August 16, 2010 in Features

Parents take a cue from pop culture of the supernatural variety

Nara Schoenberg Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Robert Pattinson portrays Edward Cullen and Kristen Stewart portrays Bella Swan in a scene from “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” The names Bella and Cullen have seen increased popularity since the “Twilight” series dawned.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Magical names through the years

1964

“Betwitched” debuts

Michael and Lisa are the top U.S. names

424 babies are named Samantha

22 babies are named Tabitha (she didn’t appear as a character on “Bewitched” until 1966)

1972

“Bewitched” ends

Michael and Jennifer are the top U.S. names

2,225 babies are named Samantha

588 babies are named Tabitha

1998

“Charmed” debuts

Michael and Emily are the top U.S. names

397 babies are named Phoebe

159 babies are named Piper

2005

“Twilight” is published

Jacob and Emily are the top U.S. names

1,657 babies are named Bella

751 babies are named Alice

450 babies are named Jasper

380 babies are named Emmett

278 babies are named Cullen

2006

“Charmed” ends

Jacob and Emily are the top U.S. names

1,380 babies are named Piper

730 babies are named Phoebe

2009

The “Twilight” movie “New Moon” is released

Jacob and Isabella are the top U.S. names

4,490 baby girls are named Bella

1,251 girls are named Alice

947 boys are named Emmett

928 boys are named Jasper

555 boys are named Cullen

You can watch the “Twilight” movies and read the books, but why stop there?

Thousands of Americans are giving their babies “Twilight”-related names.

Bella, the name of the love-struck heroine of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels, hadn’t quite cracked the Social Security Administration’s list of the top 200 girls’ names in America when the first “Twilight” book was published in 2005. Today, it’s at No. 58, higher than Miley, Kingston or Maddox.

Cullen, the last name of Bella’s vampire beau, Edward, is in the top 500 boys’ names for the first time in more than a century.

“This is actually a big deal in the baby name landscape,” says Laura Wattenberg, creator of BabyNameWizard.com.

A total of 8,171 U.S. babies received key “Twilight”-related names (Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice or Emmett) in 2009, compared with 3,516 in 2005, Social Security data show.

It follows a tradition of naming trends stemming from shows with supernatural themes and attractive young women, Wattenberg says.

“The TV show ‘Bewitched’ had a huge effect,” she says. “ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ – huge effect. Even the TV shows that didn’t become such big cultural phenomena, like ‘Charmed,’ spawned hit baby names.”

That show’s heroines include Piper, a good witch with great hair portrayed by Holly Marie Combs. When it debuted in 1998, Piper wasn’t even in the top 1,000 girls’ names. The next year, it appeared at No. 700; now it’s at No. 147.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the precise degree of “Twilight’s” influence on the more than 4 million baby names chosen annually in the U.S., in part because Meyer chose names for her characters that were either already high on the hot list (Jacob), rising (Bella, Alice, Jasper, Emmett) or related to those that were.

Isabella was already a Top 10 girls’ name in 2005, and Bella was at No. 208 and rising at a nice clip.

Cullen was at No. 727 in 2005 and falling, but using last names as first names was already a powerful trend. Emmett, at No. 594 but rising in 2005, is now at No. 332.

Other “Twilight” names are more obscure, such as Renesmee (pronounced Ruh-NEZ-may), the daughter born to Bella and Edward.

“If you want (to find) the really hard-core ‘Twilight’ fans who were really inspired by the book and not just the name, there were 17 baby girls last year named Renesmee,” Wattenberg notes.

“That’s not a name that you say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve always liked that name.’ “

The same might be said for Carlisle (Edward’s adoptive father in the books), a name chosen for precisely zero U.S. boys in 2005. In 2009, 12 male babies got the name.

The reasons Carlisle might not be as hot a name as, say, Cullen, are complex. But Cullen fits several modern naming trends, including the popularity of boys’ names that end in “en” (Jayden, Aiden).

Carlisle may sound feminine to an American ear and contains consonants unseparated by vowels (think Gertrude) – a definite negative for modern parents.

Some experts say there’s a psychological incentive to give your kid a name associated with a major pop culture phenomenon.

“(Parents) find a book, they find a movie, they find something that they’re enthralled with, that they’re engaged in and love, and at the same time, they’re going on their own new adventure (having a baby). So the two have a correlation (in their minds),” says Lesley Bolton, author of “The Complete Book of Baby Names” (Sourcebooks, $12.95).

Wattenberg sees “Twilight” less as a touchstone for parents and more as a successful delivery system for some very stylish names.

“Name ideas have to come from somewhere, and when a name is presented to a million people at once, if it’s a name that fits current styles and sounds good to parents, it becomes a hit,” she says.

That helps explain what happened in 1964, when a nice young witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) first twitched her nose on TV in “Bewitched.”

Samantha, a name that didn’t even appear on the Top 1,000 list in 1963, shot up to No. 472. By 1972 it was at No. 137.

Tabitha, the name of Samantha’s daughter, did even better, coming out of nowhere to crack the top-300 list for girls’ names by 1969.

Tabitha has since gone into decline, but Samantha proved a powerhouse. Today, it’s the No. 15 girls’ name in America, beating out Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice and Emmett – combined.


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