Failure to Launch: Mindy in the 1970s

This series is a subset of Spotlight Names 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.

Mindy in the 1970s

Mindy-Smith

Musician Mindy Smith

Mindy (along with Beverly) inspired the Failure to Launch series, a series on names that never became as popular as they could have for a featured decade. But there was a problem. I arbitrarily decided that Failure to Launch names must fall short of the top 100 for the featured decade. For example, Mack did reach the top 100 (once in 1900), but not for the featured decade (the 2000s).

The problem was that Mindy did reach the top 100 in the 1970s, once at #81 in 1979. For that reason, I held off on featuring Mindy. Then I realized that an #81 ranking back in 1979 was a lot less common than it seems now. Clearly I was obsessing too much over Social Security rankings.

While Mindy did reach the top 100 during the 1970s, what is surprising is that Mindy didn’t hit those ranks earlier and didn’t stick around longer. Consider the following names like Mindy that were in the top 100 during the 1970s (and at least part of the 1960s):

  • Cindy (as a given name not as a nickname for the popular Cynthia): was in the top 100 from 1953 – 1973.
  • Melinda (Mindy’s long form): 1967 – 1980.
  • Wendy: 1959 – 1981.

Clearly Mindy would have been too matchy as a sibling for any of these  names. But Mindy would have been a great sister to any of these other top 50 names from the 70s: Amy, Kelly, Lisa, Lori, Melissa, Michelle, Tammy, Tina, Tracy, and Stacy (or Stacey).

Parents preferred these names over Mindy. I set out of discover why. Mindy is one of those names that spiked. It soared from #170 in 1978 to #81 in 1979. And then in 1980 Mindy fell to #131 and continued to fall. It left the top 1000 in 1997.

My theory was that the name was too strongly associated with the title character from the TV show Mork and Mindy. Some research revealed that the TV show both helped and perhaps eventually hurt the name. 1978, the year before the baby name rose to the top 100, was the year Mork and Mindy hit the air.

Mindy’s success as a baby name mirrored the success of the late 70s/early 80s sitcom. The show’s debut season in 1978 was extremely successful. The show’s Nielsen rating was #3.
The following year, due to some changes to the cast, storyline, and time slot, the show’s Nielsen rating fell to #27. Mork and Mindy continued to decline in it’s third and fourth season. Mindy also declined as a baby name through the early 80s.

There may have been other subtle influences that caused Mindy’s spike in the late 80s. Mindy’s contemporary Mandy saw similar rankings during the same time; it hit the bottom of the top 100 in 1977 and 1978, and declined through the early 80s.

Mindy has a mid-century modern style, which includes nickname-names like Lori and Tammy, many of them newly created during this time. This style doesn’t have much appeal now. But as a name that isn’t terribly popular on 30 and 40-somethings, but still imaginable on that generation, Mindy has top 10 potential for the 2060s when today’s 30-40-somethings will become great-grandparents.

As I have mentioned before, most revival names are more popular the second time around. For example, Isabella, a hot great-grandma revival name hit #1 in 2009 and 2010, but never ranked nearly that high on the great-grandmother generation. For that generation, Isabella only reached #215 in 1880. Being a name that has never hit the top 10, Mindy has great revival name potential but not for at least a couple more generations.

Currently, people may start to think of Mindy from The Mindy Project, a Fox comedy, that launched this past fall. The reviews have been generally favorable. Regardless of the show’s reception, whether or not The Mindy Project will inspire more baby Mindy’s in the future is uncertain. Sometimes TV shows help a name and other times they have little or no effect.

If Mindy has any potential now, the potential is as a nickname. Nameberry unearthed the 18th century Minta, and suggested it as a less obvious formal version for Mindy. Perhaps Mindy would also work as a nickname for these Minta related names: Araminta and Aminta.

Readers: Which is your favorite formal option for Mindy?

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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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Failure to Launch Names: Juniper in the 1970s

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.

Juniper in the 1970s

Most parents consider Juniper new! Exciting! fresh! The response to Juniper a couple of years ago was, “Wow! Why aren’t more people using this name?”

Now, more people are using this name, clear by its appearance in the top 1000 for this first time in 2011. It debuted at #968, not an extremely high debut.  There have been hit names that debuted higher. For example, Isla in 2008 hit the top 1000 for the first time in decades. Isla’s debut rank was an impressive #622, and Isla continued to soar to #268 last year. But  Juniper doesn’t seem like one of those top 1000 newcomers that will fizzle. I expect it to rise, and rise big, similar to Isla.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Juniper hit the top 300 in 5 years and that is a conservative estimate. Juniper hits people the same way super-hit Harper hits people. (Harper hit the top 1000 in 2004 at #887 and just hit the top 100 at an impressive #54 last year.) People just love Juniper, the way people just loved Harper 5 years ago. Both names seem youthful! Modern! Refreshing!

