Kylie, Jane, Riley, Shane: Let’s Discuss Olsen Twin Character Names

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

The names: Sarah and Julie

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

The names: Kelly and Lynn

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

The names: Jessica and Suzy

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

The names: Amanda and Alyssa

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.

Billboard Dad

The Year: 1998

The names: Tess and Emily

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

The names: Melanie and Allyson

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.

Switching Goals

The Year: 1999

The names: Sam and Emma

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

The Names: Maddie and Abby

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.

Winning London

The Year: 2001

The Names: Chloe and Riley

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

The Names: Riley and Chloe

What can I say. The names so nice, they used them twice.

Holiday In The Sun

The Year: 2001

The Names: Madison and Alex

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.

Getting There

The Year: 2002

The Names: Kylie and Taylor

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

The Names: Charli and Leila

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 Challenge

The Year: 2003

The Names: Shane and Lizzie

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

The Names: Roxanne (Roxy) and Jane

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.



Class of ’04: In Memoriam – Things That Existed in 2004 & Don’t Now

When you still feel young…ish, it’s easy to feel like high school graduation was just moments ago. But let’s face facts: a decade has passed, and we aren’t even living in the same world we were in in 2004. Queue up Wind Beneath My Wings and get ready to clap disrespectfully when you get excited about one of these – it’s time for our In Memorium.

Ecto Cooler

If you’re an ’04 grad, Ecto Cooler was probably a staple of your childhood. I can still taste it now – a thick, corn-syrupy, vaguely citrusy drink that was almost always room temperature, because I was usually drinking it from a Hi-C juice box that had been sitting in my coatroom for 4 hours. Now Ecto-Cooler really is but a slimy green ghost: it was renamed in 2001 and discontinued entirely in 2007.

I have a hunch that if I used organic ingredients, set myself up in a hipster enclave, and started making artisinal Ecto-Cooler, I could make a killing.

The WB

For us class of ’04 kids, The WB was our entertainment hub as soon as we became old enough for teen entertainment. From our middle school days watching Dawson’s Creek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Felicity, to our high school appreciation for Gilmore Girls and Smallville, this was essentially the TV network version of Teen People.

Teen People

… which also no longer exists. Although, when I read regular People, everyone is so damn young that I feel like it may as well be called Teen People, anyway. Get off my lawn, Ariana Grande.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley line at Wal-Mart

It was a big freaking deal when MK&A launched their “lifestyle line” at Wal-Mart, and it’s kind of hilarious now to realize that they were schilling maribu-lined bedside lamps for tweens while doing coke on the weekends. Now they are real-life designers, and although some MK&A items are still lingering on Wal-Mart shelves (according to the internet – sorry, I do not love you all enough to go to a bona fide Wal-Mart to find out), the full-fledged cosmetics/bedding/bath/clothing panoply is no longer.

Which sucks, because I can’t be the only ’04 girl who bought the best lip gloss of her LIFE from that brand.

Guys Who Were Born In The 1800s

RIP. Like, literally RIP. Ten years ago there were a pretty good number of folks alive who were born in the 1800s, but now the Lost Generation is… well, you know. The world’s oldest man just died (am I supposed to still call him that? Such a confusing honorific). Anyway, he was born in 1903. There are no more living World War I vets, either.  Shout-out to the five still-living women holding it down for the 19th Century ladies. I can’t help but hope that one of them is actually Samantha Parkington.

Samantha Parkington (And Molly, Felicity, And Kirsten)

Speaking of Samantha Parkington, everybody take your $30 doll-sized tea service and pour a little out for our homie. American Girl has discontinued those 90s girl status symbols Samantha, Molly, Felicity, and Kirsten. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to dress like them. (1, 2, 3)

The Bush Administration

It seems like we’ve spent a lifetime listening to Conservative pundits complain about the president. Those eight years when it was Liberals complaining seem like but a whisper of a memory.


Today’s high school grads will never know that thing where you download a song to find that it has been replaced with a loud, static-y buzz due to copyright issues. They will also never know what it’s like to have their parents’ desktop computer crash every six months because you just can’t stop downloading illegal John Mayer tunes. Sorry, mom and dad.

My workplace recently sent out an email warning us against using Napster on company computers, and I was like “that’s cool, I didn’t know we had time-travelers from the early 2000s working here.”

Your Childhood Pet, Probably

If you had a beloved dog or cat in your childhood, it may have lived to see your 2004 graduation, but Bootsie or Spot has probably crossed the rainbow bridge by now.

Shea Stadium

Am I the only Mets fan in the house?

Blockbuster Video

How many middle school and high school sleepovers started with arguing about whether to get Titanic or Clueless on a trip to that blue-and-yellow rental house? Now all kids have to do is scroll through Netflix.

The Ball Pit At Chuck E. Cheese’s

Chuck E. Cheese: where kids were set free in a complex network of large PVC pipes and a pool, deeper than we were tall, filled with plastic balls, and expected to survive. It’s no wonder today’s helicopter parents don’t allow this. But really, as with Discovery Zone (also RIP) what we were discovering was ourselves. And, inevitably, a used band-aid.


Psych! I assumed this no longer existed, but I Googled it, and it does. Good. Today’s teens should be part of the time-honored tradition of saturating your hair, basking in the sun, and finding that either nothing happened or your hair turned orange and you got a sunburn.

How Normcore Are You?

