Few people will experience admiration, envy, and inferiority like those of us who were born the same year as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. When our parents were applauding us for holding our heads up unsupported, the Olsen twins were starring as Michelle Tanner on Full House. When we were writing our first names in shaky printing, they released an album of children’s songs complete with a tv special. They produced video series before we were allowed to babysit, and had a clothing line before we could drive.
All that and their characters always had dope-as-hell names, too.
The Olsen twins had the best of everything in the 90s and early 2000s – the FLYEST of sunflower hats, the cutest bowl-cutted nonthreatening boyfriends, the most spacious well-decorated tween bedrooms – but their character names took the cake. Often several years ahead of the popular names ACTUALLY given to girls born in 1986, they were cutting edge (at the time), super cute (again, at the time), and exactly what you wished you were named as a 5th grader.
To Grandmother’s House We Go
The year: 1992
Before the Olsen twins were the girls everyone wanted to be – or before the twins got to influence character names themselves – their characters actually had some of the most common names for girls our age. Trust me, there were about 6 Sarahs in our graduating class. A lot of kids’ movies give the characters names that either are popular with way younger kids (a high schooler of today named Harper, e.g.) or that were popular when the writers were kids (a high schooler of today named Stacey). This early O.T. movie hit the nail on the 1986 head.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
The Year: 1993
Still a real mixed bag. Kelly wasn’t a NEW popular name in 1993. It was ranked 29 when the Olsens were born (’86), had fallen to 51 by 1993, and was in the top 100 since 1959. But thanks to Kelly Kapowski, it was still right in the cool-girl zeitgeist in the early 90s. Lynn, on the other hand – perfectly nice name, but it was actually ranked in the 400s in 1986 and 779 (!) in 1993. You’ll see some major changes when the O.T.s hit their tween years, so hang on to your hats.
How The West Was Fun
The Year: 1994
Ah, Jessica. Ranked either number 1 or 2 from 1981 to 1997. If you run into a woman from her early 20s to early 30s, and you can’t remember her name, try Jessica. It’s a good bet. (And a fine name! No shade to Jessica).
Then there’s Suzy. Probably a nickname for Susan, Suzanne, or Susannah, it was way more popular in the boomer era than among millennials. Safe to say we’re still looking at a case of writers using a name that was popular when THEY were children. (Definitely no shade to Suzy either! Susan and Susannah are two of my favorite girl names.) But keep those hands on those hats (usually a denim hat with a big fake flower on it, if I’m remembering my Olsen movies). A storm’s a-brewin’.
It Takes Two
The Year: 1995
Now we’re getting somewhere. This was the Olsens’ first big theatrical release, and to my nine-year-old ears these were some of the best names around. You have to remember, the long, flowy, ends-with-an-A names on the modern top 100 list were but a twinkle in future baby namers’ eyes back then. Amanda and Alyssa were like the Isabella, Sophia, or Olivia of the time. Sure, they might feel too common to me as an adult, but if I were a kid I’d think they were beautiful.
The Year: 1998
Friends. This, I argue, is when everything changed. First of all, this was the first direct-to-video movie of the tween Olsen era, with love interests and Limited Too-looking clothing and freaking butterfly clips. If you can find it, watch it. It’s like waking from a dream to find yourself in 1998, that’s how 1998 it is.
But you know what isn’t terribly 1998? The name Tess. It was ranked 572 that year, and 855 the year the Olsens were born. It hasn’t gotten any more popular since then, but add an -a and you have Tessa, a name that has absolutely flown up the charts. We’re looking at the beginning of cool, tween Olsens who had cool, tween names. Emily was the requisite familiar, standard name in the duo: number 1 in 1998, 24 in 1986.
Passport To Paris
The Year: 1999
Melanie was most popular in the 1970s but has mostly hovered around number 100 or so. (An aside, if you’re naming a kid: my name, Molly, is also usually right around number 100 and never got much more popular than that. It’s a great popularity level because everyone knows it, but you don’t actually meet that many people who share your name.)
Allyson, though, was part of that really cool (again AT THE TIME) 90s trend of using a Y instead of an I in names. Sure, it’s played-out now, but do you remember when people first discovered you could do that? For a few years there it felt like every girl was named Madyson or Megyn or Lyndsey. So there are three other Alisons, of various spellings, in her class? She’s the only ALLYSON-WITH-A-Y, and for a brief, shining moment in 1999, that was enough.
The Year: 1999
YES. There was this thing in the 90s where if a girl character was sort of sporty and tomboyish, but still cute and cool, her name was Sam. Sometimes her name might be Dani or Alex, but usually Sam. It’s as though even when she was in the womb her parents were like “welp, got ourselves a chill tomboy on our hands. Best give her a feminine name with a masculine nickname,” and Samantha was born. (Another no-shade disclaimer: I have a cousin Samantha-nicknamed-Sam, and I’ve always liked her name.)
Emma has been so entrenched in the top 10 list for so long that it’s easy to forget when it was the vintage-y interloper. It sneaked up the list through the 80s and 90s, a fresh alternative to the more common Emily, before landing in the top ten and eventually overtaking Emily.
