Saturday, February 2, 2013


Barney Stinson (played by Neil Patrick Harris)
with one of his famous phrases from 'How I Met Your Mother'

Thanks to a number of famous (mainly fictional) Barneys, the name Barney has many faces. You could be forgiven for thinking that Barney must be a fairly popular name, or else why have so many popular characters carried the name. And famous characters usually lead to people using a name more, right? Well, as we all know, this is not necessarily the case.

Unlike many popular vintage names that have been making a resurgence in recent years, Barney is one that is in danger of becoming extinct. Well, that might be a bit overly dramatic, but I thought I'd look at some famous Barneys and what Barney was doing at the time on the American charts.

In 1880 Barney was happily sitting at #249 in America, and was slowly rising. By 1959, Barney had slipped in popularity to position #508.

In 1960 two popular (and funny) Barney figures appeared on our TVs - Barney Rubble in 'The Flintstones' and  Bernard "Barney" Fife on 'The Andy Griffiths Show'. Both were comedy figures, and both their shows and their characters were beloved. However, they didn't do much to bolster the popularity of Barney. 'The Flintstones' ended in 1966, and Barney Fife left 'The Andy Griffiths Show' in 1965, to only make  guest appearances on the show from then on. And by 1967, Barney had fallen even further to #743

'The Simpsons' stole the crown as the "most financially successful network animated franchise" from 'The Flintstones'. It started in 1989, and had a Barney of it's own, Homer's friend and the town drunk, Barney Gumble. Show creator Matt Groening has said that he was inspired in part by Barney Rubble, and that "Barney was taking the standard sitcom sidekick and just making him as pathetic as possible". Although Barney sobered up for several seasons, he is not exactly an inspirational figure. 'The Simpsons' is still on air, but in it's first year the name Barney plummeted from the not so lofty #1594 in 1988 to #2694 in 1989.

And then of course there was Barney the Purple Dinosaur, from popular childrens show 'Barney and Friends'. Yes, it made Barney friendly and approachable again, but people weren't keen on their child being associated with a purple dinosaur. The show started in 1992, and in 1992 Barney again dropped, this time from #2476 to #2751.

But if you can get past these Barney's, perhaps Barney Stinson of 'How I Met Your Mother' could eventually turn things around. Barney is played by Neil Patrick Harris, much beloved from his 'Doogie Howser, MD' days. The Barney he portrays is sharply dressed, smart, funny and charming. He may be a bit of a womaniser, but he has often showed a more tender side on the show, especially now that he is settling into a real, committed relationship. He's coined the catch phrases "suit up!" and "it'll be legen -wait for it! - dary" just to name a couple. This all helps to make Barney cool again, but not cool enough yet. In 2011 Barney didn't even appear on the US charts.

These of course aren't the only well known Barney's, but they are the examples that immediately spring to people's lips if you should ask "I'm thinking about naming my son Barney, what do you think?" on any baby name forums.

Barney started out as a pet name for other names such as Barnabas, Barnaby, Bernard and Barnett. Which means that if you are open to the idea of Barney but still a little unsure if this will leave your child open to teasing, you have plenty of options for a formal longer form. Each comes with a different meaning. Barnabas and Barnaby come from Greek/Aramaic and mean 'son of consolation', Barnett is Old English meaning 'burned clearing', and Bernard is an Old French/Old German name meaning 'strong, brave bear'. I have to say, for sound I prefer Barnaby or Barnett, but for meaning I love Bernard.

Barney fares better in England and Wales, but is not exactly a hugely popular name at #536 on their charts in 2010. And here in Australia barney is slang for a fight, so it's not exactly a charming association. But if we look at his good points, a Barney can be lovable, trustworthy, funny, loyal, friendly and fun.

I think there's still life left for Barney yet. Maybe not now, but maybe in years to come when Barney Fife is a distant memory, 'The Flintstones' wasn't a big part of everyone's childhood viewing, that purple dinosaur is long gone, and repeats of 'How I Met your Mother' are considered to be classics. I guess Barney may just have to wait for the next wave of vintage revival names.


  1. Barnaby and Barnett! Love! Except for Barney Stinson, all of those Barney characters were lovable but... a bit stupid. Not a good association. But HIMYM might turn things around for the next generation of parents.

  2. I love Barnaby and Barney - he seems like a brother to Monty and Gus. Mind you, everyone I mention the name to says, "Like Barnaby Joyce"? Not that cool ...

    1. Good point - Barnaby Joyce is a good reason to go with Barnabus or Barnett instead :)

  3. I was christened Barnaby but soon found it to be a name to be made fun of so took on Barnes which some people had began calling me. This was a kind of lesser of two evils for me and I later found that when introducing myself people found it hard to understand or hear "Barnes". Plus it doesn't sound right with my surname. I now only go by Barney, and only people who knew me before I was 19 still call me Barnes. I much prefer this though for sure the name has not been helped by the associations with purple dinosaurs and other chummy but dim characters. I have thought of changing my name altogether but keeping Barney or some variant (not Barnaby) as a middle name. Thank god for Barney Stinson though! Maybe one more cool character named Barney and the scales would be tipped away from dinosaur associations. I would love to see "Barney" get the resurgence it deserves. Suit Up!

  4. My first name is Barnett, same as for my father and his father. My grandfather went by the name Barney, so my father went by his middle name, so when I was born I got Barney. I "own" it, but it can be a problem. I was born in early 60s so I got everyone of the Barney's that came after, Barney Rubble, Fife, Gumbel and, yes, the odius purple dino. Plus, already floating around was Barney Google. I was often called "Google" or "Fife" growing up. You live with it. When the dino came out, parents would introdue their young kids to me as "This is Barney, but he's not purple like the dinosaueros he". I wanted to punch'em in the face. Also, as a grown up businessmen, you never get really made fun of for the name Barney, but it doesn't help. And, girls, let me ask you a questins. There are two guys standing in front of you...they are identical in every way...clones of each other, and really good looking and successful. One is named Barney and the other is named Mike. Which one you picking? Thought so. Oh, yeah, Barney Miller was kind of a good character named Barney, but he's not remembered much. Maybe Barney Stinson will help me out from hereon. I'd like to be a bit more like him. The character, not the real person:). Lastly, for some reason, no one can beleive taht your name is Barney. You introduce yourself and they will say back "Marmey" (is that even a name?), Barry, etc. So when I go order food at one of thos plaaces where they call your name when your order is ready, I tell them "Tom".