What Actually Happened To the Name Heather?
Classic or not?
Heather used to be a popular name. The name, which comes from the flowering plant, started popping up in kindergarten classrooms in the late 1960s. By 1975, it had become the third most popular name for baby girls, topped only by Jennifer and Amy. By 2012, though, the name had pretty much disappeared, sinking all the way to No. 708. In 2017, it was the 1,129th most popular name, given to only 219 girls born that year.
Quartz looked at all the names that were once among the top five choices for parents, but then fell out of the top 1,000 names. Among the eight names that met this criteria, Heather had the fastest descent. What the heck happened?
Laura Wattenberg, who runs the Baby Name Wizard website, told Quartz that Heather’s rise and fall was an example of a naming fad, that like pet rocks and Beanie Babies were wildly popular before fading away. Wattenberg things Heather hit its peak after a movie called Guns in the Heather aired on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color television show in 1969. After that, Wattenberg explains that “a whole generation of Heathers followed, at which point Heather became a ‘mom name’ and young parents pulled away.” That’s right, it became a dreaded “mom name” and new parents didn’t want to saddle their new little ones with one of those.
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Another researcher looked at the film Heathers as a reason for the name’s sudden fall in popularity. The film starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as students at a high school dominated by a powerful clique of three girls, all named Heather—and none of them were particularly nice. A data expert decided to look at the film’s impact on the popularity of the name Heather for the website Deadspin and was able to determine that while the movie did have an effect on the name’s decline (after all who would want to name their precious child after a mean teen?), it was already on its way out. It wouldn’t be the first time that pop culture had an impact on “Heather”. According to Deadspin, after Heather broke into the top 10 of baby names in 1972 it became slightly less popular after Heather Locklear showed up on Dynasty in 1981 playing Sammy Jo Carrington.
Now Quartz has decided to look into the Heather phenomenon. They looked at the names that were once in the top five names for girls and then fell so far out of popularity that they weren’t even in the top 1,000 popular baby names. Among the eight names that met this criteria, including Debra, Dorothy, and Betty, Heather had the fastest descent taking just 39 years to fall out of favor with new parents. By contrast, Dorothy took 71 years to slide and Joan took 61 years.
According to Quartz, if Heather is to make a comeback as a baby name, it will take a few generations. Names tend to fall in and out of popularity on a 100-year cycle and names that were popular in the 19th century, like Clara, are once again being heard on the roll calls of preschool classrooms.