Failure to Launch: Farrah in the 1980s

This series is dedicated to names that had the potential to become huge for a certain decade. They represented a certain era well, but for whatever reason never made it to the top 100. Perhaps for these names, their time is yet to come.

Farrah-FawcettFarrah in the 1980s

Farrah Fawcett not only inspired legions of hairstyles in the late 70s-early 80s, a few babies born during that era also received her name. But apparently the actress/artist/pin-up girl’s hair had more staying power than her name. Farrah’s hairstyle eventually became passé, and Farrah’s name was even more short-lived. Or was it?

Here’s another name that belongs in the same camp as Jenna—names that could have become 80s fad names, but didn’t. Except where Jenna’s climb leveled out and Jenna had some staying power, Farrah came and went. But don’t discount Farrah. The name might be slowly creeping up the Social Security list thanks to reality TV. If reality TV was Farrah’s only selling point I wouldn’t bother with it, but the name makes a wonderful cross-cultural choice, and for this reason, I like it despite (not because of) its famous bearers.

Perhaps Farrah’s trend pattern makes it an epic fad name. Farrah went from being obscure, to hitting the top 1000 for the first time in 1976—at an impressive #277. 1976 was the year people became familiar with Farrah Fawcett from her career making role in Charlie’s Angels. In 1977 Farrah soared to #177, its present day peak.

Had Farrah continued its steep rise between 1976 and 1977, it would have become a top 10 name by 1980. That was not the reality. Just as quickly as Farrah climbed, Farrah dropped. Farrah left the top 1000 in 1980.

But 1980 was not the last year Farrah saw the top 1000. The name would revisit the top 1000 in 1987-1988, and again in 2010 and 2011. Farrah’s third début in the top 1000 just a couple of years ago wasn’t as impressive as its first, but it was still impressive at #550. In 2011 (the most recent year name data is available) it ranked at #544.

Whether the famous namesake’s death in 2009 helped Farrah return to the Social Security list the following year is unclear. The more likely cause is reality TV star Farrah Abraham from the MTV shows 16 and Pregnant, which first aired in 2009 and Teen Mom, which aired from 2009-2012.

To those who can’t fathom how reality shows about pregnant teens can inspire baby name choices, two names from 16 and Pregnant have seen huge popularity jumps the past couple of years. The names are of season 1 cast members, Maci and her son Bentley. Maci jumped 477 places between 2009 and 2011 (to #179). Bentley jumped 440 places in the same two years (to #75).

But long before parents were inspired by reality TV, a pretty blond with a huge smile, provocative hairstyle and equally provocative red (one piece!) bathing suit was adorning teenage boys’ walls. A pop culture icon isn’t Farrah’s only tie to the late 70s-early 80s. Farrah had a sound that was fashionable for the time, a sound that hasn’t gone out of style. First there’s Farrah’s similarity to authentic classic Sarah, a top 10 name from 1978 to 2002. The alternative form Sara also peaked around the same time, and so did Kara. Sister Tara peaked a little earlier in 1973 and 1974.

Just as Kara, Sarah, and Tara failed to launch Lara in the 1970s, they also failed to launch Farrah the following decade. This may be because the baby name landscape was different 30-40 years ago. Back then parents weren’t as concerned with giving their kids unique names that were just like the popular names. This may explain why there weren’t nearly as many rhyming spin-offs as there are now.

There is the possibility that the name’s strong association with Farrah Fawcett kept it from achieving widespread use. Perhaps this is a good thing.

Farrah has something else besides the timeless appeal of the “ara” sound that makes it ideal for a contemporary baby. While Farrah Fawcett once claimed her mom made up her name, the name actually has older origins. Farrah also belongs to a group of names that are slowly becoming recognized in the U.S. Farrah is a cross-cultural Arabic name, an Arabic name that is accessible to other cultures. It is a form of Farah, which means “joy”.

The most successful cross-cultural Arabic name is probably Layla, which ranked at #33 in 2011 and is a form of the Arabic Laila, which ranked respectably at #141. Most of these names haven’t become wildly popular like Layla, but they have quietly risen in popularity the past couple of decades. Some examples include Fatima (#281) and Nadia (#269).

The only thing that might tarnish the name is Farrah Abraham recently admitting to making an adult film. This may discourage some moms from using the name in the short-term, but I believe in time people will soon forget about Farrah Abraham.

It is unlikely, however, that people will soon forget Farrah Fawcett. Yet this doesn’t mean people can’t detach the name from the famous bearer. I believe the name has enough going for it, that eventually more people will recognize how usable it is.

Readers: What impact do you believe former Teen Mom star Farrah Abraham will have on her name?

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