A few thoughts on the new name stats from the SSA

If you haven’t already, be sure to read my Mother’s Day post (there’s a giveaway)!

I think one of the things I loved the most about the Social Security Administration releasing the 2016 name stats last Friday was seeing how excited Abby from Appellation Mountain was! That morning on Facebook she revealed how she’d been refreshing the SSA site all morning in hopes they’d finally updated it … then when they did she pretty immediately posted a video of her talking about the results (she mentioned some names I’ve had discussions about recently, like Matteo and Shepherd), and has posted a couple great articles analyzing the results:

Most Popular Baby Names – May 2017 Update (mostly discussion of the new-not-new top ten)
Top 100 Baby Names May 2017 Update

I also really enjoyed these from the Baby Name Wizard:

America’s Fastest-Rising Boys’ Names: Feel the Force
The Fastest-Rising Girls’ Names of The Year

And found this one (also from BNW) really interesting:

Caitlyn at the Crossroads: The Fastest-Falling Baby Names of the Year

Laura starts out by saying, “At first glance, this wholesale retreat from a familiar name may seem to be a rejection of Jenner’s new public identity,” which was exactly what I would assume it to be, but I also appreciated that she pointed out, “The name was sliding out of fashion, and it’s easiest to move the public in a direction it’s already heading.” She also makes the good point that, “The name itself was the story, announced with a flourish in a ‘Call Me Caitlyn’ magazine cover, the choice of name debated and analyzed” — a million percent yes! — but then argues, “The result was inevitable Caitlyn fatigue,” which I strongly disagree with. I would characterize the fact that the name was already “sliding out of fashion” as name fatigue; I would describe what happened in the wake of Caitlyn Jenner (which Laura herself called a “wholesale retreat”) as name train wreck. Take a look at these numbers:

caitlyn_et_al-2016
From https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/rankchange.html

This screenshot is from the newest statistics, and they’re listed in order of greatest amount of decrease to least amount of decrease, so these four names were the four biggest drops of all the girls’ names in use in the U.S. I was amazed to see this! I mean, all four of those variants were well into the top 1000 (except Kaitlynn, which was hovering on the line), and all four dropped out of the top 1000 in one year.

To be fair, I tried to find the decrease stats from last year, to see if this isn’t as big a deal as it looks like to me, and found a post Nancy had done that showed Isis as the biggest loser in 2015, having dropped 1065 spots, but in the top ten biggest decreases were also Annabell (500 spots), Anabel (500 spots), Anabella (333 spots), and Anabelle (272 spots), which I thought were good parallels for the Caitlyn names, since they were also four variants of the same name, and all dropped similar amounts to the Caitlyn names — in fact, not to get all math-y, but I did the math and the four Caitlyn names dropped a cumulative 1787 spots (averaging 446.75 each), while the Annabell names dropped a cumulative 1605 spots (averaging 401.25 each). This might not seem like anything except that Nancy noted, “nearly every single variant of Annabelle was negatively affected by the horror film Annabelle, released in late 2014.” So Caitlyn’s no Isis, but had a similar effect as a horror movie. Oh dear.

(For the record, I still love the name.)

(There are also other variants of both names lower down in the decrease list, I just focused on those in the top ten.)

(Also interesting in light of our Damien discussion is that until now I hadn’t heard a whisper of that horror movie, despite having freely and frequently suggested Annabel(le) to parents on the blog and in private consultations.)

I’m also not sure I agree with this point, which I’ve seen a lot of other people say as well: “Finally, consider that the Caitlyn gazing out of that famous magazine cover was 65 years old. Caitlyn became popular as a fresh, youthful twist on Catherine and Kathleen. The new standard-bearer for the name helped age it in a hurry.” I just don’t see the name Caitlyn as having aged at all, I still see it as a young-ish name that is now worn by a 67 year old, which is as jarring to me as hearing other names that were similar in popularity to the Caitlyn names during the Caitlyn names’ peak (1990s), like Lindsey and Kristen, on a grandmother. Do you agree?

