What turned Notorious into a baby name in 1995?

Rapper Notorious B.I.G. (1972-1997) in the music video for the song "One More Chance."
Notorious B.I.G.

The unlikely name Notorious debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1995, dropped off in 1996, then returned in 1997:

  • 1998: unlisted
  • 1997: 9 baby boys named Notorious
  • 1996: unlisted
  • 1995: 9 baby boys named Notorious [debut]
  • 1994: unlisted
  • 1993: unlisted

Notorious has re-appeared in the data several times since, but, so far, 9 babies in a single year represents peak usage.

So, what turned this vocabulary word — a synonym of “infamous” — into a personal name?

New York City rapper The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls), born Christopher Wallace in 1972.

His 1994 debut album, Ready to Die, featured the singles “One More Chance” (which peaked at #2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart), “Big Poppa” (#6), and “Juicy” (#27).

“Big Poppa” was also nominated for the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance of 1995. Here’s the music video:

In March of 1997 — two weeks before the release of his second album, Life After Death — Biggie was murdered in a drive-by shooting while visiting Los Angeles.

[M]any rap fans suspect the shooting is connected to the East Coast-West Coast feud that has become prevalent in the hip-hop community over the last several years. Smalls and the label he’s on, Bad Boy Entertainment, had been in a fierce rivalry with Tupac Shakur and the Los Angeles-based gangsta rap label Death Row Records, and Shakur had accused Smalls of involvement in a 1994 robbery in which Shakur was shot.

Shakur had been murdered less than a year earlier (also in a drive-by shooting).

Biggie’s second album included the singles “Hypnotize” (which peaked at #1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart), “Mo Money Mo Problems” (#1), and “Sky’s the Limit” (#26).

What are your thoughts on the name Notorious?

P.S. The word may have a negative connotation nowadays, but the original meaning of notorious was simply “publicly known and spoken of” (via the Medieval Latin word notorius, meaning “well-known”).


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