Influential Baby Names: Show Biz Boys

Influential Baby Names: Show Biz Boys

By Nancy Man, Nancy’s Baby Names

Idris, Benedict, Shia…several of today’s uniquely-named leading men are now influencing the U.S. baby name charts. But what about the male movie stars of bygone eras – did they have the same kind of impact?

Yes! Here are a dozen famous performers who influenced the charts in their day (from the ‘30s all the way to the ‘90s). In fact, each one caused at least one baby name to appear in the U.S. baby name data for the very first time. How many of these actors have you heard of?


Marlon Brando, probably the most famous American screen actor of all time, made a strong impression on audiences as dockworker Terry Malloy in the 1954 Tennessee Williams’ drama On the Waterfront. The next year, not only did his first name see a huge spike in usage, but his surname debuted in the U.S. baby name data as well. In his case, the surname Brando is based on the German surname Brandau, which refers to a location in Germany.


If Marlon Brando is the biggest movie star of all time, then Tom Cruise is certainly the biggest male star of his later generation. Though he’d been acting throughout the 1980s (Risky Business came out in 1983) his career really took off with the 1986 fighter pilot movie Top Gun. His surname Cruise debuted in the U.S. baby name data the next year and the name of his character, Maverick, also began a slow-but-significant rise. (Maverick entered the top 1,000 in the mid-‘90s and is still climbing…)


The name Esai debuted on the charts the same year as Cruise thanks to Puerto Rican-American actor Esai Manuel Morales, Jr., who co-starred with Lou Diamond Philips in the successful Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba in 1987. Morales’ first name is likely a form of Esaias, which is based on the Hebrew name Isaiah.


Now let’s go way back – back to one of the earliest actor-inspired baby names to debut in the U.S. data: Franchot (pronounced fran-sho) from 1934. The man behind the name is Franchot Tone, born Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone, who became a popular leading man after starring in a string of films starting in the 1930s. Franchot, which was Tone’s mother’s surname, is related to the more familiar name Francis.


Gig Young had already been acting in films for over two decades by the time his short name finally debuted in the SS list in 1961. Gig Young wasn’t the actor’s birth name; he was born Byron Barr. He had played a character called “Gig Young” early in his career, and Warner Brothers liked the fictional name enough to make it Barr’s official stage name.


The choir boy who covered Prince’s “When Doves Cry” in the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet was 14-year-old Quindon Tarver. His brief-but-memorable role in the blockbuster film – plus his contributions to the equally successful soundtrack — led to the debut of the name Quindon on the U.S. baby name charts in 1996.


Tab Hunter started his Hollywood career as a teen idol in the early 1950s. The name Tab debuted in the U.S. baby name data accordingly in 1953. In fact, thanks to Hunter’s influence, Tab ranked in the top 1,000 during the last half of the decade. Tab Hunter’s original name was Arthur Gelien — his agent came up with his stage name after blurting out: “C’mon, we’ve got to tab him something.” Voilà!


Who doesn’t remember Taye Diggs from the 1998 rom-com How Stella Got Her Groove Back? Names with -taye endings (e.g., Dontaye) had been on the charts since the ‘70s, but Taye-by-itself didn’t debut until audiences were introduced to Diggs in 1998. In fact, the name debuted on both sides of the charts (both as a boy name and as a girl name). Taye Diggs’ birth name was Scott; his stage name came from his real-life nickname, which was a truncated form of “Scott-taye” — a drawn-out “Scotty.”


Cult-favorite martial arts film The Last Dragon (1985) starred actor/athlete Taimak Guarriello. The next year, his unique first name debuted in the U.S. baby name data. He told JET magazine recently that his name was based on the Aztec name “Teimoc,” meaning “striking eagle.” (He was probably referring to the Nahuatl name Cuauhtémoc, which means “descending eagle.” Cuauhtémoc was the name of the last Aztec emperor.)


John Travolta became a household name with the success of the 1977 Saturday Night Fever, in which he played New York disco dancer Tony Manero. The next year, not only did he star in a second blockbuster, Grease, but his Italian surname appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first and only time.


Turhan Bey – dubbed the “Turkish Delight” by fan magazines — was a half-Turkish, half-Czech, Austrian-born actor who typically played “exotic” characters in Hollywood films of the ‘40s. In 1944, several years into his Hollywood career, the baby name Turhan debuted on the charts.


If you appreciate mid-century epics, then no doubt you’re familiar with the distinctive Russian-born actor Yul Brynner (shown). In 1956 he starred in three big films: The King and I, The Ten Commandments, and Anastasia. The next year, the name Yul debuted in the U.S. baby name data. Yul is based on Brynner’s birth name, Yuliy, which is the Russian form of Julius.