Friday, October 18, 2013

Female Names Through the Years

The Herd Instinct in Action

This graphic shows the most popular names for baby girls, state-by-state, for the years 1960-2012.

I'm not picking on women or mothers or anything like that. I'm sure the same trends exist for baby boys, too. I think "John" was the most popular name for, like, fifty years straight or something like that.

However, this is a fascinating graphic showing the true herd instinct in action. What could possibly be more important as a life choice than naming your child? Not too many things. So, we see that parents are incredibly risk-averse when choosing their daughters' names, to the point where they will go with whatever is popular at the moment so as not to make the "wrong" choice. That's better, though than going crazy with it and naming your twins "Run" and "Rerun" (an actual case during the 1970s) or "Moon Unit" or "Heinrich Himmler" or whatever. Names like that say a lot more about you than your offspring, and it's not about you!

Anyway, it's fascinating to watch names crop up in some isolated states, then spread like a virus to surrounding states, take over completely by stamping out the hold-outs, and then face a new challenger which they either beat back or fall to.

"Jennifer" belongs in the name Hall of Fame. It just took over in 1970 out of nowhere (what happened then?) and ran with it straight through to the 1980s. It even beat back a few challenges, but then completely succumbed in 1985 like it was yesterday's newspaper. So, why was it so wonderful in, say, 1982 but so completely horrible in 1987? Once a name goes out of fashion, no matter how popular, that's it! Game over, man, game over!

Jennifer, incidentally, gained a bad rap because, at a certain point in time, it became kind of cliché that men who were cheating on their wives were doing so with a younger "Jennifer." We all know that mothers are the ones who usually choose their daughters' names, and if they associate bad feelings with a particular name, they would be highly unlikely to name their daughter that. I doubt that is why Jennifer's reign finally ended, the timing isn't quite right and all, but still... And, why did Jennifer handoff to Jessica? I mean, seriously, what is better about Jessica than Jennifer? And Ashley? Where did that come from?

One thing to ponder is that an awful lot of people out there who think exactly the same way. It's either group-think, or they read the same publications and arrive at the same conclusions by doing so, or there is an unofficial "suggested name" at hospitals. Something freaky is going on, that's for sure.

Another thing to think about: is your name one of the "most popular?" How do you feel about that? Do you like being unique? Or are you a proud member of the herd?


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