Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Baby names

For no particular reason, I've always been a little obsessed with baby names. Anyway, I was looking online at the top 20 baby girl names from the 1920s and they were the following:

Mary, Dorothy, Helen, Margaret, Ruth, Mildred, Anna, Elizabeth, Frances, Marie, Evelyn, Virginia, Alice, Florence, Rose, Lillian, Irene, Louise, Edna, Gladys

I treat a primarily geriatric population of patients and I can absolutely say this is accurate. Literally every other patient is named Dorothy. I can often guess the age of a patient (give or take five years) based on their first name. Some of these names are sort of timeless, like Anna. But others, like Mildred, are incredibly dated. Both my grandmothers' names are on that list.

Now look at the top 20 baby names of 2010:

Sophia, Isabella, Olivia, Emma, Chloe, Ava, Abigail, Madison, Ella, Addison, Emily, Lily, Mia, Avery, Grace, Hannah, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Zoe, Natalie

Notice there are only two names in common from both lists: Elizabeth and Lily/Lillian. (Although I've noticed that old Elizabeths call themselves Betty/Betsy and young Elizabeths go by Liz.)

Now as a person who lives in the year 2011, I think these names mostly sound pretty cute. (Except for Addison, which just reminds me of JFK's orange complexion.) Once again, some of those names are timeless, but I guarantee that in 70 years, Madison will probably call to mind an elderly stroke patient. (Sorry if your kid's name is Madison. Or Addison.)

You could say similar things about male names, but they tend to be much less trendy, from what I've observed. There are a lot of Joes, Johns, and Jims no matter how old the man is.

Not that I think anyone would actually take this post into consideration when choosing their kid's name, but how the name will sound fifty years from now is something to think about. After all, even 40 year old Kid Rock is regretting his name.


  1. But what about the Howards, Donalds, and Raymonds of the 1920s? The now-equivalents are going to be the Logans, Calebs, and Aidens.

  2. The Aidens are definitely going to be screwed, but I still think girls names are trendier than boys names. This is a list I just googled from 2010:

    # 1. Jacob
    # 2. Ethan
    # 3. Michael
    # 4. Alexander
    # 5. William
    # 6. Joshua
    # 7. Daniel
    # 8. Jayden
    # 9. Noah
    # 10. Anthony
    # 11. Christopher
    # 12. Aiden
    # 13. Matthew
    # 14. David
    # 15. Andrew
    # 16. Joseph
    # 17. Logan
    # 18. James
    # 19. Ryan
    # 20. Benjamin

    Some of those names are trendy, but a lot more of them are really classic and probably common in any age group. Even Jacob, which is really trendy right now, is a biblical name and will likely never be like Mildred is today.

  3. I love so many of those early 1900's names for girls (my faves I think are Pearl, Grace, and Ruby, though Ruby is getting quite popular again).

    My current obsession, though, is with traditional Irish names. I am sure my future children will be so annoyed (especially if I give them the Irish spellings):

    Nuala (pronounced "New-la")
    Grainne ("Gran-ya")
    Aofie ("Eee-fah")
    Éabha ("Ay-vah")

    And my favorite boys name, Oísín (pronounced Oh-SHEEN). I also like Emmett.

  4. There's a kids TV show that my daughter loves called Max and Ruby, so I think Ruby must be at least marginally popular.

  5. I LOVE baby names. Of course I do a lot of role plaging games and costuming so usually I'm obsessing over names for me/my characters. But I spend A LOT of time looking into these and I love finding new and different names that are outside that spectrum of 'normal' names.

  6. What's interesting is that girls names have almost always been "trendier" than boys names, in that they display more variety and that the most popular girl's names are always less popular than the most popular boy's names (in the first half of 17th C England, quite literally 1 out of every 4 boys was named John). To take two very disparate data sets, in a study of names from Imola (about 40km SE of Bologna) in 1312, the most popular man's name, Johannes and its variants, was borne by 1 in 10 of the men, whereas the most popular woman's name, Malgarita and its variants, was borne by fewer than 1 in 20 of the women. And on the other end of the spectrum, 56% of the men's names appear only once, compared to 61% of the women's names. In Uffculme, Devonshire, marriage records from the 16th and early 17th C, while the most popular men's and women's names were roughly on par (161 instances of John, 125 of Jone (modern Joan) and its variants), there are many more variant spellings among the women's names, and 23 of the women's names appear only once, compared to only 18 of the men's. Similar patterns can be seen in analogous records from Durham and Northumberland

    (Data from http://staff.science.uva.nl/~suckelma/latex/imola/medievalprosopography.pdf, http://www.ellipsis.cx/~liana/names/english/parishes/parishes.html, and http://www.ellipsis.cx/~liana/names/english/uffculme.html).

  7. I like the kind of "old school" sounding names. My friend just named her baby girl Stella...I just adore it. My husband and I still don't know if we want to have kids, but if we do, the names are already picked out :)

  8. Hello doc fizzy
    i don't remember the last thing i did b4 i stumbled upon ur blog
    i have been readin it since
    thanx for puttin such nice stuff for free!!
    i am a med stdnt myself
    and i hav added ur blog to list of blogs i follow in my blog
    i am not a fan of baby names
    bt it seemed sane enuf to post in ur latest post to let u knw u got a more reader... :-))

  9. We tried to pick not so trendy names for our kids for that reason. I think for the boys, Aidan, Jaden, and maybe Logan will be the dated names...plus anything spelled creatively. My SIL is an RVT and she said they are seeing a ton of puppies named Bella and Cullen these days...thanks Twlight! LOL.

  10. I'm one of those rare 20-something Dorothys...old ladies giggle at me.

  11. Great post! I enjoyed the JFK reference as my sister has Addison's Disease and has recently been amused at the name's popularity amongst her friends.

    I also enjoyed this article recently about the most hated (common) names in America: http://www.livescience.com/13917-hated-baby-names.html

    Though I like some of these names more than others, I am particularly amused that 50% of the most hated boy names rhyme with each other!

  12. Kyla: I was actually considering Edward as a boys name but was worried about the popularity due to Twilight... somehow Edward hasn't shot up in the charts though.

    Alpine: I actually know a couple of young Dorothys. That used to be my favorite name when I was a kid due to the Wizard of Oz. I apparently named every doll I owned Dorothy.

    Liz: I love that boys list and how all the names rhyme. I disagree with Michael though, because it really isn't that common these days. And yeah, how did Addison get so popular?

  13. As a youngish Alice, I can testify to the pain of having an old lady name. It's hard to get over as a child.
    Before Liz posted that list, I was going to say that, as a pediatrician, I and all my friends have informal lists of what we call "high morbidity names." Ask any pediatrician what the biggest high morbidity name is and 9 out of 10 will say Nevaeh. Guaranteed. Trust.