Popular names are exactly that—names that are popular or vogue at a specific point in time. These are the trendiest names, and they're the strongest reflection of the naming fashions that are in style at the time at which they're bestowed.
They are not, however, the names that will necessarily bear up well over time—especially when it comes to girls' names, which now tend to be very trendy—unless they become so widely used and accepted that they move into the classic category.
Pop Culture … Pop Names
Popular names are strongly influenced by popular culture, including the movies and television shows we love to watch and the books we love to read. Names are often given in honor of favorite actors or the roles they play. Television has been a very strong influence on naming trends, with such shows as Dynasty , Falcon Crest, and Dallas spawning lots of little girls named Alexis, Brittany, or Amanda in the mid- to late 1980s and early 1990s. Soap operas also have made a strong contribution to the name pool, with many of today's trendiest names represented on the most popular shows.
Naming children after famous people, such as national heroes or other admired individuals, is also a strong influence on popular names. Although it would be difficult to give John F. Kennedy all the credit for the perennially popular name John, it's interesting to note that the name's popularity dropped significantly after the 1970s and didn't even appear on the 10 most popular list for 1990. Richard, another classic name, disappeared off the top 10 in the years following the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon and hasn't reappeared since.
Pros and Cons of Popular Names
As with unusual names, the strongest reasons for choosing popular names are also the biggest strikes against them. Popular names are fresh and they can be very fun. However, because they're so closely tied to naming trends, they're often flashes in the pan. The names that are in vogue today can become incredibly out-of-date in just a few decades' time. And, if they're wildly popular, they can get overused pretty quickly as well.
Jason, one of the most popular boys' names in 1980, is a good example of a popular name that quickly ran its course. It came out of nowhere to the second spot on the popularity lists for that year, and was so wildly popular for awhile that it seemed like everyone was using it for their new baby boys. By 1990, it had dropped out of the top 10 entirely, although it was still chosen often enough to cause problems in the classroom. Teachers are saints for many reasons, but just think what it would be like if you called on Jason and four little boys started speaking. However, its strong popularity, while brief, has earned it a spot on most classic name lists.
Jason was a problem in the classroom because there weren't many pet names from it that teachers to use to distinguish one Jason from another. Choosing a popular name that has several other forms, such as Michael (Mike, Mikey, Mick, even Mickey) is one way of avoiding the identity crises caused by too many kids with the same name.
Another reason not to choose a popular name is the transient nature of fame. A very popular personality one year can be a has-been just a few years later. Celebrities can be tarnished by scandal or just plain bad luck, and their names forever associated with negative images.
Woody, for example, may not have ever been a super popular boys' name. However, the very public breakup of actor/director/author Woody Allen and Mia Farrow (as well as the reason behind it) and the typecasting of actor Woody Harrelson as the country rube Woody Boyd on the popular television show Cheers has probably moved this name to the “unfortunate” category along with such tragic names as Adolph, Benito, and Cain. And this is a category, as you may imagine, into which no parent in his or her right mind should ever delve.