The Name Most Likely To...

Jul 5th 2012

Some names, like Elmo or Miley, are dominated by a single association. Others, like Robert or Michelle, have such a wide array of associations that none can dominate. But are there names with multiple associations that all point in the same direction?

I've had ample opportunity to consider that question over the past few months. For the next edition of my book, I'm adding a section to each Name Snapshot called "In the World." This is a brief rundown of the associations Americans are most likely to have with a name: prominent people, in most cases, but sometimes fictional characters, product names, or common phrases and sayings. I hope this will work as a kind of shorthand for the name's place in our culture.

To choose the "In the World" examples, I've strapped on my pith helmet and observed names out in the wild. I have multiple sources I consult to find the most common references, and actual humans I turn to for backup. (Yes, doing this for 1,700 names is a wee bit time consuming. And yes, that giant object you see hanging over my head is my publisher's deadline.)

So here's a starter list of name superlatives, based on real-life uses.

Funniest name: Seth
Have you laughed at Knocked up, Family Guy, "Weekend Update" or Robot Chicken? Thank a Seth. Specifically Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane, Seth Meyers, or Seth Green.

Most Unaccountably Invisible Name: Trudy
25,000 American women have been named Trudy, and thousands more around the world. Then there are the many Gertrudes who were called Trudy. So, name one. Not anybody you've personally met -- somebody famous. OK, there's that supporting character on Mad Men, but is that really the best we can do? (Runner up: Leah.)

Most Unexpectedly Tough Name: Bruce
Rocky? Tough. Jack? Giant-killing. But Bruce? Just ask Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Campbell, Bruce Willis, Bruce Smith, or Batman himself, Bruce Wayne.

Sexiest Name: Sha*a
A curious thing happened when I got to the Sh- section of the book. I was inundated with porn stars. Names like Shawna, Shayla, Shana, Shayna, Shyla, Shauna and friends turn out to be wildly overrepresented in stage names of "adult entertainers."

Let me make it clear, I'm not saying that's a typical line of work for a Shayla or Shawna. These popular names are borne by thousands of women in all walks of life. And besides, the porn stars aren't even "real" Shylas and Shaunas. But in a way, that's even more informative. It tells us that professionals in the business of selling sex appeal believe that the Sha*a names are hot 'n' steamy, and presumably they'd know.


July 5, 2012 4:35 PM

This is so true! I've always thought of Seth as 'likeable' and I think it comes from all the funny guy associations.

Bruce is definitely a tough guy name to me. You don't mess with Bruce's!.

I also don't know a single Trudy! I can't ever recall running into one or working with one? Leah on the other hand I know several of.  

And yes, the Sha- names definitely seem a bit porn starry to me.  

I think you are spot on with all of these Laura :)


By Zann
July 5, 2012 4:45 PM

Don't forget the God of Geeks: Bruce Campbell. :)

July 5, 2012 4:50 PM

Good heavens, I left out the undead-slayer! Thanks Zann, I'll add him in right now.

By Aiea
July 5, 2012 4:52 PM

I thought of Trudie Styler (Sting's wife... although not spelled with a Y).

Also thought of Leah Remini. 

By Jodi? (not verified)
July 5, 2012 5:03 PM

Bruce Banner!

 (I'll bet no one ever called Gertrude Stein 'Trudy.')

By ADY (not verified)
July 5, 2012 5:04 PM

Trudie Styler is Sting's wife (and also an actress).


What about Leah Remini?

By J&H's mom (not verified)
July 5, 2012 5:11 PM

My grandfather was a Bruce.

He was such a kind, gentle soul.

I would have loved to use his name, but it just didn't seem ready for a comeback yet. Anyone met a young Bruce lately?

July 5, 2012 5:52 PM

The Sha*a thing has had me wide-eyed for about 10 minutes. There's a popular kid's show right now on Nick Jr. One of the actresses for the first and second season is Shayna Rose. My small fry love the character, but I've had issues with the name from the first moment. Now, I realize why. 'Cause it sounds like an 'adult entertainer.'

And now, I commence to giggling terribly.



By july5_guest (not verified)
July 5, 2012 6:13 PM

i also immediately thought of Trudie Styler and Leah Remini. 

By Jason Drake (not verified)
July 5, 2012 7:58 PM

I was immediately thinking of Bruce before I scrolled down the page. I've named by mid-90s Jeep Grand Cherokee Bruce after the collective association of all Bruces -- Banner, Wayne, Springsteen, Lee, Campbell, Willis, Bruce the shark from Jaws, and (working backwards) Robert the Bruce and Lenny Bruce (who is not afraid). It's a fitting name for a big, green, powerful, stalwart monster of an SUV.

