In previous posts about first names, I addressed names that had shifted from male to female, presidents’ surnames used as first names, the changing popularity of my grandparents’ first names, and the changing popularity of my high-school classmates’ first names.
I was reminded of those older posts (published in 2006, 2008, and 2012) by an analysis of gender-fluidity in names, that is, names which are becoming more neutral rather than being given mainly to boys or girls. The author, one Nikhil Sonnad,
calculated a “genderedness score” for every American baby name—and for the country on the whole. The score goes from zero to one. A zero means a name is perfectly non-gendered. That is to say, exactly half of the babies with that name are boys, and the other half are girls. A one, meanwhile, means the name is used exclusively for one gender. So a lower score means a name is more gender-neutral, and less biased.
How is it “biased” to use a boy’s name for a boy and a girl’s name for a girl? That statement should be damned to PC hell, along with the idea that gender is “assigned” at birth. It’s not assigned, it just is, except in rare instances. And it’s immutable, regardless of what the PC witch-doctors profess to believe.
Anyway, Sonnad continues:
The overall genderedness score was 0.97 in 1920, meaning nearly every kid had a name that was used almost exclusively for just boys or just girls. The score is falling, though. It hit 0.946 in 2016, the most recent year the SSA has name data for.
I’m gratified to learn that the generedness score is still almost 1. I’m further gratified to note that the genderedness score has dropped in the past, and then rebounded:
Part of the apparent decline in genderedness may be due to the fact that the Social Security database used by the author covers only the top 1,000 names of each sex in each year. The variety of names grows with population, so the top 1,000 isn’t as inclusive now as it used to be (see below). And gendereless or ambiguous names are undoubtedly rising in popularity (for now) because baby-naming is a faddish thing, like transgenderism.
The variety of names grows not only because of population growth but also because of its changing composition. There are many more Spanish names and Hispanic babies than 10, 20, or 30 years ago — and vastly more than there were 100 years ago. Also, blacks have increasingly branched out into African, pseudo-African, and black-redneck names — names that are identifiably black, but not always identifiably male or female (by whites, at least).
So the real news isn’t the rise of gender-ambiguous names, but the growing variety of names, which I will show in two ways. First, using the same Social Security database as Sonnad, I constructed the following tables. They list the 10 most popular baby names (male and female) for equidistant 17-year intervals spanning the 136 years between the first year (1880) and most recent year (2016) included in the database. The tables also show the percentages of male and female babies given those names in each of the years. (Right click to view enlarged image in a new tab.)
Source: Go here and scroll to the search tool at the bottom of the page (on the left).
Note the general decline in the percentages. Being in the top 10 these days is almost meaningless compared with being in the top 10 through the 1940s or 1950s. Note also the generally lower percentages for girls’ names than for boys’ names until 2016. Girls have long had a greater variety of names, though boys are finally catching up.
The following graphs (derived from the same source) illustrate the same points. They also highlight the relative stability in the number of names until the 1950s and 1960s, when the percentages of babies with names in the top 10, 100, and 1,000 really began to dive.
Returning to the lists of names, I note that many of the recent top-10 names are throwbacks; the 19th century is “in” again. There are some old top-10 names that have fallen from popularity for good reason — they are grating, if not ugly; for example, Frank (Frank is a wiener; Francis is okay), Henry (better as Henri or Enrico), George (fit only for a king), Walter (a plumber’s name), Donald (rhymes with Ronald, as in McDonald), Richard (you know the nickname), Minnie (little fish), Bertha (as in “Big Bertha”), Florence (with the pursed lips), Ethel (ditto), and Dorothy, Shirley, and Doris (so 1930s and 1940s).
Anyway, those are my prejudices. What are yours?