Names with Biggest Increase in Popularity

So, it’s been forever since I posted. Got busier at work, the weather has been nice and I’ve gone on several trips- typical excuses. But I hope to get back to some more regular posts!

The 2014 baby names were released and I hope to load them into my database soon. In the meantime, here’s a fun list of names that saw dramatic increases in the last several years and to what or whom that can be attributed.  I compiled the list by calculating which names saw the largest percentage increase in a two year timespan, filtering out very rare names, alternate spellings and only looking at the last 10 years. Here are the top 10…

Name Year Count 2 Years Prior* % Increase Reason
Cataleya F 2012 636 < 5 31,700% Female assassin in movie Columbiana
Jaslene F 2008 872 5 17,000% Winner of America’s Next Top Model Season 8
Kanye M 2004 507 5 10,040% Rapper Kanye West
Rihanna F 2006 571 6 9,400% Singer Rihanna***
Allisson F 2008 767 12 6,300% Mexican TV star Allisson Lozz
Talan M 2006 1058 20 5,200% Reality star on MTV’s Laguna Beach
Audrina F 2007 412 8 5,000% Reality star on MTV’s The Hills
Akeelah F 2006 403 8 5,000% Movie Akeelah and the Bee
Marely F 2008 1004 21 4,700% ?
Miley F 2007 1232 26 4,600% Actress/singer Miley Cyrus from Disney’s Hannah Montana****

*If the name did not appear in the database two years prior, I assigned it a value of 2. It’s hard to say whether it had zero names or up to four names, so it was a compromise. Plus assigning it at 0 made the percentages seem ridiculously high**- it would have been 63,000%  for Cataleya, for example.
**Because 31,700% isn’t ridiculously high at all. 🙂
***Her real name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty
****Her real name is Destiny Hope Cyrus

The name Shaniqua

Contrary to popular belief, Shaniqua is not a common name for black women. Often used as a stereotype to represent unique names used in the African-American community, it barely reached over 1000 names a year twice in the early 1990s before nearly disappearing. For perspective, if you were named Shaniqua, there is a good chance you were the only one in your entire school or town with that name. Shaniqua (and its spelling varieties) don’t even make the cut in the names database beyond 2010. According to comments on, the name rose to popularity from the 1990 hip hop song “Shaniqua” by Oran “Juice” Jones. Sadly, the name doesn’t have a good reputation these days, prompting one commenter on to say, “My name is Shenequia and when I tell people my name , they say ‘well you don’t act like a Shenequia'”. So what exactly is someone named Shaniqua supposed to act like anyway?

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Teen Mom Influence

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I’ll admit that I watched 16 and Pregnant (premiered in 2009), Teen Mom, and Teen Mom 2 when they came out. The two names from the show that have really been affected are Maci and Bentley (seen at left). Bentley is Maci’s son and they were from the very first episode of 16 and Pregnant and then Maci continued her story through Teen Mom. Maci was popular and successful in high school before becoming a teen mom and compared to the others, she seemed to be on a good track and come from a good family. She was shown juggling college and dealing with her baby’s daddy, Ryan, in the first season. Maci is a fan favorite and her son Bentley is super adorable, so it’s no surprise the name Bentley shot through the roof almost more than any other name in the 2000s. Many other reality show names also saw huge increases- The Hills’ Audrina went from 8 names in 2005 to 931 in 2008 and Laguna Beach’s Talan saw a 10,000% spike from 2003 to 2006 (it basically went from nonexistence to about 1000 babies).

The table after the break includes teen moms Maci, Jenelle, and Farrah; Maci’s son Bentley, Jenelle’s son Jace, and Chelsea’s daughter Aubree. All of these names showed an increase during the years their show was on. Interestingly, only the spelling Maci saw an increase. Macy and Macey actually went down during recent years. Some of the names, such as Bentley and most of the moms’ names, have started a downward trend after their brief popularity spike, so perhaps they’ll just be a fad. I would also bet that some people don’t want their son to be “the kid who was named after that boy on Teen Mom.”

