Pairing Up the Most Unpopular Names of the Past: Orange & Leafy
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.
This brief historical tour of the most popular names got me curious about the least popular names. If you look at the low end of the top 1,000 names for 2013, you see boys’ names like Dangelo, Foster, Briggs, and Davon. For girls, you see names like Katalina, Sloan, Karlie, and Meadow. These names are a bit different, but not all that unusual. Even the 1,000th most popular name represents a few hundred babies, or possibly even a few thousand if added up over four or five years. However, in the early years of SSA data, the population was much smaller, so the low end of the list represents fewer babies. And there are some pretty fabulous names in there.
I went through first 52 years of the SSA records and pulled out some of the best boy and girl names from the 900 to 1,000 range for each year. Together, they make for great couples. I love imagining that among all the Johns and Marys who settled down together, Orange and Leafy (1893), or Henery and Florance (1897), or Lillian the boy and Lillyan the girl (1908) might have found each other too.
If you’re looking for a baby name and want something truly original, but with historical precedent, here’s your list:
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on May 15th, 2014 at 11:13 pm
Parthenia is pretty and I’ve been crushing on Starling for the past year—every time the Cardinals play the Pirates and I hear the name Starling Marte, I swoon. (The Cubs also have a player name Starlin Castro.)
on May 16th, 2014 at 2:42 am
Clifford and Indiana are the only one’s on there in the least bit usable x
on May 16th, 2014 at 6:38 am
Parthenia, Dove, and Easter are lovely names.
There is an NFL coach named Lovie Smith so Lovey doesn’t seem so out there
Commodore & Starling aren’t bad and Bliss would be nice for a girl
on May 17th, 2014 at 12:28 am
Leafy was an infant’s name in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
on February 20th, 2015 at 2:10 pm
Electa and Electra aren’t that different. I could see her as a modern girl, hands down.
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