Thursday, September 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday #3: 100 Years of Names

How have first names changed over 100 years? The above charts only show us around 80 names out of the thousands that have been used for children in the US since the Social Security Administration began recording births in 1879. The two charts can't show us direct trends, popular names in between, or the context surrounding the shift. But I think, looking closely, we can make our own inferences, find parallels, and think about how names might change in the future. 

Let's start with the names found on both lists. For boys, William, James and Joseph feature on both; for girls, Elizabeth and Evelyn. Three of the five names are Hebrew in origin, the other two are Germanic. We can easily infer that Hebrew names are popular in the US because of the prevalence of Christianity - over 70% of Americans identify as Christian. William, Elizabeth, James and Joseph each have never dipped below the top 30, and have not trended one way or another. Evelyn, on the other hand, has plunged all the way down to #289, and is only recently trending upwards again. So, while the five names listed appear on both lists, only four are consistent - Evelyn is an outlier. 

On the boys' side, types of names have changed less - 5/20 names in 1914 were Biblical derivations, and 13/20 names in 2014 were Biblical derivations. Does this mean that Christianity is rising? That promoting the appearance of Christianity is increasing? Or, that as names become more secular and less attached to their original meanings, parents care less about origin and care more about sound? All but one of the names on the 1914 boys' list were Germanic or Hebrew - George is Greek. The 2014 list, on the other hand, includes more modern English names and even invented names - Jayden. Originality is definitely becoming more desirable. 

Now to the girls! Both sets of names show a higher variety of origins - Old English, Germanic, Hebrew, Latin, Roman and Greek names are represented in both lists. The girls' names include variants of one another as well: Mia, Mary and Marie; Elizabeth, Lillian and Isabella; Helen and Ella; Sofia and Sophia. The most popular first letters for both lists include E, M and A. So while, the origins may be more diverse, the ultimate names haven't changed too much. 

This post is much more academic than previous ones, so I'll stop while I'm ahead. What trends do you see? Based on this knowledge, can you predict what names we'll see rising up the charts? I think Maya and Lucy might be on their way. 

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