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Monday, May 15, 2006

Tom Hanks is Naming America's Children

Of all the names on the just-released Popular Baby Names list for 2005, none has seen a more meteoric rise than "Madison." It has ranked in the top 1,000 names for girls only since 1985 (it was then 625), and yet has been in the top ten since 1997, and for two years (2001 and 2002) was ranked second behind perennial favorite "Emily."

Whence did this once-unusual given name derive its popularity? From Tom Hanks, of course.

Before he was dodging an albino monk to crack the Da Vinci Code, Hanks was courting a mermaid on the streets of New York in the 1984 film Splash. In need of a name that non-marine mammals could understand, Daryl Hannah's character spotted a sign that read "Madison Avenue" and chose the more feminine of the two words.

Thousands of movie-going parents decided to name their daughters for the mermaid who was named for a street, and thousands more have named their daughters for other people's daughters who were named for the mermaid who was named for a street.

Hanks seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to popularizing names. The name "Forrest" reached 217th in 1994 with the release of Forrest Gump—a rank it hadn't seen since 1929. The name gradually lost its cachet, though, and dropped out of the top 1,000 in 2004.

Hanks also appeared in 1989's Turner & Hooch, but his performance seems not to have inspired parents to choose either name for their newborns.

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