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Is This Fashion Challenge Too Much for Barbie?

September 9, 2023 namerology 6 Comments

Is This Fashion Challenge Too Much for Barbie?

September 9, 2023 Namerology 6 Comments
Actress Margot Robbie as Barbie, looking shocked and appalled
Margot Robbie as Barbie

In 2023, the queen of dolls expanded her empire. Barbie jumped from the toybox to the movie screen, then took command of the zeitgeist. From hit songs to pink cocktails to a parade of “think pieces,” Barbie was everywhere. But one last realm may prove a tough test for this cultural powerhouse. Can Barbie conquer baby names?

The Challenge

When it comes to celebrity baby name influence, style is everything. Parents seldom pay homage by “naming after” a movie character anymore. Instead, they take names on their own merits, wherever they find them. When the latest Star Wars trilogy hit theaters, for instance, it was Kylo, not the seemingly more appealing character Rey, who set off a baby name trend.

Kylo makes a perfect model for modern celebrity name style. It meshed with trendy sounds of the time—think Kyler x Milo—yet felt totally fresh. That freshness is essential: if a name is too familiar, it bounces off parents looking for new ideas.

Barbara, the formal name behind the nickname Barbie, is anything but fresh. It was a massive 20th-century hit that has settle into deep dormancy, as this historical popularity graph shows.

Historical popularity graph of the name Barbara showing a peak from the 1930s to 1950s then a steep decline

That curve is daunting, but the Barbie movie was flattering to the name Barbara. The formal name ultimately became a symbol of self-actualization. In a vacuum that could make Barbara a revival prospect, but this isn’t just about one name.

Take a look at the graph of all girls’ names containing the two-letter strings RB, RD, RG, LB, LD, and LG (which is to say, a liquid consonant followed by a voiced plosive).

Popularity graph showing that girls names containing the consonant pairs rb,rd,rg,lb,ld,lg peaked in the 1930s

Barbara’s essential sound is out of step with current fashion. That’s a huge obstacle.

Just Barbie

What about Barbie itself as a given name? That’s the name of the movie, after all. And cute, diminutive girls’ names are on the rise. If Birdie, Goldie and Sunnie can catch on, why not Barbie?

The simple answer is that Barbie is Barbie. Or rather, Barbie™. The name has become the brand, with universal brand-first recognition. (Did anyone in America see the title Barbie on a theater marquee and think “Huh, I wonder what that’s about?”) In the film’s own terms, the name now exists only in Barbieland, not the Real World.

Naming a baby Barbie in 2023 will come across as a deliberate homage to the movie and the doll. And remember, homages themselves are now out of style. In the end, Barbie is fighting an uphill battle to add baby-name-hit-maker to its list of culture-defining accomplishments.

p.s. Yeah, there’s also Ken.


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  • Elizabeth September 9, 2023 at 4:19 pm

    The film may well add to Margot’s cachet, however. Interesting that the actress has that RG cluster in her name.

  • Sarah September 12, 2023 at 1:42 am

    The second graph here had me puzzling over something mostly unrelated to this post, which can be phrased as the following quiz question:

    The second graph shows that most of these names (including Barbara) peaked in the 1920s-1940s, but there is a second (although much smaller) peak in the 1990s. This peak doesn’t appear to correspond to any of the name labels shown (Barbara, Margaret, Mildred, Virginia), but it must be made by names containing one of the two-letter strings in Laura’s list (RB, RD, RG, LB, LD, and LG). The image suggests that there are three such names. What are they?

    Hint: The three names come from three different two-letter strings.

    • Namerology
      Namerology September 12, 2023 at 1:52 am

      Sarah, I was fascinated by that too and almost mentioned the names in the article! I’m so glad I didn’t, it’s MUCH better as a puzzle!

    • Hannah September 14, 2023 at 10:47 am

      Shelby, Jordan and Morgan I think! I noticed the bump in the nineties too.

      • Sarah September 15, 2023 at 11:50 pm

        Ding! Jordan and Morgan made sense as soon as I saw them, but Shelby I would not have predicted. It’s almost like the -an ending (one sound of the 90s for sure) outweighed the consonant clusters. It would be interesting to look at the names that contain both popular and unpopular parts, to see what affects which ones dominate.

        I do love that this is a place where many of us not only notice but get excited about minor shifts in graphs that most people would overlook.

        Anyway, thanks for playing with me, Hannah.

  • holey
    holey September 20, 2023 at 2:28 am

    It would be great to see Barbara make a comeback; it has a rich history. Plus it’s a very woody word (

    I’ll go ahead and predict Barbie as the next Name of the Year.

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