Baby names, round ten
July 20, 2019 9:25 PM   Subscribe

"What's in a name? An analysis of American baby naming trends from 1918 to 2018", by Jay Lewis, is a series of interactive info-graphics on everything:

  • Name diversity over time
  • how gender-flexible names have been assigned over time
  • A charting tool compares up to four names at a time, and shows any decade's "trendy" and "popular" names in the long run. (Or chart every name that begins with "Th" if you like, using a regular expression: ^Th\w+$ )
  • The page begins with a detailed explanation of historical data limitations.
We've seen this data set used before, but never quite like this. There will be display lags at times, especially with the feature-rich chart toward the bottom, considering the size of the data set involved. I had fun charting the variations of my name over a hundred-year period.
posted by sylvanshine (46 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had found where the SSA keeps the good data about a year ago, and it is fun to fiddle around with. And this tool looks like a pretty good interface to that, especially compared to the SSA's own web tool, which only gives the top thousand names per year.

Of course, even with the expanded data you have the 5 per name per year limit, which my Mom's name runs up against. Her name shows up exactly once in the database, 58 years after she was actually born.
posted by ckape at 9:55 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Very interesting, but the site isn't working very well on my mobile. Text runs behind images even at the farthest zoom out, and sliders won't respond at all.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:00 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see gender-flexible names with a big directional change: Leslie flipped from M to F in the 1950s, Taylor and Harley went decisively F in the 90s, and Jamie made a big jump to F in the 70s and has been drifting back ever since.
posted by migurski at 11:12 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was named after my great grandfather who was born well before 1918. How does that figure in?
posted by philip-random at 11:14 PM on July 20, 2019


Baby Shaqs

do dooo do doot do doo...
posted by pykrete jungle at 5:04 AM on July 21, 2019 [28 favorites]


But also, thinking about the directionality of the gender flexible names, I wonder if it's often due to parents not wanting to give a boy a "girl's name," because "he'd be teased," as opposed to a girl with a "boy's name," which is kinda chic.

And also also: wondering about the sudden drop in Pats in the late 70s (the SNL sketch didn't air until 1990; did people suddenly start going with a full "Patrick/Patricia"?)
posted by pykrete jungle at 5:24 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


My name peaked around 1925 and has dropped off to close to zero since then. There's another person with the same name in my office now and it's the first time in my professional career that's happened.
posted by octothorpe at 5:51 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


And also also: wondering about the sudden drop in Pats in the late 70s (the SNL sketch didn't air until 1990; did people suddenly start going with a full "Patrick/Patricia"?)

It might have taken a hit due to Watergate - Richard Nixon's wife was Pat (her birth name was actually Thelma, but no one ever called her that), and his daughter was Tricia. Maybe the consequent scandal and unpopularity spilled over to the names Patricia and Patrick? The name Richard has not been very popular either, though its decline started in the 1960's.

It could also be a function of what is considered a "grandma or grandpa" name. For instance, Karen and Lisa were so in when I was in school, they had to be distinguished by last initials or middle names. Now these are becoming old lady names, and, in the case of Karen, memes. Fifty years from now, it will be Olivia and Sophia who demand to see the manager, and Old Economy Jacob and Mason will give their grandchildren lectures on gumption.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:23 AM on July 21, 2019 [12 favorites]


My first guess for the sudden shift from Harley being a boy's name to a girl's name was that it was because of Harley Quinn, but looking at the graph it actually starts a little before that. Instead, it lines up pretty well with the introduction of Harley Cooper to Guiding Light.

I also see that Avery switching from a boy's name to a girl's name was briefly delayed and reversed around 1993, when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with Avery Brooks premiered.
posted by ckape at 6:27 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


... and Jamie made a big jump to F in the 70s and has been drifting back ever since.

