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Disney Princess Names: How influential are they really?

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By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

As the mother of a five year-old girl, Frozen was required viewing over the recent school holidays.  Somewhere between the first appearance of talking snowman Olaf and the happy ending, I found myself musing about the popularity of Disney-princess names.

I’ve long thought that any Disney princess name was destined for success – a meteoric rise up the popularity charts, a future written on the backpack of a generation of little girls.

But is that true?  To date, there are eleven official members of the Disney princess pantheon, plus one television royal and the Frozen sisters.

Let’s take a look at more than 80 years worth of Disney princesses.  Do their names live happily ever after?

1937 – Snow White – She’s the original princess, from Disney’s first feature-length animated feature.  Snow isn’t traditionally a given name, though she’s called Snow White in the story.  Snow has a history of sparing use, and makes a daring choice for a winter-born daughter in 2014.  35 girls were given the name in 2012.  In this case, there’s no Disney princess affect.

1950 – Cinderella – It took more than a dozen years until another Disney princess appeared on the big screen.  Cinderella was more of a nickname than a name.  In some older versions of the tale she was known as Lucette.  The French equivalent is Cendrillon.  Back in 1922, 25 girls were given the name.  As recently as 2010, there were eight newborn Cinderellas in the US – and the princess is now undeniably known by her not-quite-name.  Still no Disney princess effect to report.

1959 – Sleeping Beauty – This time the leading lady had many names over the years. Beauty answered to Zellandine and Talia, Rosalba and Rosebud.  Disney borrowed Aurora from an earlier telling of the tale.  Since she’s also the Roman goddess of the dawn, she’s got quite a history of use.  In the decade leading up to the movie, between 150 and 200 girls received the name each year.  There’s no noticeable bump after the movie debuted.  Aurora does rise after the princesses began appearing ensemble on licensed merchandise in the 1990s.  At #166, she’s among the most popular of the Disney princess names today – but it is difficult to say how much she owes to her royal associations.

1989 – The Little Mermaid – Unlike her predecessors, the mermaid had no name until Disney animated her.  The story had been an opera, and child stars like Shirley Temple and Hayley Mills had played the part.  Ariel was an Old Testament name for Jerusalem, was used by Shakespeare for a sprite, and had some history as a gender neutral name before we all went under the sea.  She’s the first unambiguous example of the Disney princess effect.  In 1988, the name ranked #277 for girls.  By 1990, she was #94, and the name peaked a year later at #66 in 1991.  It’s the first evidence that Disney princess names can be powerful, at least when worn by an appealing red-headed mermaid.

1991 – Beauty and the Beast – The bookish Belle was literally the Beauty from the title.  Her name could have hit it big in 1991.  All of the –elle and –ella names were catching on, with Gabrielle already in the Top 100.  And single-syllable names like Paige and Brooke were popular, too.  Belle briefly charted in the Top 100 back in the nineteenth century, but even after Belle fell for the Beast and the dishes danced, the name remained in limbo.  A grand total of eight girls were named Belle in 1991, and just 19 in 1992.  She’s picked up steam in recent years, but is still outside of the Top 1000.  Definitely no Disney princess effect here.

1992 – Aladdin – The first non-Western tale to inspire a Disney princess gave us Jasmine in 1992.  There were already over 11,500 Jasmines born in 1991, putting her in the US Top 30.  She stayed there for more than a decade after the movie was released.  It’s tempting to attribute some of that to the magic carpet-riding, harem-pant-wearing princess, but it is probably fairest to call this one a draw.

1995 – Pocahontas – Women have been named for the Native American legend over the years.  Blame it on a long series of books, plays and movies that predated the Disney version of the tale, most of them romanticized to some degree.  By the 1990s, no one was naming their daughters Pocahontas, and no Disney flick could change that.

1998 – Mulan – This name was unheard of in the US until the movie debuted.  16 girls were given the name in 1998, and 22 in 2012.  It was even shortlisted for the new baby panda at the National Zoo last year.  While that’s not much of a Disney princess effect, it seems like an undeniable case of some impact.

2009 – The Princess and the Frog – 1920s New Orleans could have given us a truly fabulous, trend-setting name, right? Disney first announced that they’d call their first African American princess Maddy.  When that met with criticism, they changed the character’s name to the glittering Tiana – a name big in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Tiana peaked in the years before the movie premiered.  Zero Disney princess effect.

2010 – Tangled – The 2010 movie certainly wasn’t the first telling of Rapunzel’s story.  But nothing has really made Rapunzel catch on as a baby name.  Flynn, on the other hand, jumped from 81 boys in 2010 to 210 in 2011 and 338 in 2012 – cracking the Top 1000.  Sure, there were other pro-Flynn forces at work, from Orlando Bloom’s baby boy to the rise of Finn.  So while there’s no Disney princess effect, should we award points for the Disney prince?

2012 – Brave – I’d never heard Merida until Brave arrived on the big screen.  But she has history as a place name, and a given name, too.  19 girls were named Merida in 2012, but it’s not the first year she was in use.  It’s too soon to say if there’s a Disney princess effect.

2013 – FrozenWill Anna and Elsa catch on thanks to the ice queen and her loving, loyal sister?  It’s too soon to see the data, but assuming the sisters are the newest additions to the princess pantheon, they seem like names likely to benefit from the Disney princess effect.  It might be tough to tell with the classic Anna, but a rise for Elsa would almost certainly be attributable to Frozen.

2013 – Television princess Sofia the First doesn’t quite fit with the others on this list.  She’s much younger, and she was invented for the small screen.  While she probably won’t be appearing on the official Disney princess merchandise, it is worth watching Sofia.  The –f spelling of this name has consistently been less popular than Sophia.  Could that change?

Much to my surprise, the Disney princess effect is minimal.  Yes, having an animated princess wear the name can definitely raise its profile.  But only Ariel clearly rose in the rankings after she sang on the big screen.  For most of the princesses, their popularity as Halloween costumes and backpack motifs doesn’t translate to success as given names.

Do you know any girls named after the princesses?  Which Disney princess names are your favorites? 

Abby Sandel runs the fabulous name site, AppellationMountain.net, and everybody looks forward to the 9 Newsiest Names of the Week blog she contributes to Nameberry every Monday.

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Abby

Abby Sandel is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and a columnist for Nameberry. Look for her weekly name news updates here every Monday.
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