What popularized Darby as a girl name in the mid-1990s?

The character Darby Shaw (played by Julia Roberts) from the movie "The Pelican Brief" (1993)
Darby Shaw from “The Pelican Brief

According to the U.S. baby name data, the name Darby was relatively gender-neutral during the mid-20th century.

That changed in the late 1970s, when the name started being given to girls more often than to boys on a regular basis.

This gender gap was widest in the mid-1990s, when Darby became trendy as a girl name. It entered the girls’ top 1,000 for the first time in 1994, and reached peak usage the following year:

Girls named DarbyBoys named Darby
1996431 [rank: 542nd]33
1995491† [rank: 499th]48
1994321 [rank: 666th]35
†Peak usage

Here’s a visual:

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

What accounts for the rise in usage among baby girls?

The legal thriller The Pelican Brief, which was released in theaters in December of 1993.

The movie was set in New Orleans, and the main character was female law student Darby Shaw (played by actress Julia Roberts).

After two Supreme Court justices were assassinated, Darby discovered a connection between the murders and wrote a brief that, “if true, would implicate one of the richest men in the country, and lead to the Oval Office.” But the brief turned her into a target, so she spent the rest of the film not just trying to unravel the conspiracy (with the help of investigative journalist Gray Grantham, played by Denzel Washington), but also trying to stay alive.

The film was based on the 1992 novel of the same name by John Grisham.

The first name Darby represents transferred usage of the surname Darby, which has two possible origins: England and Ireland. The English version of the surname comes from a place name (made up of Old Norse elements meaning “deer” and “farm, settlement”), while the the Irish version of the surname is an Anglicization of either Ó Diarmada or Mac Diarmada — Irish surnames derived from the personal name Diarmaid, which is of unknown etymology.

What are your thoughts on the name Darby?


Image: Screenshot of The Pelican Brief

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