How did Tupac Shakur influence baby names in the 1990s?

Tupac's last studio album, "All Eyez on Me" (1996).
Tupac album

Though we remember him today as a West Coast rapper — one of his biggest hits was “California Love,” after all — Tupac Shakur was actually raised on the East Coast.

Tupac Shakur (pronounced TOO-pahk shah-KOOR) was born into a politically active family in New York City in 1971.

At birth, his given names were “Lesane Parish.” But his mother, Afeni, decided to change them to “Tupac Amaru” when he was one year old. The new names honored Túpac Amaru II, an indigenous man who led a rebellion against Spanish rule in Peru in the 1780s. (The names Tupac and Amaru are based on the Quechua words thupa, meaning “royal” or “resplendent,” and amaru, meaning “snake.”)

Tupac moved to California until the late 1980s. His first studio album, 2Pacalypse Now (1991), was a commercial success. It was followed by several more successful albums, including All Eyez on Me, which was rap’s first double album. Tupac also had a career as an actor, starring in films like Juice (1992), Poetic Justice (1993), and Above the Rim (1994).

Sadly, his life was cut short by a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996.

His years of fame, and his sudden death, resulted in all three of his names — Tupac, Amaru, and Shakur — seeing higher usage (as boy names) during the 1990s. Tupac debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1993, and Amaru debuted in 1996. Shakur (which comes from the Arabic word for “thankful”) saw a 5-fold increase in usage from 1992 to 1993, followed by peak usage in 1997.

*Debut, †Peak usage

But it doesn’t end there.

Tupac Shakur spent most of 1995 in prison. One of the books he read while there was the infamous 1513 political treatise The Prince (“…it is much safer to be feared than loved…”) by Florentine statesman and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli (pronounced mah-kee-ah-VEH-lee).

The Prince inspired Tupac to create a new stage name: Makaveli. He only had a chance to use the alias once, though — for his fifth studio album, released two months after his murder. The following year, the unlikely name Makaveli popped up in the baby name data:

  • 1999: unlisted
  • 1998: unlisted
  • 1997: 11 baby boys named Makaveli [debut]
  • 1996: unlisted
  • 1995: unlisted

(Interestingly, the original spelling of the name, Machiavelli, started appearing in the data in 2013 — exactly 500 years after The Prince was written.)


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