First names: can success bring them back in fashion?

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

In a previous post, we focused on how the popularity of the Hollywood’s most famous actors influenced the way parents chose first names for their children. Let’s see if the situation is any different for girls.

We know that in general, girls’ first names are more varied. According to the SSA data that we used, 79 percent of all boys have one of the top 1000 names, while the percentage is much lower for girls: only 68 percent.

One of the consequences is that there are less famous actresses having especially common names. This makes it easier for us to look at the relevant changes in popularity.

Again, we try to select actresses representing different eras, from the Golden Age to the modern days.

Interestingly, one of the most famous stars of all time, Katharine Hepburn, did not manage to affect the popularity of her name until the late stages of her career. Neither her first Oscar (Morning Glory) nor the commercial success of The Philadelphia Story made any significant difference: only two girls in 10,000 were named Katharine. The success came later, roughly at the same time as her second and third Academy Awards. By the time she received the fourth award, the popularity of her name had more than doubled.

A different picture can be seen on the Meryl Streep’s chart. Her first success brought back the name Meryl from very rare to mildly common. However, that was it – after an initial surge, the numbers kept falling slowly.

Another interesting observation from the chart is that first names going out of fashion cannot be saved by cinema, illustrated by both Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.

Finally, let’s also note that between states, we can observe a similar trend as with male actors. While some names (like Katharine, see the map below) show some geographical patterns in popularity, others, like Ingrid, do not. In this view, California does not stand out; while actor names are usually relatively popular here, it never tops the list.


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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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