Last week, Becca commented with some interesting Jeopardy! contestant names (e.g., Hobie, Dorcas) and mentioned J! Archive, which lists tens of thousands of Jeopardy! contestants going back to 1984, when the show premiered.
I skimmed through all the contestants from 1984 to 2015 (as we don’t have baby name data for 2016 yet) and spotted hundreds of unusual names. And it looks like at least two of them got a boost thanks to the show:
One-time player Alancia Wynn, a family practice physician from Virginia, was on Jeopardy! in October of 1999.
The name Brannon saw an increase in usage in 1998:
1999: 118 baby boys named Brannon
1998: 158 baby boys named Brannon
1997: 113 baby boys named Brannon
One-time player Brannon Denning, a graduate student from Connecticut, was on Jeopardy! in September of 1998. (Looks like Brannon Denning is now a law professor at Samford University.)
Alaric & Ezgi …?
These two names may have gotten a slight boost as well, though it’s hard to tell.
Alaric, in 2005. One-time player Alaric Smith was on the show in October of 2005.
Ezgi, in 2015. One-time player Ezgi Ustundag was on the show in October of 2015.
Ezgi is a female name that means “melody” in Turkish.
Anjali (false positive)
“Kids Week” contestant Anjali Tripathi was on the show in September of 1999. The same year, the baby name Anjali more than doubled in usage:
2001: 222 baby girls named Anjali
2000: 230 baby girls named Anjali
1999: 202 baby girls named Anjali
1998: 93 baby girls named Anjali
1997: 80 baby girls named Anjali
But this was a suspiciously steep rise. And it was accompanied by the debut of an alternate spelling (Anjalie). And usage didn’t drop back to normal levels the next year, as one would expect. These facts pointed me to something more high-profile than a Jeopardy! contestant.
Turns out the very successful Hindi coming-of-age romantic comedy Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had been released in 1998. The movie featured not one but two main characters named Anjali.
Here are the rest of the names that caught my eye, sorted by year:
When a major celebrity chooses an uncommon baby name, there’s a good chance that name will become trendy.
Seems like this might be a modern phenomenon, right? Maybe tied to the rise of the Internet?
Nope. In fact, I bet you’ll be surprised at just how far back it goes.
Let’s take a look at celebrity baby names through the decades, focusing on those that inspired debuts on the SSA’s baby name list. (To debut, a rare names needs to be given to at least 5 babies of one gender or the other in a single year.)
Which baby name was the very first to debut on the charts thanks to a celebrity baby?
The answer depends on how strict you want to be about spelling.
If exact-spelling debuts are what you want, the first I know of doesn’t appear until the late ’40s.
If variant-spelling debuts are okay, though, there’s a celebrity baby name from the early ’40s that inspired a whopping six of them:
In October of 1941, actor/comedian George Jessel (43 years old) and showgirl Lois Andrews (17) welcomed a baby girl named Jerilyn.
The name Jerilyn itself had already been on the list for a few years, but usage rose significantly in both 1941 and 1942:
1943: 182 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 558th]
1942: 325 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 397th]
1941: 135 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 608th]
1940: 10 baby girls named Jerilyn
The popularity of similar names like Jerrilyn and Jerelyn also increased, and six other variants appeared on the national list for the very first time in either 1941 or 1942 (asterisks denote debuts):
I was skeptical about this one for a while, as I’d never heard of George Jessel before. Was he really high-profile enough for his baby to have that sort influence? Turns out he was indeed a popular entertainer from the ’20s until at least the ’50s. He’s the one responsible for the “Garland” part of Judy Garland’s stage name, and some sources even claim he invented the Bloody Mary.
Even more variants of Jerilyn (e.g., Gerilynn) debuted during the ’40s and early ’50s, when young Jerilyn was being mentioned in newspaper articles and appearing on TV and in films with her father. Here’s a fundraising film from 1953, for instance, featuring both George and Jerilyn.
