A lot of parents are naming their babies Kylo after the new bad guy in 'Star Wars'

Apparently parents think the Dark Side looks super fun.

The name Kylo — as in the “Star Wars” villain Kylo Ren — is now one of the top 1,000 most popular names for boys in the United States, according to new data on baby names released Friday by the federal Social Security Administration.

There were a total of 238 Social Security card applicants named Kylo born in 2016, making it the 901st most popular boy’s name for the year. It’s by far the boy’s name that has grown the fastest in popularity since 2015, when the year’s highest-grossing movie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” introduced movie fans to Kylo Ren, who — spoiler alert — kills his dad with a lightsaber. Insert Freud joke here.

The most popular boy’s name in 2016, by contrast, was about as old and biblical as it gets: Noah.

Of 3,929,560 applications for Social Security cards for people born in 2016, a total of 19,015 — or nearly 1% of the boys — were for Noah, which has now occupied the top spot for four straight years.

Find your name: Top U.S. baby names in 2016 »

Rounding out the top five most popular boys names are Liam, William, Mason and James.

The big story for girls is in the four names that dropped the farthest in popularity in 2016: Caitlin, Caitlyn, Katelynn and Kaitlynn. All four variations dropped out of the top 1,000.

The shift corresponds with a landmark cultural event in 2015: the former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner coming out as a transgender woman.

Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and was the focus of widespread media coverage about transgender issues at a time when more and more lawmakers began battling over whether to restrict transgender people’s use of public bathrooms.

A Quinnipiac poll from June 2015 showed that swing-state voters had deeply mixed or uncertain feelings about their attitudes toward Jenner.

That kind of unease can put off parents who might be thinking about giving a similar name to their new child, according to Jennifer Moss, the founder of BabyNames.com, a website that provides assistance for parents trying to figure out how to name their kids.

“Baby names can be affected by pop culture, definitely. Other than family, pop culture has come out No. 2 for what influences baby naming,” said Moss, whose website has surveyed new parents about the struggles they face in naming children.

Moss recalled another example in the annals of baby-naming: the decline of “Monica” babies.

“The name Monica was on the rise in the ’90s because of the show ‘Friends’ when it first came out,” said Moss, referring to the character of Monica Geller, who was played by Courteney Cox.

The show, which premiered in 1994, would go on to become one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. In 1997, the name Monica had risen to become the 79th most popular name for baby girls

But in early 1998, news reports first identified White House intern Monica Lewinsky as having an affair with President Clinton. The name Monica turned into the punchline for a million raunchy jokes as a sensational scandal unfolded.

“It just dropped off the chart after that,” Moss said. In 2016, Monica was the 589th most popular baby girl’s name.

The most popular girls’ names in 2016 were Emma — No. 1 for the third year in a row — followed by Olivia, Ava, Sophia and Isabella. Emma and Olivia each accounted for about 1% of all baby girls.

“The old-fashioned — kind of what they call the grandma names — are still in for girls,” Moss said.

That could change quickly. “Jennifer was the top No. 1 name for a decade, and nowadays if you see something like Emily or Hannah or Emma, they might stay at the top No. 1 spot for two or three years, and then they start dropping off,” Moss said.

The Social Security Administration has data going back more than a century showing the names and dates of birth of people applying for cards.

But it wasn’t until 1997 that an actuary at the agency named Michael Shackleford began using the data to compile and publish lists of the most popular baby names.

The Southern California native had an ulterior motive. He thought there were too many Michaels.

"When I was growing up in Orange County, there was always two or three Michaels in every class," said Shackleford. "My whole life I’ve been surrounded by Michaels among people my own age. It makes you feel unoriginal, like one of many."

His wife was pregnant and he wanted his child to avoid the same fate.

“It was my goal to help parents avoid a popular name if that’s what they wanted to do,” said Shackleford, who now runs a gambling consultancy in Las Vegas and a website called Wizard of Odds.

Shackleford's plot to end the dominance of Michael may have worked. Between 1954 and 1998, it was the most popular boy's name for every single year except 1960. But soon after the list started being published, Michael dropped out of the top spot and never returned. It's now the eighth most popular name.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

@mattdpearce

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