Category: Baby Names Popularity
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.)
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.
By Linda Rosenkrantz
Now that Social Security has released the top names for every state, we can move beyond the broad nationwide picture and delve into the more regional patterns. As you’ll see below, far from every state was on board with newly crowned Noah—in fact he topped the lists of only three states. Also it’s interesting to see how various favorites spill over shared borders, such as which names were common primarily in New England (Benjamin!), the South (Brooklyn!) and the West (Harper!), as well as such idiosyncrasies as Paisley being a Top 5 name in Wyoming, Lincoln in the Utah Top 10 and Aria a top name in Hawaii.
TOP 5 GIRLS
Though Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Isabella and Ava were the Top 5 nationwide, Sophia was at the top of the list in only 11 states, while Emma ruled in 27, Olivia in seven, Ava in three and Isabella in two. The one outlier? Charlotte was in the lead in the District of Columbia.
By Arika Okrent
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon. Thanks to Arika for permission to reprint this article from The Week.
Like a lot of people, I was entranced recently by this animated map of the most popular baby names for girls by state over the past 52 years. It shows how the country shifted from Mary to Lisa before giving over completely to Jennifer, after which the Jessica/Ashley and Emily/Emma battles eventually resolved into the current dominance of Sophia. The map was created by Reuben Fischer-Baum of Deadspin using baby name data from the Social Security Administration. The SSA website gives the top 1,000 boy and girl names (as reported on social security card applications) for each year from 1880 onward.
Certain names seem as likely to be on children as on their parents, but are unimaginable on grandparents and great-grandparents.
These names are modern classics, names that have been highly ranked on the Social Security list for about 30-40 years, but were very uncommon or even obscure before then.
To me, modern classics can follow two different paths. There are:
- Former revival names and,
- Former modern names.