Which famous figures are having the largest influence on baby names right now?
The most important baby name influencers are a mix of actors, writers, sports stars, musicians and historical figures. They all share a heroic image that inspires parents and their young namesakes.
Here, based on their names’ standings in the current U.S. list of most popular names, are the biggest baby name influencers of our time:
The widespread use of the second most popular boys’ name Liam can be directly tied to the ascendance of action hero star Liam Neeson. The name began its steep climb to the top in the early '90s, closely tied to the growing fame of Neeson. The name originated as an Irish short form of William, which is in fact the Irish actor’s full name. In recent years, the popularity of Liam, which is number one in several states, has been further bolstered by that of musicians Liam Gallagher and Liam Payne.
Southern novelist Harper Lee’s first name entered the girls’ Top 1000 in 2004, the same year her beloved book To Kill A Mockingbird was widely chosen for the One City, One Book reading program. The name has zoomed up the charts in the decade since then, reaching number 11 in 2014 and climbing to number one in North and South Dakota. Parents not directly inspired by the writer may have heard of the name via Victoria and David Beckham's daughter, whose name was picked by the little girl’s older brothers after their favorite Disney character Harper Finkle on "Wizards of Waverly Place."
Musician Bob Dylan famously adopted his name from Dylan Thomas and then made it more famous than the Welsh poet ever did. Dylan first appeared on the Top 1000 for boys in 1966, the year the folk singer’s "Blonde on Blonde" album was released. It’s been in the Top 35 for boys for more than two decades now, most recently at number 29. Dylan was given in 2014 to more than 10,000 baby boys and nearly 1,000 baby girls.
Audrey (Tautou and Hepburn)
The lovely image of Audrey Hepburn undoubtedly helped the modern popularity of this old saint’s name, but it was the appearance of charming French star Audrey Tautou in 2001’s breakout hit "Amelie" that propelled the name into the Top 1000 in 2002. In the dozen years since, the two stars have helped make Audrey the number 36 girls’ name in the U.S., its highest standing ever.
Both spellings of this name, a Latinate variation of the Greek Ariadne, have been very popular over the past few decades. The rise of the Arianna form can be closely tied with that of media magnate Arianna Huffington: Arianna entered the top 100 in 2003, the same year Arianna Huffington ran for governor of California. Its standing only increased with the 2005 founding of The Huffington Post, reaching number 40 today. The Ariana spelling is slightly more popular at number 37, bolstered by pop star Ariana Grande, who has 45 million Instagram followers.
This Arabic name has risen to number 45 in the U.S. due to the fame of the singer. It entered the charts at a whopping number 202 in 1994, the year Aaliyah’s first album was released, and crossed into the Top 100 in 2001, the year the singer was killed in a plane crash. But the true popularity of the name is obscured by all the also-popular variations, from Aliyah (number 168) to Aliya (number 186) to Aleah (number 423) to Alia (number 729) and onward. Taken together, all the variations put the name near the Top 10.
(John F.) Kennedy (Sr. and Jr.)
President John F. Kennedy certainly helps burnish the image of this name, but what turned it into a hit name for girls was the gorgeous, romantic JFK Jr., whose emergence in the national spotlight in the mid-90s was directly tied to the emergence of the name. Kennedy debuted at number 524 on the girls’ chart in 1994 and then hopped all the way up to number 230 in 1995, the year JFK Jr. launched George Magazine. The fame of the name only grew as he married the following year. Today, Kennedy is the number 54 girls’ name in the U.S.
Football great Peyton Manning has made his name popular for both girls and boys. Peyton crossed over into the girls’ Top 100 in 2008, two years after Manning’s Super Bowl win. Spelling variation Payton ranks at number 134 for girls with Peyton standing at number 210 for boys. The name entered the Top 1000 for both genders in the early 1990s and rose steeply in the late 90s and early 2000s, as Manning won MVP awards and the Super Bowl.
The powerful image of sports giant Michael Jordan has accomplished something highly unusual for his surname: Made it more popular for boys and at the same time less popular for girls. While the name Jordan was widely used for both genders throughout Michael Jordan’s active playing days in the 1980s and 90s, Jordan left the Top 100 for girls in 2008 but remains at number 55 for boys.
Lincoln is one of those names you may be surprised to learn has ranked among the Top 1000 since the list was founded in 1880. But it only reached the Top 100 in 2013, the year after the movie "Lincoln" was released to wide acclaim, winning Daniel Day-Lewis the Oscar for Best Actor. Lincoln is now number 87 for boys in the U.S., and an astonishing number two in South Dakota. Nearly 5000 baby boys were named Lincoln last year, but so were more than 100 girls.
Hadley (Richardson Hemingway)
Hadley Richardson became famous by association when her husband author Ernest Hemingway penned the novelistic memoir The Sun Also Rises. But her name became widely used for babies only after her star turn in the hugely popular novel The Paris Wife, published in 2011. Hadley entered the girls’ Top 100 in 2014.
Miles is another surprising name that’s always been among the Top 1000 but it didn’t take a decided turn toward the top until 1995. Although jazz great Miles Davis died in 1991, he was nominated for Grammy Awards in 1992 and 1993 and made the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998. Last year Miles hit number 108 on the boys’ popularity list, its highest rank ever.
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