I’ve been tracking shifts in the proportion of U.S. babies given top ten names among boys and girls since 2015. I think it’s a really fascinating trend and I use it some of my classrooms. The basic lesson is that popular baby names used to be a whole lot more popular than they are today. And the gender gap in just how popular the most popular baby names are has shrunk over time. As of 2017, for the first time since we can measure it using data from the Social Security Administration, the trend lines for girls and boys crossed. Since 2017, the top 10 most popular girls names are more popular than the top ten most popular boys names.
In 2019, I learned that I was not the first to notice this, or the first to graph the proportions of Americans giving babies top ten names to their boys and girls. Andrew Gelman published a piece in the New York Times in 2013 on the rise the proportion of American boys given a name ending with the letter “n.” He also wrote a blog post including two graphs he wished NYT had used for the story. One shows the rise in the proportion of baby boys given a name ending in “n.” And the other shows the proportions of baby boys and girls given top ten names by year (through, I’m assuming, 2012). I edited my original post to link to and credit Gelman’s figure.
And if we go back a bit further, Philip Cohen looked at this trend among girls in 2009 in a Huffington Post article. While Cohen was not looking at the gender gap in name popularity, he was interested in the shifts in names and naming trends that relate to what Stanley Lieberson referred to as the “modernization theory of name trends” in A Matter of Taste. Cohen was interested in both which name were most popular contemporarily vs. in the past as well as how the level of popularity of those popular names shifted over time.
Gelman’s more central discovery about the rise in the preponderance of boys given names ending in “n” was revisited again with a really cool animated visualization by Kieran Healy showing shifts in the distributions of last letters of boy and girl names among babies born over time. You can see the rise of “n” on the figure for boys and the steady dominance of names ending with “a” and “e” for girls.
Anyway, consider this my annual update on the trend Gelman identified in 2013 on shifts in the proportion of the prevalence of top ten baby names given to boys and girls as of 2018. The trend from 2017 continued. Top ten girl names remain (just slightly) more popular than top ten boy names, reversing a huge a very long-standing trend. Here is the updated figure.
And here’s a figure that looks only at the figure since 2000.
Smart stuff. I enjoy following this trend each year along with all of the other things we can consider just by looking at baby name data.