Category: Trends and Predictions
By Linda Rosenkrantz
The folks at the Social Security Administration publish not only the thousand most popular names for every year dating back to 1880, but also the Top 200 names for every decade, making it possible to see broader patterns and trends.
I was scanning these decade lists to see if I might find any goodies that have escaped the mass raid on vintage names, and was able to pick out two girls and two boys from every decade from the 1880s to the 1950s that were once in the Top 100 but are not even in the Top 1000 now.
I ‘ve included the year they fell off the list and their highest ever point of popularity—plus some possible pros and cons. (Of course most of these names spilled over from one decade to the next.)
When Americans think about chic European names, they tend to imagine the exotic, the elaborate, the intriguingly complicated and foreign.
Yet when Europeans think about chic names, they often these days mean the short and simple and sometimes even the Anglo-Saxon: Tom, Emma, Lou. Think of them as the baby name equivalents of a perfectly-cut bob or little black dress, elegant and always in style.
Short, simple names that are chic and popular in France, the Netherlands, and indeed throughout Europe include:
In 1970, the novel Love Story captured America‘s imagination with the tale of a wealthy Harvard jock who meets a girl from the other side of the tracks. It was soon followed by a movie of the same name — a tear-jerker that became the top box-office draw of the year. The American Film Institute has named Love Story one of the ten most romantic movies of all time, but its biggest legacy may be solidifying Jennifer‘s status as the top girl’s name of the 1970s and early-’80s.
The heroine of the book and movie (played by Ali McGraw) was named Jennifer “Jenny” Cavalleri. And in addition to being a wisecracking beauty, she had terminal leukemia. (I’m not spoiling anything here. The very first line of the movie is: “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?”) .
Apparently America‘s response to watching a tragic girl fall in love and die was, “Hey, cool name.” Jennifer supplanted Lisa as the most popular name in the United States in 1970 and didn’t relinquish its grip until 1985.
Americans are more daring when it comes to naming daughters, and the numbers bear this out.
In 2013, just over 67% of girls born in the US received a Top 1000 name. Boys, on the other hand, received a Top 1000 name nearly 79% of the time.
It makes predicting the most popular names of the future slightly more difficult when it comes to girls. With everything from surnames – Madison and Addison – to enduring choices like Emily and Elizabeth in the current Top 20, it’s tough to say which direction parents will go in the future.
Or maybe we’ll just keep going in every possible direction. This list is a little bit literary, slightly musical, occasionally globetrotting, sometimes unisex.
Here’s the thing about baby name data: the Top 20 is actually kind of dull.
Not the names themselves, necessarily. In order to become one of the 20 most popular given names in the US for any particular year, a name has to be pretty great. Versatile. They’ve usually been worn by some high profile types, be they Biblical patriarchs or borrowings from the silver screen.
But we can see them coming.
By the time a name reaches such lofty heights, we’ve watched it gain for ten, twenty, forty years or more, right? Former #1 Isabella climbed every year from 1990 through 2009 before reaching the top spot. Even newcomers like Jayden don’t debut in the Top 100. Others – think William, James, Elizabeth – are frequent members of the club, as likely to be there in the 1880s or 1940s as they are today.