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90s Pop Icon Names

July 28, 2016 nicknamer

By Nick Turner

With Pokémon, the Clintons and Crystal Pepsi back in the news, it’s the 1990s all over again.

So it seems like a good time to ponder names from that glorious decade. I don’t mean the most popular baby names (Michael and Jessica ruled the charts in those years). I’m talking about the cultural touchstones that defined the era: Arsenio, Sinead, Winona…names that sizzle with ’90s-ness.

Some of these monikers ultimately did become trendy baby names. Felicity climbed the charts after a show by that name hit the airwaves in 1998. But often not. There are zero kids named Urkel or Beavis or Butt-Head in the Social Security database over the past 30 years.

In any case, it’s worth taking a trip down memory lane (in a red Mazda Miata, no doubt) to rediscover the ultimate 1990s names. This list might give you some inspiration for your 2010s baby.

ALANIS: The angsty singer Alanis Morissette may have struggled to explain irony, but she did get America excited about her first name (a feminine version of her father’s name Alan). Before Morissette hit the scene in the mid-’90s, there were no records of U.S. babies named Alanis. Then Jagged Little Pill was released, and a whopping 172 babies were called Alanis the next year. The name died down a bit in the early 2000s before staging a comeback during the past three years.

ARSENIO: This pick has gone to at least seven baby boys every year for the past three decades, but it peaked in 1989 and 1990 — around when Arsenio Hall‘s talk show debuted.
CHANDLER: The name of the charmingly insecure Friends character was given to 2,395 boys in 1999, its peak year. In total, almost 30,000 boys have been named Chandler since the dawn of the 1990s. That makes it the champion of ’90s names.

COBAIN, VEDDER: These guys were the frontmen of the grunge-rock era, but parents didn’t start naming their babies after them until about a decade ago — part of the general embrace of surname-style picks. Giving your kid a grunge name is still rare, but there were 13 Vedders in 2012, its highpoint, and a dozen Cobains last year.

DARIA, JEWEL: The animated Daria character, who served as a foil to Beavis and Butt-Head before getting her own MTV show in 1997, brought the name to a new peak in 1998. Jewel, fueled by the singer-songwriter’s ascent in the mid-’90s, also reached its apex that year.

FELICITY: This name had a good run in the late ’90s, when the eponymous show helped rescue it from being a musty Catholic-school standby. But Felicity actually hit its 30-year high in 2015, when more than 900 girls received the name.

FRASIER: The psychiatrist Frasier Crane appeared on Cheers until 1993 and then his own spinoff for 11 more seasons. But his snobbish persona may have turned off parents. There have only been about 30 babies named Frasier since 1990.

HANSON: Here’s another musical name from the ’90s that’s doing better than ever. It hit a new high in the past two years, probably helped more by the shift toward surname-style choices than the association with the MMMBop boy band. In fact, I wonder if the ’90s connection is actually holding the name back. Other surname-like picks, such as Jenson, have overtaken Hanson — possibly because they have less baggage.

HOOTIE: This name never inspired a single namesake baby, despite the fact that many children were probably conceived while Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View played on a CD boombox.

KRAMER: The name of Jerry Seinfeld’s eccentric neighbor won some converts during the ’90s. It had a modest surge as a boy’s name during the years that Seinfeld was on the air (it even registered as a girl’s name in 1992, when six female babies were called Kramer). Fans of the show will remember that Kramer’s first name was revealed to be Cosmo in season six, but that name never became as emblematic of the show or the era.

MACAULAY: This name got a relatively small bump from the success of Macaulay Culkin, star of the Home Alone movies. About 100 babies were named Macaulay in the first half of the ’90s, but then the name lost steam.
NEVE: The Irish name got a boost from Neve Campbell. The Party of Five star turned it from a perpetual doughnut hole in the Social Security database to a name that goes to a few dozen kids each year, including the daughter of Conan O’Brien.

SINEAD: Before Sinead O’Connor became a celebrity in the late ’80s, the name was only given to about a dozen babies a year — most likely by parents with strong Irish identity. But her fame propelled it to 160 in 1990. Not bad for a name that most Americans had only just learned how to pronounce.

SLATER: This name is the ultimate ’90s twofer. Like Winona Ryder, Christian Slater was one of the era’s best-known faces. Slater also was the name of the charismatic jock from Saved by the Bell. With that pedigree, the moniker has gone to more than 1,200 babies since 1990.

SWAYZE: Is there any better tribute to the decade than honoring the star of Dirty Dancing and Ghost? (Yes, Dirty Dancing came out in 1987, but I think we can grant it ’90s status.) Surprisingly, the late actor’s name is more common for girls than boys. Forty-six girls were christened Swayze in 2015, plus an additional 20 Swayzees, compared with 16 boy Swayzes.

TOPANGA: I’m sure when the writers of Boy Meets World named a character after an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, they probably weren’t trying to kick off a trend. But more than 500 girls have been called Topanga in the United States since 1990. And the name has stuck around: There were 33 babies named Topanga lasts year, helped by the return of the character in Girl Meets World in 2014.

WINONA: Winona Ryder was one of the most iconic faces of the era, starring in such films as Edward Scissorhands, Reality Bites and Beetlejuice. But her name never caught fire. Over the past 30 years, it peaked in 1992 with 52 girls named Winona.

About the author

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.

View all of Nick's articles

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