How Hitler, Obama and Dexter have influenced our baby names
Historical events have long shaped the way people respond to their names and influence how parents select names for their babies. These iconic people and events give weight to how positively or negatively their names are viewed.
March 5, 2013 - PRLog -- When US President Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected to the office in November of 2008, new parents in both Kenya and the United States rushed to name their babies after the new leader. In 2007, when President Obama began his campaign, the name Barack charted in the US for the first time in history, at #12544 and peaked in 2009 at #2002, in a monolithic leap to popularity from absolute obscurity.
This is a perfect example of how we, as a society, choose names based on a person or character’s upward mobility. The momentum of someone’s success is something we wish to capture and the trend is manifested well throughout history: Shirley was a name quietly used for both sexes up until the 1930s, at which point its use among girls soared in the wake of the popularity of child star Shirley Temple and stopped being used, almost entirely, for boys; Daryl Hannah’s endearing character, Madison from the Tom Hanks film “Splash” inspired parents to choose it for their daughters in 1984 and catapulted it to the top 10 names in short order where it has remained since 1997. Given Danica Patrick’s recent historic feat as the first woman to start a Sprint Cup race from the pole in 2013’s Daytona 500 Nascar race, her name’s popularity will most likely increase substantially.
However, what happens when good names turn bad? Or, more to the point, how is a name affected when the bearer falls from grace in the eyes of the public? Plenty of attention is given to those meteoric rises to fame and their effects on the public’s perception of a name, but not much is said when a name makes an equally pivotal turn for the worse. For instance, time will only tell how the popularity of a name like Lance will be changed due to the recent “doping” incident involving 7 time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. Although the name has not been a chart topper, it has remained fairly steady and you can bet there have been more than a few baby boys named in homage of the triathlete and Livestrong Foundation benefactor. How will those parents feel about their choice given this current turn of events? The situation closely mirrors the case of Tiger Woods, whose “Number 1” status in the world of golf drove the very seldom used name (In Wood’s case, a nickname for the more formal Eldrick Tont Woods.) from virtually unknown prior to 1988 (Woods' first major national junior tournament was the 1989 Big I, at just 13 years old) to its highest ranking of 1,310 in 2010. That same year, Woods infidelity and philandering was exposed in a highly publicized scandal. Woods became a tabloid darling and hardly a television in America wasn’t broadcasting a continual play-by-play of the most recent outrageous development in his personal life. Suddenly, Tiger no longer equaled “winner” or “champion”
Similarly, three of the top 10 fastest falling names of 2011 were those affected by dishonor and bad press. Miley, the fastest rising name in popularity for girls in 2007 can be directly attributed to the downward shift in the public image of Miley Cyrus. Alexis, the second furthest dropping name for girls, and Aaden the 3rd furthest dropping name for boys are both members of the Gosselin brood in the reality series "Jon & Kate Plus 8.", whose family has fallen in popularity and risen in scandal. In fact, Aaden was the fastest rising boys name in 2008 and the fastest dropping in 2010, as well.
This brings us to consider when someone with a particular name does something REALLY bad. What if the name bearer commits an abomination, such as murder? Of course, we all know of the disfavor the name Adolf fell into after WWII and most consider it to be completely unusable. However, there are modern examples of this phenomenon. In May of 2005, 18 year old American high school student Natalee Holloway disappeared during trip to Aruba in celebration of her recent graduation. Her disappearance caused a media sensation in the United States. Suspicions and allegations immediately implicated 17 year old Joran van der Sloot of the crime. Over the following years, Van der Sloot was arrested and freed multiple times and, although he was never formally found guilty of the crime, the general consensus is that he did, indeed, cause her death. As this international drama took place and was exposed to both American and Dutch audiences by intense media coverage, the favor of the once fairly popular Dutch name, Joran, fell rapidly. At its peak in 2006, 119 baby boys were born named Joran, but that tapered off immediately. Van der Sloot killed again in 2010, but by that time, the name had been scrapped as an option for parents in The Netherlands. Between 2010 and today, less than 8 babies have been named Joran in the whole country.
Conversely, parents in the US don’t seem to have as much of a problem with using the names of high profile criminals. Names like Dexter, titular character in the television series of a serial killer by the same name, have actually skyrocketed in popularity over the run of the show. Names borne by prolific killers such as Jeffery, Theodore and Gary have not seen dramatic decreases in popularity like those of celebrities, reality television personalities and sports heroes who have fallen from grace in the eyes of the American public.