Star Wars names are popular? Sure, but not so fast.

The Internet is buzzing.  Recently, BabyCenter projected that Star Wars names are some of this year’s most-popular names, and major media outlets have since responded.  We can all guess why.  Episode VII was highly anticipated, and that’s an understatement of massive proportions.  For those of us who couldn’t see it opening night, avoiding spoiler alerts was even harder than that time Sherlock was released in the U.K. two weeks before it was in the U.S.  It was still totally worth it!  It was the first time I’d ever seen a Star Wars in the cinema, and the amazing experiences both of watching it for the first time and watching it totally unprepared nevertheless make me feel slightly envious of people who were alive to see it in the 1970s.

I agree that Star Wars names will experience a boost, but hesitate in calling them “popular” just yet.  Because the 2016 Social Security Administration data won’t be released for another year, nobody can know that the names are popular now.  Indeed, the 2015 data doesn’t come out for another month, so if the movie affected naming in December we won’t know for a few weeks anyway.  While I can’t pretend that I know how BabyCenter actually decides what names are “popular” since I don’t normally use the site, I have my suspicions.  Chances are that such information is gathered by looking at what names are being mentioned or clicked on the most, along with people who’ve outright posted that they’ve used the names.  In other words, the site is probably determining name “popularity” through some kind of analytics. 

My other primary concern with this news is a question of semantics.  To call a name “popular” suggests concrete usage data, like from the SSA or Census.  The only concrete data they might currently have is in the form of birth announcements.  That alone can help determine potential popularity, but not current popularity.  What BabyCenter has actually tapped into is that Star Wars names are trendy.  I do credit them for using the word “trendy” in a few instances, but perhaps they shouldn’t use “trendy” and “popular” so interchangeably.  I’ll put it this way – popularity is to usage as trendiness is to conversation.  Popularity is the number you see every May when you look at how many times the SSA says a name was used that year, or the name itself when you realize it made the list at all.  Trendiness is that name you mentioned on social media but won’t necessarily use.  See what I’m saying?

Now, Kylo actually did show up on the SSA data in 2014, with 8 uses…which tells us the name already existed.  That’s the thing about Star Wars and other sagas; quite often, the characters’ names were unusual names already belonging to people.  I’ve found that there were a number of Leias born before 1977.   Also of note are that Anakin finally entered the top 1000 in 2014, and that 1977 was the all-time lowest ranking for Harrison, after which it rebounded.  So, Han shot Greedo but saved a name.  I think that balances the justice scales. 😉

 

Sources:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_2016-baby-name-trends_10411309.bc

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/star-wars-themed-baby-names-rise-popularity/story?id=38062554

https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/index.html

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