Boy or girl?

Casey

GenderAmbiguous_Casey

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
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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Caitlins

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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Comebacks

Name Origins #2

JasonJenniferLinda
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Jennifer
The name Jennifer first appeared in the SSA’s baby name records in 1916 (in order to be released in the public records, it must have been given to at least 5 babies in a given year). The name steadily rose up into the 1960s when it reached 33,000 babies in 1969. Not a bad number. Then in 1970, a novel called A Love Story was released with a character named Jennifer. A movie by the same name was also released soon after. This helped soar Jennifer up to 63,600 names in 1972 (including actress Jennifer Garner)- almost double from 1969. It maintained popularity until the mid 1980s when it started dropping. But I wondered, where did it come from originally and why was it so popular in the 1960s before A Love Story came out? Well, it’s a Welsh name that has been in use since the 18th century, but started being used in the states after George Bernard Shaw’s play called The Doctor’s Dilemma came out in 1906- the main character was named Jennifer and America started falling in love with it.

Linda
The name Mary was the #1 girls name in the US from 1880 to 1947. Then, it was kicked off its throne by Linda. Linda is in the records starting in 1880 (the earliest year in the SSA records) but exploded in the 1940s. One of the most popular names in US history, Linda outranks all names for the most babies in a single year- in 1947, 99,674 Lindas were born! But unlike Jennifer, which remained at its peak popularity for just over a decade, Linda started plummeting just a couple years after 1947. By 1957, 10 years later and during the peak of the baby boom, “only” 44,000 babies were named Linda. By 1977, less than 3000 and in 2013 there were only 435 Lindas. Linda as a name has mostly German roots but in Spanish it means “beautiful.” In 1946, Buddy Clark released a song called “Linda” that he wrote upon a friend’s request who had a six-year-old daughter named Linda. The song was really popular in 1947 and reached #1 on the Billboard Music charts. The song was then sung and released by another singer, Charlie Spivak, in 1947 and that was also a hit. The Linda the song was named after grew up to become Linda McCartney– Paul’s wife!

jason
The boys’ name Jason has Greek roots and Jason was the leader of the Argonauts in Greek mythology. Jason is also in the New Testament of the Bible- these two things help it be a name that’s been around for a while (it’s on the SSA list since the first year in 1880), but it hit its peak in the US in 1977 with 55,000 babies (this included country singer Jason Aldean). At first I thought this could be attributed to the character Jason in the very popular Friday the 13th movies, but it turns out that the first one didn’t come out until 1980. So I did a little research on it and found a lot of characters in TV and movies, including the Friday the 13th movies; Jason on the popular series The Waltons, which started out as a TV movie at the end of 1971 before turning into a TV series that lasted 9 seasons; the character of Jason Weber on the soap Guiding Light– he was on from 1965 to 1966 and was killed off in a car accident; and the character Jason on the sitcom Here Come the Brides, which lasted from 1968-1970 (from 68 to 69 the name Jason more than doubled in count). Jason may have died off in popularity in recent years, but it’s not that far gone- in 2013, there were still 5400 babies! Not too shabby. Jason probably helped usher in today’s plethora of names ending in ‘on’ like Mason, Peyton, Jayden, and Grayson and so it doesn’t sound that old yet.

There’s a twist in the Jason storyline, though- Jayceon! First appearing in 2005 and hitting 1,838 names in 2013, Jayceon has come to the forefront thanks to rapper Jayceon, also known as Game. Mostly pronounced exactly like “Jason”, this new spelling has risen fast. Many spelling variations also exist, like Jaycon, Jayson, Jasen, Jaiceon, Jasyn, Jaceon, and Jaesun.

Name Trends: Friends Edition

friends

Friends was an incredibly popular show on television from 1994-2004. Everyone tried to be home or tape it on Thursday nights at 8. So did the names of the characters- Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey- gain or lose popularity because of the show? Only Chandler received a boost by the show and it was pretty minor. A rarer name back then, the show at least put Chandler into the consciousnesses of parents everywhere as they named their babies. As the table below the graph shows, Chandler was already on the rise, so the show just catapulted it higher. The name Rachel (and its similar spelling, Rachael) may have fallen due to the show- it’s hard to say for sure. The actress (Jennifer Aniston) and character became super popular a couple years in, especially in part to “the Rachel” haircut, so that may be why it started to drop around 1997. It’s interesting how Rachel plateaued for several years because I have not seen this shape for very many popular names (most names are mountain, hill or roller coaster-shaped). I was surprised to not see Phoebe gain more popularity as the character is lovable and Lisa Kudrow is hilarious, but maybe her eccentric and aloof personality turned people away from the name. The name Monica stayed pretty flat through the start of the show but dipped after the 1998 Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The line on the graph represents when Friends premiered in fall of 1994.
FriendsCharacters
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Chandler

Name Trends: Political Edition

Note: This post was updated on January 24, 2017.