But to me, Juniper doesn’t sound new and exciting. The sound, in fact, is very 1970s. I don’t know anyone born in the 1970s named Juniper (or anyone else for that matter). Nevertheless, the name sounded vaguely familiar. There is The Bath & Body Works fragrance, Juniper Breeze, of course, but that is a product name, not a person’s name. There was another association, a person.

And then I remembered, Juniper was the full name of “Joon” in the 1993 movie, Benny and Joon. The fictional “Joon”, played by Mary Stewart Masterson, would have been born in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The actress was born in 1966. And while the name may have seemed a bit eccentric on a 20-something woman in 1993, it didn’t seem unimaginable and certainly didn’t seem unappealing.

Possibly, the public simply didn’t see Juniper as a name 40 years ago. Or perhaps the “Joon” beginning of the name made Juniper sound too old-fashioned to most people, similar to June, which has come back big-time, but back in the 1970s would have seemed dated.

The old-fashioned sound of “Joon”, may have overshadowed very obvious similarities to two 1970s hit names. Juniper is a botanical name, a family of trees, just like 70s super star Heather, which peaked at #3 in 1975, and shares the -er ending. And speaking of -er endings, Juniper has an eerily similar sound to, wait for it…

Do I even have to say it? You know what name I’m talking about.

For the uninitiated, I’m talking about Jennifer. Jennifer. The name that spawned thousands of name-nerds when it was given to nearly 600,000 baby girls in the 1970s, who grew-up vowing to give their daughters a different name. Jennifer gets a lot of flak for being overused, but how many names have had such an effect? Jennifer is rather special, but that discussion is for another day.

If you happen to be a Jennifer name-nerd looking for that different name for your daughter, a part of me is tempted to  steer you clear of Juniper. But predictions are both exciting and risky.

Remember when I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Juniper hits the top 300 in five years? I also wouldn’t be surprised if Juniper hits a plateau in a couple of years because name trends are more volatile than ever before.

Juniper is a great name. If you are considering this name for your baby, but are concerned it could become too popular, ask yourself how you would feel if you picked another name only to learn a few years later that Juniper never became as popular as the pundits (yes, me) predicted. Would you feel regret? In that case, I would urge you to name your baby Juniper.

But if you want something surprising, in a couple of decades, when the youngest generation comes of age, Heather could seem refreshing again. And that segues into the next Unfairly Dated name.

Readers: What do you think of Juniper?

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Failure to Launch Names: Wallis in the 1930’s

This series is a subset of Spotlight Names 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. 

Wallis in the 1930’s

One of the most intriguing of the 1930’s names was gender-bending Wallis. Wallis Simpson was a U.S socialite, and a figure in one of the most scandalous stories of the 1930’s. Prince Edward VIII abdicated the British throne in 1936 to marry her. Being twice divorced, she was unacceptable as a potential British Queen.

She was born Bessie Wallis Warfield, sharing the middle name Wallis with her father. As a child she was called by both names, “Bessiewallis,” and dropped Bessie at some point during her youth.

Wallis is a variation of the English and Scottish surname Wallace, which peaked in the 1920’s at #69 in 1923 and has only been used on boys. The unisex Wallis, however, has never been popular on either gender, never reaching the top 1000.

The stage was certainly set for Wallis to chart (enter the top 1000) in the 1930’s. Besides being the name of a prominent 1930’s figure, the masculine Wallace peaked the previous decade. This could have spawned Wallis on boys the next decade, which in turn could have crossed over to the girls. Wallis’s similarity to Phyllis, an iconic 1930’s name, had the potential to accelerate Wallis to the girls’ side.

While the King Edward/Wallis Simpson romance is idealized as a classic love story today, the controversy surrounding the romance generated some negative opinions about the divorcee. She has been described as bright, but also domineering and abrasive. Wallis Simpson very well could have hurt – not helped – her name. Especially if the times were socially conservative as some believe.

Like another “Failure to Launch Name,” Lara, Wallis’s time could come soon. I’ve seen Wallis on a few expectant parents’ girl lists. Wallis appeals to parents who like unisex names like Harper and Quinn. Both names have gone up in popularity. Harper ranked at #119 in 2010, and has dramatically ascended the charts since entering the top 1000 at #887 in 2007. Quinn has also ascended the charts, though less dramatically, going from #942 when it first charted in 1995 to #253 in 2010.

Could the 2010’s see Wallis chart for the first time?

