Chelly Simmons was watching “The Voice” on television when a male contestant mentioned his young daughter, Harper.
“I heard that name and right away texted my husband,” the 33-year-old Chaska mother said. “I put it on our list and pretty soon it was at the top.”
When Simmons delivered her daughter a few months later, “Harper Lynn” went on the birth certificate.
“We wanted a name that you don’t hear every day,” she said.
But when young Harper arrives for kindergarten, she may be known as “Harper S.” to distinguish her from the other girls with the same name.
According to the list of baby names compiled by the Social Security Administration, the name Harper has experienced an astonishing rise in popularity, especially in the Midwest. While it became the nation’s 16th most popular name, Harper broke the top 10 here, coming in at No. 8 in Minnesota. (To help you chart the name’s meteoric rise in our fair state, it ranked 27th in 2011 and 91st in 2010. Before that, it doesn’t show up at all in the top 100 names selected by Minnesota parents.)
Travel the region and you’ll coo at even more baby Harpers. It’s the No. 2 name in South Dakota and Iowa, No. 3 in North Dakota and No. 7 in Wisconsin.
“When a name is becoming popular, parents don’t realize it. They hear it and think it’s unique, but through pop culture everyone is hearing the same thing,” said Jennifer Moss, founder and CEO of BabyName.com. “What people think is unusual is actually trending.”
That would be the case with Harper, which Moss said has likely gotten a push from Hollywood. Lisa Marie Presley tagged one of her twin daughters with Harper in 2008; Neil Patrick Harris did the same in 2010. Actors David Spade and Bill Hader and Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Dixie Chick Martie Maguire are all parents of daughters named Harper.
But the name got its biggest boost in 2011, with the birth of Harper Seven Beckham, the fourth child and only daughter of Victoria (“Posh Spice”) and David Beckham. The soccer superstar told a British newspaper that his wife selected the name as an homage to Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
(Ironically, the reclusive Lee has never been called Harper. The Alabama author, whose given name is Nelle Harper Lee, has said she chose “Harper Lee” because she didn’t want her first and last names to be run together to sound like Nelly.)
Harper is also the name of a central character in the long running Disney Channel series “Wizards of Waverly Place.” Minor characters in “Gossip Girl” and “Vampire Diaries” also bore the moniker.
“Young women who are getting pregnant may watch those shows or be aware of them and also know what their favorite singers and actors are up to,” Moss said.
It’s never been easier to track the popularity of a name. Websites typically offer lists of names with their historical meanings, but many offer additional tips and tools for the uncertain parent. Namecandy.com does a deep dive into celebrity names. BabyCenter.com has a feature that allows users to create a personalized poll to send to friends and family for feedback on a name. BabyNameWizard.com allows users to graph a name’s popularity over time. Nymbler.com asks users to select both names they like and those they don’t like to create a customized list of options that will appeal to them.
But all of those sites rely on information drawn from the Social Security Administration database. The no-frills site (www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/) collects the names of all U.S.-born infants and places them online, allowing users to review names by gender, year and state.
It doesn’t predict baby names that are just catching on, as Moss said BabyNames.com does.
“We base predictions on user favorites of women who are actually pregnant or planning to become pregnant very soon,” she said. “We can see what they are searching for and what’s on their favorites list.”
In fact, the site’s list of trending names comes with an up or down arrow, to show if a particular name is falling out of favor or heating up.
“Right now, the names that are rising fast are Asher and Finn for boys and Amelia and Eleanor for girls,” she said.
Moss knows a bit about having a popular name. Her own name, Jennifer, was the No. 1 girl’s name of the 1970s and stepped down only to the No. 2 slot in the ’80s.
“I never minded being one of five Jennifers in the classroom,” she said.
Kevyn Burger is a freelance writer and a newscaster at BringMeTheNews.com.