People who grew up in the ’90s know exactly why the place-name Topanga started popping up in the baby name data that decade:
- 1999: 44 baby girls named Topanga
- 1998: 48 baby girls named Topanga [peak]
- 1997: 33 baby girls named Topanga
- 1996: 11 baby girls named Topanga
- 1995: 10 baby girls named Topanga
- 1994: 5 baby girls named Topanga [debut]
- 1993: unlisted
Topanga was the name of a character on the coming-of-age sitcom Boy Meets World, which premiered in September of 1993. The “Boy” at the center of the show was Cory Matthews, his love interest throughout the series was Topanga Lawrence (played by Danielle Fishel).
According to Fishel, show producer Michael Jacobs was the one who came up with her character’s name. He was driving down a highway in California when he got a phone call about naming the character. At that moment, he happened to be driving past the Topanga Canyon exit, so he said “Topanga” and it stuck.
The canyon’s modern name comes from the Gabrielino (or Tongva) word topa’nga. The “-nga” suffix indicates that it’s a place name, but the meaning of topa remains unknown.
Another name that may have gotten a boost from Boy Meets World is Morgan, the name of Cory’s little sister. It was already on the rise at that time, but from 1993 to 1994 the increase was higher than expected.
…And I’ll just randomly throw in one more name that was inspired by a geological feature: Cohutta, a 2014 debut inspired by MTV reality star Cohutta Lee Grindstaff, who was born in Georgia and named after the Cohutta Mountains. The place name Cohutta, originally Gahûtĭ, comes from the Cherokee word gahûtâ’yĭ, meaning “a shed roof supported on poles.”
Which place name works better as a baby name, do you think: Topanga or Cohutta?
- Danielle Fishel poses for Maxim
- Gudde, Erwin G. California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. 4th ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
- Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. New York: Dover, 1995.