20 epic moments that defined the past 20 years of baby names - from the birth of Emma in Friends to the fall of Karen

Elsa, Anna, Willow and Jaden are just some of the names that have seen a boost...

Three babies lying on their back looking at the camera
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Pop culture can have a huge impact on baby name trends - here's a round-up of some of the most influential moments from the past 20 years.

The most popular baby names and the top trending baby names come and go as fashion changes. For example, parents might be on the hunt for spring baby names at this time of year, but come December it'll be Christmas baby names that see a boost.

Over the last two decades, parents' taste in baby names have changed a lot - and now data has revealed exactly what influenced the coming and going of trends. In honour of BabyCenter’s 20th anniversary since it started reporting on name popularity, the parenting platform has analysed data to come up with 20 moments that defined baby names in the last 20 years.

  1. Friends brought Emma into the spotlight: When characters Rachel and Ross brought their baby Emma into the show, the name skyrocketed in popularity. Just like the show’s staying power, the name has remained in the top names for 20 years now, currently ranked number four with BabyCenter parents.
  2. Goodbye Karen: A name that was very popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Karen was the brunt of comedic routines from comedians like Dane Cook in 2005, and later became an infamous symbol online for racial harassment in 2020. The name dropped steadily from number 164 in 2005 to number 824 in 2020. It currently ranks number 2,125.
  3. Jaden Smith reignites a trend: Original 2000s nepo baby Jaden Smith made his acting debut in The Pursuit of Happyness with his dad Will Smith in 2006. The younger Smith's moment in the spotlight gave Jaden, a name that had been dropping, a boost in popularity.
  4. The Obamas make history: In November 2008, the Obamas became one of the youngest first families in U.S. history. Their daughters Malia and Sasha, who were 11 and 8 when they moved into the White House, piqued the interest of the nation – and their names piqued the interest of BabyCenter parents.
  5. Parents fall in love with Twilight: While teens were taking sides on Team Edward or Team Jacob, BabyCenter parents decided they were Team Bella. After the Twilight movie came out in 2008, Isabella claimed the honour as the number one girls' name of the year in 2009, and Bella made it into the top 100 names for the first time.

Bella and Edward dancing together in Twilight

(Image credit: Alamy)
  1. Teen moms leave their mark: When 16 and Pregnant first aired on MTV in 2009, it was a (controversial) hit. Not only did fans love these teen moms' realness – they also loved their babies' names: Sophia, Bentley, Jace, Aubree, Aliannah, and Aleeah.
  2. Sarah Palin's stardom: Sarah Palin may have lost her bid for vice president in 2008, but as far as stardom goes, she was just getting started. Her daughters especially captured the imagination of BabyCenter parents – the names, Bristol, Willow, and Piper all rose in the years after Palin's vice-presidential bid
  3. Hey Siri: Apple’s cool cultural capital was cashing in for babies in 2011, when Siri was released to the public and it rose in popularity alongside Apple (up 15% for girls) and Mac (up 12% for boys).
  4. 50 Shades of baby names: The erotic adventures of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in E.L. James' 50 Shades trilogy sparked a flurry of baby-making in 2012 - and the popularity of the names Grey (and Gray), Anastasia and Ana all rose.
  5. Music royalty is born: Blue Ivy Carter, the eldest daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, started a colour-naming trend: Blue, Lavender, Scarlett, Hazel, Ivory, and Violet are all colour names that spiked in popularity in the year after her birth.

Beyonce and Blue Ivy pictured at the Grammys

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  1. The Frozen frenzy begins: The Disney movie wasn't just a hit with kids, though – parents also loved the characters' names. Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Hans all rose in the year after the movie came out.
  2. Shonda Rhimes takes over ABC: The TV producer's Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and the new How to Get Away with Murder all led to a rise in popularity for the names Arizona (up 35 per cent), Callie (up 30 per cent), Fitzgerald (up 56 per cent) and Huck (up 44 per cent).
  3. An election ushers in new names: The presidential showdown dominated American news in 2016, and both the name Hillary and the name Donald saw a rise in popularity.
  4. The NBA finals were a win for baby names: The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors for a second time, making LeBron James and Kyrie Irving MVPs in both basketball and baby names yet again.
  5. Keeping Up with the Kardashians had a big impact: The names of the Kardashian-Jenner clan's children all rose in popularity after they were born. Stormi, Chicago, and True spiked, and Dream, Saint, and Reign also experienced a rise. The family also brought up the popularity of a slew of names beginning with K.

Kris, Kourtney, Khloe and Kim Kardashian at a premiere

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  1. Prince Archie ushered in the nickname trend: As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, welcomed their son Prince Archie to the world in 2019, there's been a massive $ rise in nicknames overtaking their namesakes$ .
  2. Remembering Kobe and Gianna Bryant: The tragic passing of Kobe and Gianna saw their names spike in popularity, with Kobe up 175% and Bryant up 29% in registrations for boys, and Gianna rose 216% for girls in 2020.
  3. Superheroes inspire parents: In 2021, the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived on streaming services. WandaVision names saw a boost, like Wanda (up 52%), Agatha (up 30%), Darcy (up 9%), and even Vision. Elsewhere, Chadwick was up 21% in 2021, in honour of actor and Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020.
  4. As Twitter disappeared, so too did Elon: Unlike the spectacularly successful rocket launches at SpaceX, Elon’s name plummeted in popularity in 2022 when he bought Twitter and gutted it to turn it into what we know as X today. It clearly wasn’t a popular move with users or advertisers, or even parents, as the name dropped 450 spots after it had been on an upward trajectory in registrations.
  5. Barbie reigns supreme: For fans who loved Barbie, the doll's full name, Barbara, rose a whopping 994 spots as the movie swept the box office in 2023. Plus, names of female powerhouses in the movie got a boost, including Greta (Gerwig, the movie's director), which rose 314 spots, and Margot (Robbie, the star of Barbie), which rose 66 spots.

Looking for more baby name inspiration? Check out this fun Tinder baby name app and then scroll through a list of over 200 unique baby names. Check out these cool baby names and some cute baby names too.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.