Jerilyn Jessel’s influence on the U.S baby names was impressive, but, technically speaking, she didn’t put “Jerilyn” on the map.
The first exact-spelling celebrity baby name debut was Yasmin, which appeared on the list in 1949.
In December of 1949, actor Rita Hayworth and her husband Prince Aly Khan welcomed a baby girl named Yasmin. The same year, the baby name Yasmin appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time.
(The name Yasmin was late addition to the post. Thank you, Becca!)
At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1950s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In October of 1951, actors Tyrone Power and Linda Christian welcomed their first baby, Romina, who was named after the church in Italy (Santa Francesca Romana) where they had married in 1949. The same year, the baby name Romina appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time.
In September of 1953, Power and Christian welcomed their second baby girl, Taryn, whose name was likely inspired by “Tyrone.” The same year, the baby name Taryn debuted on the list.
In November of 1956, boxer Floyd Patterson and his wife Sandra welcomed a baby girl named Seneca. The same year, the traditionally male name Seneca debuted on the list as a female name. Patterson said the name was inspired by a street in Brooklyn.
In October of 1958, singer/actor Rosemary Clooney and actor José Ferrer welcomed a baby girl named Monsita — their fourth child. The same year, Monsita debuted. It fell off the list the very next year, though, making it a one-hit wonder.
Honorable mentions from the ’50s include:
Liza, which became more popular after Liz Taylor named her daughter Liza in 1957.
Tyrone, which became more popular after Tyrone Power named his third child Tyrone in 1959. The increased usage could also have been influenced by the death of the actor himself the same year, though.
At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1960s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In September of 1961, singer of Nat King Cole and his wife Maria welcomed identical twin baby girls named Timolin and Casey. The same year, the baby name Timolin debuted on the list.
In September of 1965, actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands welcomed a baby girl named Alexandra “Xan” Cassavetes. The same year, the baby name Xan debuted on the list.
In October of 1967, singer Eddie Fisher and actress Connie Stevens welcomed a baby girl named Joely. The same year, the baby name Joely debuted on the list.
In June of 1968, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed a baby girl named Maryum. The same year, the baby name Maryum debuted on the list.
In March of 1969, singers Cher and Sonny Bono, welcomed a baby girl named Chastity. The same year, the baby name Chastity debuted on the list. In May of 2010, Chastity legally changed genders and adopted the name Chaz.
Honorable mentions from the ’60s include:
Dodd, which became more popular after Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee named their son Dodd in late 1961.
At least eight of the baby names that debuted during the 1970s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In August of 1970, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed twin baby girls named Rasheda and Jamillah. The same year, the baby name Rasheda debuted on the list.
(An Ebony article from 1971 misspelled her name “Reeshemah.” The same year, there was a spike in the usage of Reeshemah and a dip in the usage of Rasheda.)
In 1971, comedian/activist Dick Gregory and his wife Lillian welcomed a baby girl named Ayanna. The same year, the baby name Ayanna debuted on the list.
In July of 1973, Dick Gregory and Lillian welcomed a baby boy named Yohance. The same year, the baby name Yohance debuted on the list.
In March of 1974, musician/producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton welcomed a baby girl named Kidada. The same year, the baby name Kidada debuted on the list.
In August of 1975, singer Tito Jackson (of The Jackson 5) and his wife Dee Dee welcomed a baby boy named Taryll. The same year, the baby name Taryll debuted on the list.
In April of 1975, singer Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) and her husband Pedro welcomed a baby girl named Turkessa. The same year, the baby name Turkessa debuted on the list. Turkessa was just 3 babies away from being the top baby name debut of the year. Here’s how Mary came up with the name:
Pedro brought me a beautiful plant. I asked him was it was called. “Turquesa,” he replied, “Spanish for turquoise.” So we named our daughter Turkessa.
