How did John Lennon’s murder affect U.S. baby names?

Musician John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono in Amsterdam (Mar. 1969)
John Lennon and Yoko Ono (in 1969)

John Lennon — a founding member of the massively popular English rock band The Beatles, and the voice behind hits like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (1963), “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), “Strawberry Fields Forever” (1967), “Come Together” (1969), and, as a solo artist, “Imagine” (1971) — was shot and killed by a fan outside his New York City apartment building on December 8, 1980.

What followed was a worldwide outpouring of grief.

In lieu of holding a memorial service, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, asked fans to remember him with a silent vigil on December 14 (the following Sunday).

Millions around the globe participated.

By far the biggest crowd gathered at Central Park in New York. More than 100,000 people … braved stinging cold to listen to recorded music and pray in silence at 2 p.m. EST.


Simultaneously, somber crowds in Philadelphia, Memphis, Tenn., Raleigh, N.C., Atlanta, Hartford, Conn., Concord, N.H., Cincinnati, Columbia, S.C., Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and numerous other communities across the nation fell silent for 10 minutes.

The following year, the baby names Lennon and Yoko both saw an uptick in usage:

Babies named LennonGirls named Yoko
198322 boys14
198222 boys14
198148 boys + 6 girls*24†
198015 boys11
19799 boys.
*Gender-specific debut, †Peak usage

So what do “Lennon” and “Yoko” mean?

John Lennon’s Irish surname can be traced back to either the Irish word lon, meaning “blackbird,” or the Irish word leann, meaning “cloak, mantle.”

And Yoko Ono’s Japanese forename is written using a pair of kanji characters meaning “ocean” and “child” — though the name can be written with other characters as well.

These days, the name Yoko remains rare among U.S. babies (though not as rare as Ringo).

The name Lennon, on the other hand, has become quite popular. It now ranks well inside the top 1,000 for both baby boys and baby girls. (Female usage surpassed male usage in 2014.)

P.S. Did you know that Yoko Ono, who was born into an affluent family, went to school with future Japanese emperor Akihito?


Image: Adapted from John Lennon and Yoko Ono photo by Eric Koch via Nationaal Archief under CC0.

3 thoughts on “How did John Lennon’s murder affect U.S. baby names?

  1. I love any music/name topic, but especially Beatles-related. I may have mentioned previously that I have a teenage niece named McCartney. My family are all massive fans, especially my brother (her dad). The day of John Lennon’s assassination started a period of mourning in my family, even though I was turning only 7 a few days later, and my brother was only 4. He circled John on all the Beatles albums, in some mysterious form of toddler tribute to his hero.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever met someone named Lennon, but one of the young sisters on the tv soap Nashville is named Lennon Stella.

  2. He was remarkable (and still is, truly). He also taught himself to read at age 3, using the liner notes on the backs of the Beatles albums. It really bothered him that he didn’t know what they said. (Silly, conventional me — I used Dr. Seuss books to learn to read.)

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