Otherwise, I took a look through the rest of the changes (changes in increase as well as decrease, and those that stayed the same), which I found to be the most interesting part of the statistics, and didn’t find anything as interesting as Aranza and Mon(t)serrat of 2014 except for Mercy for the girls — it’s no. 21 on the list of girls’ names that rose the most, having increased 222 spots from out of the top 1000 to well in it (new no. 731) and all I think is: Jubilee Year of Mercy! 😍 Zaylee also increased 177 spots to no. 813 (which may be due to St. Zelie?), and Regina, Rosemary, Juniper, Clementine, Mabel, Colette, Edith, Siena, Livia, Adelaide, Aurora, Helen, Felicity, and Gianna caught my eye from those names that increased in popularity.

For the boys Augustine went up 87 spots to no. 728, Santiago went up 21 to no. 106 (what? I had NO idea it was that popular!), and Thaddeus, Matthias, Conrad, Fisher, Gilbert, Bennett, George, Oliver, Henry, Jasper, Harold, Oscar, and Roman (which is new to the top 100) all jumped out at me as well.

On the decrease list, Guadalupe, Madeleine, Lola, Catherine and Katherine and Kate, Genevieve, and Mary stood out to me for girls, and Blaise, Mohammed, Damien (though still a top 300 name) and Damian (though still not too far from top 100), Myles, and Jude for boys.

Also Sylvie is up while Sylvia is down, which seems right to me based on where the collective taste seems to be at the moment. Do you agree?

Did any of the rest of you wait on pins and needles for this new info? Did you find anything exciting or disappointing? Any other thoughts/analyses?

52 thoughts on “A few thoughts on the new name stats from the SSA

  1. I hadn’t seen that Regina rose that’s very interesting. Claire also saw a bump. I was most surprised that Lucy didn’t rise in rank and in terms of raw numbers of births was actually down a bit.

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    • The relationship between raw numbers and rank is so interesting — I didn’t look at any raw numbers when I wrote this, but that’s something I’d like to do sometime.

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  2. So, NO version of Caitlin is even in the top 1000 at this point?! Now that is just AMAZING. For a name that basically represented an era to become so completely out of favor?! That’s just a huge WOW.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My earliest memory of the name Caitlin was a school friend of one of my cousins. My cousin and I did a summer camp with this particular Caitlin, and at the end of the camp, we wrote a story together about the experience. (We were really nerdy.) While writing the story, we didn’t know how Caitlin spelled her name, so we referred to her as Kaitlin/Caitlyn in our manuscript. To this day (18+ years later), we refer to this particular girl as Kaitlin/Caitlyn 😉

    I thought that Abby’s point in her video about what is acceptable as a boy’s name now compared to in past generations was really apt. It seems to me that boy names tend to include less “adventurous” choices than girl names, or a narrower set of options in terms of popular/acceptable names. The names in the Top 100 and especially Top 10 now seem to buck that trend (although, of course, “adventurous” names are relative!).

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  4. People don’t want to have their daughters associated with a controversial topic or figure. I also noticed that the name Elsa has dropped even further since last year. Too many little girls singing “Let It Go” and Disney Princess merchandise. The name Zelie increased. Theodosia really didn’t, despite Hamilton. The name Lyanna really increased in popularity, albeit not in the top 1000. There was a spunky little girl with the name on Game of Thrones. I was expecting that character, with that spelling, to inspire a lot of namesakes and I think it did.

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    • That’s interesting, because (though I haven’t looked at numbers, this is purely anecdotal) it seems like the names Ariel and Belle rose in popularity after The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. I’d never heard of anyone using those names before that, anyway, and did afterward.

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      • Ariel became more popular than Belle, I think. Maybe Frozen reached a greater saturation point. I see the dolls and posters and Frozen clothing every time I walk by the kid section at Target. Little girls by the dozens dressed up as Elsa at Halloween. Before the movie came out, Elsa was a quietly fashionable name, especially for parents with Scandinavian heritage. Now it’s everywhere and associated with the movie.

