Modernizing Superhero Names - how Peter Parker's Spider-Man became Isaiah Parker & More

Modernizing Superhero Names – how Peter Parker’s Spider-Man became Isaiah Parker & More

Spider-Man celebrated his 50th anniversary on August 10th, 2012! If Spider-Man were to be created today, however, his name might just be Isaiah Parker and not Peter Parker. Huh? Let me explain…

Sitting on a plane flight from SFO to JFK, watching the new Spider-Man movie (Andrew Garfield did a nice job) I thought to myself, “Peter Parker? Who names their kid Peter anymore”, and this evolved to “how many Peters are there these days vs when the comic first came out”? Perhaps its the startup guy meeting the data geek in me, but if I were to launch this comic character today and wanted to get the same (desired degree of) “everyman” appeal, what name would I choose for their ordinary person identity?

Knowing from reading Freakonomics (or probably, really from naming two children of our own!) that there’s a lot of name data available on the Internet, I used the on-plane Wifi to look up the data on first names by year from the SSA.gov page and pulled up the secret identity names and comic book first appearance dates from Wikipedia.

Here are the heroes I chose to investigate and the “first appeared” year as best as I could get from Wikipedia (Hal Jordan was not the first Green Lantern, but is the most popular so I used the date when he first appeared as Green Lantern). I briefly thought of going back and saying “well when X first appeared he was 17 years old in the story, so he must have been named 17 years before etc. but of course the logic is more about what the comic book character creator chose to name him!):

[Note that Wolverine and Hulk have a different first name than the one commonly associated with their identity – I just went with Robert for Bruce Banner and then for Wolverine I ran the analysis both ways, as it turned out that was interesting because of the recent popularity of the name Logan.]

Next I looked at how many US births there were for each first name in the year they first appeared, and what the rank was for the name in that year as tracked by the SSA. So, in 1962 for example, there were 9.571 births of boys with the first name “Peter”, ranking it 43rd for that year for new boy names. Pretty popular name – a couple of others on the list were less so, namely Clark (Kent) and aforementioned Hal (Jordan). Using Logan for Wolverine was the least popular in the year of his appearance at 968 (SSA only reports top 1000, all of these original ones are popular enough for that).

Now the interesting part. Seeing what has happened to these names in terms of births/ranking since then. First by number of births and percentage change…

Only two of these names have become more popular since these heroes were released into the world – Clark (Kent – named after Clark Gable according to Superman creator Joe Shuster) with a 14% increase since 1932 and Logan (though not technically his first name – but how he’s referred to in the popular X-Men and Wolverine movies) with a stunning 17000+% increase since 1974. Looking at these in terms of rank, names like Hal and Barry are not in the top 1,000 at all, and while Clark increased slightly in number of births, it’s popularity by rank is far lower:

So finally now, I went and found the names that correspond to the rankings when these characters first appeared. For example, Peter fell down from 43 to 198. This is what the 2011 baby name table looks like for Peter now versus where I went to find the new version of “Peter” for 2011, which would be at position 43…

Hello Isaiah Parker! So without further ado, here are the other new everyday names for the heroes we chose to look at (in order of age):

Superman Clark Kent

Emilio Kent

Batman Bruce Wayne

Zachary Wayne

Flash Barry Allen

Chase Allen

Green Lantern Hal Jordan

Emerson Jordan

Hulk Robert Bruce Banner

Noah Bruce Banner

Spider-Man Peter Parker

Isaiah Parker

Iron Man Tony Stark

Angel Stark

Wolverine James Howlett

Noah Howlett

Wolverine “Logan” Howlett

Eliseo Howlett

It is interesting to think though, that especially as these comic book characters have become high-grossing blockbuster movies over the past 10 years, that these character names themselves may have an impact in changing the prevalence of these first names! Maybe that’s one for the Freakonomics guys to dig into…