Are actor names a popular choice for babies?

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

How do people choose names for their children? It’s no secret that quite a few name their boys and girls after different celebrities — actor names seem to be one of the common choices.

Is this truly the case? Were there a lot of Dustins born right after “Rain Man” hit the cinema screens? Let’s take a look.

Of course, actors are just common people, so many of them have quite common names. It would be hard to unambiguously attribute an increase in the number of boys named Jack to the fact that Jack Nicholson appeared on posters for a blockbuster.

We have chosen (rather voluntarily) six famous Hollywood actors from different eras, from the Golden Age to the modern days: Cary Grant, Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Al (Alfredo) Pacino, and Morgan Freeman.

As you see, all of them have relatively uncommon names. Let’s visualize their popularity along with some of the most well-known movies starring these people.

Famous actor names – usage per 100,000 boys

The most impressive picture is presented by Dustin Hoffman. From virtually non-existent (two to three usages per 100,000), the popularity of the name has skyrocketed. It all started with “The Graduate” in 1967. Dustin earned nominations for both Golden Globe and Oscar Best Actor awards and also won the “Best Newcomer” award. The very next year, there were 25.8 Dustins born for every 100,000 boys.

This was only the beginning. By 1973, (the year of the movie “Papillon”) the count was north of 100, and “Kramer vs. Kramer” fueled the popularity even more. The name reached its peak popularity in 1984 — more than .5 percent of all newborn boys were named Dustin!

As with most other names, popularity comes and goes. Even “Rain Man,” despite its four Academy Awards, has only slowed the downfall.

The numbers seen on the other actors’ charts range from quite impressive (the popularity of “Cary” had increased tenfold by the late stages of Cary Grant’s career) to quite moderate. Al Pacino (for “Alfredo”) is an example of the latter; the number rose only about two times, and the popularity of the name was already growing at the start of his career.

Let’s examine one final factor: What about geography? Is there any difference between the popularity of actor names in particular states?

We examine only two names here (two exceptionally famous actors from different eras): Cary Grant and Dustin Hoffman. Below is the map comparing the general popularity of their names (per 100,000 boys each year on average) during the peak years of their careers.

Famous actor names – state by state

As you can see, these two cases present quite different pictures. The name Cary was especially popular in California, Washington and Illinois, but there is no clear pattern here. On the other hand, Dustin seems to be an especially popular name in the Mountain States as well as in the Southeast.


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About Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

Andrey Kamenov is a data scientist working for Advameg Inc. His background includes teaching statistics, stochastic processes and financial mathematics in Moscow State University and working for a hedge fund. His academic interests range from statistical data analysis to optimal stopping theory. Andrey also enjoys his hobbies of photography, reading and powerlifting.

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