In November of 1975, singer Diana Ross (also of The Supremes) and her husband Robert welcomed a baby girl named Chudney. The next year, the baby name Chudney debuted on the list. Here’s how Diana came up with the name:
Friends kept suggesting popular names like Courtney, but so many girl babies were getting that. I suddenly thought of something I liked very much — chutney. Only I didn’t know how to spell it — I put a ‘d’ where the ‘t’ should have been on the birth certificate. And that’s how my little girl became Chudney!
In 1978, Puerto Rican dancer/singer Iris Chacón and her husband Junno welcomed a baby girl named Katiria. The same year, the baby name Katiria debuted on the list. Most of these babies were born in New York.
At least three of the baby names that debuted during the 1980s were inspired by celebrity babies, and at least one was inspired by a celebrity grandbaby:
In September of 1984, singer Gladys Knight didn’t have a baby, but her son James (b. 1962) and his wife Michelene did. They welcomed a boy named Rishawn. The next year, the baby name Rishawn debuted on the list. It was one of the top debut names of 1985, in fact.
In November of 1986, football player Willie Gault and his wife Dainnese welcomed a baby girl named Shakari. The next year, the baby name Shakari debuted on the list.
I wrote about Condola a few months ago, but here’s a recap: In December of 1986, actress Phylicia Rashad and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad welcomed a baby girl named Condola. The next year, the baby name Condola debuted on the list.
In December of 1987, filmmaker/actor Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow welcomed a baby boy named Satchel. The next year, the baby name Satchel debuted on the list. He now goes by Ronan, and rumor has it that he is *possibly* the biological son of Frank Sinatra.
At least three of the baby names the debuted during the 1990s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In July of 1991, actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis welcomed a baby girl named Scout. (And in August, that famous image of 7-months-pregnant Demi ran on the cover of Vanity Fair.) The next year, the baby name Scout debuted on the list, for both genders.
In February of 1995, actor Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy welcomed twin baby girls named Aquinnah and Schuyler. The same year, the baby name Aquinnah debuted on the list. (I wrote more about the name Aquinnah a few years ago.)
In July of 1998, model Christie Brinkley and her husband Peter welcomed a baby girl named Sailor. The same year, the baby name Sailor debuted on the list as a girl name. It had debuted as a boy name the year before.
Honorable mentions from the ’90s include:
Ireland, which became more popular after Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger named their daughter Ireland in 1995.
Seven, which became more popular after Erykah Badu named her son Seven in 1997.
Zion, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her son Zion in 1997.
Selah, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her daughter Selah in 1998.
At least five of the baby names that debuted during the 2000s (the decade) were inspired by celebrity babies:
In August of 2001, singer Shania Twain and her husband Robert welcomed a baby boy named Eja. The same year, the baby name Eja debuted on the list (as a girl name).
In August of 2001, actors Tisha Campbell-Martin and Duane Martin welcomed a baby boy named Xen. The same year, the baby name Xen debuted on the list.
In March of 2003, singer Toni Braxton and musician Keri Lewis welcomed a baby boy named Diezel. The same year, the baby name Diezel debuted on the list.
In June of 2005, magician Penn Jillette and his wife Emily welcomed a baby girl named Moxie (middle name CrimeFighter). The next year, the baby name Moxie debuted on the list.
In September of 2006, model Anna Nicole Smith and her partner Larry Birkhead welcomed a baby girl named Dannielynn. The next year, the baby name Dannielynn debuted on the list.
Honorable mentions from the ’00s include:
Massai, which became more popular after Nia Long named her son Massai in 2000.
Rocco, which became more popular after Madonna and Guy Ritchie named their son Rocco in 2000.
Denim, which became more popular after Toni Braxton named her son Denim in 2001.
Maddox, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted son Maddox in 2002.
Carys, which became more popular after Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas named their daughter Carys in 2003.
Stellan, which became more popular after Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany named their son Stellan in 2003.
Apple, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their daughter Apple in 2004.
Coco, which became more popular after Courtney Cox and David Arquette named their daughter Coco in 2004.
