How popular is the baby name Bill in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Bill and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Bill.
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The inspiration? Hoby Gilman, the main character of the TV western Trackdown (1957-1959).
Hoby, played by actor Robert Culp, was a Texas Ranger who spent his days tracking down bad guys in post-Civil War Texas. “[Culp’s] Hoby Gilman was a cooler character than other deadpan Western cowboys. Culp…imbued Hoby with a hipness that was ahead of the time but which presaged the Sixties yet to come.”
Notably, Trackdown “was given official approval from the (modern day) Rangers and the state of Texas.”
The character originated on an episode of Zane Grey Theatre in May of 1957. A mere five months later, a whole series based on Hoby had emerged. (A whopping five episodes of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre were developed into subsequent TV shows. Impressive.)
Robert Culp went on to co-star with Bill Cosby in I Spy from 1965 to 1968. His character, named Kelly, gave a temporary boost to the male usage of Kelly, which peaked for boys in 1967/1968.
The ground-breaking ’80s sitcom focused on the Huxtables, a well-off African-American family living in New York City. It starred Bill Cosby as Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable.
The show ran from mid-1984 to mid-1992 and was the top-rated program in the nation for 5 consecutive seasons.
And it influenced a whole bunch of baby names, such as…
Vanessa & Tempestt
Vanessa, the second-youngest Huxtable child, was played by Tempestt Bledsoe. The baby name Vanessa saw its highest-ever levels of usage during the years the show was on:
1989: 6,955 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 50th)
1988: 7,515 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 41st)
1987: 7,345 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 43rd)
1986: 7,367 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 43rd)
1985: 7,562 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 42nd)
1984: 7,153 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 45th)
1983: 6,383 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 49th)
And the baby name Tempestt debuted on the charts the year after the show premiered:
1990: 70 baby girls named Tempestt
1989: 98 baby girls named Tempestt
1988: 72 baby girls named Tempestt
1987: 87 baby girls named Tempestt
1986: 78 baby girls named Tempestt
1985: 36 baby girls named Tempestt [debut]
The name Tempest also got a boost during the last half of the ’80s.
Rudy & Keshia
Rudith “Rudy” Huxtable, the baby of the family, was played by Keshia Knight Pulliam. The baby name Keshia entered the top 1,000 for the very first time the year after the show premiered:
1990: 385 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 594th)
1989: 496 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 479th)
1988: 398 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 547th)
1987: 483 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 457th)
1986: 511 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 426th)
1985: 321 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 596th)
1984: 96 baby girls named Keshia
1983: 64 baby girls named Keshia
The name Rudy also rose in usage, and the variant spelling Rudi debuted on the charts in 1985.
Huxtable mother Clair was played by actress Phylicia Rashād. The baby name Phylicia entered the top 1,000 for the first time two years after the show premiered:
1990: 257 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 787th)
1989: 265 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 744th)
1988: 286 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 679th)
1987: 290 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 649th)
1986: 213 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 789th)
1985: 122 baby girls named Phylicia
1984: 13 baby girls named Phylicia
1983: 7 baby girls named Phylicia
Theo & Malcolm-Jamal
Theo, the middle Huxtable child (and the only male in the family besides Cliff) was played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner. The baby name Theo almost tripled in usage the year after the show premiered:
1990: 66 baby boys named Theo
1989: 75 baby boys named Theo
1988: 77 baby boys named Theo
1987: 75 baby boys named Theo
1986: 85 baby boys named Theo
1985: 76 baby boys named Theo
1984: 23 baby boys named Theo
1983: 26 baby boys named Theo
Usage of the baby name Malcolm also began to rise in the mid-’80s, and the baby name Malcolm-Jamal (rendered Malcolmjamal by the SSA, which leaves off hyphens) debuted on the baby name charts two years after the show premiered:
1988: 5 baby boys named Malcolm-Jamal
1986: 5 baby boys named Malcolm-Jamal [debut]
(Where did actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner get his name, btw? He was named after civil rights activist Malcolm X and jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal.)
So now here’s the question: Does The Cosby Show beat Family Ties in terms of impact on the baby name charts? Cosby clearly affected a greater number of names, but is that enough to offset the massive rises of both Mallory and Alex?
In 1954, the baby name Bobbyetta appeared on the Social Security Administration’s baby name list for the first and only time with a mere 6 baby girls:
1954: 6 baby girls named Bobbyetta [debut]
What caused this ever-so-slight increase in the usage of Bobbyetta?
A lady with a pet lion, believe it or not.
Back in the mid-1950s, a farm family in rural Herscher, Illinois, was making headlines because they shared their home with a full-grown pet lion.
The family consisted of Mr. Harlan Porter, Mrs. Pearl Porter, and their adult children Bill and Bobbyetta. And their pet lion Tex, of course.
Bobbyetta was the primary owner/caretaker of the lion. She had owned dozens of cats growing up, and in her mid-20s she decided she wanted a big cat. So she started actively looking for one. Here’s an ad she placed in Billboard magazine in January of 1950:
Later that year, she spotted an ad for 3-month-old lion cubs. The cubs had been born in Africa in April, then brought to Texas to be sold by a wild animal dealer.
Bobbyetta bought one of the cubs “sight unseen” and changed his name from Quien Sabe (which means “who knows” in Spanish) to Tex, short for Texas.
Because winters in Illinois are quite a bit colder than winters in Africa, the Porters decided Tex should live indoors with them. So they split their living room in half with steel bars.
Bobbyetta “soon had him eating out of her hand and wrestling with her in his cage.”
As an adult he weighed over 300 pounds and was fed seven pounds of meat and two quarts of milk per day. He also had a weakness for ice cream.
Bobbyetta brushed his teeth after meals, slept near his cage (“as Tex was prone to roar when he felt he was being left alone”), and “relaxed him by running a vacuum cleaner over his coat.”
The family took Tex along when they traveled (“the rear of the station wagon was fitted with a cage”) and included him in the family photos they sent out with their Christmas cards.
Word about Tex spread, and by early 1954 he was being featured in newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and beyond. Headlines included “Lion in a Pine-Paneled Den” (LIFE), “We Live with a Lion” (Chicago Tribune) and “Girl Brushes Lion’s Teeth” (Sun-Herald, Sydney, Australia).
This is precisely when we see one-hit wonder Bobbyetta debut on the national baby name list.
Sadly, Tex wasn’t the healthiest of lions…
Male African lions can survive 10-15 years in the wild, and ought to be able to many years longer in captivity, but Tex died of a chest tumor in late 1955 at the age 5.
The Porters built Tex a coffin and held both a wake a funeral for him. He was buried on the Porter property “in pink-tufted satin with his head on a royal purple pillow.”
“Cowardly Lion That Adored Ice Cream Is Dead.” Sweetwater Reporter Nov. 28, 1955: 3.
The list was created by amateur genealogist G. M. Atwater as a resource for writers. It contains names and name combinations that were commonly seen in the U.S. from the 1840s to the 1890s. Below is the full list (with a few minor changes).
Victorian Era Female Names
Victorian Era Male Names
Abigale / Abby
Almira / Almyra
Ann / Annie
Dorothy / Dot
Elizabeth / Eliza / Liza / Lizzy / Bess / Bessie / Beth / Betsy