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Girls’ Name Hazel: Will a new movie make her the next Jennifer?

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By Nick Turner

In 1970, the novel Love Story captured America‘s imagination with the tale of a wealthy Harvard jock who meets a girl from the other side of the tracks. It was soon followed by a movie of the same name — a tear-jerker that became the top box-office draw of the year. The American Film Institute has named Love Story one of the ten most romantic movies of all time, but its biggest legacy may be solidifying Jennifer‘s status as the top girl’s name of the 1970s and early-’80s.

The heroine of the book and movie (played by Ali McGraw) was named JenniferJenny” Cavalleri. And in addition to being a wisecracking beauty, she had terminal leukemia. (I’m not spoiling anything here. The very first line of the movie is: “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?”) .

Apparently America‘s response to watching a tragic girl fall in love and die was, “Hey, cool name.” Jennifer supplanted Lisa as the most popular name in the United States in 1970 and didn’t relinquish its grip until 1985.

Forty-four years later, America is obsessed with another cancer-stricken girl: Hazel from the novel The Fault in Our Stars. This time around, 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster meets an ex-basketball player named Augustus Waters. There’s no happy ending, but the 2012 book by John Green has an uplifting view on life that has inspired a generation of young adults. The movie version is due to come out June 6, and already the fan reaction is potent: The trailer has almost 20 million views on YouTube, and the hashtag #TFIOS has been tweeted thousands of times.

The question is, will “TFIOS” do for Hazel what “Love Story” did for Jennifer? That seems unlikely, but it should give a bump to a name that’s already enjoying a renaissance. In the just-released 2013 Social Security data, Hazel climbed fifteen spots to No. 157. Not bad for a name that until the late-1990s had fallen out of the Top 1000 for two decades.

Hazel‘s popularity last peaked in 1897, around the time that other botanical names (Violet, Rose) were in fashion. The name is derived from the hazelnut tree, and its aura of ambiguity (hazel eyes are not quite blue and not quite brown) should appeal to modern tastes. It seems to share some kinship with Iris, another name that evokes both plants and eyes (the windows to the soul). And yes, it has a perfect “elephant chart.”

It doesn’t hurt that Hazel already has the endorsement of celebrities. Julia Roberts gave the name to her daughter in 2004, and John Krasinski and Emily Blunt had a baby Hazel earlier this year. Blunt said on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” this month that the name’s old-lady feel appealed to them.

Still, Hazel has yet to make the same inroads as Violet, another old-lady-ish choice. It reached No. 69 last year. For now, Hazel is in a good position. It’s topical yet classic — and not too popular (yet).

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Nick

Nick Turner is a writer and editor living in New York City (by way of San Francisco). He and his wife have successfully named three kids. Follow him on Twitter at @SFNick.
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