How a ‘Splash’ Joke Lead to the ‘Madison’ Baby Name Boom
Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in 1984's 'Splash' (Everett Collection)
"Madison's not a name."
So explains Allen Bauer (Tom Hanks) to his unlikely objection of affection, a landlocked mermaid played by Daryl Hannah, as they stroll down a Manhattan sidewalk in a seminal scene from Ron Howard's beloved rom-com "Splash." Released exactly 30 years ago this Sunday, the film had an outsized cultural impact, both as a breakthrough comedy hit and the kickoff for a host of big screen careers.
But its great legacy may be a certain name that it entered forever in our lexicon.
Jennifer, Joanie, Hilary, Linda, Kim, Elizabeth, Samantha. Those were names, according to Allen.
Madison may have not been "a name" you call yourself in 1984, especially for women – it of course was in fact the last name of a U.S. president, the name of a city in Wisconsin, and most relevantly, the name of one very famous avenue in New York City.
But it's the English/human name Hannah's mythical beauty chose for herself after hearing Allen mention the street name, and in turn, led to a surge in popularity of the female baby name "Madison," a trend that quietly gained steam in the years immediately following the film's release before skyrocketing to the top of baby name lists in more recent years.
"At the time, audiences laughed at the ridiculous choice," says Laura Wattenberg, who runs the popular site BabyNameWizard.com. "Madison was completely unheard of as a girl's name."
Joal Ryan, author of "Puffy, Xena, Quentin, Uma: And 10,000 Other Names for Your New Millennium Baby" (and Yahoo contributor), agrees: "Madison was nowhere on the radar as a girl name until 1985 -- a year after the release of 'Splash.' So, there definitely seems to be a connection there, especially since there's no other major female Madison, either real or fictional, who was out there as a role model."
And while both Wattenberg and Ryan will tell you about the power pop culture has over baby-naming conventions -- look no further than the uptick in girls named "Isabella" by mothers who love "Twilight" or boys named Espen because of the popularity of the cable network ESPN – what makes the "Splash"-Madison phenomenon unique is that, as Wattenberg points out, "its popularity was sparked by a joke."
The original Madison herself, Daryl Hannah, shares that sentiment.
The actress-turned-producer (her latest film, the anti-Keystone Pipeline documentary, "Above All Else," premieres at the SXSW Film Festival on Monday), seems to get a genuine kick out of what one of her most memorable characters inadvertently inspired.
"It's funny because no one understands the irony, because the whole point of me choosing that name was because it [was such a] silly name," Hannah tells Yahoo Movies. "Obviously everyone knew it as the name of the street. No one really saw it as a first name and that was a joke. And now, of course it's not funny at all. It's just like, Oh, what a beautiful name!' … It was funny at the time and now it's not even ironic."
Hannah in 'Splash' (Everett Collection)
According to the Social Security Administration, Madison was the 216th most popular name for girls in the U.S. in 1990, but five years later rose to 29th, and by 2000 had become number 3. It was a top-five name throughout the first eight years of the new millennium, and had only fallen to number 9 in 2012, the last year for which SSA records are available. (It is of course a unisex name as well, but doesn't rank nearly as high for boys.)