Meet the Hitmakers: Young, Pretty, and Supernatural

Apr 10th 2014

Why does one tv or movie hero inspire a thousand namesakes, and another nary a one? The answer is most often in the names themselves. Star Wars' Luke was an easier sell than Han. The title character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a non-starter, while her supporting cast of Willows and Xanders became parents' darlings.

The show's story and characters, do play a part, though. The surest recipe for a baby-name stylemaker is to focus on the young, pretty, and supernatural. Ideally, the young, pretty, supernatural, blond and female. Check out this power lineup:

Bewitched (TV, 1964-1972): This sitcom about a pretty, blond suburban witch sent the names Samantha, Darren and Tabitha soaring. (Believe it or not, the name Samantha was essentially unknown before this show.)

Splash (Film, 1984): The story of a pretty blond mermaid launched Madison as a girl's name.

The Little Mermaid (Film, 1989): OK, they're not all blond. The animated tale of a lovestruck red-headed mermaid boosted the name Ariel by 300%. 

Sabrina the Teenage Witch (TV, 1996-2003): This sitcom about a pretty, blond suburban teenage witch made Sabrina nearly double in popularity overnight.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV, 1997-2003): The adventures of a pretty, blond suburban teenage scourge of the undead made hits of Willow, Xander and Anya.

Charmed (TV, 1998-2006): The adventures of three beautiful witch sisters inspired a jump in the names Piper and Phoebe. (Note that the effect of "Charmed" on Phoebe was greater than the effect of the much more popular but less supernatural show "Friends.")

Heroes (TV, 2006-2010): This superhero series featured a pretty blond cheerleader with special powers. The name of both the character, Claire, and the actress who played her, Hayden, rose.

Twilight (Films, 2008-2012): The romantic saga of beautiful vampires was a name bonanza, sparking rises in Bella, Emmett, Jasper, Alice and Cullen.

The Vampire Diaries (TV, 2009-present): The romantic saga of beautiful vampires brought new life to the classic name Elena.

Game of Thrones (TV, 2011-present): The bloody fantasy saga helped make a hit of the name Arya, and its pretty, blond Mother of Dragons even inspired the unlikely name Khaleesi.

Just being pretty and a little more than human isn't enough to guarantee name influence, of course. You still need the right names. A series like True Blood, populated by supernaturals with names like Sookie and Bill, won't get the job done. But if you do have a stylish name, the glimmer of magic—especially with the glimmer of long blond hair attached—can work wonders. Anybody care to bet against Frozen's flaxen-haired Snow Queen Elsa?




April 10, 2014 11:14 PM

So the only things on that list that I haven't watched are Game of Thrones and Vampire Diaries. But I have a daughter named Elena. In my case, inspired by the Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who was nominated in 2009 or early 2010, I think, and might be confounding the Vampire Diaries results. (And, okay I admit it, also for a character in some science fiction books -- the Vorkosigan saga.)

April 11, 2014 11:07 AM

I'm not banking on Elsa for this year's pool. The movie came out too late in the year. But for next year's pool . . . watch out. I'll be shocked if it doesn't go up at least 200% in 2014.

April 11, 2014 6:05 PM

I know an Elsa who is around my daughter's age, so she was born in 2010. Her mother is from Denmark and their other kids' names are also Scandinavian... Karl & Soren.

By amar
April 12, 2014 6:41 AM

Oh no! Elsa was one of our front runners for girl #3. I haven't seen the movie yet so didn't know that was the name, but judging by the buzz the movie is creating I bet it will be a primary association to a lot of people. For years the only Elsa I knew was a 40s-50s co-worker, although I now have distant friends with a 6 year old and another born late last year.


April 12, 2014 12:18 PM

I've got to see that movie Frozen.  Thanks for keeping us updated on popular names since I don't keep up with pop culture and would hate to pick one of them by accident!

April 12, 2014 12:16 PM

Ahhh! I already entered.  Elsa is a sure win :(  Especially with nickname Ellie!!!

April 15, 2014 2:12 PM

Elsa will certainly see a surge in popularity. Anna is already pretty common, and I dislike that they named Elsa's sister, "Ana," with that spelling. I'm sure it's the accepted Scandinavian spelling but Ana is a legitimate name in its own right, and a lovely one! I have a second cousin called "Ana" but her mother chose a convoluted, wannabe-phonetic spelling because she worried about her daughter being called Anna. Unfortunately, the spelling has caused even worse pronunciations! 

As far as Khaleesi... I can't imagine any true fan using the name for a daughter. Her name is Daenerys. "Khaleesi" pretty much means, "wife of the leader/warlord (Khal)." It's a title. It amounts to naming someone Consort. LOL! Or, if you want it to sound "pretty," Vicereine. I guess people name their kids Duke/Duchess, Prince/Princess...

April 15, 2014 3:50 PM

If you look at the official Disney Frozen website, the character's name is spelled Anna, so I don't know what your issue is.  The name is properly pronounced AH-na, as it is in Scandinavia and throughout Europe.  My four-year-old grandson went on his first trip to Disneyland yesterday, and this morning he told me that the line to see Elsa and Anna (he properly pronounced it AH-na) was too long, so he didn't get to see them, but he did get to see Merida (had his picture taken with her) and Tinkerbell, so it was all good.

April 16, 2014 1:42 AM

Elsa and Xander will always be "dog" names to me, simply because we had a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Elsa when I was 8 or 9 and a red cattle named Xander when I was 16. Not sure why we named the first one "Elsa" (I think maybe Mum just liked the name), but my boy was named after Alexander the Great (I was going through one of my "history nerd" phases ... they come and go) but because he was such a tiny little pup, I decided to shorten the name so it wouldn't be longer than he was! ;) It wasn't until a couple of months after I got Xander that I started watching Buffy, and I had to laugh - both my dog and the character Xander had the same big brown puppy eyes. :D


But when it comes to naming my daughter (if ever I have one), I've always wanted to call her after a different fantasy princess who isn't on the list: Elora (as in, "Elora Danan, future empress of Tir Asleen" from Willow). Danan might be a fun name for someone's daughter as well, but it sounds a bit more masculine to my ears.

April 29, 2014 5:32 PM

Elsa will definitely go up in popularity, but Anna will probably too. Especially for twins. The names I want for my daughters, however, are Riza, Winry, and May. They are characters in a very good series I read and people who know of it will be able to place the names.

September 7, 2014 9:31 PM

I can see Elsa...but I wouldn't be surprized if Sven and Oaken don't get noticed.

February 26, 2016 7:29 AM

Writing a cute preternatural teenage girl named Jaylene. Perhaps I should bleach the red dye out her hair. Or perhaps the tragedy of her story will ward people away...or, y'know, being a book and not a smash hit TV series. But I like her name, and spent far too much time on all three of them (they all come up!). Even the actual main character didn't get that much.