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      • I decided to look it up. Ariel jumped from #209 in 1989 to #94 in 1990 and #66 in 1991, so a clear positive influence there (The Little Mermaid was released in November of 1989). (I didn’t look up any spelling variations, like Arielle.) The name Belle entered the top 1000 in 2016, but the name Isabelle seems to have been influenced by the character Belle. Beauty and the Beast was released in September of 1991, and Isabelle entered the top 1000 that year, at 975. By 1992, Isabelle was in the 833 spot, and continued to rise dramatically in popularity thereafter, until it peaked at #79 in 2007. Elsa also saw a HUGE surge in popularity after Frozen was released in November of 2013. It went from #526 in 2013 to #286 in 2014, the year it was most popular ever! It was also very popular (#486) in 2015, before dropping off in 2016. So actually, the princesses seem to have a huge influence on name popularity, and not in the way we would’ve guessed.

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      • While looking up the anticipated release date for Frozen 2 at my children’s behest, I came across this on Wikipedia: “In a 2014 mid-year report of the 100 most-used baby names conducted by BabyCenter, Elsa was ranked 88; it was the first time the name had appeared on the site’s chart. Sarah Barrett, managing director of the site, explained that while the film’s popular heroine is called Anna, ‘Elsa offers a more unique name and is also a strong female role model.’ Many parents revealed that their choices of name were ‘heavily influenced’ by the siblings. Vice president of Disney UK Anna Hill later commented that ‘We’re delighted that Elsa is a popular name for babies and it’s lovely to hear that for many families, it is actually their siblings who have chosen it,’ and that ‘Elsa’s fight to overcome her fears and the powerful strength of the family bond’ were relatable to many families.”

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  5. I think maybe the problem is when specifically a name (in this case a name change, or a horror film titled with a name, or a disney film where there is A LOT of emphasis on a name, or a little boy demon with a specific name, or an Amazon robot with a name) and not necessarily a person become really prevalent in popular culture. In the case of Caitlin it was already declining, but for example in the case of Elsa, that was a rising name (I think? I might be wrong but it is a vintage name and they’re so popular these days) and a non controversial character, but parents were/are still conscious of it. I met a mom with a kid named elsa born a few months before the film came out, she was SO sad about it.

    I am sure this is not the right blog to discuss this, but there are very interesting trends when it comes to trans people choosing a new name: some people find a completely different one, some people find out from their parents what they would have been named if they had been assigned their preferred gender at birth.

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  6. So I absolutely noticed that the name Caitlyn bombed out, and my husband and I had a conversation about it, and neither of us could figure out why. Ha. We both avoid news and certainly avoid the whole Bruce Jenner thing, so it was a major aha moment reading your story! I can’t believe I didn’t think of him.

    I was surprised to see Sebastian up to number 24. My husband still thinks it’s unusable because of The Little Mermaid, but clearly the general public disagrees. We still don’t know any in real life though.

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      • I know a few Catholic Sebastians of non Spanish-speaking origin, but it’s true that we have to consider that background as names rise and fall in popularity, especially in places like California and Texas. But even broadly in the US, Spanish-speakers have a higher birthrate than the rest of us (possibly why the US birthrate is at 1.86 and not even lower…we are reaching a population crisis so fast. Very worrisome!)

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  7. I was a little bummed to see Elijah back in the top 10 as it is one of our top two baby names if our little Sept. green bean is a boy. On the flip side, I love seeing traditionally religious names becoming back “en vogue” but I’m a Sarah in a generation of Sarah’s and so I tend to prefer less popular names.

