When people ask me what letter I would use if I had to name ten children with the same letter, my answer is S. But I also clarify that it is S and not Sh! To me, since they are different sounds they are different “letters” with which to begin a name. As my mind ran with this thought, I wondered how have the two sounds differed in terms of popularity?
To do this research, I used the S and Sh names with percentage of use above 0.01% since 1938*. This cutoff was chosen because the Top 1000 in 2012 include names with a percentage higher than 0.0131% for girls. Because the S and Sh sounds are not exclusive to the letters S and Sh, I also added the names that begin with the letters C and Ch that have the S and Sh sounds. This can be subjective as some of the names can be pronounced with either the S/Sh sound or the hard C/Ch sound, but I went with what I thought would be the mostly likely sound heard.
I can’t say this graph is surprising. We do not hear as many Sh-sound names currently save Charlotte.
It’s fascinating that even though there are less Sh/Ch names (120) than S/C names (153) included in these numbers, the Sh/Ch names are pretty equal to the S/C names in the late 1930s and remain relatively high through the 1960s, undoubtedly due to the popularity of Shirley, Sharon, and Cheryl. Other highly popular Sh/Ch names since 1938 are Shannon, Shelby, Sheila, Sherry, and Charlotte, all with percentages of 0.3% and higher at some point. To give perspective on that percentage, the girl names ranked #32 and higher in 2012 had percentages of use higher than 0.3%.
The S/C names reached their peak in the 1950s with the popularity of Susan, Sandra, and Cynthia. Other highly popular S/C names since 1938 are Sarah, Stephanie, Samantha, Sophia, Cindy, Sara, Sydney, Stacy, Sofia, Stacey, Sally, Suzanne, Sylvia, Savannah, Sabrina, and Sierra (again, all with percentages of 0.3% and higher at some point).
If you are curious as to the names included in this study, here is a list. These names could have appeared in just one year or remained fairly popular throughout the years.
S & C
Sh & Ch
*I calculated the percentage of use for each name using the raw number of births for the year and dividing it by the total number of girl births for the year. The Social Security Administration has only provided the total number of births for each year since 1938.
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