Yeah, why did Jaime become suddenly popular as a girl's name in 1975 or so? The only thing I could think of was Jamie Lee Curtis, and her early fame was both a bit too niche and a bit too late to account for it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:30 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


This has me wondering what is behind the changes in name diversity - rising from 1940 and then peaking in 2007 when the iphone came out.
posted by Lanark at 6:30 AM on July 21, 2019


I have a name that's highly unusual in the US (single digits for my birth year and never cracks 15). It's a pain. Every introductory conversation I have hits the same beats, with the same jokes by people who think they're really clever and the same questions from everyone else. When we had our son I was adamant that he have a name that may be not exactly super common but at least be a name that would allow him to be somewhat anonymous if he wants. The wrinkle is that it's gender ambiguous (thanks Popular TV Show I Never Watched Or Considered When We Picked The Name) and my son has turned out to favor long hair and that combined with his name means that everyone he meets misgenders him endlessly (and occasionally flat out refuse to believe him when he says he's a boy--people are so weird). The graph indicated that it's one of the few gender neutral names that didn't go down in popularity for one gender as it rose in the other, which is interesting to me.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:35 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sue, as a boy's name, peaked in 1947, and had a secondary peak in 1958. It was already well on the decline when A Boy Named Sue came out in 1969.
posted by ckape at 6:44 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


Great data set. I've been messing around with it too. If you're into baby names I also highly recommend anything by Laura Wattenberg, e.g. her blog Namerology. But be warned, if you post interesting tidbits from this on social media your friends are gonna think you're pregnant.
posted by escabeche at 6:46 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah, why did Jaime become suddenly popular as a girl's name in 1975 or so?

Jamie Sommers?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:14 AM on July 21, 2019 [12 favorites]


Yeah, why did Jaime become suddenly popular as a girl's name in 1975 or so? The only thing I could think of was Jamie Lee Curtis, and her early fame was both a bit too niche and a bit too late to account for it.

I wonder if The Bionic Woman (started in 1976) was an influence?

I was given my name for the sole reason that it was the first name my parents thought of that rhymed with my sister's more unusual name. Mom is a twin, so when she had two girls close together I guess the "twinstincts" kicked in.

But it turned out that my name was ridiculously popular in my age group. There were never fewer than two girls with that name in any of my classes, from Kindergarten to university. There was a popular child actress on TV with the same name, so I've always wondered if that was part of the reason.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:23 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


My name's first reported 5 baby blip is in 1978. The next data point is from 1983; 9 babies this time. Just a few years later the numbers jump sharply upwards, and I am one of the 58 babies sharing a name and a birth year*. The number steadily rises to 150 babies a year in 1991, then rises again to plateau for another 10 years at around 500 babies each year carrying this name out into the world.

I was named after a road, but I suspect that many of my early cohort's parents were inspired by the name of a rising star in television news. I don't know what the blip in 1991 was, but suspect it's connected with a television show about a character from American literature. It seems that's when the name moved prominently towards the male gender.

From 1993 to 2003 the numbers stayed around 500 kids per year. As I was starting college, the number suddenly began to shoot up. It jumped to 1,100 in 2005 and rose steadily to peak at around 5,500 in 2015. Looks like its starting to slide again.

That sharp 10 year rise was noticeable; I began to hear my name called out to children, and people were more familiar with the name when I introduced myself.

I attribute this jump to a character on a television show as well.
posted by soy bean at 8:09 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


My first name (its origins are literary) peaked in popularity in 1995, yes, due to a TV show, but even then it was only for a few thousand people. I was born in 1969. ~200 babies were also given my name in '69.

Before the 1960s, maybe 4 or 5 dozen babies a year got it, and it's going back to those levels again. In school, I was the only one in my class with my name, surrounded by Jennifers and Heathers (so very Gen X).

When I Google my full name, most people with it are under 30. I personally don't show up on Google in a general search, though I've only checked up to 20 pages. Perhaps I show up on page 45. You have to know specific things about me and put those in the search for me to show up on the first page.

I've been pleasantly surprised to see my name as part of the title of a book by a YA author I like (a novel for adults that would make a good limited TV series), and when a musician I like used my name in one of his songs.

I've actually yet to meet anyone else who shares my first name.
posted by droplet at 8:32 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


As others have said, this is a fun data set to have access to. I, too, played around with it many years ago. I made some charts that draw the path of name popularity for female vs. male children over the years. Unlike the charts in the article, I was trying to see both relative and absolute popularity for each reported gender at the same time (with harder-to-read results, unsurprisingly). For example, in this comparison, you can see that Jaime's popularity was surprisingly consistent as a boy's name, even as its popularity fluctuated as a girl's name.
posted by Lirp at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


"This has me wondering what is behind the changes in name diversity - rising from 1940 and then peaking in 2007 when the iphone came out."

