TV Baby Names: “Stranger Things” are happening in names

September 22, 2016 Linda Rosenkrantz

By Lilibeth Leda at The Well-Informed Namer

“I’m a big fan of the Netflix series Stranger Things.

The sci-fi horror series, released in July, has everyone buzzing.  A second season has already been announced, and while the show received no Emmy nominations, three of its young actors made very hyped appearances. All of this considered, I’m wondering about the effects on baby names. Since Stranger Things takes place in the early 1980s, the characters’ names generally reflect mid-century American nomenclature. Some of them are rapidly losing popularity, but I expect them to recover at least temporarily.

Joyce – This name has been in the Top 1000 almost every year since 1880, but popularity has been declining for decades. Its peak was in the 1940s, around the time when Joyce Byers likely would have been born. Joyce was persistent in trying to find her son, even when everyone else thought that he was dead and that she was crazy. For this reason, I think Joyce will grow higher than her current U.S. rank of #837.

NancyNancy Wheeler is Mike’s older sister, who helps search for Will and for her friend Barb. Nancy has been in the Top 1000 every year since 1880, but that may not last much longer. Still, the character may be enough to slow or even reverse the decline. Current rank: #819.

BarbaraBarb– The name Barbara ranks similarly to Joyce and Nancy, but usage has been a little more stable in this decade; she currently ranks #836. Although the character doesn’t have much screen time or many lines, she’s become a huge meme. I’m convinced Barb will reappear in the extended data because of this.

Eleven – I would be shocked if Eleven doesn’t debut in the extended data next year. She’s too major a character, and even if her real name is actually Jane, we all lovingly know her as El. Yes, English numbers generally aren’t used as names. One exception is Seven, who was a boy character in the old show Married With Children, and there was Six, a girl on Blossom.  In real life Erykah Badu has a son named Seven.

DustinDustin, a friend of Mike, Will, and Lucas. If his character was 12 or 13 in 1983, that would likely mean his name was probably influenced by Dustin Hoffman. Dustin has been in the Top 1000 since 1968, the year after The Graduate hit cinemas, reaching a high of 41 in 1984-85. Although declining in usage, Dustin still fares better than the more traditional female names above. Thanks to the adorable kid from Stranger Things, I expect Dustin will become a more popular choice for parents in 2016 and 2017 than it was in 2015. Current rank: #505.

MikeMike Wheeler is Nancy’s brother, best friends with Lucas, Will, and Dustin, and later with Eleven. Nickname Mike fell out of the Top 1000 last year after being there consistently since 1880…but, with 194 uses in 2015, don’t be surprised if this name returns from the Upside-Down of the American onomastic lexicon in 2016. This #1000-ranking name in 2015 was given to 202 boys.

Lucas – Unlike the other names on this list, Lucas is actually much more popular and trendy now than it was in 1983, or in the early 70s when the character would have been born. Last year, Lucas ranked #16…Top 20! But before 1973, it wasn’t even in the Top 100. Lucas needed no boost, but the cool, nerdy character bearing it grants him one by default. I wouldn’t be surprised if his name in the show was meant as an homage to George Lucas.

Hopper – Hawkins police chief Hopper’s first name is actually Jim, but he is always referred to by his surname. Only five boys were named Hopper in 2015 and I don’t expect 200 baby boys to suddenly be called Hopper by the end of 2016, but there will almost certainly be more than five. Sean Penn and Robin Wright named their son Hopper to honor their friend Dennis Hopper.

Jonathan – A Top 50 name for more than as many years, Jonathan is the kind of name I’d describe as popular but un-trendy. Yes, it’s still in the Top 100, but hundreds fewer boys are given this name each succeeding year. I think the show could stabilize Jonathan for a little while, but I’m not as certain as I am with the other names. Personally, I’d look more towards his surname – Byers – to see if that shows up in the extended data next year.

SteveSteve Harrington is Nancy’s boyfriend. Classic nickname Steve barely remains in the Top 1000, and I’m guessing that Mr. Harrington might be the test for whether his name stays or goes. Ironically, it’s Jonathan who’s a fan of The Clash…

Brenner – Dr. Brenner is the “scary government guy.” Brenner was the name of 35 baby boys born last year. I’d tell you to look for a drop in the 2016 data, but villainy hasn’t stopped Harry Potter fans from naming their daughters Bellatrix.

This was first published on August 31st. Here are a couple of relevant links:


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