The Introduction of Topanga

baby name, television, topanga, 1990s, boy meets world,
Topanga

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?

Which one makes a better baby name?

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Sources:

  • 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.

What Caused the Kalene Spike of ’93?

A couple of months ago, I got an email from someone who wanted to know why the baby name Kalene saw so much usage all of a sudden in 1993.

usage of baby name kalene spiked in 1993

That year, the name reached the the top 1,000 for the first and only time. So did Kaylene.

Other Kalene-like names also saw higher usage in 1993, and at least one of them (Kaylean) was a newbie in the data.

Year Kalene Kaylene Kayleen
1995 41 110 147
1994 85 144 157
1993 204 [peak] 197 [peak] 163
1992 24 91 119
1991 7 77 139

I’d figured out the causes of similar spikes for similar names (Kaleena, Kaelin, Katina), but hadn’t gotten around to Kalene yet.

So I did some research. And I didn’t come up with anything useful until I found myself on the Kalene page of a random baby name site where several people happened to mention the same Hooked on Phonics commercial:

  • “…I seen a Hooked on Phonics Commercial…”
  • “…my mom got it off of the hooked on phonics commercial…”
  • “…I too saw the name on the Hooked On Phonics commercial…”
  • “…My mom got it off the commercial in the 1990’s…”
  • …”My mom named me Kalene because she saw it on tv…”
  • “…my name was originally Christie but my mom saw a ‘hooked on phonics’ commercial about a month after i was born and she changed my name…”

One of my favorite things ever is discovering cheesy pop culture enshrined in the baby name data (excellent example: Kebrina), so finding out that a Hooked on Phonics commercial influenced U.S. baby names was pretty epic for me.

Is this Kalene??
Since that point, I’ve been searching for that specific Hooked on Phonics commercial featuring Kalene.

On YouTube I found a segment of a Hooked on Phonics commercial with a Cindy Brady-esque little girl (at right). She seemed promising…but the segment didn’t include her name on-screen.

That said, I did find a discussion thread from the 1990s — a cool piece of internet history in and of itself — that independently verified the existence of a Hooked on Phonics commercial featuring a girl named Kalene. So that was helpful.

(The search for a decades-old commercial is reminding me of our adventures with Deneen.)

So I’m not sure whether or not we’ve found Kalene yet, but one of the other Hooked on Phonics commercials I saw spotlighted a girl named Kia:

hooked on phonics, kia, 1993
“Hooked on Phonics” Kia

And, like Kalene, the name Kia saw its highest-ever usage in 1993, reaching 648th place in the national rankings. (The first Kia cars that were sold in the U.S. weren’t available until early 1994.)

  • 1995: 211 baby girls named Kia
  • 1994: 229 baby girls named Kia
  • 1993: 344 baby girls named Kia
  • 1992: 247 baby girls named Kia
  • 1991: 253 baby girls named Kia

…So now we have two Hooked on Phonics-influenced baby names. Amazing.

Question of the Day: Do you remember any other names from old Hooked on Phonics commercials? The company was advertising heavily on TV back in the 1990s — that much I remember — but I can’t recall any specific names from the commercials. Please leave a comment if you can think of any!

The Introduction of Neve

neve campbell, party of five, 1990s, baby name

The baby name Neve, an anglicized form of the Irish name Niamh (“bright”), first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1996:

  • 1999: 25 baby girls named Neve
  • 1998: 38 baby girls named Neve
  • 1997: 29 baby girls named Neve
  • 1996: 8 baby girls named Neve [debut]
  • 1995: unlisted

Who kicked it off?

Actress Neve Campbell, one of the stars of the TV show Part of Five. The show premiered in 1994, but didn’t become popular until 1996, after winning the Golden Globe for “Best Television Series – Drama” that January.

Neve played 15-year-old Julia Salinger, middle child of the five orphaned Salinger siblings. (Their parents had died in a car accident.) Julia had older brothers named Charlie and Bailey, a younger sister named Claudia, and a baby brother named Owen.

