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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

The Barbie movie and the influence of pop culture on baby names

Will Barbies and Kens be filling the graduating class of 2041?



It's only the biggest movie of the year. There's no doubt that both the financial figure and the main character's figure in Barbie are definitely in the pink. In fact, as of now, this fantasy comedy—based on the life of the blonde-and-bubbly Mattel doll—has earned more than $1.18 billion worldwide, and seems destined to become the highest-grossing domestic film of 2023.

So now, with Utahns flocking to the movies, the question is: Will the film's bubble-gum pink popularity trickle down from the box office and have a lasting influence on Utah's culture—say, for instance, what names they choose for their babies? 

In other words, what better indication of pop-culture significance circa 2023-2024 than pink nurseries with the newest occupants bearing the name Barbie? And how about baby-blue nurseries for all the little Kens? In the final analysis, will this megahit be Kenough to launch the names Barbie and Ken—names so popular in years past—into the modern-day stratosphere, or will they ultimately wind up beached?

The idea that popular culture has an impact on the names chosen by expectant parents is not as far-fetched as it might sound. After all, there have been many instances of American parents claiming the names of characters who dominated the TV and movie screens of their time, and snagging them for their children. In fact, for 14 years straight—from 1970 to 1984—the name Jennifer was hugely popular following Ali MacGraw's portrayal of the tough-yet tender heroine Jennifer Cavalleri in the smash hit movie Love Story. The first name Jennifer was so dominant year after year that a Utah Holiday journalist lamented the fact that soon there might no longer be girls, only "Jenniferpersons."

And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, many baby-naming experts point to the precipitous fall, and eventual demise, of the once-popular name Heather thanks to the 1988 cult movie classic Heathers, where a group of popular teens—all named Heather—were unceasingly snarky, mean and bullying.

So, keeping all of this in mind, will the names moviegoers come across this summer rise higher in popularity than Barbie's heels?

"When it comes to celebrity name trends, it's not about the fame. It's about the name," stresses Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard founder of

To underscore that, Wattenberg says that despite the enormous popularity of Madonna in the 1980s, there was absolutely no rush to name baby girls Madonna. "The name has to fit the sound of what parents are already looking for," she stresses. "Today it's all about style." In fact, Wattenberg points out that nowadays, even the name of the villain in a movie—like Kylo from the Star Wars franchise—will stimulate interest.

While Wattenberg concedes that some parents may be ready for the re-introduction of the name Barbie, it isn't likely they will choose that name for their daughters, since even in this day and age, they most likely know someone named Barbara, and that would impact their decision. And though Barbie co-star Ryan Gosling may lament it, even given the movie's megahit status, in the end Ken, Kenny or Kenneth are destined to be relegated to the "Just Ken" trash-bin heap, according to Wattenberg.

So, what are our neighbors saying? New mom and Cottonwood Heights resident Megan Adams saw the Barbie movie just days before delivering her baby. While she says she liked the film, she admits that she wasn't even remotely tempted to choose Barbie for her daughter's name. Adams says that after seeing her sweet baby's face for the first time on Aug. 11, the name Lily Abigail Adams still won out.

On the other hand, in just a scant few weeks from now, Salt Laker Laurel Coe is expecting her first daughter following the births of two sons. While Coe admits that she hasn't seen Barbie yet, she also says that she hasn't made a final name choice and that she is open to mulling things over.

"Isn't Barbie from Barbara?" she asks. "That's not a bad name. Hmm. My kids would be Bennett, Henry and Barbie. Maybe after I see the movie, I could decide."

So, there it is, and the saga apparently continues. After it's all said and done, it will be interesting to find out if the Utah class of 2041 will have a zillion graduates carrying the names Barbie and Ken, all thanks to the hero and heroine in the movie megahit of 2023.