Parents Are Naming Their Babies After 'Game of Thrones'

Once upon a time, baby names were a simple affair — Jane, Elizabeth, Susan. Then, for a time, with Sunshine and Autumn and Moon Unit, they got hippiefied. Now, with news spreading over Social Security Administration data showing that in 2012 alone, nearly 150 American girls were named Khaleesi — after a character’s royal title on “Game of Thrones” — the whole name game has become downright surreal.

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On Wednesday, the website Vox reported on its discovery of the "Game of Thrones" baby-naming trend. After crunching the numbers, it found that the name Khaleesi had become more popular than Betsy, according to SSA data.

“There are certain qualities about a character that makes the name really catch on,” Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard,” tells Yahoo Shine. “And in general, it’s shows featuring attractive young people with supernatural powers.”

To wit: Katniss, from the "Hunger Games” trilogy, which was among the most popular names of 2013, according to the database Nameberry (Social Security Administration data is available only through 2012, the year of the first film’s release — although the name already appeared within that year, with a dozen girls getting the moniker). Then there’s Arya, also a “Game of Thrones” name, which seems to have inspired a few hundred baby names for both boys and girls — not to mention Bella, a name that doubled in use, from 2,780 uses to 5,104, within two years of the release of “Twilight.”

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Also popular names that fit Wattenberg’s noted criteria: Phoebe and Piper from “Charmed,” both of which spiked for several years after the series’ launch in 1998; and Willow and Zander, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which each experienced a similar if less dramatic rise following the show’s premiere in 1997.

And, back to now, there’s the matter of Khaleesi, the royal title of the character Daenerys (inspiring 21 baby names in 2012), which is particularly unique. “Plenty of authors dating back to Shakespeare have invented names that caught on with parents,” wrote Wattenberg in a blog post. “You can even find names from imagined fantasy worlds that have been used on real-world babies. For instance, hundreds of American girls have been named Eowyn over the past decade after a ‘Lord of the Rings’ character. But a name taken from a word that's not a name, from an imagined language? I can't think of a precedent.”

Finding inspiration in youthful, powerful characters, though, is not exactly a new phenomenon. “In many cases, we forget the celebrity origins. But no one was named Samantha before ‘Bewitched,’” Wattenberg says of the influential TV series, which ran from 1964 to 1972.

How quickly a trend can take hold really varies, she adds. In some instances — with certain celebrity baby names, for example — the influence is instant, such as it was with Gwen Stefani’s son Kingston and also Shiloh Jolie-Pitt (but not, interestingly, Stefani’s son Zuma). “Overnight, Kingston was everywhere,” the name expert notes. (But surprisingly, she adds, celebrity names are much less influential now than they were in the golden age of Hollywood — something she attributes to entertainment being “more diffused,” with so many aspects of pop culture to latch onto now.)

Other times we can actually forget a name’s origins, she notes, because it can take quite a while to take hold, depending on who the audience is. With the 1984 film “Splash,” for example, Daryl Hannah’s mermaid character impulsively named herself Madison — which got laughs from the audience — when she saw the Madison Avenue sign upon her NYC arrival. “It took years for the girls in those audiences to grow up and have kids,” Wattenberg explains, and so the influence was a long time coming. And she appears to be correct, according to SSA data, which shows that 42 girls were named Madison in 1984, then 298 a year later, 6,259 in 1994, and a whopping 20,612 in 2004.

Which brings us to a warning: Prepare thyself to meet a slew of little girls named after Elsa from "Frozen" in about 20 years.

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