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Getting Kreative

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In a previous post, I talked about how common names today are not as popular as the popular names decades ago.  Names like Mary, John, James and Linda were huge during their prime time and could account for as high as 8% of all names that year. Popular names today often only account for 1-3% of all baby names. The chart above shows the distinct number of baby names given out each year since 1880*. If you go to this post, you can see how many babies were born each year for reference. About the same number of babies were born in 1961 and 2013, so obviously from the above graph you can see that there are way more names given out these days- about triple the number between the 1950s and 2000s despite there not being more babies born. Parents want their kids to have more unique names, either by picking something they’ve never heard before or coming up with a new spelling. Like the name Ashley? Why not go with Ashleigh so they can stand out? People started doing things like substituting “ie” for “y” in names like Kellie, Bailie, and Haylie. The letters “ae” also work instead of “a” or “ay” like in Caeden and Kaelyn. I could go on and on…

It’s also interesting to note how the line goes downward in the last couple years. Did we hit a peak? I think there started to be a lot of talk and articles out there about goofy baby names and people started poking fun at them, making parents more cautious.

*Source is the Social Security Administration and only names that occur at least 5 times a year per gender are included in the data set.

Keeping up with the Kardashians’ Names


The Kardashians (and Jenners) have been one of the most famous families in recent years thanks to their reality show that premiered in 2007, so it was fun to run this graph above and see how they have influenced the public in baby names. A few takeaways:

  • Khloe and Mason certainly shot up after they made their entrance into reality television but then the trend quickly reversed and their numbers started dropping. I feel like this is common- people are introduced to a more unique name on TV, they have a baby a few months later and name their kid that having no idea or way of knowing if parents around the country are doing the same thing. Then, once the public realizes how popular the name is (or the celebrity becomes even more famous), they ditch it.
  • Brody was on its way up but started going downhill after Bruce Jenner’s son Brody Jenner started making appearances. Apparently people didn’t like what they saw??
  • I originally had Kimberly in this graph (for Kim, of course) but it was so popular in the 50s-70s that it made it hard to see the details on the lesser used names like Penelope, so I took it out. Plus it didn’t appear that Kim Kardashian had any affect on it.
  • Penelope clearly rose in popularity and I’m curious to see her numbers for 2014.  Penelope (or “P” as I’ve heard her called on the show) is Kourtney’s second child and she recently had a 3rd child, a son she named Reign, so I’d also like to check that one out on future name lists.

Stay tuned for a future post on the Teen Mom gals and their kids- they made quite an impact. Let’s just say teachers should expect to see some Bentley’s in their classes soon.

Netflix Doc

I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix last night that is about names! I was like, this is the documentary I would want to make! Granted, after watching it, it’s not precisely how I’d do a names doc, but it was still pretty entertaining to me. It was made by this guy named Alan Berliner and he gets together with a dozen other Alan Berliner’s in the world (most seemed to be from North America) and discusses the concept of names.  It can be found here.

Boy or girl?



I ran some stats on my database and found the most gender ambiguous name was Casey- almost half are boys and half are girls as you can see from the above graph. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a gender ambiguous name. I have met a couple of male Kellys in my life but I’m sure everyone assumes I’m a girl when they see my name. I once read in Time magazine that Taylor Swift’s parents named her Taylor because that way her gender would not be immediately known, like if someone received her resume, and assumptions and biases could not be made (of course, with social media, if your name is at least somewhat unique, you’ll be found).  In 1989, the year Taylor was born, there were 4800 males named Taylor and 4000 females, so it was pretty even back then. Since then girls have taken over the name- in 2013, it was 4000 females and 800 males.