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    • The good news is that even the most popular names (#1) don’t really see very broad use because people are using WAY more variety. We talked about this in terms of the name Noah last year. About 20,000 boys were named Noah that year, according to numbers I just looked up (this isn’t the number I cited before, which was only for public schools), there are about 90,000 elementary schools (public and private) in operation in the United States. There wouldn’t even be a Noah in every school…and it was the #1 name. By contrast, in, let’s say, 1985, even the #20 boys’ name was used more than 20,000 times, the #1 name was used like 70,000 times that year. So, yes, the top names were used a whole lot more when we were born than they are today, because today parents are using a broader naming pool (I assume this means more children are being named things outside the top 1000 than ever, and then there’s the declining birthrate to factor in, as well.)

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      • Always love looking at these statistics! It so important to actually look at percentages and number of births to see how popular something is! Because a name being #50 or something really isn’t popular at all!

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      • Grace, that’s so true! It can mean that there were something like 500-1000 people named that in a given year…that’s like 2-4 per state! Lol!

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      • 10-20 per state still is barely any! Think about it in a state with a major city too, like New York (with NYC) or Illinois (with Chicago)! Such a small chance of having maybe more than 1 other in the grade, which really isn’t the end of the world. Kids are only in school for a small part of their life!

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      • I think the only scenario where you’re guaranteed to meet an Elijah and a Noah is a Jewish community: I went to Jewish school in Texas, and there were mostly only a few names, over and over (David, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Daniel, Samuel).

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      • Just thinking of two Catholic families I know who have sib sets like Elijah and Noah: one who has a Noah and a Levi; one who has a T!tus, Isa!ah, and El!jah

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      • My nephew is a Noah. His sibs are Helen, Felix, Stella, and yet-to-be-named baby sis. Noah is used by all sorts of folks, but I do find it surprising that you know SO many, Kate, just considering how few children across the entire country receive each name!

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    • I actually think it is rising because of the 50 Shades of Gray movie. I’m not sure people see it as a negative association. The character is young and attractive and marries the wealthy (albeit with plenty of kinks) man and lives happily ever after at the end of the book series. I haven’t read the books or seen the movies, which I gather are pretty bad, but I know the general outline. It’s the same appeal that Twilight or the Harlequin romance has. I’ve always liked Anastasia because of the Romanov association.

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      • I agree with you, Andrea. I think women have always used the names from the stories that captivate them. Think of the popularity of Crystal and Alexis in the 1980s because of characters on the show Dynasty. We love to be carried away on the romance of a story, and when we’ve become deeply invested, we come away with a new appreciation for the character’s name. Like, would Scarlett (with two t’s!) even BE a name if it hadn’t been for Scarlett O’Hara? It’s true that most of the fans of 50 Shades of Grey probably don’t share the moral sensibilities of the readers of this blog—but we too are captivated by stories and the (real-life) heroes and heroines that populate them: the lives of the saints. So I actually agree that Anastasia’s rise in popularity is probably because of 50 Shades of Grey despite its questionableness, both morally and ethically (doesn’t he kind of “employ” her as his, essentially, sex slave? Ugh…), at least from the perspective of those of us in our little corner of the world.

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  8. Don’t you think that movies that people watch as children subconsciously influence their taste in names? I wonder if Beauty and the Beast primed the pump for names like Isabella/Isabelle and then that vampire series sealed the deal. There are other names that I can’t think of at the moment that seem to have taken off about 15-20 years after they were the favorite movie characters of little girls.

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    • James too has been and out of the top 20 over the last 15 years since I’ve been paying attention. It’s not only trendy names that people choose!

      Liked by 1 person

      • AND James is now the #5 boy’s name, which surprised me! I have an 11-year-old James, and we know a 13-year-old James at church, but none of our friends are using it for babies! I often almost feel like there’s an aversion to it in my circles! So that surprised me.

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      • I’ve definitely had an aversion to the name James, mostly due to an unpleasant name association, but it’s really been growing on me in the last year. I didn’t know it was popular though, much less #5!

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  9. Kate, thought you be interested that Ann just barely stayed in the top 1000 at #992 last year. It’s never been off the top 1000 list. The English spelling of the name seems to be fading away – similar to Theresa for Teresa.

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