What turned Shaft into a baby name in 1971?

The character John Shaft from the movie "Shaft" (1971)
John Shaft from “Shaft

The unusual name Shaft debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1971:

  • 1973: 16 baby boys named Shaft
  • 1972: 31 baby boys named Shaft
  • 1971: 22 baby boys named Shaft [debut]
  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: unlisted


Because of the 1971 movie Shaft, which introduced theatergoers to New York City-based private detective John Shaft (played by Richard Roundtree).

The film was based on a 1970 novel of the same name written by (white) journalist Ernest Tidyman:

[O]n April 27th, 1970, readers met John Shaft, a former thief and Vietnam veteran now working as a private detective — and soon to take on a case that would find him brushing up against the mob, the police, and a group of black militants. However unlikely its origins, Tidyman’s Shaft remains a brisk, convincing read. Deeply immersed in Shaft’s point of view, it’s filled with the protagonist’s conflicted, sometimes ugly…observations about early 70s New York.

Movie post for "Shaft" (1971)

The film’s memorable theme song, which could be heard during the opening credits, was written and performed by Isaac Hayes.

You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother- (Shut your mouth)
But I’m talkin’ about Shaft (Then we can dig it)

Later released as a single, the song reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in November of 1971 and won the Oscar for “Best Original Song” at the 44th Academy Awards (in April of ’72).

The first Shaft film was followed by a pair of sequels — Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973) — both of which also starred Roundtree.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Shaft?

P.S. I’ve found other ’70s baby names inspired by blaxploitation films, but none are as shocking as Shaft. They include Coffy, Foxy and Sheba, inspired by the Pam Grier movies Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974) and Sheba, Baby (1975).

Sources: Shaft (1971 film) – Wikipedia, The Unlikely, Gritty Origins of John Shaft, Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Image: Screenshot of Shaft

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