Did you ever watch college basketball and notice a baffling number of players named Jalen? Do your elementary school kids have a surprising number of classmates named Isla?
Baby names chosen by celebrities often make the news. (Who could forget little Apple, daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin?) But celebrities’ own names have been known to spark naming trends in their own right.
Looking at the annual baby names data for Minnesota recently released by the Social Security Administration, it’s possible to find potential links between name surges and the rise of pop culture stars.
Before 1992, Jalen didn’t chart in Minnesota at all. (There have to be at least five babies given the same name in a year to make the list.) Then came Jalen Rose, the former pro basketball player and member of the early ’90s “Fab Five.” His rise to the top of the court led to a mini-boom of Jalens starting in 1992.
By 2001, the name peaked in Minnesota with 27, leading to a small number of Jalens who are now at a prime age for sports stardom themselves. The Gophers have had a handful of Jalens on their teams in recent years.
Isla is perhaps the biggest celebrity name success story.
The traditionally Scottish name was the 22nd most popular girls’ name in Minnesota in 2016. And though it might have been associated with some Minnesota grannies, prior to 2007 the name didn’t even register in the state’s name database, which stretches back to 1910.
Then came actress Isla Fisher, whose breakout role in 2005’s “Wedding Crashers” got her unique name noticed by expectant mothers. It’s been rapidly rising ever since. All told, 578 Minnesota-born girls age 10 and under have been named Isla.
Granted, celebrities’ influence only goes so far. Most parents aren’t rushing to name their kids after the latest movie star, instead choosing somewhat more neutral names.
Minnesota’s most popular baby names for 2016 were Henry for boys and Evelyn for girls, two classic names not obviously connected to fleeting fame. The similarly classic Noah and Emma topped the nationwide list. Compared with such perennial favorites, celebrity-inspired names like Channing and Rihanna don’t appear to be leaping to the top of the charts.
Still, parents looking for a unique name for their child sometimes don’t have to look far past their favorite playlists or favorite teams.
Melissa Kiefer of Savage named her 6-year-old daughter Presley after listening to Elvis’ Christmas album a few months before she was due. Now, she buys figurines and posters of the singer to decorate her daughter’s room.
“It’s kind of creepy because she doesn’t really know who he is, so she’s like, ‘Who’s this man on my wall?’ But I hope she’ll appreciate it later,” Kiefer said.
It took Kerry Collins months to persuade his wife to name their son after two of his favorite sports stars: NFLer Walter Payton and baseball player Nolan Ryan. Eventually, they decided to name their son Payton Ryan, now 5.
“We lived in Minnesota and nobody thought anything of it,” Collins said. But since a move to Denver a year ago, people keep asking if Payton is named after former Denver Bronco Peyton Manning. “It’s like, no,” Collins said. “That would be ridiculous.”
(In fact, Peyton with an “e” is about three times as popular as Payton with an “a” in Minnesota — 87 boys got the name the year after Manning’s first Super Bowl championship.)
Look up some other famous names and you’ll see a pattern.
Take Beyoncé. No Minnesotan-born girls were granted this name until the former Destiny’s Child star went solo in 2003. The next year, there were six baby Beyoncés in Minnesota.
Or Miley. That name didn’t hit the charts in Minnesota until the 2006 debut of the Disney Channel show “Hannah Montana,” starring Miley Cyrus. The very next year, there was a spike in Minnesota Mileys, peaking in 2008 with 54 girls.
The rise of Taylor as a Minnesota girl’s name can’t be credited to Taylor Swift. Instead, Swift having the name likely reflects a wider popularity. All 5,885 Minnesota-born Taylors came after 1982. Swift wasn’t born until 1989.
Interestingly, her fame didn’t contribute to a boost for the name, which has been sinking in the Minnesota charts even while she has topped the music charts.
These celebrities all have global mass appeal, but how do distinctly Minnesotan celebrities fare in their home state?
While there haven’t been very many babies named Garrison in Minnesota, there was a tiny surge of boys — seven, to be exact — who got the name in 2006, the year Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” film came out. Five more Minnesota boys got the name in 2016, the year of Keillor’s very public retirement.
Tara Trepanier Gill gave her now-2-month-old son the middle name of Keillor to honor her Minnesota roots while living in California. “When people ask us about the name we either say ‘It is Minnesotan,’ as if that is a category of baby names,” Gill said, “or simply answer ‘Garrison.’ ”
Kirby Puckett can’t be credited with introducing his name to Minnesota; he was part of a small mid-20th-century trend of boys named Kirby, which comes from Old Norse for “church settlement.” But he could probably be credited with bringing it back — and even bestowing it on some girls — in the ’80s and ’90s thanks to his career with the Minnesota Twins, during which he played at two World Series.
And then there’s Prince. Though he was Minnesota’s biggest megastar in the ’80s and ’90s, his name didn’t hold much appeal for local parents. In fact, it only hit the charts in Minnesota in 2003, with nine babies. A few more Minnesotan boys have gotten the name every year since. Last year, when the beloved musician died, 15 new Princes entered the world.
Look up your other favorite celebs in our online database.