How popular is the baby name Barbara in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, check out all the blog posts that mention the name Barbara.

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Popularity of the Baby Name Barbara


Posts that Mention the Name Barbara

Mystery Monday: Tish

baby name Tish popularity graph

Time for another baby name mystery! Today we’ve got Tish, which saw a distinct spike in usage in 1971. Here’s the data:

  • 1973: 25 baby girls named Tish
  • 1972: 27 baby girls named Tish
  • 1971: 63 baby girls named Tish
  • 1970: 25 baby girls named Tish
  • 1969: 33 baby girls named Tish

I do have a decent guess on this one — a bizarre film called The Baby Maker that came out in late 1970 and starred Barbara Hershey (a.k.a. Barbara Seagull) as Tish, “a free spirit who agrees to bear a child for a childless couple.” I can’t find any box office data on the film, though, so I can’t figure out how many people actually saw it.

A better guess would have been African-American model Tish Hammock…but the year she was being featured regularly in Jet magazine was 1969 — a bit too early for a ’71 spike.

Another guess would have been the character Clementine “Tish” Rivers from the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk…except it wasn’t published until 1974.

Have any thoughts on this one? Any other theories?

Source: The Baby Maker (1970) – Rotten Tomatoes

The Inception of Sway

sway, gone in 60 seconds, movie, character
Angelina Jolie as Sara “Sway” Wayland

The word Sway popped up for the first time in the U.S. baby name data in 2001:

  • 2003: 14 baby girls and 5 baby boys named Sway
  • 2002: 12 baby girls named Sway
  • 2001: 8 baby girls named Sway [debut]
  • 2000: unlisted
  • 1999: unlisted

For a long time I assumed the main influence was MTV personality Sway Calloway. But, while I still think Sway had an influence on male usage, I’ve since discovered a much better explanation for the 2001 debut as a female name.

One of the main characters in the 2000 car heist film Gone in 60 Seconds was mechanic-slash-bartender Sara “Sway” Wayland (played by Angelina Jolie). She was the love interest of protagonist Randall “Memphis” Raines (played by Nicolas Cage), who was tasked with stealing 50 specific, expensive cars inside of 72 hours.

The film didn’t get great reviews, but I do remember appreciating the fact that each of the 50 cars was assigned a feminine code-name:

Mary, Barbara, Lindsey, Laura, Alma, Madeline, Patricia, Carol, Daniela, Stefanie, Erin, Pamela, Olga, Anne, Kate, Vanessa, Denise, Diane, Lisa, Nadine, Angelina, Rose, Susan, Tracey, Rachel, Bernadene, Deborah, Stacey, Josephine, Hillary, Kimberley, Renee, Dorothy, Donna, Samantha, Ellen, Gabriela, Shannon, Jessica, Sharon, Tina, Marsha, Natalie, Virginia, Tanya, Grace, Ashley, Cathy, Lynn, Eleanor

So, how do you feel about the name Sway? If you were having a baby girl, would you be more likely to name her something modern, like Sway, or something traditional, like Sara or Susan?

Sources: Gone in 60 Seconds (2000 film) – Wikipedia, Talk:Gone in 60 Seconds (2000 film) – Wikipedia

“Brighter Day” Baby Names: Grayling, Spring & Babby

brighter day, soap opera, 1950s, television
Babby, Grayling, and Patsy in 1954

The Brighter Day was a moderately popular soap opera that ran on radio from 1948 to 1956 and on television from 1954 to 1962.

The show featured the Dennis family, which was headed by widowed father Rev. Richard Dennis. His five children were adult daughters Elizabeth (Liz) and Althea, adult son Grayling, and teenage daughters Patricia (Patsy) and Barbara (Babby).

At least three Brighter Day characters influenced U.S. baby names:

Grayling

In a 1949 article, Grayling Dennis was described as “restless, charming, spoiled. He writes poetry, plays the violin, has a long string of girl friends who adore his flashing eyes and his wonderful tennis, and drinks too much. But none of these activities has helped Gray, at twenty-three, to “find himself.””

The show was radio-only at that time — listeners would hear Grayling’s name, but never see it — so it’s not surprising that a slew of spelling variants ended up in the baby name data. In fact, the first of the group to debut was Graylin in 1949. Grayling, Grayland, and Graylon appeared in 1950, and Graylan, Graylyn, Graylen, and Greyling followed.

YearGraylinGraylingGraylandGraylon
19601436109
19592761 [987th]1115
19582855186
19572858 [997th]1516
195625471912
19551638158
1954824146
1953111167
195288.6
195178.8
19501117 [debut]5 [debut]5 [debut]
19496 [debut]...
1948....

The name Grayling reached the top 1000 twice in the late ’50s, but all variants saw decreased usage after the TV show was canceled in the early ’60s.

Spring

In early 1951, married daughter Althea discovered she was pregnant. Althea was eager to become an movie actress, not a mother, and “regard[ed] the baby as an annoying interruption to her ambitions.” Regardless, she soon gave birth to a baby girl named Spring, and the baby name Spring debuted in the U.S. data the very same year:

  • 1959: 34 baby girls named Spring
  • 1958: 44 baby girls named Spring
  • 1957: 77 baby girls named Spring
  • 1956: 104 baby girls named Spring
  • 1955: 41 baby girls named Spring
  • 1954: 37 baby girls named Spring
  • 1953: 27 baby girls named Spring
  • 1952: 30 baby girls named Spring
  • 1951: 7 baby girls named Spring [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted

By July of 1952, Althea’s daughter Spring was already 4 years old (a victim of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). I’m not sure how often Spring appeared in the show overall, but she may have been featured prominently in 1956, judging by the usage of the baby name that year.

Babby

In a 1954 article, Babby Dennis was described as “eager and impulsive.” She was the baby of the family, and her nickname was consistently spelled with a “y” to reflect this fact, but TV audiences clearly preferred the spelling Babbie, which debuted in 1956 — years before Babby and Babbi finally showed up.

YearBabbieBabbyBabbi
1963...
196285.
1961189.
196020156
1959195 [debut]6 [debut]
19588..
19588..
19575..
195610 [debut]..
1955...

By 1959, Babby was a young adult and involved in a romance with a gangster named Peter Nino. (Despite being a gangster, Nino was popular with TV audiences: “Nino was to be killed off in six months, but fan mail gave him a reprieve.”)

Sources:

P.S. Three of the sources above refer to a single magazine that went through a bunch of name changes over the course of its existence (1930s to 1970s). The publisher was Macfadden, founded by Bernarr Macfadden, who knew a bit about name changes himself…

Cuban Baby Named Barbara Benita

Andres holding Barbara Benita
(Bettmann / Getty Images)

A few days ago we talked about Cuban refugee babies whose names were associated with the Mariel boatlift, but here’s an even earlier Cuban refugee baby name I haven’t written about yet: Barbara Benita.

She was born in a small open boat fleeing from Cuba in late April, 1964. Her father, a farmer named Andres Mejias, was quoted as saying: “I never dreamed of delivering a baby, especially at sea running from my country.”

The family was picked up by H.M.S Tartar about 13 miles south of Marathon, Florida.

The baby was named Barbara for the Cuban saint of thunder because it was rainy during the night, and Benita for the British naval officer on the Tartar who first spotted the refugee group. Mr. Mejias said he knew only that the officer’s first name was Ben.

In the Afro-Cuban religion of SanterĂ­a, Saint Barbara was syncretized with Shango, the Yoruban god of thunder and lightning, fire, and war.

Source: “Cuban Refugee Gives Birth in Small Boat at Sea.” Toledo Blade 30 Apr. 1964: 1.