Baby Name Timeline

When we were preparing the article “Bizarre Baby Names: A Growing Trend?” for the July issue of  Reader’s Digest magazine that’s just hit the stands, we put together a lonnnnnng timeline of the key markers in American name history–much longer than they could possibly use with the story.  So here we offer you some of the dates and events that you won’t find in the magazine.

1620.  The Mayflower arrives bearing 102 passengers, mostly with classic English names, but also one Degory, one Resolved, one Remember, one Wrestling, and one Oceanus, who was born mid-voyage.

1750s. Enter classical names (Homer, Horace), chivalrous names (Arthur, Elaine), and romantic girls (Lavinia, Rosalind).  More boys are being called Junior.

1768. Birth of Dolley Madison, one of the increasing number of babies with nicknames on their birth certificates.

1825. John Quincy Adams is the first President to have a middle name, a rarity at this time, when it becomes fashionable to use the mother’s maiden name.

1845. The Irish famine sends masses of Bridgets and Patricks to America.

1925. Girls’ names ending in ‘s’ are fashionable–Gladys, Doris, Phyllis, Lois; also those ending in een (Kathleen) and ette (Paulette).

1946. Publication of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care encourages parents to be more relaxed, confident and collaborative: husbands participate more in child care–and baby naming.

1950.  Linda unseats the seemingly unseatable Mary as the number one name for girls.

1959. First Gidget movie released; surfer dude names like Gary, Scott, Dwayne and Bruce catch the wave.

1959.  Mattel introduces the Barbie doll; other nickname names like Lori, Cindy, Sherry and Terri are hot.

1966. Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. renounces his “slave name” to become Muhammed Ali; other celebrities follow suit, influencing African-American baby naming.

1967.  Frank Zappa names his first child Moon Unit,  a seminal ‘kooky’ baby name.  Son Dweezil will follow two years later.

1968. TV westerns like Here Come the Brides, featuring brothers Jason, Jeremy and Joshua, signal a return of old cowboy names.

1974. The first issue of People magazine accelerates fascination with celebrity culture, parents start to be increasingly influenced by names stars give their babies.

1987. Movie Wall Street proclaims “Greed is good,” summing up the Go-Go 80s and inspiring Waspy surnames for boys (Carter, Parker) and androgynous exec names for all (Kyle, Blake, Blair).

1998. Parents continue to get more and more kreeatif with spellings like Adan, Austyn and Alivia all in the year’s Top 700.

2000. The Internet inspires parents to search genealogy sites for old family names.

2003. Extreme starbaby names grow more extreme–this year alone sees the arrival of Pilot Inspektor, Audio Science and Banjo.

2008. Reason returns: With economic downturn, parents look back to solid, traditional girls’ names like Ella, Grace, Olivia, and biblical boys Jacob, Ethan, Benjamin.

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11 Responses to “Baby Name Timeline”

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Charlotte Says:

June 24th, 2009 at 2:59 am

Fascinating! I haven’t had a chance to read the Reader’s Digest article, but did your original list mention the early 20th-century’s interest in Greek names for girls? I’ve come across a lot of Zenobias, Hermiones, and Ariadnes from that time.

Andrea Says:

June 24th, 2009 at 10:11 am

I’m not sure if this has a place in this thread, but some eccentric names like the above are to be found in this thread of steam punk fans discussing names for their current and future children. Steam punk is speculative sci fi, as in Wild Wild West or Jules Verne.

Here’s the thread:

Azure Says:

June 24th, 2009 at 4:01 pm

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that “reason returns” in 2008 during the recession. Those listed names were popular way before 2008, some back to the 80’s and 90’s when the economy was booming. Also, “traditional names” are called that because you can find them an all eras. It’s a myth that recession brings classic names; it’s not supported by evidence.

Sarah Rose Says:

June 24th, 2009 at 6:43 pm

I agree with Azure on the traditional names during a recession being a myth. Statistics and research show the opposite to be true. Check out this link from CBS news:

linda Says:

June 25th, 2009 at 2:15 am

Azure and Sarah Rose–I see your point. I’m afraid we were a little glib in trying to bring the timeline into the present for the readership of a general interest magazine like Readers Digest; the magazine timeline ends with the election of Barack Obama presaging a new multicultural naming era. (All in all, it was quite difficult trying to fit the gradual shifts in naming into a date-specific timeline.)

Sebastiane Says:

June 25th, 2009 at 9:29 pm

This was a really interesting article. Can’t wait to read it in American Digest.

linda Says:

June 25th, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Thanks–you can link to the Readers Digest article right from this blog.

redriding Says:

August 19th, 2009 at 5:31 pm

how can I do that Linda? Will it work from Wales? (you know what a technophobe I am!)


Loren Says:

April 6th, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I believe that “Adan” is more often given to babies as the Hispanic equivalent of “Adam,” pronounced ah-DAHN, not as another botched spelling of Aidan/Aiden/Ayden/Aaden, etc.

Martina Says:

May 20th, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Not that we are having baby 3 any time soon, I just had baby 2, but we intend to name our next born son Arthur, Walter, Graham or Alister and our daughter Lavinia, Rosalind, Susannah or Beatrice.

We figure any of those go well with Matilda and Eloise.

Namenutt Says:

November 5th, 2013 at 2:18 am

What about the rise of the name Shirley? I see you have a photo of Shirley Temple at the top but no mention is given to her impact on naming choices at the time. Btw, my own mother is named Shirley, but in 1953, South Africa. I enjoyed the article – I wish there was this kind of name data for South Africa, I have always wanted to know how it compares to the rest of the world.

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