Zahara, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted daughter Zahara in 2005.
Moses, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their son Moses in 2006.
Kingston, which became more popular after Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale named their son Kingston in 2006.
Suri, which became more popular after Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes named their daughter Suri in 2006.
Shiloh, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their daughter Shiloh in 2006.
Pax, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their adopted son Pax in 2007.
Harlow, which became more popular after Nicole Richie and Joel Madden named their daughter Harlow in 2008.
Knox & Vivienne, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
Honor, which became more popular after Jessica Alba named her daughter Honor in 2008.
Nahla, which became more popular after Halle Berry named her daughter Nahla in 2008.
Bronx, which became more popular after Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz named their son Bronx in 2008.
A reader named Genevieve is due with her third child (first son) in two days, and she and her husband need some baby name ideas. She sent me tons of helpful information, so I’m simply going to paste the bulk of what she wrote below. [For all the skimmers out there, I’ve boldfaced both the current faves and the gist of the request.]
I’m Genevieve, he’s Will. We have two daughters, Isadora Ruby (5) and Clementine Luna (2 1/2), and call them Sadie and Cleo EXCLUSIVELY. Last name is McGuire*.
We chose our daughters’ names for the nicknames they gave us (we felt that Sadie and Cleo were much too insubstantial for full names), not because we loved Isadora and Clementine. In fact, we really don’t love or even like Isadora; we just adored Sadie too much and Isadora was the most realistic way to get to it. Clementine we do like, though. Middle names were just names we liked that sounded nice with the full names, and the middle name for this bub will be the same.
I actually still feel really guilty about giving our oldest daughter a full name neither of us like and isn’t really that appealing at all–Sadie doesn’t much like it either. My name’s Genevieve and growing up I would get so many lovely comments about it, which gave me a much-needed confidence and self-esteem boost in adolescence and beyond. I’m worried (sometimes I fret about it to the point of being sick) that no one will ever tell Sadie she has a gorgeous name, and I feel kind of awful about hoisting upon her Isadora, though I’m still ridiculously in love with her nickname.
So we’d like not to have a lingering sense of naming remorse with this bub.
Anyway. Enough back story.
With Bub, we’ve had an awful time with the naming process. Unlike Sadie and Cleo, we haven’t even found a nickname that we totally adore yet, much less a full name.
The name we’re thinking we love is Rex, but there are numerous problems with it.
–We have no idea how to get to Rex through a more substantial name, and if we can’t find one, Rex is off the list. Any ideas?
–Rex is seen as a dog name. Sadie is seen as a dog name. Cleo is seen as a cat name. There’s a accidental theme going on here, and my husband doesn’t like it. I’m actually pretty okay with it, though.
–When we’ve told a few select people that we’re thinking of naming the baby Rex, we’ve gotten cringing and obvious distaste, even though they tried to hide it. Now, I’m not going to let other people dictate what we name our baby, BUT I don’t want people (like our parents and close friends) really hating his name, because there’s a good chance he won’t like it either.
What do YOU think, Nancy? Is Rex just too odd? As an objective third party who just so happens to be a fabulous namer, your opinion is definitely needed on this one.
Other names on our list that we’re strongly considering:
Ned–Edmund, Edward–Not a huge fan at all of either full name, with those nasally
Max–Maxwell, Maximilian–I kind of really love the alliteration, but hubby isn’t sure. Also the pet name theme thing again. Also popularity issues that are really, REALLY throwing me off here; I really didn’t like how popular Sadie was when we named her, though thankfully we’ve never even come across another Sadie yet, and Max is set to skyrocket up the charts.
Ned is Will’s favorite, Max is mine. But neither of them feel like The One.
I guess we’re looking for a spunky, fresh, fun nickname that goes with a respectable full name. Also, if there’s a name out there that’s spunky, fresh, and fun AND suitable for an adult professional, we’d love to hear it; the nickname thing isn’t mandatory at all. We’d rather not repeat first initials or have similar beginning or ending sounds.