What happens to your name if your dad or husband becomes the President of the United States? Take a look at Chelsea and Hillary, which took a nose dive after former President Bill Clinton took office. I can’t say for sure why, but I’d speculate people didn’t want their kid to share their name with someone so well known and be associated with them, whether they liked the Clintons or not. Even if you liked the name Chelsea and you voted for Bill, seeing them all over the newspapers and TV may have been nixed Chelsea off your baby list. Maybe they didn’t want people responding with “oh, like the first daughter?” or “like as in Clinton?” when told their baby’s name. I suppose some may have been turned off because of political party affiliation. Who knows, but neither name recovered, which is sad, because I think Chelsea and Hillary are nice names, but that’s just my opinion.

Chelsea_Hillary
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Jenna Bush’s name trajectory has been a bit more of a roller coaster, but the name Jenna, like Chelsea and Hillary, also took a popularity hit once her dad became President.  However, it increased sharply shortly after her grandfather became the VP, but it’s hard to tell if that’s what caused the increase. I found no distinct correlations with Barbara, George, and Laura.

jennabushname
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Name Origins #1

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of posts that explain or hypothesize why certain names came into existence or exploded in popularity.  Today’s post examines three trendy girls’ names as of late: Harper, Madison, and Peyton. Have you ever wondered where those names came from?

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HarperMadisonPeyton

Madison
While I don’t have the exact answer behind Peyton and Harper, Madison as a girls’ name owes its existence almost solely to the 1984 movie Splash. Daryl Hannah plays a mermaid who ends up in NYC and upon seeing a sign for Madison Ave, decides to name herself Madison. And viola- suddenly babies across the country were being named Madison. As the below chart shows, prior to 1984, pretty much no females were named Madison.  In 1984? 42. 1985 saw a whopping 299 and it just grew from there. There are some male Madisons out there- it averaged about 34 a year from 1880-1983. There’s Madison Bumgarner, a Major League Baseball pitcher, and Madison Hildebrand, who starred as a realtor on the reality show “Million Dollar Listing.” Madison Bumgarner was born in 1989, so I wonder how he feels having a girls’ name. I would love to interview girl Madisons born before 1984 to learn why they were named that, like did their parents just like it? Were they conceived in Madison, Wisconsin? Were the parents just trying to be unusual or give their daughter a strong, masculine name? Back in the 70s and early 80s, I’m sure a girl being named Madison would have been strange to many people. I wonder what their parent’s reaction was to Madison’s exploding popularity- something they could not have predicted.

Peyton
Peyton was piddling along as a rare girl name until a movie also catapulted it into fame. In 1992, there was a drama/thriller called The Hand that Rocks the Cradle that had a female character named Peyton. I went to high school with a guy named Peyton and most Americans are familiar with NFL player Peyton Manning, who was born in 1976 alongside just 37 other male Peyton/Paytons that year, but just today while in a store I heard a woman call after a little girl named Peyton. So is it assigned more to boys or girls? Originally, it was all boys, but in 1992 the girls took the lead (719 to 448, including spelling varieties) thanks to the movie and have held it ever since. 2013’s tally: 7387 girls to 2342 boys.

Harper
On the 1995-96 season of the super popular NBC show ER, a female character named Harper was introduced and often played opposite Noah Wyle’s character Dr. Carter. The name is definitely on the rise and a few celebrities have named their daughters Harper, including Victoria and David Beckham, the Today show’s Jenna Wolfe and Stephanie Gosk, and Tiffani Thiessen (aka Kelly Kapowski from Saved By the Bell). Not surprisingly, the name is originally an English surname for a person who played the harp or made harps (source: BehindTheName.com) and is often assigned to boys as well as girls.

Madison (girl)
Year Number of Babies
2001 (Peak) 22158
1990 1408
1989 1223
1988 821
1987 750
1986 645
1985 299
1984 42
1970-83 0-6 per year
Peyton (girl)
Year Number of Babies
2009 (Peak) 5310
1996 1104
1995 588
1994 585
1993 617
1992 398
1991 67
1990 61
1989 35
Harper (girl)
Year Number of Babies
2013 (Peak) 8222
2006 597
2004 274
2002 164
2000 135
1998 93
1996 107
1994 33
1992 21
1990 12