Big increases in the diversity of immigrant origins in the United States (many more languages contributing a much larger variety of names, and less insistence on children of immigrants having Anglicized names) + decreasing influence of Christianity on naming. (For example, you don't meet that many Catholic families anymore where ALL the daughters are named Mary -- Mary Catherine, Mary Margaret, Mary Therese, etc.)

I was doing a history project for my local Junior League, and one thing that amused me was when I was going through old directories, in 1940 fully 20% of the husbands of Junior League members were named "John." In 2010, there was one "John" total among all the husbands (and wives).

Personally I think people worry too much about how popular names are (and there are sooooo many news stories about it!). You can't beat the zeitgeist -- what sounds unusual and charming to you sounds unusual and charming to 40,000 other new parents because they're all marinating in the same culture, so you reach for something unusual and that's ranked down around #600 so your daughter won't be like you and have four other Jennifers in her kindergarten class, and when the SSA name lists come out at the end of the year, you discover your attempt to name your daughter something unusual actually leapt from #627 in 2015 to #4 in 2016 as every other parent in the country did the same thing.

So I say damn the zeitgeist and name your child something that's beautiful and meaningful to you and don't worry about how many other kids are being named that!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


"This has me wondering what is behind the changes in name diversity - rising from 1940 and then peaking in 2007 when the iphone came out."

I wouldn't be surprised if it had something to do with proliferation and increased access to mass media. Television and then the Internet, in particular. People have become exposed to many more possible names then they were before the war.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:51 AM on July 21, 2019


Is the male Jan from the Polish form of John or an independent regendering?
posted by acb at 1:52 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


In 1969 there were five babies named Uranus.
posted by otsebyatina at 2:49 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]



Personally I think people worry too much about how popular names are (and there are sooooo many news stories about it!). You can't beat the zeitgeist

When many of my friends were first having kids, 10-20 years ago, most of them worried a lot about having "unique" names. I couldn't figure it out and would ask why that was so important. No one could really say, it was just important. Of course you know all those kids have very common names now. No one's upset about it now, so I guess it's just one of those things parents get obsessed with.

And to prove your point I just looked up some of them on that chart and the names peaked right around the time they were born.
posted by bongo_x at 3:27 PM on July 21, 2019


A name blogger I used to read whose name, ironically, I can't remember, said something along the lines of, "The only way to avoid the next trendy name is to pick a name that no one likes, even you."
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:39 PM on July 21, 2019 [8 favorites]


When we were naming our kid, we definitely over thought it in attempts to avoid trendy names. We ended up picking what we thought was a really traditional and kind of boring name (after notable people with that name). Turns it the name is also surprisingly unpopular. Now, after meeting a bunch of Jaspers and Josephines, I always check to see how trendy a new baby's name is. Turns out, usually pretty trendy. I guess it's the zeitgeist.
posted by kendrak at 4:14 PM on July 21, 2019


Zeitgeist! That's what I'll name the baby! It works for a boy or girl, and I bet they'll be the only Zeitgeist Q. Monster in their class!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:42 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


About 5 boys are named Natas every year. If you can’t deduce the origin of that name, rearrange the letters back to front.

Some people shouldn’t have kids.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 5:49 PM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


OK, but wait a minute, there's people naming boys 'Guadalupe'?
posted by signal at 6:27 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


From the BabyNameWizard Blog: Why Do Incels Obsess Over Chad and Stacy?
posted by Hypatia at 7:55 PM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


So I say damn the zeitgeist and name your child something that's beautiful and meaningful to you and don't worry about how many other kids are being named that!

As a Jennifer, I disagree. I would definitely check baby name rankings and pick something not in the current top listings if I had to name a kid.

Signed,
14th Jennifer In Her High School Class
7th Jennifer In One Classroom
The Second Jennifer Last Initial In The Room
Can't Ever Find Her Name Available On Name Merchandise Because All The Other Jennifers Got There First
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:04 PM on July 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


Sue, as a boy's name, peaked in 1947, and had a secondary peak in 1958. It was already well on the decline when A Boy Named Sue came out in 1969.