By ~Michelle~ (not verified)
July 5, 2012 9:05 PM

I know several Leah's, including a 3yo.  I also know a real life Trudy, she's spunky and rocks her name

By Beth the original (not verified)
July 5, 2012 9:46 PM

Bruce, weirdly, used to be the archetypal gay male name as perceived by homophobes (it was said with a lisp).

Maybe all the Sha*a names are variations on She-Ra.

July 6, 2012 1:29 AM

I was just about to make the same point--Bruce was considered the quintessential effete name when I was growing up.

Shayna in its various spellings (or really transliterations) is a common Yiddish name.  So I think nice Jewish bubbe, not porn star.  Don't know when/why porn stars appropriated a Yiddish name.  Shayna will never say porn star to me.

Another pop culture Trudy is the deceased wife of Mr. Monk, the obsessive-compulsive tv detective.

July 6, 2012 1:40 AM

Name associations...what a topic. I pretty much agree here...but I think it's also interesting to throw in another element...what the names actually mean....hehehe I like making things more confusing. But seriously do meanings account for the "meanings" we associate with a name???

By Birgitte (not verified)
July 6, 2012 1:32 PM

Don't forget Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo!

By Alaska Kate (not verified)
July 6, 2012 1:36 PM

I know a baby Bruce!  He lives in England but has American parents.  And he refers to himself as "Baby Booce."  Adorable.

By Holly (not verified)
July 6, 2012 5:03 PM

When I hear Gertrude, I think of Gertrude Stein - I think she qualifies as famous.

By Joni as Guest (not verified)
July 6, 2012 7:37 PM

You forgot the most important Bruce of all! Bruce Boxleitner.

By mk
July 6, 2012 8:55 PM

I immediately thought of Leah Remini as well.

And Gertrude Stein for Gertrude. Trudy usually reminds me of Tootie from the Facts of Life, even though they are different names, but I can't think of any famous people who went by Trudy.

July 7, 2012 8:37 AM

So funny re: Bruce! My dad is the one Bruce in a long line of Roberts, both namesakes after Robert the Bruce, but he has always hated it because of Beth's point at comment 12. He's always thought of it as a feminine name and whenever it's brought up he says it with a lisp. 'Think that it pretty generational though - in my 30s and don't know any Bruce's and never have heard it mocked that way other than by my father himself.

July 7, 2012 11:15 AM

What about a post on "what happened to Bruce?"

I, too, think of it as a quintessentially masculine/tough name (I am 30). But when my husband and I were talking about names for our son and mentioned Bruce, my father replied, "That's a 'gay' name." I thought it was odd, but I put it down to his having a cousin Bruce who maybe he didn't get along with as a kid.

Now I find that this seems to be a Boomer association with the name and I'm curious. Anyone know a) where the idea of Bruce being an effeminate name came from and b) what changed people's minds?

July 7, 2012 11:34 AM

In my family we named all our cars. Once I suggested my dad name his new van "Bruce" but he refused for the same homophobic reasons listed above. So it was clearly a widespread association.


Our other car was named Martha and now my current car is called Heidi.

By Dora (not verified)
July 7, 2012 1:08 PM

My association with Bruce is a Monty Python skit making fun of Austrailians.  A British professor moves to Australia and all the men in his department are named Bruce. "G'Day, Bruce!" "Bruce, how are ya?" "Mind if we call you Buce?" "But my name is Michael." "No matter."  Or something to that effect. Not homophobic, but certainly Austrailo-phobic or at least -derisive. 

July 7, 2012 2:59 PM

I agree with everyone that Bruce, as a name, has had a reputation as very "soft." In fact, that's what makes the huge roster of macho Bruces so fascinating to me!

(And on Gertrude Stein -- sorry if I wasn't clear, but I was talking specifically about Trudy, not Gertrude. The full name Gertrude definitely brings to mind Ms. Stein, along with actress Gertrude Lawrence, English Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle, etc.)

July 7, 2012 5:20 PM

I would have to agree with your observations Laura, and add in that my uncle Bruce is a true blue moustache clad RCMP member (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), so it has always seemed a moustached and macho name to me (despite the fact that on a personal/non-professional basis, I would consider him to be a fairly soft, gentle person).

By Polly D (not verified)
July 7, 2012 8:45 PM

I remember seeing/hearing at least one person refer to Bruce as a sissy name, and I never understood it.  To me, Bruce always sounded really tough and masculine.  What's tougher than a name that's just one letter away from brute?

