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Why Babies Born in 1994 Will Need to Watch the TV Show Friends

May 19, 2007

I was bored at work yesterday so I was reading the latest blog entry from ESPN’s the Sports Guy. He is always amusing. Anyway, he posted a link to the Social Security’s website with the most popular baby names for 2006. I was intrigued so I went to investigate.

I looked to see where Nicholas was in the rankings for this year (17th most popular male name). I then wondered where it was in 1982 when I was born (22nd most popular male name). I then wondered if I knew personally a lot of the top twenty girls and boys names in 1982 – since they would be in my same educational cohort for nearly twenty years. And without much surprise, I recognized the leaders in the list for 1982: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Jennifer, Jessica and Amanda – I know so many people named these names.

I then scrolled to the bottom rankings. And you have what you would expect – misspelled versions of popular names (Kennith, Jermey, Chadd, Cristen, Natosha, etc. But what caught my eye in 1982 was the name ranked at 943rd for males – Chandler.

And with that, I began a journey of nerdom that eventually led to the creation of the graph that you find below. I was curious to see if the release of NBC’s TV show Friends had any impact on the name Chandler a year after it aired. With friends premiering in 1994, I looked at the 1995 and to no surprise Chandler ranked 177th. This still didn’t answer my question of if Friends had an impact on the name of Chandler – maybe the name was trending to be more popular over the years. Therefore, to remove any statistical bias questions, I would have to investigate the popularity of Chandler over time and compare the difference in change from one year to the next. Click on the image to open it larger.

As you can see from the above graph (formatted based on popularity, for example, the name Rachel has been very popular over the last 20 years and is near the top.), the name Chandler was in fact gaining in popularity from 1982 to 2006. But the biggest gain from one year to the next, immediately happened after the premiere of Friends. In fact, the greatest gain of popularity in Chandler over two years happened during the first two seasons of Friends, which coincided with the most watched episode in 1996 after the Superbowl.

Why did Chandler gain in popularity? My theory on the rise of Chandler – he is a real-life relatable character. He works for a huge organization and feel under appreciated – who doesn’t feel unappreciated at work? He is generally insecure about his confidence in life and in relationships – again, I think everyone can relate. He is flawed – he smokes from time to time and he always says that he is weak – come on, he dated Janice. I think we all can see flaws in our own lives. And he is caring, tries to do the right thing and stands by his friends. We all see ourselves in Chandler and we truly want to be his friend. We want him to succeed and we find him endearing and aren’t those the same qualities we want for our children? Thus the rise in Chandler.

However, the graph shows something more peculiar. Something not explained as easily. The rise in popularity in Phoebe. In 1988, Phoebe wasn’t even in the top 1000 most popular baby names. When Friends premiered in 1994, it was the 818th most popular baby name. To show you how unpopular Phoebe was, here are some names ahead of it in popularity in 1994: Zana, Stormy, Magdalen, Essence, and my personal favorite, Lizette. But after Friends premiered, Phoebe jumped 234 spots. By the most watched episode, it had jumped a total of 276 spots and at the peak of popularity of Phoebe in 2001, it ranked 388th most popular – jumping 430 spots in seven years. Names around Phoebe in 2001 include Georgia, Virginia, Renee, and Heidi. This is a lot better company than Zana and Stormy.

The thick yellow line in the middle of the graph shows the trend of viewers watching friends. Like most shows, Friends, started from the gate strong and began to lose viewers. The graph also shows another interesting point. When Chandler and Monica first hooked up in London in 1999, the name Chandler began to decline in popularity. I think it is because Chandler became less relatable when he got together with Monica. How often do you hear that of a person that marries your best friend’s sister? Chandler grew up and became successful and we still wanted six 30 somethings struggling to make it in the real world.

I think the funniest statistic from this graph is the effect Ross has had on baby names. While it is clear the name Ross been trending downward since 1982, the trend clearly increases when Friends premiered. Who wants to name their child after a character that had three divorces, one child because of a drunken night, has a Ph D. in Paleontology, is overly awkward and was afraid to ask Rachel out for two seasons? Thus the decline of Ross.

Have I spent more time on this project than I should have? Yes. Am I a big nerd? Yes. But come on, I did get a masters degree in public administration. We love graphs and looking at information that explains society. Kids named Chandler and Phoebe will most likely never know the cultural influence that caused their names. They will never know about the comedy on Thursday nights that gripped America with questions like will Ross and Rachel ever work it out, will Phoebe marry Mike and will Joey’s spin-off be successful? I wonder what the effect today’s TV shows will have on baby names in the future. Will names like Meredith, Sawyer, Susan or Bree gain in popularity? I guess time will tell and I will be ready with an excel graph in hand.

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2 comments

  1. haha! this is cool(: i love chandler. my favorite character, even though his name sounds a little like chandeleir but its not *quote: joey*. I can’t wait for the movie.


  2. i am taking my masters degree on a local school and i love it ”



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