Name Origins #2

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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.

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!

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 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.
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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.

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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.

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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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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 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.

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: 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

Not as Popular as You Think

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When I was a kid in school, there might be more than one Amanda, Sarah, or Jessica in class, and every Matt in college seemed to have a nickname because there were so many. My parents (born in the 50s) talk about all the Marys, Johns and James in their classes.  Nowadays, people say “don’t name your kid Madison or Madelyn, there will be 5 Maddie’s in one class alone” but is that really true? Seems like there is more of a variety of names today which would mean that giving your kid a popular name would mean they might not have to contend with being Olivia K. instead of just “Olivia” too often. Looking at data from the SSA, which releases all the baby names assigned since 1880 (as long as it occurred at least 5 times in a year), it would appear my hypothesis is true. Of course, this data set is lumping all names assigned across the entire US, so fortunately they do release data per state, which shows that certain states, especially western ones like Wyoming and Nevada, have much fewer distinct names. I would guess this has to do with them being less populated and less diverse. States like New York had a greater variety and I even noticed many Jewish-sounding names in the list. I read here that Utahns tend to be extra creative, perhaps to help their kids stand out in a culture of super-size polygamous families. I nodded my head when I read this, thinking of the Brown family on Sister Wives– they’ve got 17ish kids with names like Mykelti, Aspyn, Dayton and Paedon. In the end, naming your kid Olivia might mean that in many areas, they will be the only one in their class, but in other areas they might have to take on their last initial.

The graphs above show how popular names today are not as popular as you would think. In each, I compare two of the most popular names of 2013 compared to two extremely common names in the past. I cannot believe how popular Mary was and how little the Olivia and Emma lines are next to it! Note that I picked names with fewer spelling varieties to make this as accurate as possible, like Emma is usually spelled Emma, whereas Sophia can also be spelled Sofia. People back in the day were not as creative with how they spelled names. Grouping names together by similar spellings is something I’m still working on (it’s somewhat of a manual process).

It’s also crazy how many boys were named John or James.  Over 94,000 named James in 1947! Approximately 11.5% of all boys in 1947 were either John or James!  No wonder my dad, James, had nicknames growing up, whether it being something like Jay or Jim or a nickname based off of his last name.

Source: Social Security Administration

Baby Boom

This chart shows the number of births in the US per year.  Interesting to see the baby boom in the 1950s and early 60s visualized here and how the number of babies born today is about the same as the baby boom peak- was not expecting that (thought there would be a higher number of births). In 1961, nearly 4.26 million babies were born. In 2009, there were 4.13 million births. This graph helps me feel semi-comfortable about making name trend graphs by using count of babies born, rather than percentage; for example, if the number of babies born now was twice as high as several decades ago, then that would not be very accurate.


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