July 7, 2012 10:54 PM

the youngest Bruce i know is in his 20's. i too, have always associated the name with tough guys, not archtypal gay, that really surprised me. maybe that is why the 'tough' Bruce's come off that way, maybe they had to defend themselves against bullies as kids-who knows? Bruce Wayne from Batman and Bruce Willis and Bruce Lee, all tough guys! and even the shark in Nemo, tough one. lol.

July 8, 2012 3:48 PM

My mom's middle name is Gertrude, and she goes by Trudy. I'll have to work on making her famous for something.


By Kjersten (not verified)
July 9, 2012 1:41 PM

Oooh, this look like it will be a fun addition to the book.

I thought of both Gertrude Stein and Trudy from the 80's sitcom "facts of Life." Not sure that's enough though. It's a sweet name; I like it.

By Shanna (not verified)
July 9, 2012 2:11 PM

Reading about "Sh" names made me laugh.  I rarely see anything about my own name on this website so this was a pleasant surprise!  I'm not offended; I find it complimentary that my name is considered so sexy that adult entertainers use it as a tool of seduction!  A lot of sexy women have "Sh" names.  Sasha Grey, Shauna Sand, Shanna Moakler, etc.  :)

July 9, 2012 5:49 PM

The "Facts of Life" girl was actually Tootie. Her given name was Dorothy.

By mk
July 10, 2012 2:23 PM

Kjersten: She was actually Tootie, not Trudy, but Trudy always makes me think of it anyway. That's one of the reasons why I don't like the name Trudy-too close to Tootie (which I hate) for me, even though they are different nicknames and for different names.

By LauraP (not verified)
July 11, 2012 2:22 AM

I personally know two Trudy's, both in their mid-50s. I saw them taliking to each other in the grocery store once... it's a small town, but still, kinda weird.


July 12, 2012 1:27 PM

I think the tough guy Bruce and the gay Bruce actually have the same root.  Tough guy Bruce became associated with a certain kind of tough gay guy - think the cop from the Village People. But homophobes had a hard time imagining someone both tough and gay, so the tough part got lost and changed to "sissy".

Lance is another name I suspect has a similar trajectory.

There's even a line in The Simpsons, I think the one with a guest appearance by John Waters, where Homer complains about gay men taking all the toughest names, like Bruce and Lance.

By E. (not verified)
July 12, 2012 3:49 PM

As far as Bruce goes I think the oldest tough guy on that list probably has something to do with whole effeminate view of the name.

Rich guy Bruce, who is living with a teenage boy with the phallic name of "Dick" Grayson. Thirty years later when the boomer kids were getting their hands on those comics, I can see how some jokes got started.

By OvenMitt (not verified)
July 12, 2012 8:03 PM

You really have a point about the name Leah. That's my name, and in my 32 years, I've only heard it a handful of times and only personally met two besides me! I figured it was a regional thing since it seems fairly popular according to this site. Does Lea Thompson count?

July 13, 2012 2:11 PM

hilariously, a few days after this was posted, my new niece arrived...bearing the name Trudy.  :D

July 17, 2012 1:21 PM

I actually used Trudy as an "everywoman" name in class this year--I was talking about the difference between an expert opinion and the opinion of "Trudy down the street", which became a sort of catch-phrase for my students for a while. Now I have empirical evidence for my off the cuff choice :).

As for Leah (and Lea and Lia etc.), I think that instead of a Trudy runner-up she's actually a Miley in disguise. For many in my generation, especially men and geeks like me, the name will forever be linked to Leia, as in Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. I realize that the official pronunciation of Leia is Lay-uh rather than Lee-uh, but in the first movie (Episode IV, A New Hope, commonly known as just plain Star Wars) it is pronounced both ways almost equally. We got a cat between the first and second movies, and named her Leah after the princess because we weren't sure of the correct pronunciation. I even recall an interview with Leah Remini where she said something to the effect that she liked the Star Wars association of her name.

By Bonnie N (not verified)
July 18, 2012 10:28 PM

Leah's a biblical name.  I don't think any bible names could be considered "unaccountably invisible"

By Rainier (not verified)
July 24, 2012 7:16 PM

Poor Shania Twain, lumped in with the adult entertainers. :)

October 10, 2012 1:53 AM

I can name my son after Bruce :) Like Bruce Wayne. I find this name very interesting yet powerful.  

October 10, 2012 2:36 AM

Let's not forget" Bruce" Almighty Folks (played by Jim Carrey). In case I will be having my 2nd child, I will choose Bruce for all the right reasons. That is, if he's a boy :)

November 1, 2012 10:32 AM

You really have a point about the name Leah. That's my name, and in my 32 years, I've only heard it a handful of times and only personally met two besides me! I figured it was a regional thing since it seems fairly popular according to this site. Does Lea Thompson count?

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