Normcore is the movement or trend or – thing, I guess? – rejecting hipsterishness and “opt[ing] into sameness” (thanks, Wikipedia!). Yeah. But what does that really MEAN? I read the NY Mag piece about it, but that didn’t help much.

  • Is it still hipsters liking things ironically, but now it’s ironic fleeces and sneakers instead of trilbys and mustaches? Mustaches HAVE been coopted by the Pinterest Industrial Complex, after all…
  • Is it because all of the cool 70s – 90s clothes have been cleared out of thrift stores, leaving Gap hoodies and Adidas windpants for the too-cool masses?
  • Is it a more realistic version of 90s nostalgia? It is basically the stuff that adults wore from 1996 – 1998. The style of Seinfeld, if you will.
  • Is it a non-sexist version of “Basic Bitch”?
  • Is it just regular people wearing normal clothes, turned into a “movement” because a journalist had an early Monday deadline for a trend piece?

I’ll be damned if I know. As we said about “ratchet,” normcore cannot be seen or heard, but must be felt with the heart (™ Helen Keller). Here’s the best Am I Normcore self-test I can come up with.

 Do you own khakis?


No: 0 points
Yes: Do you need them for work?

If yes: 1 point

If no: 2 points

Do you own a fleece?

No: 0 points

 Yes: Is it necessary for outdoor activities, e.g. hiking?

If Yes: Hiking? That’s pretty normcore. 2 points.

If No: Do you refer to your fleece as “my North Face” or possibly “the Columbia?”

If Yes: 1 point. You are possibly a college girl in a windy climate, or were in the near past.

If No: 2 points. Normie.

You are walking around the city all day. What is on your feet?

Heels: 0 points

Men’s Dress Shoes (I identify as a man): 1 point

Men’s Dress Shoes (I identify as a woman): 0 points

Women’s Flats (I identify as a woman): 1 point

Women’s Flats (I identify as a man): 0 points (strictly because I’m pretty sure the gender binary is normcore)

Canvas sneakers, converse, old-timey high tops, etc: 1 point

Sneakers (the cushiony kind, with ankle support) in color: 2 points

Sneakers (the cushiony kind, with ankle support) in black or white: 5 points (Are they Reeboks? Give yourself another point, Norm-an Bates!)

Betsy or Tacy?

Betsy: 0 points

Tacy: 1 point

… Huh?: You’re dead to me.

You know what? Tib, actually: 2 points

Pick an Olsen Sister:

Two Of A Kind: Definitely the Olsen’s normcore phase. Or was 1998 just the world’s normcore phase?

Mary-Kate: 2 points

Ashley: 3 points

Elizabeth: 0 points

Nellie: Zero points, but let’s hang out.

Pick a type of bagel



…. Are you doing it?



….Do you have it yet?


Any kind of bagel: 2 points. Bagels are so NORMCORE.

Donuts: Cute. That’s cute. You get 1 point. On one hand, donuts are more normcore than bagels. I guess. On the other, you lose normcore cred because a real normal person would have answered the question.

I don’t know: 0 points. Also you couldn’t come up with a SINGLE kind of bagel? You’ll never be normcore if you insist on being this weird!

You’re getting married! What would be a really good wedding song?

At Last: 1 point. You are basically more normal than normcore.

First Day Of My Life: 0 points. You are clearly normal, maybe trying to seem slightly less normal.

You Make My Dreams Come True: 3 points. What says “I like ordinary things?” better than carefully-selected Hall & Oates tunes?

You probably wouldn’t have heard of it: 0 points. You passed normcore and went straight to hipster. Congrats?

Let’s talk about your cake topper:

Traditional man/woman, man/man, or woman/woman cake topper: 2 points. Nobody has those anymore unless they are specifically trying to choose middle of the road-y things.

Lady dragging husband down the aisle, reeling in husband, chaining ball to his foot, etc: 0 points. Let’s all try to be better than this. But you probably aren’t normcore, just misguided.

Well, I saw this thing on Pinterest…: 1 point. You might be normcore, but you’re probably just normal.

Bangs Or No Bangs:

Bangs: 0 points

No Bangs: 1 point

Do you mean like on me, or just sort of generally?: I don’t know. Have a point.

You have a cat. Where did you get the cat?

From a shelter: 2 points

It was outside: 1 point

I knew someone getting rid of the cat: 3 points

A way that was super on-purpose (breeder, e.g.): 4 points. Anyone who tries to get a cat is almost putting effort into seeming normal. And isn’t that what normcore is all about?

Congrats, you have a baby! You got married and adopted a cat, what did you really think would be next? Name that baby! (It’s a girl):

Something like Emma or Sophia or Isabella: 0 points. Normal, not normcore.

Something like Louisa or Harriet or Jane: 3 points. You intentionally choose the standard over the non-standard — even when the “standard” may also be less popular.

Something like Dorothy or Edith or Mabel: 2 points. Picking an old-lady name says “hey, I’m being a bit different here!”, but picking one that everyone has heard says “… but let’s not go crazy, now.”

Something like Morningflower or Thessalonia: 1 point. The names aren’t normcore, but they’re so different that I could see you getting real into, you know, cultural movements.

Okay, add ’em up, everybody! Ready:

20 – 30 points: You’re not normcore. You’re just normal.

10 – 20 points: You might be normcore – there are some indications that you aren’t all the way normal. But you might just be a little bit normal, a little bit not. Consult a doctor you trust for further evaluation.

0- 10 points: You’re not normcore. But you might be a hipster. Maybe.