The show didn’t do much for the names Charlie or Claudia, and Julia was already on the rise, thanks to Julia Roberts. But it definitely gave the name Bailey a boost as a boy name. And it seems to have kicked off the long (and continuing!) rise of the name Owen.

Do you like the name Neve? What spelling do you prefer?

Source: Party of Five – Wikipedia

Will Jumanji Come Back?

jumanji, baby name, 1990s, movieYou’ve probably seen advertisements for the movie Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which is currently playing in theaters. It’s a sequel to Jumanji (1995).

The second film (starring The Rock) quickly became more successful than the first (which starred Robin Williams). So now the question is this: Should we expect to see Jumanji return to the baby name charts?

Because the initial film managed to boost Jumanji into the U.S. baby name data for the first (and so far only) time in 1996:

  • 1998: unlisted
  • 1997: unlisted
  • 1996: 8 baby boys named Jumanji [debut]
  • 1995: unlisted
  • 1994: unlisted

Both movies were based on the children’s picture book Jumanji (1981) by author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. In the book, “Jumanji” is the name of a magical board game. (Allsburg also wrote/drew the modern Christmas classic The Polar Express.)

Lion King Baby Names: Simba, Sarabi, Mufasa…

lion king, characters, disney
Simba, Mufasa, Nala, Sarabi, Timon,
and other Lion King characters.

Disney princesses often influence the baby name charts. But what about Disney animals?

We’ve already talked about two deer and a squirrel, so today let’s check out five lions and a meerkat.

The Lion King, released in 1994, was a Hamlet-influenced, coming-of-age story that focused on a lion cub named Simba. So it’s no surprise that Simba was the first Lion King-inspired baby name to debut on the charts…

Simba

The name Simba — not to be confused with Symba! — first appeared in the data in 1994:

  • 1997: unlisted
  • 1996: unlisted
  • 1995: 9 baby boys named Simba
  • 1994: 5 baby boys named Simba [debut]
  • 1993: unlisted

Simba comes from the Swahili word for “lion.”

Sarabi

Sarabi, the name of Simba’s mother, first appeared in 1995:

  • 1997: 5 baby girls named Sarabi
  • 1996: 9 baby girls named Sarabi
  • 1995: 12 baby girls named Sarabi [debut]
  • 1994: unlisted
  • 1993: unlisted

Sarabi comes from the Swahili word for “mirage.”

Mufasa

Mufasa, the name of Simba’s father, also first appeared in 1995:

  • 1997: unlisted
  • 1996: unlisted
  • 1995: 7 baby boys named Mufasa [debut]
  • 1994: unlisted
  • 1993: unlisted

It was a one-hit wonder on the charts.

Nala

Nala was the name of Simba’s childhood best friend (and, later, love interest). Her name saw a big boost in usage in the mid-1990s:

  • 1997: 55 baby girls named Nala
  • 1996: 51 baby girls named Nala
  • 1995: 85 baby girls named Nala
  • 1994: 24 baby girls named Nala
  • 1993: unlisted

Timon

Timon, the name of Simba’s meerkat friend, also saw increased usage in the mid-1990s:

  • 1997: 17 baby boys named Timon
  • 1996: 19 baby boys named Timon
  • 1995: 19 baby boys named Timon
  • 1994: 9 baby boys named Timon
  • 1993: 7 baby boys named Timon

Kiara

Kiara wasn’t in the original Lion King movie, but she was the main character of the direct-to-video sequel The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, released in October of 1998. She was Simba and Nala’s daughter. The name Kiara, already popular, saw a massive spike in usage in 1999:

  • 2001: 2,289 baby girls named Kiara [rank: 144th]
  • 2000: 2,559 baby girls named Kiara [rank: 130th]
  • 1999: 4,023 baby girls named Kiara [rank: 78th]
  • 1998: 1,733 baby girls named Kiara [rank: 172nd]
  • 1997: 1,263 baby girls named Kiara [rank: 238th]

…So which of these names do you like best? Would you use a Lion King-inspired name for your own baby?