We (by which I mean me and you) would move on to dogs named Boo.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 10:21 PM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also, I can pinpoint the end of Western civilization: 2009, when the reaction to the election of Barack Obama reminded us why we can't have nice things, and foretold that we wouldn't have them for much longer; and when Matthew left the top 10 and was replaced by Jayden.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 10:38 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


If you can’t deduce the origin of that name, rearrange the letters back to front.

I recall a video in which pro skateboarder Natas Kaupas' mother gives a pretty innocent explanation about it being a common Lithuanian first name. He certainly got flak and fame for it.
posted by klausman at 10:40 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm glad a few people beat me to the punch in recommending Laura Watternberg / formerly of Baby Name Wizard, now Namerology. It seems she sold the BNW site and has moved to Namerology, and I might have lost track of her otherwise.
posted by Gordafarin at 4:26 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


So if my son had been a girl, his mother and I had planned on the name Ariel from the spirit in The Tempest. He was born six weeks before the Little Mermaid was released in theaters and would have spend her whole life insisting that "no she wasn't named after that damn cartoon".
posted by octothorpe at 5:05 AM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Can't Ever Find Her Name Available On Name Merchandise Because All The Other Jennifers Got There First

No, my son is also named Bort.
posted by Mayor West at 5:20 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've moved happily to a place where I don't ever have to spell or repeat my unusual name that I have spent my whole life repeating and spelling for people. The name "Kai" means sea in the Hawaiian language and the only confusion now is how this redhead got a Hawaiian name. I have to explain to them that in the late seventies & eighties the boom in big-wave surfing led to a fair number of little girls in surf cities with Hawaiian names- I was one of them. I mapped the four most common Hawaiian names I knew growing up and it seems it stayed a very very niche phenomenon.
posted by evelvenin at 6:03 AM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hopefully this isn't too off-topic, but if you're interested in a visualization of naming trends from a non-Anglophone country, Le Monde has a cool visualization of the most popular names in France from 1946 to the present, by gender and by region. The visualizations (scroll down) are pretty self-explanatory; you don't need to speak French to understand them, though the accompanying article points out some interesting trends if you do speak French.

Perhaps the most interesting fact for me was that "Kévin" -- which, perhaps out of ignorance, I would not have thought to be a very French name -- hit a peak in 1991 and 1992, being the most popular boy's name in every region of metropolitan France except Corsica (which you'll learn from these graphics likes to be an iconoclast in terms of naming).
posted by andrewesque at 6:49 AM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was surprised that Kathy and its variants don't appear anywhere in these charts. As a Kathy in grade school in the late 60s and 70s, there were always at least two others in every class. (Part of why I changed my name to Kate in 1973.)
posted by corvikate at 8:50 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Corvikate: I suspect all the spelling variations and similar names 'diluted' the list. So while you all were Kathy, you could have been Katherine or Kathleen or Kathryn or Catherina and so on - and no one variant came out on top.
posted by Gordafarin at 9:21 AM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yet people have no trouble switching between the Kate / Cathy / Katherine / Catrina / Kitty / Cat variants, and applying them indiscriminately to anyone who uses a name in that grouping. Oh and also throwing "Karen" into the mix.

I suppose the Elizabeths get it too. At least there's plenty of space in those names, to change variants as needed without raising any eyebrows.
posted by elizilla at 11:34 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


what sounds unusual and charming to you sounds unusual and charming to 40,000 other new parents because they're all marinating in the same culture
So my son GSV Total Internal Reflection might have to use his last initial to clarify?

Nuts.
posted by Acari at 12:59 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


So if my son had been a girl, his mother and I had planned on the name Ariel from the spirit in The Tempest.

I knew a boy Ariel in high school. I never heard anyone make a joke/comment about it but maybe by then we were all a bit too mature for that.

Also, one of my friend's named his daughter Avery and I still think of Capt. Sisko whenever I hear her name.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:49 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


The UK released their 2017 data recently - Matilda is one of the top 40 names here, but much more unpopular in the US. My name was only given to six babies, right down on the bit of the spreadsheet where you get hyphenated names and 'misspellings' of popular ones.
posted by mippy at 4:44 AM on July 23, 2019


Around here 'Ariel', (two syllables, stress on the last one) is a boy's name, most commonly but not exclusively used by jewish people. Never seen it used for girls.
posted by signal at 8:49 AM on July 23, 2019


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