A driving force behind many baby name trends is pop culture. This is especially true in the so-called Golden Age of TV.
As we’ve observed with the names Arya and Daenerys, characters in “Game of Thrones,” it’s not uncommon to see the names of characters from popular TV shows become trendy.
An interesting recent example is the beloved character Maeve on HBO’s “Westworld.”
The name Maeve is climbing the popularity charts. According to the Social Security Administration, 860 baby girls born in 2017 were named Maeve ― an increase from 819 in 2016, 701 in 2015 and 648 in 2014.
“I do think Maeve’s prominent role on ‘Westworld’ ― which has a near-cultish following ― is, like so many other pop culture figures, a key factor in its growing popularity. She’s a strong and complex female character, played by the attractive, charismatic Thandie Newton,” Linda Rosenkrantz, co-founder of the popular baby names website, Nameberry, told HuffPost.
“Although Maeve entered the lower ranks U.S. popularity list in 1997, the name has really started to take off since the inception of ‘Westworld,’” she added.
Indeed, the name Maeve reached its highest ranking on the SSA’s Top 1000 names list in 2017 at No. 360, up from No. 406 in 2016 and No. 451 in 2015.
Given that the name has, in general, gained popularity fairly steadily over the past 20 years and “Westworld” first premiered in October 2016, the TV influence factor doesn’t seem as clear-cut to Nameberry co-founder Pamela Redmond Satran.
“[T]he TV show is clearly not the reason for its popularity ― though the show and the attractiveness of that character might propel it from the 300s all the way up to the Top 100 much more quickly than would otherwise be expected,” she told HuffPost.
“There’s often a chicken-and-egg thing that happens, in that an unusual name gets more popular and visible for babies, and then television writers use that cool new name for a character, and then the character inspires more babies with the name,” Satran explained. “Expectant parents may hear the name Maeve for the first time via the character, or they may like the character and so like the name.”
Both Satran and Rosenkrantz pointed to Maeve’s Irish heritage as another factor influencing its growing popularity with American parents.
“Irish names couldn’t be hotter in the U.S. at the moment. After all, Liam is the top boys’ name,” Rosenkrantz noted, adding that the name Maeve plays a strong role in Irish mythology.
“Maeve sounds pretty and also is not plagued with the spelling and pronunciation confusion that can be a problem with other Irish names, such as Saoirse,” said Satran. She also suggested the late best-selling Irish author Maeve Binchy may have partially inspired the name’s rise in the ’90s.
The sound of the name Maeve may also be a reason for its ascent, according to Rosenkrantz. “The ‘may’ syllable is quite trendy right now ― conjuring up the springtime month and other rising names like Mabel and Maisie, plus May/Mae itself, which is coming back as a middle name choice,” she said.
Other “Westworld” characters’ names have not followed the same path. The names Dolores, Bernard and Robert have been declining in popularity in recent years. Clementine fell 11 places on the Top 1000 list between 2016 and 2017.
Meanwhile, the names Elsie and Arnold saw slight increases in popularity, and the name Logan appeared on the Top 10 list of boy names for the first time last year. Charlotte has slowly risen to No. 7.
While we certainly can’t attribute all of those naming patterns to “Westworld,” it will be interesting to see how they evolve as the show goes on.