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart in early 1961.

The book focused on a group of four co-eds — Merritt, Tuggle, Melanie, and Angie — from a Midwestern college. For spring break, they decided to escape winter and head to the sunny beaches of Ft. Lauderdale. Because that’s where the boys were, of course. And the “boy” that main character Merritt eventually fell for was an Ivy Leaguer named Ryder Smith.

The book was a comedy, but also included realistic depictions of the behaviors and attitudes of teenagers in the early ’60s. The Saturday Review called it “[b]oth good comedy and first-rate social anthropology.”

The author, Glendon Swarthout, was an English professor at Michigan State University. In the late 1950s, when he was in his early 40s, he learned about the tradition of going to Fort Lauderdale for spring break (which had begun with collegiate swimmers in the 1930s). He tagged along with his students one year, and soon after wrote a book inspired by the experience.

The movie Where the Boys Are, which was a watered-down version of the book, was out by late December. It featured a cast of relatively unknown actors. The most famous face in the film was that of singer Connie Francis, who played Angie (and also sang the title track).

Merritt was played by Dolores Hart, and the character clearly had an influence on the usage of Merritt as a girl name:

  • 1963: 12 baby girls named Merritt
  • 1962: 13 baby girls named Merritt
  • 1961: 17 baby girls named Merritt
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted

Merritt’s love interest, Ryder, was played by “a young, preternaturally tan George Hamilton.” Her friend Melanie was played by Yvette Mimieux, who’d appeared on the big screen as Weena earlier the same year.

Thanks to the book and (especially) the movie, spring break grew from a minor phenomenon into the “cultural rite of passage” that it is today. The number of American college students flooding into Fort Lauderdale every spring swelled from about 15,000 before the book came out to about 370,000 by the mid-1980s.

The trendiness of Fort Lauderdale as a spring break destination peaked in the ’80s, but the trendiness of Ryder (as a boy name) didn’t peak until the mid-2010s:

  • 2018: 3,000 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 131st]
  • 2017: 3256 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 122nd]
  • 2016: 3,883 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 102nd]
  • 2015: 4,154 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 98th]
  • 2014: 4,103 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 95th]
  • 2013: 3,785 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 103rd]
  • 2012: 3,814 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 100th]
  • 2011: 3,706 baby boys named Ryder [rank: 108th]

What are your thoughts on the name Ryder? Would you use it?

Sources: How an MSU Professor Helped Popularize Spring Break into a National Rite of Passage, Where the Boys Are (1960) – Emanuel Levy, Spring Break – Time

3 thoughts on “The Arrival of Ryder

  1. Ryder reminds me of the writer H. Rider Haggard who wrote King Solomon’s mines, She, and Ayesha. But this Rider didn’t spark baby names in the USA, at least.

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