More about Names

In “The Names, They Are A-Changin‘,” I looked at the popularity of baby names in 1940 (the modal birth year of members of my high-school graduating class) and the popularity of the same names in 2011. For a more sweeping view of the subject, I returned to the Social Security Administration’s baby-name database, which spans the years 1880-2011. and constructed the following table:

On average, the top 20 male names of 1880 dropped at least 220 places from 1880 to 2011; whereas, the top 20 male names of 2011 rose at least 271 places, on average.

Female names are far more volatile: On average, names among the top 20 in 1880 were ranked at least 418 places lower in 2011; whereas, the top 20 in 2011 rose at least 457 places, on average. The greater volatility of females names is also indicated by the number of them that are not in the top 1000 in both 1880 and 2011, namely, twelve. Only four of the male names are not in the top 1000 in both years.

I must admit that, on the whole, I prefer the top 20 names of 2011 to the top 20 names of 1880. The male names reflect a trend toward the Biblical, and only the ersatz Jayden grates on me. (I would prefer Aidan to Aiden because the former is a better transliteration of the Gaelic original.)

The popular female names of 2011 tend to be more euphonious than their counterparts of 1880. I do not miss Minnie, Ida (curt), Bertha, Florence, or Nellie — though I do miss Carrie. On the other hand, we have the ersatz Madison, and unisex-sounding Addison, and two names that once were almost exclusively assigned to males: Avery and Aubrey. I do hope that the trend toward the feminization of male names does not extend to Homer, Humphrey, and Oscar.

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