Here’s a few other gender ambiguous names and which gender wins the count:

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Name Origins #3

Caitlin is an Irish name, variant of Kathleen or Katherine, generally believed to mean “pure” and pronounced “Cotch-leen” in Irish.  Before the 1980s, almost all Caitlins were spelled with a “C”.  The name first appears in the SSA database in 1955 with 5 names and remains under 100 a year until the 1970s. In 1980 it spiked, going from 255 to 648, a 150% increase.  By 1985, there were 2500 Caitlin’s, 1418 Katelyn’s, and 1235 Kaitlin’s, etc.  Did some research and I wonder if this has anything to do with American actress Caitlin O’Heaney, who was born in 1953 and starred in a TV movie and One Life to Live in 1979, followed by a movie with Tom Hanks called He Knows You’re Alone in 1980 (it was Hanks’ first film). In 1982 she got the lead female role in ABC’s Tales of the Gold Monkey and she was also in the Woody Allen film Zelig. So needless to say, she was becoming known in Hollywood.

Tons of variations of spellings crept in as you can see from the graph below. Caitlin was overtaken as the most popular spelling by Kaitlyn and is now the 4th most popular way to spell it.  Growing up, there was a Caitlin next door to me born in the late 80s. I also went to elementary school with a Katelyn born in mid 80s, later on in college knew a Kaitlyn, vaguely knew a Kaitlin through work and just recently met a Kaitlyn born around 1990.  So when I meet a Caitlin, I never assume it’s spelled a certain way.  Personally, I enjoy having a name (Kelly) that is easy to pronounce and spell and most people get it right since it uses the most common spelling. These days in American society, people want their kid to have a unique name and stand out and not be one of 4 Jennifers in their class, so they are getting pretty creative. Here is a list of ways parents spelled Caitlin in 2013: Kaitlyn,Katelyn, Caitlyn, Caitlin, Katelynn, Kaitlynn, Kaitlin, Caitlynn, Katlyn, Katelin, Catelyn, Kaytlin, Kaytlyn, Catelynn, Katelynne, Katlynn, Kaytlynn, Kaitlen, Katlin, Catlyn, Kaitlynne, Catelin, Caytlin, Keitlyn, and Katelyne. Whew.

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Name Comebacks

It’s interesting to see how names that went out of style, similar to fashion, are becoming popular again. Names like Henry and Charlotte were fairly popular 100 years ago before nearly dying off and then seeing a revival in the last decade or so. Two of my coworkers have daughters named Charlotte; Chelsea Clinton named her daughter Charlotte; and my friend’s sister recently named one of her twins Charlotte. I have a college friend who named her son Henry and Julia Roberts did the same. Yet I can’t think of a single person around my age named Charlotte or Henry except for a friend of a friend named Charlotte who lives in my apartment building.

These names sound fresh and cool- for whatever reason, it’s adorable (to me and others, at least) to currently name your baby son George, Jack or Henry, names we traditionally think of for old men. People are going back to the classics, perhaps picking a name their great-grandparents had (or could have had). After many years in the 1990s and 2000s of girls being given boy or masculine-sounding names like Jordan, Riley and Taylor, parents started going back to more feminine names that were popular long ago, like Emma, Olivia, Ava, Alice, and Olive, many of which end with an “a” instead of a “y” sound like most popular 80s/90s names like Ashley, Brittany, and Mackenzie. It’s rare for boys to have an “a”-ending name- exceptions include “ah” names like Elijah, Micah, Ezra, Jonah, and Joshua- all Biblical names. Dakota, Dana, Ira, and Luca/Luka make up the few “a”-ending, non-Biblical names that are at least somewhat commonly assigned to boys, but the first three are also frequently assigned to girls. I’ve noticed from following pro tennis, which has become very international, that many European women on tour have “a”-ending names, like Maria, Anna and Martina, and tend to be more traditional; much more so than the American women, whose names are all over the board, from Venus to Madison to Shelby.

The graph below shows several names experiencing comebacks after dying off following the 20s and 30s. I noticed that they started going downhill around the time of a low-point in US births (see this post to see how many babies were born in the US each year) but they obviously didn’t go back up during the baby boom, indicating a major decrease in popularity. Emma is the most popular of all these and I’m curious if that peak in 2003 happened because of Rachel from the popular show Friends naming her daughter Emma in a May 2002 episode. Or it could have just been that it reached its max popularity before it became too popular for everyone, but I bet Emma Geller Green had at least some impact!

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