The only information we have to work with is past data. The table below shows how Wallis has fared since 2000. Please note that since Wallis has never been in the top 1000, these numbers aren’t ranks, but actual number of girls born these years named Wallis:

Year Number of girls
2000 7
2001 7
2002 Fewer than 5 if any
2003 Fewer than 5 if any
2004 5
2005 6
2006 Fewer than 5 if any
2007 Fewer than 5 if any
2008 Fewer than 5 if any
2009 Fewer than 5 if any
2010 Fewer than 5 if any

These numbers show that Wallis is not only rare, but so obscure that Wallis isn’t even included in the Social Security data for most years. Modern creation, Abcde was more popular than Wallis in 2010. Perhaps anecdotal mention of Wallis on a few parents’ lists isn’t enough to prove a comeback. Nevertheless, names have been known to soar out of nowhere.

And if Wallis does ever hit the charts, its presence won’t come from nowhere. Wallis happens to be a U.K. based apparel company.  Of course most parents won’t deliberately name their child after an apparel company, but the seed could be subconsciously planted. If Wallis catches on in the U.K. it could follow in the U.S. However, Wallis has yet to catch on in the U.K. considering fewer than 3 if any baby girls were named Wallis in 2010.

What’s more significant is 1930’s names are due to recycle based on the theory that names recycle every 80-100 years. Wallis may not have been popular in the 1930’s but it has 1930’s style. Even 1930’s Phyllis, could become more imaginable on a modern baby if similar Philippa becomes popular as many are predicting. Philippa could spawn Phyllis, which in turn could spawn Wallis. Wallis is going on our watch list.

Readers: What do you think of Wallis?

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Failure to Launch Names: Hillary in the 1990s

This series is a subset of Spotlight Names 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.

Hillary in the 1990s

Hillary is the classic “failure to launch” name. We can’t claim to be the first to discuss Hilary’s and Hillary’s historic fall, but no list of failure to launch names would be complete without this classic tale of politics’ dramatic influence on baby name trends.

Hilary, with one L, is a Medieval English name. Hilary is also another gender cross-over name beginning life as a boy’s name, becoming obscure, only to come back in the 20th century as a girl’s name.

This name was destined to become huge. It has a lively cadence similar to Cecily, and Felicity, names I see becoming hot eventually, and already considered stylish among name aficionados. Hilary’s meaning, “cheerful” is undeniably positive, and for a while things looked up for Hilary. Entering the top 1000 for the first time in 1949, the name gradually climbed the charts, hitting the top 300 in the 1980s.

The Hillary variation (used by Ms. Clinton), possibly inspired by the surname of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to climb Mt. Everest, saw a similar, if slightly more dramatic climb, entering the top 1000 in 1963, gradually climbing, and peaking at 131 in 1992.

Hillary seemed destined for the top 100, and the older (etymologically speaking) Hilary seemed destined for the top 200, or possibly the top 100. The combined sound very well could have been ubiquitous among today’s twenty-something’s and teens. Can’t you picture Hillary as a potential sister for 90’s hit Katelyn? Both names have an L in the middle and share a Y near the end.

Most of us know the rest of the story. Hillary Clinton became the First Lady, and use of both variations dropped precipitously. Sometimes an association helps a name; Shirley Temple helped her name skyrocket in the 1930s, but other times an association kills a name.

While a cheery girl with cute ringlets is an image many parents want to emulate, a political figure in politically divisive times is a burden most parents don’t want for their daughters. (Ironically, the grown-up Shirley Temple Black entered the world of politics, sitting on the opposite side of the political aisle from Hillary Clinton.)

Consequently, after their peak, both variations plummeted right after the 1992 election. Hilary peaked at 233 in 1992, then dropped to 649 the following year, and then left the top 1000 completely, and has yet to return.

Hillary has fared only slightly better, dropping from its peak at 131 in 1992, to 261 the following year, then 566 the next year, and continued to drop, leaving the top 1000 in 2001. Hillary briefly returned to the top 1000 from 2004 to 2008, but then left the top 1000 again, after reaching 720 in 2008.

While uncertain, the 2008 elections which saw Hillary fail to reach the Presidency, but become Secretary of State, could have caused the second exit from the top 1000. The timing is suggestive.

Not even Oscar winner Hilary Swank or Disney darling Hilary Duff can neutralize the Clinton image, even with the different spelling. I thought perhaps the different spelling and multiple associations would downplay the Clinton image and help the more established Hilary become fashionable again. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not at the moment.

Hilary/Hillary doesn’t get much love in other English-speaking countries either. In the UK in 2010 Hilary was given to 8 girls and Hillary was given to 11 girls. In BC Canada, Hilary and Hillary were given to fewer than 5, if any, girls. We were unable to find data on Australian baby names outside the top 100.

Maybe in time, the Clinton association will diminish and parents will embrace this lively name again.

Readers: What do you think of Hillary?

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