It is not uncommon for a name to become more popular due to a notable person’s rise to fame. Name databases in the United States have recorded the rise and fall of popular baby names for years, making it possible to track the number of babies named after famous people.
While it may seem strange to name a child after someone they have never met, parents often admire famous Americans and want to honor them in a personal way. Or, they may simply like the sound of a name and want to try something unique.
There is also a long-standing tradition in the U.S. of naming children after presidents. Many Americans hoped that the positive association between the name and the current president of their day would serve their children well. Some parents even thought a president’s name might imbue some of that president’s positive characteristics in their children, and that they would enjoy more success in life. This notion was more popular in the 20th century, though the tradition has continued into the present day. Check out these notable Americans who inspired the names of many children.
Maya Angelou was a poet, screenwriter, dancer and civil rights activist. She was born in 1928 and is best known for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” written in 1969 about her coming-of-age and experiences and how she dealt with racism and trauma. In 1993, she recited a poem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, becoming the first female poet and African American poet to do so. In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Though the name Maya has never spiked in popularity due to Maya Angelou alone, many people around the world still name their children after the famous poet. Parents hope that the name will give their children someone to live up to and that it will inspire them to succeed in life. In recent years, the name has become more and more popular. It was the 74th most popular name in 2014 when Angelou passed away.
Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. He is best known for being an astronaut and aeronautical engineer, though he was also a naval aviator, test pilot and university professor. He served in the Korean War and joined NASA’s astronaut program in 1962.
On July 16, 1969, Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin were successfully launched into space on the spacecraft Apollo 11. Armstrong is best known for his famous phrase “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he made his first step on the moon. Later that year, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for his efforts in the successful mission.
The name Neil was most popular in 1953 before Armstrong rose to fame. Nonetheless, it spiked in popularity in 1969. According to one study, the name was the 218th most popular name in America in 1968 and became the 164th most popular name in 1969.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and served until 2006 when she retired. Justice O’Connor was well-known for being a moderate conservative and a swing vote.
One of her most notable swing votes was in 1992, where she voted to reaffirm the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. She also strove to find practical solutions to major constitutional dilemmas that were straightforward and not swayed by emotion.
The name Sandra was most popular in 1947 and ranked at number five in the U.S. top 1,000 names before Justice O’Connor rose to fame. However, the name increased in popularity again in 1981, when Justice O’Connor was nominated and reached number 74 in the U.S. top 1,000. The name has steadily decreased in popularity ever since, though it is still known for its connection to the first female Supreme Court Justice.
Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to be elected. He is well-known for signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law in 2010, which made health care mandatory for U.S. citizens.
The goal of the ACA was to make coverage more affordable and readily available to uninsured or underinsured Americans. In addition, the act prohibited private insurance companies from denying Americans coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Obama is also well-known for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
In 2008, the name Barack did not rise in popularity as dramatically as the name Woodrow in 1912. However, the number of babies named after the 44th U.S. President is still enough to make people take notice.
Five newborns were named after President Obama in 2007, and 52 were given the name in 2008. The number peaked at 69 during his first year in office. Some of these children have taken great pride in their name and were even interviewed on national news stations to explain what it was like growing up with the name Barack.
As the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson served for two terms. Wilson is known for his progressive reform and belief in world peace.
During his time in office, he created the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Federal Reserve System, or central banking system of the U.S., was established to control the financial crises in 1913. The FTC was created to protect consumers and reduce the number of unfair business practices.
The name Woodrow caught on in 1911 as Wilson gained popularity, with 121 babies given the name that year. In 1912, this number jumped to 1,854 babies, including 1,843 boys and 11 girls. The actor and football player Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode, who went by “Woody” Strode, was then born in 1914. Woody Strode was one of the first African Americans to play football nationally and appeared in several John Ford films. The character Woody from the “Toy Story” series was named after him, bringing the name Woodrow into the present day.