What's in a Name?

Today is the first day of classes, so I'm going to be kind of busy at work. Here's a bit of pop-culture silliness to lighten things up while I'm teaching and setting up labs.

The Neil Diamond chestnut "Sweet Caroline" got brought up in a back-channel discussion, prompting much revulsion from the older members of the ScienceBlogs collective. I'm in the age range where the song was just starting to acquire kitsch value, so I don't really mind it.

It occurs to me, though, that between Neil Diamond and OutKast (specifically, the song "Roses"), pop music has been pretty rough on people named "Caroline." Just about the time that the name stops making people remember Neil Diamond, Andre Benjamin comes along and does a total hatchet job on it. I'd feel really sorry for my cousin's daughter, if I didn't expect that she'll kick the ass of anybody who makes fun of her name...

This makes me wonder, though: What's the worst name to have, from a pop-culture standpoint? There are lots of songs using specific names, and plenty of other pop-culture ephemera that make life difficult for people with particular names-- between Charles Schultz and Jim Croce, anybody with the surname "Brown" needs to be really careful what they name their male children... Some are worse than others, of course-- the Tommy Tutone classic "867-5309" probably caused some angst for girls named "Jenny," but not as much as Prince did for girls named "Nikki" (and Dave Grohl just covered that song, too, which can't help).

So who gets the shortest end of the pop-culture stick?

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I would not want to name my daughter Roxanne, after the song by the Police

I'd say that calling a kid "Mandy" following Barry Manilow is tantamount to child abuse.
Meantime, in the UK at least, the Gilbert O'Sullivan 'hit' "Clare" pretty much wiped that name out in the early 1980s.

It's not because of any movie or song, but if your name is Randy or Randi, you should think twice before vacationing in Australia.

By doctorgoo (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

Given the popularity of its song, and the rarity of the actual name, I think that per capita the answer would be "Luka".

By Cryptic Ned (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

Well, I took a song with my name and started using it for my online moniker over ten years ago. "Maria" gets both West Side Story and a Blondie song. I can't readily think of any other name used in multiple songs, though.

By Eric the .5b (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

I used to know a girl named Barbara Ann who used to run and hide whenever she heard the Beach Boys.

The Carolines did okay in the 80s, as long as they liked the Psychedelic Furs.

However, my vote goes to women named Eileen, thanks to Dexy's Midnight Runners. Every Eileen I've known goes into a frothing rage at "Come On Eileen".

And I thought I got a lot of annoyance out of being named Heidi!

I'm thinking "Sally," who seems to catch nothing but grief from certain sectors. "Sally Was A Good Old Girl" is the most, uh, direct, but "Ride Sally Ride," "Mustang Sally," "Long Tall Sally," "Sally Go 'Round The Roses" -- yikes.

Also, I understand that "Richard" was a tough name to have in the late 40s / early 50s, thanks to that smirky "Open The Door Richard." In fact, that's what Little Richard was going on about with "Keep A-Knocking" -- a far better song. So take heart, Nikkis of the world! This battle's been fought and won before!

Being named Lola would be tough, because between Damn Yankees and the Kinks, the name evokes a combination of sex on a stick with a big surprise in the middle.

It's less about pop music than TV and movies.

Top 10 Baby Names of 2006

"Aiden it's a surprise to me, too, that it's No. 1, but there was a character on Sex and the City' and he was the best boyfriend Carrie ever had," Murray said. "I think that might have something to with it."

Both Murray and Bolton cite Reese Witherspoon as an example. There aren't a lot of little Reeses running around, but the name Ava wasn't even on BabyCenter's top 100 list when the daughter of Witherspoon and estranged husband Ryan Phillipe was born in 1999. In 2006, though, it was No. 3.

Bolton also points to the re-emergence of Emma as a popular name after Jennifer Aniston's character gave birth to one on "Friends."

When the colonists arrived on U.S. shores, they purposely spurned classic English names in favor of biblical ones. In the 19th century, literature served as a source of inspiration hence the popularity of Ida, a princess in a Tennyson poem.

And beginning in the 20th century, people have named their children after movie stars and TV characters.

Names in the news are another factor, Bolton noted.

"Katrina it's what's on our mind right now, and all names have an association. We won't see a lot of Katrinas over the next few years, but it will be considered cool and retro decades from now."

Johnny Carson did a great rant many years back about how there's more slang phrases using the name "John" than any other name -- johnny-come-lately, johnny-on-the-spot, and of course "the john". I'm sure he had some others, but I can't think of any more at the moment.

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 04 Jan 2007 #permalink