How Much Does Pop Culture Affect the Prevalence of Certain Baby Names?
By Nick Greene
In 2006, 'Jasper' was the 567th most popular name in the country for newborn boys. In 2013, it became the 248th most-popular—a precipitous jump. With absolutely no offense intended towards anyone named Jasper, why on earth did this happen?
What separates the rise of 'Jasper' from newly popular names like 'Jaxon' is that 'Jasper' was not invented recently. It follows a unique curve, as the chart below demonstrates, in which it nearly disappears for decades and then immediately surges back to 1880 levels:
Between 2006 and 2013, there was a 72% increase in instances where a baby named 'Jasper' was introduced into the American populace. This kind of curve—where a name loses its popularity but then quickly regains it—has been seen before, with the name 'Benjamin' (specifically spelled with an i):
The connection? Both names appeared in hugely popular and defining pop culture works right before the spike. Benjamin's popularity started to rise in 1968, shortly after the release of The Graduate. Enough parents-to-be were inspired by Benjamin Braddock's post-college ennui to flood the country with Benjamins.
The popularity of 'Jasper' is, unfortunately, not inspired by Grampa Simpson's friend on The Simpsons ("That's a paddlin'"), but rather Jasper Hale, a character from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight novels, which peaked on the bestseller lists shortly before the name's surprising rise.
'Jasper' is actually a rather small example of Twilight's effect on baby names. In 2009, 'Isabella' became the top name for girls (the shortened 'Bella' was the story's protagonist), and 'Cullen' (which is her romantic foil's last name), jumped 300 spots for boys.
There is no doubt that pop culture contributes to the popularity of baby names. According to Baby Center, 2014 saw a huge increase in names inspired by Netflix's Orange is the New Black. In one year, 'Galina' went up 67%, 'Nicky' 35%, 'Piper' 28%, and 'Dayanara' 19%.
Parents, like children, are susceptible to trends, and trends pulse closer to the surface in the age of the Internet. A baby name can achieve a snowball effect, and even someone who hasn't read or seen the master text will likely stumble upon it through a Google search or baby name site (of which there are a boatload).
Once a name catches on, its very cadence can become so trendy that it inspires others. "Vowels are enormously popular and influential," Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, told the New York Times. For example, Jaden, which became ubiquitous shortly after Will and Jada Pinkett Smith gave it to their son, inspired variants like 'Jayden,' which became the most popular baby name in New York for boys in 2013. "For 'Jayden,'" Wattenberg explains, "there is the long 'a' sound. And today, a third of American boys receive a name ending in the letter 'n.' In fact, 'Jayden' is part of an entire rhyming name family that has defined the sound of a generation for American boys. In a typical year, you’ll find dozens of 'Aiden' variations in the top thousand—'Jayden' and 'Braden' and 'Aiden' and 'Caden' and even 'Zayden.'"
Don't be surprised when President Zayden and Vice President Braden rise to power in 2078. Their quaint, old-fashioned names will remind elderly voters of the good ol' days.