Celebrity Names Blog


Jennifer Aniston: Juan Rico/Fame Pictures

Later this month Jennifer Aniston's new movie, The Bounty Hunter, hits the big screen.  Seeing her image on posters everywhere, we realized -- it's been six years since Friends, the show that made her, and her haircut, famous went off the air.  With memories of Central Perk in our mind, we thought now a good time to revisit the names of Friends, the hit sitcom that ran from 1994-2004 and followed the lives of six twenty-somethings living in New York City. 


Rachel has been a constant presence in the top 1000 names, hitting its peak on the popularity charts in the 1990s at spot #15.  Rachel's high ranking in the 1990s does not come as a surprise -- the name had been climbing upwards since the 1960s, ranking #16 in the 1980s.  Rachel's popularity has sagged recently, currently at #75.  The name Rachel got a lot of attention last year with the film Rachel Getting Married.  Plus two very popular TV hosts share the name Rachel -- Rachael Ray and Rachel Maddow. 


It surprised us to find out that Monica has also been in the top 1000 names since the 1880s.  In the 1940s Monica began climbing up, reaching its peak in the 1970s at spot #45.  Courteney Cox, the actress who played Monica, was born in 1964, so if we assume character and actress are around the same age, this naming choice is in keeping with the naming trends of the 1960s/1970s.  Since that heyday, Monica's rank has fallen to #317.


Namipedia's entry on Phoebe reveals that in poetry, Phoebe is the moon personified.  That seems an appropriate choice for this character who could seem otherworldly.  Phoebe's a wild graph to check out on the popularity chart.  From the 1880s to the 1950s Phoebe makes a steady decline in popularity, and then is gone from the scene from the 1960s to 1980s.  The 1990s brings the name back and it heads steadily upwards to its current position: #348.  Might the lovable and nutty Phoebe Buffay have played a role in this upswing?


At rank #584 Joey entered the scene in the 1940s.  Matt Le Blanc, the actor playing Joey, was born in 1967.  So again, assuming a similar character/actor birth date, Joey was a popular name at that time, reaching #221 in the 1970s.  By the time Friends hit the scene in the 1990s Joey was down to #430, and is currently at #574.  Could this character have ever been called Joseph?  Doesn't that somehow seem completely wrong after knowing him as Joey?


Chandler entered the chart at http://www.babynamewizard.com/ voyager#prefix=CHANDLER&ms=true&sw=m&exact=true" target="_blank">#792 in the 1980s, rising to #232 by the 1990s. So while the name was not particularly popular when the character was born, it was a new favorite when the sitcom was born, appealing to naming tastes of the 1990s/2000s.  2003 saw Chandler at rank #263, but since then http://www.babynamewizard.com/ voyager#prefix=CHANDLER&ms=true&sw=m&exact=true" target="_blank">the name's dipped down to #457.


Ross is another mainstay on the top 1000 charts.  #143 in the 1880s and #171 in the 1980s, Ross managed a high level of popularity over a hundred year span.  But Ross is now the closest the name has ever been to dipping off the popularity charts, currently ranked at #845.  Namipedia tells us Ross may have originated as a nickname for someone with a ruddy complexion or red hair.  Does David Schwimmer fit the bill?

And we've got to mention Emma, Ross and Rachel's daughter, born in 2002.  Monica gave Rachel permission to use the name Emma -- one she herself had wanted for a little baby girl.  Other names Rachel and Ross considered were Delilah, Ruth and Isabella.  Had they gone with one of those other options, might that name currently be the number one girl name in America?  Emma is currently the #1 name, and has been in the top 3 girl names since 2003.  This is not to say Emma's popularity came out of nowhere, as the name has been in the top 1000 as far back as the 1880s and was as high as #56 in the 1990s.

So, now that six years have passed, share what you make of these names.  Did the show's creators do well on the naming front?  Do you prefer a naming choice like Monica (popular when character born) or Chandler (popular when sitcom born)?  Perhaps having both strikes the right balance.  Also, how much do you think the Phoebe and Emma of Friends impacted the subsequent popularity upswing in the these two names?



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March 2, 2010 8:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I love the name Chandler and named my oldest daughter after my favorite character: Chandler! I wanted to name the rest of my 4 kids after Friends characters too, but my hubby would not go for it!

March 2, 2010 9:55 PM
By Michelle (not verified)

Although eternalized as simply Joey, Joey Tribbiani's formal name WAS Joseph, a name at #11 during the 70s and very much in keeping with his Italian-Catholic roots.

I think that the names on the show were accurate enoug...they were certainly more in keeping with the trends of the seventies when the characters were born than many other sitcoms (Grey's Anatomy, anyone?). Monica, Rachel and Joey fit perfectly, Chandler's pretty excusable for being more of a recently popular name considering that his parents were pretty affluent and his mother was a romance novelist. Ross isn't as well-fitting a choice but perfectly reasonable as the name peaked in the eighties but steadily declined afterwards.

Emma was going to popular, regardless of Ross and Rachel's Emma on the show. It rides off of the Em- sound of the then-#1 Emily and is similar to the "-ella" names that are rather prevalent on the charts (Ella, Isabella, Gabriella, etc.). All of the children's names (Ben, Emma, Jack and Erica) were in keeping with current trends, and I actually applaud the show for the accuracy in their naming upon considering it with this article. Thank you for giving me another reason to love "Friends"!

March 3, 2010 11:58 PM
By Elisabeth (not verified)

I agree with Michelle, I always liked that the show didn't use super trendy names for people that were MY age. I have peers that were Rachel and Monica. Not any Phoebe's but there're always those odd names who brought granola to school (lol). Joey and Ross were good solid names and Chandler was obviously the preppy kid and everyone thought, oh! what a good name and copied it when they grew up.

Grey's Anatomy was mentioned as a show whose character's names were anachronistic. I know name-lady has mentioned that happening in that white house tv drama with the lady president. Obviously I am a fan of comedy - so can we do Big Bang Theory Next? pleeeease?

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