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Category: 1980s baby names

Gossip Girl (and Boy) Names

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In a desperate attempt to bond with the teenagers in my family, I have become a devoted watcher of Gossip Girl. And as I take in the adventures of these upper-crusty New York teens, I can’t help but ruminate on their names.

What’s remarkable is not so much the names of the characters – BLAIR, the name of the series’ Queen Bee, is the only one that truly fits the mold – but the names of the actors who play them.

No fewer than five of the actors with major roles have names that are eighties-style upwardly-mobile surname-names, perfectly in tune with the style of the show:

BLAKE
CHACE
LEIGHTON
PENN
TAYLOR

(For the uninitiated, Blake, Leighton, and Taylor are girls, Chace and Penn are boys.)

Two other actors have names in the same vein, but not quite as stereotypical:

CONNOR
KELLY

Other names that fit this mold, now more commonly heard on twenty-something interns and junior editors and gallery assistants than on babies, include:

ASHLEY
BRITTANY
CAMERON

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In the mid-1980s, when we were beginning to conceptualize our first book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, the most popular names were, well, Jennifer (42,637 of them born in 1985 alone) and Jason, as well as Jessica, Michael (a whopping 64,852 of them—no wonder  we run into so many 25-year-old Mikes) and Matthews, Ashleys and Amandas, Megans and Melissas.

Over the entire decade of those ancient eighties– the era of Cabbage Patch Dolls and Punky Brewster, the moonwalk and the Material Girl—the top three girls’ names were Jessica (469,000). Jennifer (440,000) and Amanda (369,000), while for the boys it was Michael (663,000— that’s over half a million, in case you hadn’t noticed), Christopher (555,000) and Matthew (458,000)—rounding them off to the nearest hundred.

In the quarter century (!) that has passed since 1985, we’ve seen some very different naming patterns emerge.  At that time, there were very few vowel-starting names, except for those A-girls mentioned above, the perennial Elizabeth and the emerging Emily.  Hardly a flower name in the bunch, minimal celebrity impact, Mary still in the Top 35, the boys’ list showing little signs of new life, sticking with Old and New Testament favorites and English classics. Not an aden-ending name in the Top 500—though Braden had already popped up at 583, just below Benny.

What’s particularly interesting to look at from today’s perspective is not so much the new names that were emerging or those that are still with us, but the older ones that were still hanging on in the 1985 Top 1000, and have now completely dropped off.  

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Unusual baby names are more, well, common these days than ever before, according to a new study.

This is not really news, and you don’t need to be a name researcher or statistician to realize it. Anyone who’s spent any time around children in the last few decades knows that you hear unusual names from Tatum to Trenton, from Delilah to D’Shawn around a lot more than you used to.

What’s surprising is the reason the San Diego State author of the latest study gives for the rise of unusual baby names since the 1940s, with the biggest rise in the 1990s. The theory: Higher narcissism among Baby Boom parents inspired the increase in unusual names.  We’re not so sure.

Jean Tweng, the author of the unusual names study, is also the author of two books on narcissism, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (Free Press, 2009) and Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and –More Miserable Than Ever Before (Free Press, 2007).

We hate to be too, well, narcissistic about this, but we think the rise in unusual names is mostly because of us.

Our first book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, came out in 1988.  We called it Beyond Jennifer & Jason because its whole point was to encourage parents to move beyond the expected names — Jennifer and Jason, Jessica and John — that were epidemic at the time and choose something more distinctive and, yes, unusual.

That book changed the way a new generation of parents thought about baby names.  It was our book, we maintain, that propelled the shift in naming trends, not the new generation of parents.

And we have proof.

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