'Nepo Babies' Explained: What They Are, and Why Everyone's Talking About Them

A new generation is discovering an old truth: Kids of celebrities have an easier path to fame than nobodies.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
4 min read
Maya Hawke looks into the camera with tousled blond hair and a button-down shirt

Maya Hawke, who appeared in Stranger Things, has two very famous Hollywood stars for parents -- Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for ABA

There's a term flying around the internet right now: "nepo babies." Don't know what it means? Well, it's not a compliment. Here's what it means and why it's showing up everywhere. 

What's a 'nepo baby'?

"Nepo" stands for "nepotism," the practice of advancing in the world because of who you're related to, especially when it comes to jobs. And while it's possible to tag someone in any industry as a "nepo baby," the ones who generally make headlines are those in the entertainment industry. 

Might they also be talented in their own right? Of course. But were they given special attention, auditions and more because at least one parent is a household name? You can probably count on it.

History of the term

New York magazine published a cover story about nepo babies on Monday, Dec. 19 that's been widely shared and discussed, but the magazine didn't invent the term. TikTok creators and others were already throwing the phrase around. It's hardly a new concept -- Hollywood is full of multi-generational acting families, dating back to the Barrymores.

One TikTok video calls teen model Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of actor Johnny Depp and actress/singer/model Vanessa Paradis, "a delusional nepo baby." One commenter wrote beneath the video, "I loooove her but if her mother wasn't Vanessa and her father wasn't Johnny she would've never walked for Chanel all the time. She's like 5'6". Please." Lily-Rose Depp is set to star in an upcoming HBO Max series, The Idol, playing an aspiring pop idol.

Famous nepo babies

There are way too many to mention, but here are a few big names. Remember, nepo babies don't always lack talent, but there's no doubt their membership in the Lucky Sperm club eased their way into a highly competitive field. 

Maya Hawke plays Robin in Stranger Things. She's the daughter of actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. "I feel like the only way to handle the nepotism thing -- which definitely gives you massive advantages in this life -- is, you will get chances for free, but the chances will not be infinite," she told Rolling Stone.

Hawke wasn't the only nepo baby on Stranger Things. Grace Van Dien, who played cheerleader Chrissy, is the daughter of actor Casper Van Dien and the great-granddaughter of actor Robert Mitchum.

Actress Zoë Kravitz (X-Men: First Class, Big Little Lies, The Batman) is the daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet.

Maude Apatow, who stars in Euphoria, is the daughter of director Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann. She has to be on this list because she was mentioned in a February 2022 tweet that New York Magazine credits with starting the whole "nepotism baby" trend.

Lena Dunham, who created and starred in the show Girls, was a different sort of nepo baby. Her parents, artist-photographer Laurie Simmons and painter Carroll Dunham, weren't Hollywood-famous, but they were New York-art-world famous. Still, her parentage came up in many articles about Dunham's success.

The Boys star Jack Quaid is the son of actors Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.

Today Show host Jenna Bush Hager is the daughter of former president George W. Bush and Laura Bush.

Actor John David Washington, who starred in Tenet, is the son of Denzel Washington. He also briefly played professional football.

O'Shea Jackson Jr., an actor and rapper, is the son of rapper Ice Cube. He tweeted a response to the New York "nepo baby" article, saying his dad's fame gave him the opportunity, but saying, "Once the door was opened it was up to me to walk through it and thrive."

And don't even get started on the sons of NFL coaches, many of whom work right beside their dad on the same sidelines.

Reaction to the label

As you'd expect, many of those with famous parents dislike the idea that they might not have made it on their own.

"Maybe you get your foot in the door, but you still just have your foot in the door," Lily-Rose Depp told Elle. "There's a lot of work that comes after that."

Depp also thinks that there may be sexism involved in the term. "I just hear it a lot more about women, and I don't think that it's a coincidence," she told the magazine.

But Bold and the Beautiful actress Maile Masako Brady, daughter of comedian Wayne Brady, told The Washington Post that she finds the "nepo baby" term accurate. 

"So I'm not going to be like, 'Don't make fun of me for the truth, that's mean!'" Brady said. "It doesn't make me feel bad — it's just funny to me."

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