Sunday, May 28, 2006

Girl Names, Boy Names

Names given to boys have been more stable over time. Michael became the most popular name for boys over fifty years ago, and has been #1 most years since. David supplanted it for a few years in the 1960's and Jacob has pushed it into 2nd in the 21st C, but that's a very long run. In that time, Mary, Lisa, and Jennifer have each enjoyed runs of about 10-15 years atop the list. None of these have even been in the top 10 since 1992, when Jessica rose to the top, quickly replaced by Emily.

My son Benjamin, looking over the lists from the 1940's, commented that people still do name their sons James, Robert, John, William, Richard, David, Thomas, and even Charles, though most of those names are gone from the top 10 lists; but no one is naming their girls Barbara, Patricia, Carol, Judith, Betty, Nancy, or Linda.

Debra and Deborah fairly scream "born in the 50's!"

Boys' names start to show more rapid turnover in the late 1980's. With the exception of the addition of Joshua and Justin, the others on the1990 list would not have seemed odd to people in the 1930's: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, David, Daniel, Andrew, Joseph, and James. At that point the rapid change starts, with Nicholas, Brandon, Ryan, Zachary, Jacob, and Austin jumping in.

The girls' names were already in 70% turnover per decade by the late 60's and are now up to almost 80% turnover. Only Samantha and Ashley remain from the 1995 list. For those who haven't been keeping up with this, Emma, Madison, Olivia, Isabella, and Hannah are now the fashionable names. I knew only one Hannah growing up: Hannah Handler, the rabbi's daughter, on whom I had a crush in 4th grade.

Do we regard "decorating" our daughters with avant garde names more important? If there is a stereotype, which way does it flow? Is it a positive that we work so hard to find something special for the girls, while boys can just be given any regular ol' name? Or is this specialness a sort of frilly unseriousness about females?

And hey, why do girls get to keep stealing boys' names, rendering them useless to guys forever?


jw said...

People are more willing to experiment with girls' names. Why? Ah now, that is a question.

I think it has something to do with gender stereotypes. Pretty for girls and strong for boys.

I think it has something to do with people's knowledge that boys will be teased more and more harshly if their name is "wrong."

I think it has to do with a great many other gender based thoughts.

Steve Burri said...

I'm seeking to have my first granddaughter named Assistant Village Idiette.

Yer dun fer, big guy!

a guy in pajamas said...

And, why is it they can steal our clothes, but not vice versa?

Not that I want to wear mini-skirts, mind you, but a woman in mens clothing is fashionable, but a man in woman's clothing is something else.

Old Wacky Hermit said...

I just wish people would stop trying to be so creative with girls' names and stick to the tried and true, like they do by and large with boys' names. Which person would you think is more serious: Miranda Jones, or Kayzle Jones? (No kidding, "Kayzle" is a real name and that's really how our friends spelled it; it rhymes with "paisley".) How are our girls ever to be taken seriously in their professions when they have such crazy names?