You can watch the "Twilight" movies and read the books, but why stop there?
Thousands of Americans are giving their babies "Twilight"-related names.
Bella, the name of the love-struck heroine of Stephenie Meyer's vampire novels, hadn't quite cracked the Social Security Administration's list of the top 200 girls' names in America when the first "Twilight" book was published in 2005. Today, it's at No. 58, higher than Miley, Kingston or Maddox. Cullen, the last name of Bella's vampire beau, Edward, is in the top 500 boys' names for the first time in more than a century.
"This is actually a big deal in the baby name landscape," says Laura Wattenberg, creator of BabyNameWizard.com.
A total of 8,171 U.S. babies received key "Twilight"-related names (Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice or Emmett) in 2009, compared with 3,516 in 2005, Social Security data show.
"The interesting thing is, this follows perfectly in a tradition" of naming trends stemming from shows with supernatural themes and attractive young women, Wattenberg says. "The TV show 'Bewitched' had a huge effect. 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' — huge effect. Even the TV shows that didn't become such big cultural phenomena like 'Charmed' spawned hit baby names."
Yes, she did say "Charmed." The show's heroines include Piper, a good witch with great hair portrayed by Holly Marie Combs.
When the show debuted in 1998, Piper wasn't even in the top 1,000 girls' names in the U.S. The next year, it appeared at No. 700; now it's at No. 147.
"Piper is an interesting one because it really is an example of the phrase I always repeat, 'It's not the fame, it's the name,'" Wattenberg says.
It's difficult to pinpoint the precise degree of "Twilight's" influence on the more than 4 million baby names chosen annually in the U.S., in part because Meyer chose names for her characters that were either already high on the hot list (Jacob), rising (Bella, Alice, Jasper, Emmett) or related to those that were. Isabella was already a top-10 girls' name in 2005, and Bella was at No. 208 and rising at a nice clip.
Cullen was at No. 727 in 2005 and falling, but using last names as first names was already a powerful trend. Emmett, at No. 594 but rising in 2005, is now at No. 332.
"Most of those names were ready stylistically for the public — or rather the public was ready for them," Wattenberg says.
Still, there are exceptions:
"If you want (to find) the really hard-core "Twilight" fans who were really inspired by the book and not just the name, there were 17 baby girls last year named Renesme (pronounced Ruh-NEZ-may)," Wattenberg notes.
"That's not a name that you say, 'Oh, yeah, I've always liked that name.'"
The same might be said for Carlisle, a name chosen for precisely zero U.S. boys in 2005. In 2009, 12 male babies got the name.
The reasons Carlisle might not be as hot a name as, say, Cullen, are complex. But Cullen fits several modern naming trends, including the popularity of boys' names that end in "en" (Jayden, Aiden). Carlisle may sound feminine to an American ear and contains consonants unseparated by vowels (think Gertrude) — a definite negative for modern parents.
Some experts say there's a psychological incentive to give your kid a name associated with a major pop culture phenomenon.
"(Parents) find a book, they find a movie, they find something that they're enthralled with, that they're engaged in and love, and at the same time, they're going on their own new adventure (having a baby). So the two have a correlation" in their minds, says Lesley Bolton, author of "The Complete Book of Baby Names" (Sourcebooks, $12.95).
Wattenberg sees "Twilight" less as a touchstone for parents and more as a successful delivery system for some very stylish names.
"Name ideas have to come from somewhere, and when a name is presented to a million people at once, if it's a name that fits current styles and sounds good to parents, it becomes a hit," Wattenberg says.
That helps explain what happened in 1964, when a nice young witch named Samantha ( Elizabeth Montgomery) first twitched her nose on TV in "Bewitched."
Samantha, a name that didn't even appear on the top-1,000 list in 1963, shot up to No. 472. By 1972 it was at No. 137. Tabitha, the name of Samantha's daughter, did even better, coming out of nowhere to crack the top-300 list for girls' names by 1969.
Tabitha has since gone into decline, but Samantha proved a powerhouse. Today, it's the No. 15 girls' name in America, beating out Bella, Cullen, Jasper, Alice and Emmett — combined.
Magical names through the years
1964: "Betwitched" debuts
(Michael and Lisa are the top U.S. names)
424 babies are named Samantha
22 babies are named Tabitha (and no, she didn't appear as a character on "Bewitched" until 1966)
1972: "Bewitched" ends
(Michael and Jennifer are the top U.S. names)
2,225 babies are named Samantha
588 babies are named Tabitha
1998: "Charmed" debuts
(Michael and Emily are the top U.S. names)
397 babies are named Phoebe
159 babies are named Piper
2005: "Twilight" is published
(Jacob and Emily are the top U.S. names)
1,657 babies are named Bella
751 babies are named Alice
450 babies are named Jasper
380 babies are named Emmett
278 babies are named Cullen
2006: "Charmed" ends
(Jacob and Emily are the top U.S. names)
1,380 babies are named Piper
730 babies are named Phoebe
2009: The "Twilight" movie, "New Moon," is released
(Jacob and Isabella are the top U.S. names)
4,490 baby girls are named Bella
1,251 girls are named Alice
947 boys are named Emmett
928 boys are named Jasper
555 boys are named Cullen