Five Real-Life Baby Names That Started Out as Jokes

Mar 2nd 2017

Almost any well-named movie character, good or evil, can inspire a baby name trend. But what about a name intended as a joke? After all, some of Hollywood's most memorable character names, from Cruella de Vil to McLovin, were constructed for laughs.

Thanks to scriptwriters who can pinpoint the intersection of silly and stylish, even joke names have crossed over to real-life babies. OK, maybe not Cruella or McLovin. But just as a name like Cameron can leave its etymological meaning of "crooked nose" behind, an appealing character name can transcend its jokey origins.

For exhibit 1, I give you Madison. The writers behind the 1984 movie Splash earned big laughs by having a mermaid naively name herself after a Madison Avenue street sign. "Madison's not a name," said her appalled human companion. The joke was on him; since the movie came out, more than 350,000 American girls have been named Madison.

None of the four additional names below approach Madison's popularity. Some, in fact, may still sound like jokes to you. But all of them have broken through the fourth wall and become real – and rising – baby names.


The 2012 animated film Wreck-It Ralph took place in a world of video games, including a candy-themed "Sugar Rush" game featuring a character named Vanellope von Schweetz. Vanellope was a high-concept joke, an artificially vanilla-flavored take on the old-fashioned name Penelope. But as it happens, between the time that the movie was conceived and when it was released, V became the hot new name letter and the number of girls named Penelope skyrocketed. Bullseye. We've seen little Vanellopes named at the rate of about 70 per year since the film came out.


When The Simpsons' writers imagined the founder of the city of Springfield, they came up with a western-style pioneer with the over-the-top biblical name "Jebediah Obadiah Zachariah Jedediah Springfield." Part of the joke was that Jebediah isn't actually a Bible name at all. But it sure sounds like one, doesn't it? A smattering of real-life boys have been named Jebediah ever since the name appeared in a 1970s western film, but the satirical Simpsons character put the name on the map. More than 50 American babies have been named Jebediah in the past two years.


Maleficent started out as the villain of Disney's 1959 princess classic Sleeeping Beauty. The name was a sly and ingenious choice. An obscure adjective meaning "producing evil," Maleficient worked on multiple levels for adults and kids alike; even those who didn't recognize the word couldn't miss its sinister elegance. In 2014 Maleficent became the first Disney villain to take top billing, brought to life as a title character played by Angelina Jolie. The following year the name registered in the baby name statistics for the first time.



What do you name a boy who runs at super-speed? The team behind The Incredibles had the perfect winking answer: Dashiell, called "Dash." Before the 2004 movie, Dashiell was an uncommon name and Dash as a given name was nearly unheard of. Both names rose in popularity afterwards, but "just Dash" rose fastest. Today it's a top-1,000 boy's name, twice as common as the full Dashiell.



March 3, 2017 3:16 PM

Vanellope is a fun idea, but makes me cringe because it reminds me that some people pronounce vanilla as vanella, and milk as melk, and the overall trend of /ɪ/ shifting toward /ɛ/. Ugh.

People are naming their kids Maleficent? For real? It's a perfect name for the character, but... I suppose it's helped by its similarity to Millicent, despite the latter not being terribly popular (83 girls in 2015). 

March 4, 2017 12:52 AM

I remember reading "Bonfire of the Vanities" and thinking that the protaginist's daughter's name, Campbell, was ludicrous. "Who would name their baby after soup?" I scoffed. It apparently grew on me, because a couple years later, I named my baby boy Campbell. (He goes, incidently, by his middle name -- his choice.)

April 11, 2017 4:07 PM

When I see "Maddie" on a young girl's name tag, I ask if she's Madison or Madeleine.  Every time but once, she was Madison. It seems many are embarrassed by it, while Madeleines are proud of their full name.

I also ask many Sadies if their legal name is Sarah, the origin of the name, but have found none so far. Nor were the many Sallys of my generation. Mrs Reagan may have been the last Nancy who started out as Ann.

June 26, 2017 11:17 PM

The name Atreyu comes to mind as a made up movie name.  My neighbor named her son Atreyu from the movie character.