If Bub had been a girl, we would have named her Penelope Isis and called her Piper; somewhat ironically, we’ve had this name in our back pockets since before we even started trying for a third baby. Sigh. Though we’re over the moon that Bub is a boy, a girl would have been so much easier to name. We’re tentatively set on having at least one more baby as well, so any name beginning with a P is also out.
*The real name is not McGuire, but it’s close.
Here are some of my thoughts. Apologies ahead of time for any rambling.
This is off-topic, and also a moot point, but…I love the name Isadora. I can understand the remorse, but I’ve always thought of it as such an elegant, regal-sounding name. Right on par with Genevieve, in fact.
I’m sure many people do associate Rex with dogs. (Personally, I think of dinosaurs — far more awesome than dogs.) But I also think an association like this will matter less and less as time goes on, as more and more people use human names (e.g. Max, Jake, Sam, Bella, Daisy, Lucy, etc.) for their dogs/cats.
I think it’s nice to take other peoples’ opinions into consideration, but, as you said, he’s your baby, so pick the name you love. Doesn’t matter if you go with Rex, or Max, or Ned, or Enrique-Iglesias. They’ll love your son regardless. (In fact, they might like him more if his name were Enrique-Iglesias.)
My very first thought was Reginald. There’s no etymological connection between Reginald and Rex, but they look like they could be related, don’t they? Reginald comes from the Germanic name Reynold, not from Latin, but one source states that it was indeed “influenced by Latin regina ‘queen’.” And regina, of course, is based on rex, Latin for “king.”
My next thought was any Germanic name with the element ric, “ruler,” which is a lot like rex both in terms of sound and meaning. Some possibilities: Alaric, Emmerich, Eric, Frederick, Heinrich (even Henry?), Richard, Roderick.
Both Alexander and Xavier have the letters X and R. These are more of a stretch, though.
There’s also the possibility of making Rex out of the initials R and X — Robert Xavier, for example. Or even just an R-name (Raymond, Russell, etc.)
I like the name Rex–it’s a very strong, spunky name. Lots of personality. I especially like it as a nickname for something more traditional.
More importantly, though, it seems as though you guys both love it. And if that’s the case, don’t talk yourselves out of it! No need to make things more complicated. :) Just go with it and work on the full/formal name.
It sounds like Edmund or Edward would be like Isadora for you — something you’d end up regretting. Doesn’t seem worth it.
You’re right about Max being popular — it made the top 100 for the first time ever in 2010, and could continue to climb. But, as you alluded to with Sadie, a lot depends upon your locality. There could be a ton of boys named Max in one town, none at all in another.
Also, keep in mind that today’s “popular” names aren’t as popular as they used to be, so the rankings are becoming less and less important/informative over time. For example, Max, ranked 98th right now, was given to 3,819 babies. Vincent, 98th in 1960 (50 years ago), was given to 4,384 babies. (And roughly the same number of baby boys were born in 1960 as in 2010.)
The effect is gets more pronounced the higher up the list you go. Today’s 20th most popular boy name, Joseph, was given to 13,657 babies. Fifty years ago, the 20th most popular name, Brian, went to 21,994 (!) babies. Huge difference there.
Ok, now it’s time for some name suggestions. Here are the guidelines again:
“Spunky, fresh, fun nickname that goes with a respectable full name,” or
“A name out there that’s spunky, fresh, and fun AND suitable for an adult professional.”
No repeated first initials (S, C) or similar beginning or ending sounds, and no P-names (saving that for Penelope/Piper).
Here are some ideas to start us off:
Ben (Bennett, Benjamin)
Raph, Rafe (Raphael)
Van (Donovan, Evander)
Vin (Vince, Vincent)
Now it’s your turn. What thoughts/advice do you have for Genevieve? Which of the above names do you like best with Sadie and Cleo? What other names would you suggest?