Our Lips Are Sealed
The Year: 2000
We are now entering peak ‘baby names on teenagers’ -era Olsens. Were there Maddies and Abbys born in 86? Hell yes. I know a Madeline my age and I have a cousin named Abbey. But Abigail rose from the mid-100s in 1986 to the top 10 in 2001. When this movie came out it was sounding super-fresh, moreso than typical 86-er names like, ahem, Sarah and Julie (no offense, To Grandmother’s House We Go). The Mad- names, like Madeline, Madelyn and Madison, collectively skyrocketed throughout the 90s. If you were a 13-year-old girl in 2000, Maddie sounded SO MUCH COOLER than your name, which was probably Kimberly or Nicole.
The Year: 2001
Chloe and Riley would have made excellent names for characters born around 2001 – you know, like Riley from Girl Meets World. But Riley’s rank in 1986, when this character was ostensibly born, was 1342. 1342 is “what was your mother smoking while pregnant”-level weird – and I LIKE uncommon names. Chloe fared a bit better, but at 461, it was still “quirky on purpose” if you were born in the 80s. I submit that this is the point where, if they weren’t before, the Olsen Twins began picking their characters’ names. How do I know? Because if you asked me to name a baby in 2001, when I was 14, I probably would have said something like Chloe or Riley.
So Little Time
The Year: 2001
What can I say. The names so nice, they used them twice.
Holiday In The Sun
The Year: 2001
We already discussed Maddie, but let’s get into Madison. In 1983, Madison wasn’t even on the charts, meaning it was given to fewer than five girls in the entire country. In 1984, a few dozen babies had it. A few hundred in 1985. By 2001, it was ranked number 2. Just chalk it up to the timeless allure of Daryl Hannah, who played a mermaid named Madison in the 1984 film Splash. Madison was a joke. She said it was her name while looking at the street sign for Madison Avenue. Yet Daryl never really took off for girls – go figure.
The Alex- names (Alexandra, Alexandria, Alexis, Alexa) also soared throughout the 90s and reached their peak in the early 2000s. Like Sam, it was a popular character name for sassy tomboys during this time.
The Year: 2002
90s and 2000s trend: unisex/male names and surnames for girls. It’s still going strong, but it seemed a lot more novel in 2002. Back then, before we knew what a Kardashian was, Kylie felt like a modern, original alternative to Kayla and Kaylee. And before we knew what a Swift was, Taylor felt streamlined and cute, fitting on a studious girl or a bubbly athlete. What’s even more interesting than the rise of these names in the 90s is that both have fallen quite a bit lately. I bet if this movie were made in 2016, the cool tweens with unisex/surname names would be called Ainsley and Harper, or Hadley and Peyton.
When In Rome
The Year: 2002
I’ve been diplomatic about the names that aren’t my personal style so far, but Charli on a girl sets my teeth on edge, and not just because I have a nephew named Charley (my nieces and nephews all have names that sound like they’re from British children’s books from the 1910s, for which I’m very grateful to my siblings.) Charli is a fine as a nickname for Charlotte, but I can’t get behind it as a full name. But since the twins had already used Sam and Alex, what were they supposed to do? It had to be Charli. There was nowhere else to go.
Leila falls into one of the other big trends of the 2000s – the short, double L girl names. Leila, Layla, Lila, Lily, Lyla, Lola – no single one is huge, but as a group they are taking over. The dominant sound of the 80s, when the characters would have been born, is more of the three-syllable, ends in ee variety: Tiffany, Brittany, Stephanie, Kimberly, Mallory, Bethany, and so forth.
The Year: 2003
I’m not familiar with this one, but WHO COULD THE REBELLIOUS TOMBOY BE? (My money is on Shane. Especially because she was played by Mary-Kate. Always the rogue, that M.K.) Other than the boy name on a girl thing, it was actually pretty off-trend in 2003. Not only was Shane never popular for girls, the Sh…n… girl names were bigger in the 70s and 80s. Shana, Shayna, Shawna, Sheena, Shannon. I guess M.K. was really ~expressing herself here.
I assume Lizzie was the clean-cut, straight laced kid who was president of the homework club or whatever. Interesting only because the Olsens’ sister, arguably the most relevant Olsen in 2016, is named Elizabeth/Lizzie.
New York Minute
The Year: 2004
Do you remember how big this movie was supposed to be? The Olsens missed prom to host SNL during promotion! The posters were up forever – I should know, because I was a high school senior doing time at a movie theater concession stand. It didn’t take off like it was supposed to, but Mary-Kate and Ashley really came into their own, name-wise, with this one. The sister who wears concert tees and likes black: Roxy. Of course. It felt especially hip at the time because Roxy, the surfwear brand, was huge in middle America. Jane was just the kind of vintage name that was cool because nobody was using it – sort of like Hazel, if Hazel hadn’t gotten so popular. I hope it stays that way, because Jane is totally on my short list if I ever have a kid. What can I say, those Olsen twins really know how to name them.