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Would you name your child after ‘Game of Thrones’?
Baby names » Quick rise in some names’ popularity directly tied to pop culture influences.
First Published Jun 14 2013 10:41 am • Last Updated Jun 14 2013 11:52 am

Chances are high that any Utah kindergarten class in 2017 is going to include a couple of Williams and Elizabeths. There will likely be an Emma or two, and James and Joseph, much like the class roster for years past.

But those kids will probably share safety scissors with at least one Arya, and the class clown could very well be Major.

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In 2012, Major and Arya gained the most popularity for boys’ and girls’ names, respectively. The Social Security Administration — which has tracked how often names are used dating back to the 1880s — credited Arya’s rise in popularity to Maisie Williams’ character Arya Stark, daughter of Lord Eddard Stark, in HBO’s popular "Game of Thrones."

The SSA attributed Major’s rise in popularity to the military title.

"I have no doubt Major’s rising popularity as a boy’s name is in tribute to the brave members of the U.S. military," acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said in a news release. "Maybe we’ll see more boys named General in the future."

Pop culture’s influence on baby names is not a new trend, but rather has been going on for generations.

"We tend to forget past pop culture trends in names," said Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard." "The Shirley trend sparked by Shirley Temple dwarfs any celebrity name trends today."

In the 1960s and ’70s, the television show "Bewitched" sparked Samantha and Tabitha, which before the show were obscure choices, Wattenberg said. Twenty years later, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" led to more children named Xander and Willow. "Charmed" boosted Phoebe and Piper.

"Any time you have an attractive female in a supernatural role," Wattenberg said, "there’s going to be a trend."

Miley Cyrus made her mark on baby names in 2007 when her popular Disney Channel show "Hannah Montana" pushed Miley onto the SSA’s top 1,000 list. Cullen surged up the list in 2009 due to Stephanie Meyer’s "Twilight" character Edward Cullen, Wattenberg said.


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The boys name Liam broke the top 10 for the first time in 2012, which the SSA linked to actor Liam Neeson’s recent major roles in movies such as "Battleship" and "Taken."

Despite the enduring sway of pop culture on baby names, there is a limit to how far from normal parents will go. Afterall, Madonna did not spark a trend in the 1980s.

"The key with celebrity names is not the fame but the name," Wattenberg said. "Parents are only willing to take a small step outside what is normal."

Which explains why so many parents were willing to change "Chloe" to "Khloe" in 2008 when "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" pushed the name up 470 spots on SSA charts.

Still, some names are classics and continue to top charts year after year. William hit the top five in 2012, and has commanded a spot on the nation’s top 20 lists each year for the past century, according to the Social Security Administration. A 2011 study by King’s College in London found that medieval parents favored William for their sons as well, giving the name centuries of popularity. Elizabeth, Emily, Michael and David have been at the top of lists for years.

The Hispanic names Gael and Perla, a form of Pearl, made the second-largest jumps in popularity for 2012, which the SSA attributed to the nation’s increased Spanish-speaking population. The SSA attributed Gael’s rise in popularity to Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.

The SSA data is based on the names parents supply when applying for their children’s Social Security cards at the time of birth. It began compiling lists of the nation’s most popular names in 1997 and now provide lists for every year since 1880. The SSA website also provides lists for each state, but state-specific records begin at varying years. Utah’s state records span 1960 through 2012.

The SSA also provides data on the popularity of individual names, and it attributes popularity changes to things such as changing demographics and pop culture.

2013 could see a rise in Scandinavian- and wildflower-based names due to the popularity of "The Hobbit" and "The Hunger Games" franchises. Who knows, maybe kindergarten classes in 2020 will have a Thorin or a Katniss.

lburke@sltrib.com

@lea_burke



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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