The soap opera “As The World Turns,” which began April 2, 1956, airs its final episode Sept. 17.
ATWT characters inspired baby names from the start. Penny Hughes, half of Penny and Jeff, one of the first soap opera “super couples,” was played by Rosemary Prinz, the highest paid daytime actress of the 1960s.
The name Penny, falling in use before 1956, suddenly began increasing again. Penny was among the top 100 names for girls from 1962 to 1966.
When a popular character has a popular baby name you can’t assume the character is the cause. Script writers often give new characters names “too young” for them.
I first noticed that in 1971, when ATWT introduced two sisters in their 30s named Jennifer and Kimberly. Those names, then among the top 10 for babies, were rare for real women the characters’ age.
A recent example on ATWT is Noah, introduced as a college freshman in 2007 when Noah was No. 14 on the baby name list. Eighteen years earlier, when the character was supposedly born, Noah ranked No. 220.
Characters born on a show also end up with names too young for them due to “soap opera rapid aging syndrome,” where kid characters suddenly grow from toddlers to teens so they can be involved in romance.
On ATWT, the character Luke was born in 1995, when his name ranked 82nd for newborns. Rapidly aged to be part of Luke and Noah, the first gay male super couple, he’s now at least 21. Luke ranked only No. 121 in 1989, when the character was “born.”
There’s also the feedback effect, when an already up-and-coming baby name has its rise accelerated by a character. A possible ATWT example is Lisa. The show’s Lisa, the prototype of a scheming soap opera vixen, was created in 1960 when her name was already No. 6. Lisa’s reign at No. 1 between 1962 and 1969 was probably helped by her popularity.
Another example is Sierra. In 1984, when 230 American girls were named Sierra, it was just starting to become fashionable for babies. ATWT’s character Sierra premiered in January 1985, and by the next January 1, 199 Sierras had been born.
ATWT’s most lasting name influence may be that of Luke’s parents, Lily and Holden. They’ve been one of daytime TV’s favorite couples since Holden was introduced in 1986. In spite of numerous marriages, divorces and extramarital affairs, they’re still somehow deeply in love.
Holden was an extremely rare name before ATWT. Fewer than five Holdens were born in the United States in 1967, the year the character was supposedly born, and only 16 in 1985. In 1986 there were 58, 107 in 1987, and 946 in 2009, ranking the name 333rd.
ATWT wasn’t the only influence on Lily, but it certainly hasn’t hurt. More than 8,000 Lilys were born in 2009. Within a few years there will undoubtedly be several real-life romances between Lilys and Holdens, something that wouldn’t have happened without the ATWT characters. It’s a fitting legacy for a television show that lasted for 54 years.