Monday, December 07, 2009

Masculinity and Female Names

In this post, I am aim to look at the changing nature of how masculinity is achieved in female names, with particular attention being given to US. My instinct tells me that in the late 19th and early 20th century, masculinity was found through the feminisation of male names – common examples being Frances, Julia and Josephine, which could be shortened to unisex nickname such as Fran and Joe. Nowadays, the emphasis has shifted to wholesale adoption of male names and surnames on females such as Madison, Alexis and Taylor. Such an adoption has led to a decline in the feminisation of female names, as masculinity can be acquired from adopting male names instead. Through looking at the top 1000 names for the decades of 1900s, 1950s and 2000s, I intend to prove the veracity of this assumption, as well as think about reasons why there has been a change.

For each name, I intend to assign whether they are a 'female name', 'male name or surname', 'feminisation of a male name' or a 'word name'. These categories can be defined and explained as followed:

Female Name: These are names that do not have an obvious masculine connection. For example, Elizabeth, Sarah, Catherine and Jasmine. Flower and plant names are included in this category, as they are inherently feminine.

Male name or surname: These are included together as surnames have traditionally been adopted by males, and more recently have made the cross-over into female names. It can be difficult to separate whether a name was chosen because it was a surname, or because it was associated with being a 'male name'. Examples include Madison, Jordan, Jocelyn and Kennedy.

Feminisation of male name: These are male names that have been feminised, usually through the addition of 'a', 'etta', 'elle', or 'ine'. For example, Olivia, Gabrielle, Makayla and Josephine. This category also includes more masculine nicknames that could have come from female names, such as Terry (from Teresa or Terence), Mattie (from Matilda or Matthew) and Allie (from Alexander or Alice). Male nicknames that do not seem to directly derive from any common female name such as Jamie, Jimmie, Tommie and Johnnie are included in the male name or surname category.

Word name: These are words and places that have been adopted as names, and do not carry such obvious original gender biases as female names. For example, Destiny, Robin, Brooklyn and Amber.

There are various names that do cross categories, and having to organise 3000 names into these categories means that there is room for human error. The intention of compiling these statistics is to look at the broad trends not at individual names, so this should not make much difference to the broad trends.

The organised data can be found here.

What it shows:

First, the obvious – between the 1900s and 2000s, there has been a decline in the % of children being given names in the top 1000. In 1900s and 1950s, around 90% of children were given a top 1000 name, in the 2000s this has declined to 69%. This has the effect that while analysing the top 1000 for 1900s and 50s will be fairly accurate for general name trends, it is difficult to tell whether in the 2000s, if names outside the top 1000 follow the same trends and separate into the same proportions in terms of categories as the names outside the top 1000.

It should also be noted that, before I start, the top 1000s from 1900s and 1950s contain male names such as James, William and Charles. The appearance of these names is generally put down to incorrect data input at birth, and assignation of the wrong gender to various names, and studies of other records from the period such as censuses show that that hundreds of parents were not naming their sons Elizabeth and daughters James. In the case of the 1900s records, incorrect assignation of gender comprises less than 0.1% so I have included them, as they make little difference to the overall percentages.

'Female' names have the largest percentage in each of the three time periods, although this proportion decreased over time. In 1900s, almost ¾ of names fall into the 'female' category. By 2000, only close to 40% fall into this category – although 31% of names were not recorded in the top 1000.

Similar proportions of feminised names are found in the 2000s and 1900s – around 12%. However, this doubles to 24% in the 1950s. The 1950s seem to be a bridge between the more old-fashioned feminisations such as Ernestine and Alberta, and the newer ones such as Christine and Stephanie.

Male names and surnames, and word names barely feature in the 1900s lists. Male names and surnames are mainly bolstered by the appearance of Evelyn – been used as an elaboration of the name Eve and so is one of those names that is difficult to categorise. Word names in the 1900s are formed mainly of jewel names- such as Pearl, Ruby, Opal and Jewel itself, as well as a few place names that have mainly fallen out of use now, such as Missouri and Florida.

In the 1950s, male names and surnames, and word names have both increased to 3% each. Male names and surnames is mainly made up of 'y' ending surnames such as Shirley, Beverly, Kimberly and Kelly. