A Different Kind of College Ranking

A Different Kind of College Ranking

By Nick Turner

What are the best colleges in America? Well, you could consult rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and others. They’ll probably tell you the answer is Harvard or Princeton or some other predictable choice.

But in my view, no college is worth anything if people aren’t naming their children after it. That’s why I’ve created the First Annual College Baby Name List — a ranking of the most popular university-themed monikers in America.

By my calculations, Berkeley is far more prestigious than Harvard. Almost 100 babies were blessed with the Berkeley name last year, compared with a paltry six for Harvard. (And that doesn’t include alternate spellings such as Berkley, Berklee and Berkleigh.)

Stanford is oookay (given to 20 namesakes last year), but it’s nowhere near as cool as Kenyon (115). And Yale is just sad (like Harvard, it only had six).

To create my ranking, I compiled the names of every significant college and university in America (from little schools like Bates to big universities such Baylor). Then I checked Social Security Administration data to see how many newborns were given each name in 2014.

I eliminated names that weren’t easily recognizable as colleges. Davis, Howard, Marshall, Reed and Xavier may be perfectly fine schools, but they’re better known as people names than as institutions of higher learning. So they’re off the list. The same goes for Trinity, which is a college in Connecticut but also a character in The Matrix. The nearly 3,000 babies named Trinity last year (mostly girls) probably weren’t meant to pay homage to the school.

That’s not to say someone who names their kid “Princeton” or “Duke” is necessarily honoring those schools either, but the connection is inescapable.

In addition, I dumped schools that were also state names, such as Virginia, Georgia or Carolina. Those ones felt like they belonged in another category. (Please check out my previous post on geographic names for that.)

Finally, I threw in two British institutions (Oxford and Cambridge) for good measure. That left me with 20 names.

So without further ado, I present the No. 1 college in America (as measured by the baby-naming public): Emory.

Atlanta‘s Emory University shared its name with 625 newborns last year, more than any other school on my list. And it was fairly evenly split between girls and boys — with the name going pink about 60 percent of the time.

Here is the full list:

  1. Emory: 625 babies

  2. Princeton: 535

  3. Duke: 382

  4. Baylor: 342

  5. Kenyon: 115

  6. Navy: 115

  7. Berkeley: 99

  8. Cornell: 45

  9. Mercer: 44

  10. Pace: 41

  11. Davidson: 31

  12. Drexel: 25

  13. Stanford: 20

  14. Bates: 17

  15. Cambridge: 16

  16. Lafayette: 14

  17. Temple: 10

  18. Oxford: 9

  19. Harvard: 6

  20. Yale: 6

At last my British friends can settle the Oxbridge rivalry. (Cambridge is obviously better…cheerio.)

In any case, I hope this list serves as inspiration for expectant parents (or parents of high-school kids looking for a tried-and-true university).

There are plenty of other ways to use colleges for naming purposes. Let’s say you met your spouse at an Ivy League school — you might consider Ivy for your daughter. Cruz, meanwhile, could pay homage to UC Santa Cruz. And Sunny works as an offbeat tribute to SUNY.

My favorite approach is to apply this technique to twins. Having two boys? You could name them Franklin and Marshall. Or perhaps Washington and Lee (not sure I’d recommend naming a kid after a Confederate general, though). A girl and a boy? William and Mary. Or how about naming one Sarah and one Lawrence? That would tip your hat to the prestigious college in Westchester.

Hampden/Sydney and Farleigh/Dickinson are other possible combinations. And if you’re having triplets: Hobart, William and Smith.

If you’d prefer a fictional university, there’s always Hudson. As any Law & Order fan knows, New York‘s Hudson University is the setting for grisly murders, mayhem and some pretty inconsiderate roommate behavior. (The campus also has its own nuclear reactor for some reason.) But as a name, Hudson is a perfectly safe choice.

About the Author

Nick Turner

Nick Turner

Nick Turner is a writer and editor living in New York City (by way of San Francisco). He and his wife have successfully named three kids. Follow him on Twitter at @SFNick.