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Santa Cancels Baby Name Christmas

May 6, 2020 Pamela Redmond

For the first time in its 23-year history, the new official list of most popular baby names in the US won’t be delivered on time by the Social Security Administration.

Instead of the usual Friday-before-Mother’s Day unveiling of last year’s most popular names, the SSA posted a message on its website reading: “Out of respect and honor for all people and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of the 2019 most popular baby names is being rescheduled to a to-be-determined date.”

It’s like Santa canceled Christmas for baby name lovers. With the Social Security Office closed and work-at-home staffers overwhelmed administering government payments to US citizens impacted by the virus, we certainly understand the delay.  But we can’t pretend not to be disappointed.

The  announcement is Nameberry’s top news story of the year, and we spend weeks analyzing the ups and downs of baby name popularity to help parents make statistically-informed decisions about their name choices.

These days, that usually means avoiding names that have moved too far up the list too fast. Benjamin vaulted into the Top 10? No longer a finalist for the baby. Kylo has gone from quirky Star Wars fan name to hottest name of the year? Better keep looking.

Using the list as a too-popular name warning device makes sense as it was started in 1997 by SSA actuary Michael Shackleford, who set out to prove that there were too many Michaels in the world. Using Social Security records for births stretching back to the agency’s beginning, in 1880, he compiled the first-ever authoritative tally of baby name usage in the US.

Shackleford, whose career has since segued to Las Vegas where he is known as The Wizard of Odds, proved his point: the data showed that Michael was the most-used boys’ name for more than 40 years, starting in 1954. This hard evidence may have persuaded parents to move beyond Michael for their sons’ names, given that the name dropped to Number 2 in 1999 after the list’s appearance and has continued its downward slide.

The, well, popularity of the popular names list has inspired the SSA to expand its data around names. The agency now includes information on the names that increased and decreased the most in popularity, the top names by state, and – for baby name professionals or truly obsessed parents-to-be — complete data on every name given to five or more babies from every year since 1880.

But not this year. Not yet.

We have to assume that, once we can venture out for professional haircuts and pizza dinners again, once we can hire babysitters and send our kids back to school, the Social Security Administration will get around to announcing the 2019 baby names data. Then parents will have hard information on which to base their baby naming choices.

Until then? If you definitely don’t want to give your baby the Number 1 name, you might want to stay away from Olivia.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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