We talk a lot about the influence of celebrity baby names on the general population of baby namers, but just how potent is that influence in actuality? I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at some celebrity choices and see if there was some way to quantify their impact.
Of course there are, inevitably, other factors involved in whether celebrity baby names become popular. For instance, how high-profile is this celeb and how much has her child been seen in the media? What are other influences surrounding the name? A popular character in a movie or TV show? Is this a name that would have risen anyway, just as part of the zeitgeist or is it one that was never—or hardly ever—even heard before? Is it a vintage name that had been stored in the attic until it was brought out and sprinkled with some stardust?
Here are a few specific examples, giving the child’s and his or her celebrity parent’s name, the year of birth, and where the name ranked before, during and after its arrival.
AVA is an interesting case. Previously seen as an outdated, elderlyish name, it first showed signs of a revival when used by Aidan Quinn in 1989, but he didn’t seem to have the voltage to elevate the name above the 800′s on the Social Security list. Next came Heather Locklear, a major TV star at the time of her Ava’s birth in 1997: the name subsequently rose from #737 in 1995 to 259 in 1999. But it was following the more highly publicized arrival of Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe‘s Ava-named daughter in 1999 that the name shot up to #133 two years later—and then all the way to #5 (and probably rising) last year.
HAZEL was another name that seemed to have little potential for a comeback when chosen by Julia Roberts for one of her twins in 2004. It wasn’t even on the list in 1997, was at 681 when little Hazel Moder was born, but had risen to 359 three years later.
IRELAND is a clear-cut example of a name created by the celebrity culture, as it was unheard of when the daughter of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin was born in 1995—a time when place names were heating up. By last year, there were more baby girls named Ireland than there were named Tess, Tia or Tanya.
JADEN is another proof of the Starbaby Effect. The son of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith was given this spin on the biblical Jadon in 1998, when it ranked #328; five years later it had zoomed to #82. Jaden’s sister Willow’s name is also on the rise.
JAYDEN. This spelling was already quite trendy when Britney Spears and Kevin Federline picked it for their son in 2006, but the maelstrom of publicity swirling around Britney and her boys surely contributed to this version of the name reaching its current standing of #11.
There are some celebrity kids’ names that are immediately embraced by other parents and become instant hits. Take Kingston, for example, the name chosen for personal reasons relating to the city in Jamaica by Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale: it had all the ingredients to make it a success– accessibility, likeability, a strong, familiar sound with regal overtones, plus extremely high-profile parents.
Another name with similar qualities is Maddox, the first son of Angelina Jolie, which first entered the popularity lists in 2003 and has been steadily climbing ever since. A few recent names—Honor (Warren), Clementine (Hawkes), Seraphina (Affleck), and Harlow (Madden) spring to mind—were direct hits, and seem sure to spread.
On the other side of the coin are those that were just as instantly rejected as too weird for everyday consumption: the Ikhyds, Banjos, Bandits, Pumas, Pirates and Peanuts.
Some names that were greeted at first as too audacious have now become accepted.Romeo, second son of Victoria and David Beckham, had been considered too melodramatically Shakespearean until it became associated with a cute blonde crew cut and a British accent.The name of Romeo’s brother Brooklyn also produced a few guffaws when it was announced—but then other parents started to separate the two syllables into Brook and Lyn, gradually cancelling out the New-York-accented borough association and transforming it into a pretty name for a girl: now Brooklyn ranks in the Top 50 of girls’ names. That other New York borough name, Bronx, however, got an instant thumbs down.
Of course a lot of it is about exposure. The fabulous name of the kid of some C-list actress who has never once been seen in the pages of People or viewed on Access Hollywood probably isn’t gonna make it.
On the other hand, names that are paraded before the public daily, like Kelly Ripa’s Lola and Joaquin can’t help but be noticed and emulated. Teri Hatcher named her daughter Emerson in 1997, but it wasn’t until Hatcher hit it big with Desperate Housewives that the name really took off—as has her co-star Marcia Cross’s much-photographed twin’s Eden.
So which names have definitely been given a celebritized bounce? The leader of the pack is—hands down—Ava, used by no fewer than a dozen stars, most notably Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe in 1999, and which is now the fifth most popular name in America.
Some others that have been boosted by a celebrity connection are:
AVERY for girls
FINLEY for girls
HARPER for girls
There ‘s also a more recent contingent of starbaby names that seem to have the potential for becoming more widely accepted, including: