Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Battle of the First Names

For your Monday morning: A map of most common name given to newborns by state over the last 60 years. One of the things that struck me is the way the visual shows the greater volatility of trends in girl names. Boy names slowly work back and forth across the country like a civil war battle line, while a new girl name frequently sweeps the country in one year. Both boy and girl names seem to become more trend driven over time.

One thing I've noticed while playing with most common name stats in the past: Names like TV channels have become more fragmented with time. A smaller percentage of babies are given the most common name now than thirty years ago (much less 100), and the percentage of babies accounted for by the 100 most common names has gone down over time.



MrsDarwin said...

For those keeping track at home: we will not be naming baby boy Michael, Jacob, Jose, Christopher, Tyler, Ethan, Mason, Liam, or David.

Jenny said...

I saw those maps last week. As a Jennifer born in the 70s, I am slightly horrified. Good grief! Did this country really decide that Jennifer was the bestest girl name ever for the better part of 15 years? And where did the name even come from? A derivative of Guinevere, we think, maybe?

Looking at the boy map, I see Michael had about as long a run as Jennifer. At least Michael is a real name not a passing fad.

I think the maps would be more effective if each name had a color that didn't change from year to year. I realize the colors are gray and 'not gray' to draw the eye toward the predominant name for the year, but I would like to be able to see the names wax and wane over time. Holding a unified color would enable it.

Throwing out Gabriel for consideration.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I must be living under a rock; I didn't even know that Madison had ever a girl's name.

Emily J. said...

Growing up, I thought I had an old lady name, so when it grew in popularity after I was an adult, I was amused. In 50 years, it will be an old lady name again.

We've been joking at our house about what old person name to resurrect for our newest, thinking of our grandparents: Mildred, Walter, Ralph, Louise. But since Maximus and Caesar aren't unusual names anymore, I threw out "Septimus Fortunatus" = Lucky Seventh.

lissla lissar said...

I know a baby who's not only Madison, she's Madisyn.

The most common girl's name around here right now is either Madeline or Sophie.

Joseph Moore said...

A general theory: What we name our kids reveals our relationship to our past: if you choose a family name, or a name with lots of historical connotations, you see yourselves as part of something bigger than yourself; if you go for the popular rootless or made-up name, you're divorcing or protesting against the past.

Or you may just be stupid: Madison, it seems, became a girls name because, in a goofy movie about a mermaid, Daryl (another dumb girls name) Hannah's character picks the name off a street sign.

For the record: our 5 kids have 15 saints names among them, not counting confirmation names. So, it should be clear how we roll.

Brandon said...

It does make me wonder about the dynamics underlying the popularity of the name. What in the world motivates an explosion of 'Mason'? (Apparently everyone attributes it to Kim Kardashian, which is a bit on the disturbing side.)

Jenny said...

Also disturbing is the popularity of Isabella and Cullen. People are actively and deliberately naming their children after vampires.

bearing said...

My first three kids got names honoring relatives. My fourth got two saints' names. My fifth, to be born early next year, likely will too.

But I have never felt obligated to use a saint's name; I tell my child whose name is not associated with any saint that it's his job to become the very first "Saint M____."

entropy said...

Ha, Emily, we tossed around "Septimus" as well! Not gonna happen though. Our seventh baby is still completely nameless. I think my husband has gotten pickier with each kid!

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Jenny, I have an Isabella and have no desire to ever read the Twilight twaddle. I picked the name thinking it was lovely and unusual (and a saint's name, by the way) and was rather aghast to find out it was in the top ten girls names for the year she was born. But while Twilight may have boosted the name's popularity, it was already up there in the top 20 in 2002 and climbing steadily until 2005 when Twilight was released. So I don't think we can lay all the blame on sparkly vampires.

I also have a Sophia, also an unintended choice of a hyper-popular name. Also a saint's name.

Honestly, I am very perplexed and a little horrified to find myself the mother of children with two of the most popular names going. I wanted to pick unusual names, I liked being the only Melanie that I knew and wanted my daughters to be in the same position. Instead, they are always running into other little girls with the same name. I had no idea I was so perfectly attuned to the zeitgeist and I'm very curious as to what it is that propels these names to the top.

Jenny said...

I have a friend whose daughter was conceived in Italy so she named her Isabella as a reference to 'beautiful' in Italian. She was not pleased to learn it was so popular.

True, Isabella was popular before Twilight, but, to me, there is no excuse for Cullen.

I'm right there with you with unwittingly choosing popular names. I never liked being one of the eleventy billion Jennifers so I wanted to choose classic names that wouldn't require a last initial for my kids.

Not only did Grace turn out to be more popular than I thought, Olivia is even more popular than that. I heard someone once call it a tidal wave of Olivias. I even know of a family that has both a Grace and an Olivia, just like mine. You never heard these names when I was a child.

Lindsey said...

I work in an elementary school and we have an abundance of Evelyns and Eleanors. It seems like some of the more classic names are coming back, too. We have Alice, Lucy, Dorothy, Caroline, Camilla... For boys, Henry, Jack, Aidan, and Benjamin seem to be popular.

I don't have kids yet, but it seems like all the names I liked are becoming popular - I love the names Isabella and Sophia, and Evelyn and Eleanor. I grew up always having another Lindsey or two in my class and I don't want it to be the same for my kids. I thought I would be safe choosing more classic names, but I guess not.

Donald R. McClarey said...

I am constantly dismayed by the oddball names, given by parents to their kids, that I am exposed to in my legal practice. Often it is a common name with a variant spelling that will doom the poor kid to having his/her name misspelled for the rest of their lives. When I inquire why in the world they did this I usually am told that the parent, usually singular these days, wanted their kid's name "to stand out". Superficiality, lack of thought and gross idiocy are too frequently the hallmarks of our society these days!

(End rant.)

bearing said...

I very much like names that stand out, but NOT because

(1) they have an unusual variant of spelling
(2) they are androgynous or assigned to a child of the opposite gender
(3) they are unrecognizable as names for human beings in English-speaking culture.

I like names that stand out because they are not commonly chosen among kids in that generation. I look 90-100 years ago for my inspiration.

In other words, retro names.

In a recent baby name book, I read that the names I chose 13 and 10 years ago for my two oldest sons are currently in vogue among people whom the zeitgeist refers to as "hipster." In other words, I was into hipster baby names before hipster baby names were hipster. This makes me feel as if I have the timing just right.

(My 4th child's name, and part of my 3rd child's name, wouldn't seem unusual to this crowd because they're fairly commonly chosen saint names; but they aren't super common in the wider culture for kids in their age cohort.)

mrsdarwin said...

All of our names have been chosen both because we think they are aesthetically pleasing, and because they go well with our rather stolid last name. Several were chosen before we were even engaged -- maybe 15 years ago! -- when tastes in names were very different, so we too are hipsters, ahead of the trend. The only name selected on a whim was Isabel, after my sister mentioned a friend of the same name (who obviously received the name before the current vogue), but I suppose when a name is popular it will find its way into your ear somehow.

I am no fan of unusual spellings. Although Jack was named after his late grandfather Jonathon, we chose to go with the more conventional spelling to make things easier for him.

The explosion of last names as first names (Taylor, Madison, Kendall, Kennedy, etc.) is bemusing. I have to say that I myself have my grandmother's maiden name as a middle name, but it actually is a real, if uncommon, first name as well.

Jenny said...

The maiden name of the mother or grandmother used as a name for a child has a long tradition in the South. I think it is just spread to other areas of the country now. My mother's maiden name is Oliver so Olivia is a play on that.

Why have all these classic names come back into vogue? I think the answer lies in a picture hanging on my parents' wall. "What picture?" you ask. Their wedding picture. My whole life I have looked at that picture: my mother in her hippyish gown, my father with his long hair in his powder blue tuxedo. Everything about that picture screams 1970-something, the tackiest decade in the history of tacky decades. After they were married, they then gave their children names that scream, "I was born in the 70s."

I decided years ago (as in when I was still a child) when I got married, I would have classic designs because I was not going to spend a lifetime looking at a picture like my parents' wedding picture. When I had children I would give them proper, classic names that could have come from any time and not flimsy, faddish names that announce their birth year as evidently as if they had announced their age. I would look at popular names from around 1900 for inspiration.

And, apparently, a lot of our cohort, consciously or unconsciously, had the same thoughts. So we all have given our children classic names along with everyone else. Welcome to the zeitgeist. :)

NB: Even though they are more popular than I would like, I still love the names I have given my children.

Jenny said...

I also feel compelled to add, since I have seemed to slight the name Isabella, I actually like the name. It makes me sad that such a good name was given to such a wretched character in a book. It makes me sadder than so many people pick the name precisely because it is the name of the wretched character in the book.

mrsdarwin said...

Oh lordy, your dad wore a powder-blue tux too?

Jenny said...

Not only did he wear the powder blue, they made my grandfather wear it too. I have asked my mother how could she have done such a thing. All she says is it was fashionable at the time.

Enbrethiliel said...


This is a story I've told many times, so just ignore me if I've cluttered your inbox with it before, Darwins.

A few years ago, Richard Branson said in an interview that he believed his daughter Holly would marry Prince Harry someday. Another blogger commented, "But with a name like Holly . . ." And from that moment, I was determined that the names I give my children (assuming I ever have any) will not be a hindrance to them, should they happen to fall in love with princes or princesses someday.

S said...

I named my son "Clarence" he's the only kid at the pediatrician with that name! But on the downside, if you google his full name the first hit you get is a mugshot from some guy with the same name. :)