Don’t call me Shirley

Oh my God you GUYS! Did you read that story about how Khalessi from Game of Thrones is growing in popularity as a baby name?! We should totally share that link multiple times on Facebook and Twitter!! Isn’t that just the weirdest thing EVER?!!

Actually, no. It’s not weird at all. Finding inspiration in popular culture for baby names dates back more than 100 years.

Do you have a grandparent named Mary or Alice? These were the 1st and 22nd most popular names for girls in 1930s as well as characters in San Francisco and You Can’t Take it With You, the 3rd and 4th highest grossing movies of the same decade.

How about Anne? That name reached its peak popularity in the 1910s, a few years after the publication of the novel Anne of Green Gables in 1908.

Shirley is an interesting case. It was once a male name but after the publication of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley in 1849 it became exclusively female. It reached its popularity peak in the 1930s when Shirley Temple was a box office star.

For the boys Luke is a great example of a name receiving a pop culture boost. As the graph shows it was an unpopular name for the first half of the 20th century until it experienced a spike in the late 1960s, the same time as Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke. It made it into the top 10 boys names in the 1990s, which is roughly the same era the teenagers who flocked to Stars Wars in the late 1970s and early 1980s finally lost their virginity. Also note the drop in popularity in the mids 2000s as people realised how bad the Star Wars prequels were.

But Ben, you may argue, all these names started of with a pre-existing base. There may be other reasons besides Stars Wars why Luke Steele was so-named. Surely there is no precedent for a name like Arya going from zero to the fastest growing American baby name in 2012.

Yes, there is a precedent. And don’t call me Shirley, that was my great-great-great-grandfather’s name.

Contrary to popular belief, J.M. Barrie didn’t invent the name Wendy(it has been found in American and British censuses from the 1880s) but as the graph shows, it was almost non-existent as a name until after the publication of Peter Pan in 1911 and by the 1960s – seven years after the Disney adaptation –  it was in the top 100.

So while the idea of a Prime Minister named Arya or a doctor named Khaleesi may sound strange to us remember our ancestors would have found the idea of a comedian named Wendy Harmer or a Welsh diva called  Shirley Bassey equally perplexing.

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