I initially posted on shifts in the gender gap in name popularity a little over a year ago. In that post, I was interested in charting the proportion of babies born in the U.S. with a top 10 name since 1880. Popular boys names have, throughout American history, always been more popular than popular girls names – almost twice as popular in 1880. That popular names are less popular than they used to be is something accounted for by what Stanley Lieberson refers to as the “moderization theory” of name trends. The idea is that as institutional pressures associated with names decline (like religion or naming practices associated with extended family for instance), we see a proliferation of more diverse names. Simply put, popular names become a whole lot less popular.
But, it’s not just that popular names used to be more popular than they are today. In 1880, boys and girls born were both very likely to be given a top 10 name. But, boys were much more likely than girls to receive one. Indeed, in 1880 there was an 18% point gap between the proportions of girls given a top 10 name (22.98%) and the proportion of boys given a top 10 name (41.26%).
I’ve been watching the gap since I first graphed it when 2014 were the most recent data available. The 2016 name data were just recently released and the gap has continued to shrink. Never since we’ve been measuring it have the top 10 most popular girl names accounted for a larger share of all girls born than the share accounted for among boys by the top 10 boy names. But the gap is smaller today than it has ever been. 7.63% of boys born in the U.S. in 2016 were given a top 10 boy name and 7.62% of girls born in the U.S. in 2016 were given a top 10 girl name. The gap has shrunk to 0.01%. The lines have never crossed yet. But 2017 might just be the year.