The cultural impact of “Friends” has manifested in hairstyles, parodies, pop-ups, and more. Another testament to the show’s influence is baby names.
In honor of the “Friends” reunion premiere, we took a look at the Social Security Administration’s baby naming data for the years the show was on the air (1994-2004) and afterward to see how the names of “Friends” characters fared.
“Friends” premiered on Sept. 22, 1994. That same year, Ross was No. 311 on the SSA’s popularity list for boys, a continuation of a general downward pattern that began in the ’80s.
But the following two years, it seems the name took a break from its overall drop in popularity. In 1995, it rose to No. 268, and in 1996, it was No. 271. But in 1997, Ross dropped back to No. 331 and moved down every year until it fell off the Top 1000 list after 2012. So it seems the possible “Friends” bump was short-lived.
Rachel inspired a hairstyle moniker and may have also influenced the classic name’s popularity among American parents. Either that, or the name Rachel coincidentally hit its all-time peak as the ninth most popular name for girls in 1996 ― two years into the show’s run.
The year 1996 was Rachel’s only foray into the Top 10, however. The following year, it ranked No. 13 and mostly declined from year to year after that. In 2020, Rachel was ranked No. 227.
Perhaps the most popular baby name that appears on “Friends” is Emma. In the episode “The One Where Rachel Has a Baby, Part Two,” Monica reveals that she wants to give her future daughter the name, but ultimately lets Rachel use it after seeing her reaction to it.
The episode aired in May 2002, and while we can’t say definitively how much it affected parents’ choices, it more than likely boosted Emma’s appeal. In 2001, the name ranked No. 13 on the SSA’s popularity list, but in 2002 it jumped up to the fourth most popular name for girls. In 2003, Emma was No. 2, and it’s been in the top three every year since.
Chandler seemingly got a huge boost in popularity after “Friends” debuted. In 1994, it was No. 348 for boys, up 10 spots from the previous year and 61 spots higher than it was the year before that. But in 1995, it jumped a staggering 171 places to No. 177, suggesting the fictional funnyman Chandler Bing may have accelerated the name’s rise.
The name ultimately peaked at No. 151 in 1999 and most recently ranked No. 569 last year. Chandler rose and fell slightly as a name for girls over the course of the show until it fell off the Top 1000 list after 2002. In 2020, however, it was the 977th most popular name for newborn girls in the U.S.
The name Monica peaked in popularity in the ’70s and followed a general pattern of decline after that. However, it saw a couple of tiny bumps during “Friends” ― from No. 88 in 1994 to No. 87 in 1995, No. 82 in 1996 and No. 79 in 1997.
But in 1998 and 1999, the name dropped back down to 105 and then 151. It’s hard to attribute that to “Friends,” though ― the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light in 1998, which put the name in a flurry of negative news headlines.
The “Friends” effect seems likely with the name Phoebe. Phoebe rose sharply from 1994 to 1995 ― in fact, it jumped 239 spots from No. 819 to No. 580.
From 1998 to 1999, it bumped up again from No. 605 to No. 494, perhaps due to the premiere of “Charmed,” which also featured a Phoebe character. These days, it’s still climbing the charts, most recently hitting No. 256 in 2020.
Joseph, aka Joey, Tribbiani had a classic name, so it’s difficult to attribute its popularity to a TV show. Joseph was the 11th most popular name for baby boys in 1994, and after a steady climb, it reached No. 6 in 2003 for the first time since the early 20th century. The name has since fallen a bit, hitting No. 26 in 2020.
Meanwhile, the name Joey as a full name instead of a nickname has also declined since the 1990s. In 1994, it ranked No. 411, but last year, Joey was down to No. 895.
As with Joey/Joseph, the name of Ross Geller’s son Ben is a classic that doesn’t reflect any discernible “Friends” influence. In 2020, Benjamin was the 7th most popular name for boys and Ben was No. 770.
The same seems likely with Chandler and Monica’s son Jack ― although the name rose from No. 42 in 2004 to No. 34 in 2005 after the show ended. The characters’ daughter Erica’s name actually declined in popularity.