How did “Family Ties” influence baby names in the 1980s?

The Keaton family from the TV show "Family Ties" (1982-1989)
The Keatons of “Family Ties

The popular ’80s sitcom Family Ties (1982-1989) featured the fictional Keaton family: parents Steven and Elyse, and children Alex, Mallory, and Jennifer. (In later seasons, a baby brother named Andy was added.)

Family Ties was one of the top five TV shows in the nation from 1984 to 1987, and it also had a big impact on U.S. baby names…

Alex

Alex P. Keaton (played by Michael J. Fox) was the oldest child in the family and, for the first half of the series, the only son. He was a preppy, precocious, and proudly conservative — often clashing with his ex-hippie liberal parents over politics. For his memorable portrayal of Alex, Michael J. Fox won three Emmy Awards (in 1986, 1987, and 1988) and was nominated for two more.

The character Alex P. Keaton from the TV series "Family Ties" (1982-1989).
Alex from “Family Ties

Usage of the name Alex was already on the rise in the early ’80s, but the sitcom gave the name a big boost:

  • 1990: 6,945 baby boys named Alex [rank: 59th]
  • 1989: 6,540 baby boys named Alex [rank: 60th]
  • 1988: 6,406 baby boys named Alex [rank: 58th]
  • 1987: 6,043 baby boys named Alex [rank: 60th]
  • 1986: 5,110 baby boys named Alex [rank: 64th]
  • 1985: 3,907 baby boys named Alex [rank: 80th]
  • 1984: 3,027 baby boys named Alex [rank: 93rd]
  • 1983: 2,163 baby boys named Alex [rank: 123rd]
  • 1982: 1,965 baby boys named Alex [rank: 143rd]
  • 1981: 1,873 baby boys named Alex [rank: 148th]

“Alex” may have been on the way to the top 100 already, but the show put it there a lot faster — in 1984. It was a fixture in the top 100 all the way until 2012.

Usage of name also increased slightly for baby girls:

Graph of the usage of the baby name Alex in the U.S. in 1880
Usage of the baby name Alex

Mallory

Mallory Keaton (played by Justine Bateman) was the middle child and the oldest daughter. She loved fashion and shopping, but wasn’t as interested in school. For her portrayal of Mallory, Justine Bateman was nominated for two Emmy Awards.

The character Mallory Keaton from the TV series "Family Ties" (1982-1989).
Mallory from “Family Ties

Usage of the rare name Mallory — which had been used primarily for boys during most of the 20th century — skyrocketed for baby girls during the 1980s:

  • 1990: 1,782 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 162nd]
  • 1989: 1,971 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 147th]
  • 1988: 2,365 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 120th]
  • 1987: 3,140 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 91st]
  • 1986: 3,323 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 83rd]
  • 1985: 2,039 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 144th]
  • 1984: 1,470 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 186th]
  • 1983: 689 baby girls named Mallory [rank: 334th]
  • 1982: 45 baby girls named Mallory
  • 1981: 27 baby girls named Mallory

The name Mallory entered the girls’ top 1,000 in 1983, and the girls’ top 100 in 1986 (though it only managed to remain a top-100 name for one more year before dropping back down).

The usage of spelling variants also increased dramatically. Mallorie, Malorie and Malarie got a boost on the charts, while Mallory-inspired debuts throughout the ’80s included…

Elyse

Elyse Keaton (played by Meredith Baxter-Birney) was not just the mother of Keaton clan, but also a successful freelance architect.

The baby name Elyse, which had dropped out of the top 1,000 in the mid-1950s, was boosted back into the top 1,000 by Family Ties in 1983:

  • 1990: 449 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 527th]
  • 1989: 612 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 406th]
  • 1988: 790 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 315th]
  • 1987: 803 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 305th] – peak usage
  • 1986: 700 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 343rd]
  • 1985: 639 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 365th]
  • 1984: 426 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 479th]
  • 1983: 244 baby girls named Elyse [rank: 699th]
  • 1982: 80 baby girls named Elyse
  • 1981: 78 baby girls named Elyse

The name even reached the top 500 for a stretch (1985-1989). Usage of the spellings Elise, Alyse, and Alise also increased during this period.

Keaton

The family surname Keaton also started seeing heavier usage as a baby name — particularly as a boy name — while Family Ties was on the air:

  • 1990: 283 baby boys named Keaton [rank: 592nd]
  • 1989: 225 baby boys named Keaton [rank: 667th]
  • 1988: 163 baby boys named Keaton [rank: 741st]
  • 1987: 135 baby boys named Keaton [rank: 799th]
  • 1986: 131 baby boys named Keaton [rank: 793rd]
  • 1985: 109 baby boys named Keaton [rank: 869th]
  • 1984: 69 baby boys named Keaton
  • 1983: 47 baby boys named Keaton
  • 1982: 23 baby boys named Keaton
  • 1981: 15 baby boys named Keaton

The name Keaton entered the boys’ top 1,000 for the first time in 1985. It continued to rise for both genders until the early 2000s. (The continued rise might have been helped along by actor Michael Keaton.)

Sources: Family Ties – Wikipedia, Michael J. Fox – Television Academy, Justine Bateman – Television Academy

P.S. Michael J. Fox met his future wife, actress Tracy Pollan, on the set of Family Ties when she was cast as Alex’s girlfriend Ellen.

[Latest update: March 2022]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.