Winona Ryder plays Joyce Byers on "Stranger Things."
The Netflix show “Stranger Things” helped put Winona Ryder back in the Hollywood spotlight, and it turns out it might have done the same for the popularity of her first name.
The Social Security Administration’s latest data reveals that Winona is one of the fastest-rising baby names in the U.S.
“The 1980s could’ve been the moment for Winona,” said Abby Sandel, creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain. “Winona Ryder starred in hits like ‘Heathers’ and ‘Beetlejuice’ and Wynonna Judd became a country music star. While both spellings rose modestly in use way back then, it took 40 years for Winona to truly catch on. Ryder’s role as devoted mom Joyce Byers in ‘Stranger Things’ tracks closely with the name’s rise.”
She noted that “Stranger Things” debuted on Netflix in 2016, and there was an immediate uptick in the number of newborn girls named Winona in the U.S., from 37 in 2015 to 77 in 2017. The name continued to rise until it reentered the top-1,000 list in 2022, rising from No. 1,298 to No. 980.
“I compared Winona’s popularity jumps to Google trends data for searches for ‘Winona Ryder,’” said Nameberry editor-in-chief Sophie Kihm. “The biggest jumps by number of babies given the name ― from 2018 to 2019 and 2021 to 2022 ― both correlate with peaks in ‘Winona Ryder’ searches. That’s pretty convincing!”
(Interestingly, her character’s name Joyce also got a big boost in 2016 but has since dropped back down the popularity list.)
Even without “Stranger Things,” however, the rise of Winona might have been inevitable.
“Winona’s comeback is right on schedule,” Kihm said. “In the baby name world, we have what’s called the ‘100 Year Rule’ — a theory that states that vintage names come back into style about 100 years after their last major peak.”
Winona peaked in popularity at No. 407 in 1924 and 1931 and fell off the top-1,000 list after 1957, only to return just last year.
“Parents are seeking names that not only have a timeless charm but also offer a plethora of stylish nickname choices,” said baby name consultant Taylor Humphrey. “Among the current favorites for girls is ‘Winnie,’ prompting parents to think creatively and explore longer names that can be shortened to this endearing diminutive.”
She explained that Winona is one such option, along with other choices like Winifred, Winter, Gwyneth, Gwendolyn, Wynn, Wynette, Quinn, Quincy, Edwina, Elowyn and Rowyn.
“Winona has more than one cute nickname option,” Humphrey added. “It could also be shortened to ‘Nona,’ ‘Ona’ or even ‘Oona.’”
She believes Winona exudes a “lacy, willowy” allure that feels simultaneously familiar and refreshingly unique. And its celebrity connection with Ryder and Judd places it into two subgenres that she identifies as “Prairie Home Companion” names and “Hot Girl of the ’90s” names.
“The latter category includes actresses, supermodels and fictional characters who dominated pop culture during the sumptuous ’90s era,” Humphrey said. “Winona holds her own in the realm of other Southern-belle-inspired names like Savannah, Magnolia, Scarlett, Loretta, Georgia, Clementine, Delilah or Cheyenne. The stylish hard-O sound has a very chic, modern vibe that similarly resonates with other trendy ’90s revival names like Zoë, Sloane, Logan, Jolie, Khloe/Chloe, Reese, Gwyneth, Paige, Alana, Dawson, Autumn, Summer, April, Taylor, Tatum or Brooke.”
In the case of Ryder, there’s also a geographic element. The actor was named after her home city of Winona, Minnesota ― the seat of Winona County.
“Winona is a place name dotting the map across the U.S., putting it in the same category as Savannah and Brooklyn,” Sandel explained. “In most cases, the place names come from a Native American folk tale. From Pennsylvania to Arizona, it’s said that a heartbroken maiden leapt to her death rather than live without her true love. Winona wasn’t her given name ― it was a title reserved for a first-born daughter.”
“Everyone loves a redemption story, so I think Winona is appealing to all generations now,” she said.
There’s another pop culture element potentially behind the name’s rise as well.
“It’s worth noting that the name Wynonna, too, is at an all-time high,” Sandel said. “Besides the singer’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022, the name was also boosted by supernatural Western ‘Wynonna Earp.’”
Is this just a temporary blip or will Winona and Wynonna continue soaring up the baby name charts? Only time will tell, but Humphrey is optimistic.
“I anticipate Winona gracefully ascending the popularity charts and captivating the hearts of an increasing number of parents in the years to come,” she said. “Winona’s timeless charm, versatile nickname options, and association with iconic figures will undoubtedly make it a cherished choice for many families seeking a name that exudes both elegance and modern appeal.”