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Category: sports star names

Athlete Names: How do they score?

athletekobe

Sports writer and guest blogger Josh Tinley analyzes the influence of superstar athlete names on baby naming.

Early last month, the Social Security Administration released its official list of 2010’s most popular baby names. While I don’t really care that Jacob was the most popular name in 2010 for boys and Isabella for girls, I do enjoy playing around on the SSA’s Popular Baby Names website, which lists the thousand most popular boys’ and girls’ names for each year.

After checking the popularity of my children’s names (Malachi was the 163rd most common boys’ name in 2010; neither Meyer nor Resha was in the top 1000), I decided to look into the names of popular athletes to see how many people were naming their children after popular sports stars.

Of course, the data for athlete names such as Michael, Tom, Tim, Maria, and Mia isn’t terribly meaningful. These names are so common that there’s no way to know if parents are naming their children after Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Tom Brady, Tim Lincecum, Maria Sharapova, or Mia Hamm. But more unique athlete names yield some interesting results.

Though I was surprised to learn that LeBron has not been among the 1000 most popular baby names in the past decade, I discovered that both Peyton and Kobe have. Peyton peaked in popularity in 2007, the year when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was named MVP of Super Bowl XLI. The name was least popular in 2002 and 2003, years in which the Colts performed below expectations. The name Eli made a jump in 2008, the year that began with New York Giants quarterback (and Peyton’s brother) Eli Manning leading his team to a Super Bowl win. (Eli made another jump in 2010. I wonder if the 2010 Elis are the little brothers of the 2007 Peytons.)

It will be interesting to see if Peyton gets a bump in 2011, thanks to Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis. Hillis, a breakout star last season, recently was selected by fans to be on the cover of the Madden 12 video game. If you can make it onto the Madden cover, you can probably make it into the delivery room. Peyton is also a popular girls’ name, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with sports.

Kobe, after a strong showing from 2000 until 2002—the years that Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title—fell drastically in 2004. Kobe Bryant was arrested for sexual assault late in 2003. The name had a minor renaissance in 2008, the year the Lakers returned to the NBA Finals.

Danica jumped into the top 1000 in 2005, the year that Ms. Patrick made her Indianapolis 500 debut, finishing fourth and becoming the first woman in the history of the race to lead a lap. Danica ranked 611 in 2005 and rose to 353 in 2006. It has been in the top 500 ever since. (I’m guessing that Danica’s recent popularity has to do with the race car driver and not the actress who played Winnie Cooper.)

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lindasports1

If there’s one arena that may have been kind of neglected in the nameberry search for cool namesakes, it would probably be the wide, wide world of sports.

There are a couple of explanations for this.  Number One is the fact that so many star athletes were known by nicknames—Mickey and Ricky, Babe, Dizzy, Yogi, Catfish, Satchel, Tiger, ad infinitum.

Beyond that, most of the others have had standard-issue jock names and known by their diminutives— Bill, Willie, Charlie, and  Jack and Jim and Tim and Tom and Ted.

But we’ve dug through the archives and managed to come up with the following group of more out-of-the-ordinary monikers:

AMOS ALONZO Stagg — early football coach, an innovator in college football

AUREALIUS Thomas – in the College Football Hall of Fame

BANKS McFadden –excelled in football, basketball and track, voted the Associated     Press’s ‘Athlete of the Year’ in 1939

BIBB FALK – played for the Chicago White Sox

BOWIE Kuhn –Major League Baseball Commissioner

BROOKS Robinson – a third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles for 23 years

BURLEIGH Grimes (nn ‘Ol’ Stubblebeard’) — Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher

CARNEY Lansford – Major League third baseman and then coach

DORNE Dibble – wide receiver for the Detroit Lions

EARLY Wynn (nn Gus) –pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

FERGUSON Jenkins – Another Baseball Hall of Famer, also played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters

FISHER DeBerry – legendary US Air Force Academy football coach

FRANCO HARRIS –played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks

HOLLAND Donan – college football defensive tackle

NILE Kinnick – won the 1939 Heisman Trophy

PAAVO Nurmi – Finish track star, outstanding long-distance runner of his time

PARRY (born Patrick) O’Brien – American shot-put champion

RAFER Johnson – Olympic decathlete

RYNE Sandberg – Chicago Cubs second baseman, named after pitcher Ryne Duren

SLADE Cutter –in the College Football Hall of Fame

SLATER Martin (nn ‘Dugie’) – one of the NBA’s best defensive players in the 1950s

THANE (born Walter Thane) Baker –Olympic gold medalist runner

VALMY Thomas – major league catcher

YALE (born Robert Yale) Lary – played football for the Detroit Lions

ZEBULON (Zeb) Terry – early (1916-22) Major League baseball player

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