By Linda Rosenkrantz
The Netflix streaming series Stranger Things became an instant pop culture phenom almost the minute it debuted last year, charming both critics and fans. A Sci-Fi-fantasy-horror homage created by the Duffer brothers, it won Screen Actors Guild Awards and received 18 Primetime Emmy nominations, including for Outstanding Drama Series. Its second season, which takes place one year after the first, commences this week.
We see it, too, as a source of highly unusual names, not only for its characters, but, interestingly, also for the actors who play them. Set in the early 1980s, many of the characters have era-appropriate monikers—Winona Ryder’s mom character is Joyce, and there are also Carol, Mike, Jim, Jonathan, Steve, Becky, Karen, Nancy, Billy and Holly—names that could come straight out of a 1980s (or earlier) sitcom.
But here are some names of the mostly young cast that you wouldn’t find there.
Little Anniston Price shares the role of toddler Holly Wheeler with her sister Tinsley, just as the Olsen twins did decades ago. Anniston was a surprise entrant into the Top 1000 in 2014, perhaps as a result of all those Jennifer Aniston magazine covers, nostalgia for Friends, or its similarity to Addison. Actors Chyler Leigh and Nathan West introduced the double-l spelling for their daughter Anniston in 2009.
Cade Jones plays the recurring character of James, a school bully. Cade entered the popularity lists in the late 80s, peaking at #201 in 2001; it’s now at 408, accompanied by cousins Caden and Cale. There was a Cade in Gone With the Wind and there’s even a Star Wars Cade Skywalker.
Dacre Montgomery plays the charismatic but unpredictable character Billy. His rarely heard name, pronounced DAY-ker, originated as a surname first recorded in the 13th century and survives in the descendants of Dracula author Bram Stoker..
She’s a mysterious young girl with psychokinetic abilities and a limited vocab, who was born Jane Ives before she was experimented on in Hawkins Lab. Not many, but a few parents are playing the numbers game for their kids’ names; Erykah Badu has a son named Seven, and on TV we’ve seen Six on Blossom and Seven on Married with Children and Seinfeld.
Young actor and breakout star Finn Wolfhard plays the intelligent and studious Mike Wheeler. The name Finn is a gigantic hit, now at #175, helped by a starring role on Glee, and by starbabies parented by Owen Wilson, Autumn Reeser, Tori Spelling, Ed Burns and Christy Turlington, and several others.
Curly-haired 15-year-old Gaten Matarazzo plays Dustin Henderson; they share the medical condition of cleidocranial dysplasia, which is incorporated into the storyline and has raised awareness of it. Not sure about Gaten— could it have derived from the Italian Gaetano?
Linnea Berthelsen plays the female character Roman. Linnea is a lovely Swedish nature name inspired by the renowned botanist Carl Linnaeus. It’s mega popular in Scandinavia, recently #1 in Norway—and just waiting to happen here.
Young British actress Millie Bobby Brown earned an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy nomination for her starring role as Eleven when she was only 13. Her double-nickname name feels more currently UK than US: Millie alone is #10 in Scotland, 26 in England and Wales, and #436 on the Social Security list.
15-year-old Sadie Sink (great combo!) plays the complicated tomboy character of Max. Sadie has really come back with a bang, now a Top 60 name. Adam Sandler and Christina Applegate are just two of several celebs who chose Sadie for their daughters
Salem Murphy has the minor role of the high school principle, but I just couldn’t resist including this one. A particularly haunting unisex place name with some dark associations via the witchcraft trials and the eponymous supernatural TV series, it still has some offbeat appeal.
Winona Ryder, with her long, stellar resume, plays the mom figure Joyce Byers. Born Winona Horowitz, she was named after the city in Minnesota near which she was born. Winona is a Sioux Indian name name meaning firstborn daughter and has been heard on television in Justified, Seinfeld and Star Trek (as Captain Kirk’s mother). There are many spelling variations.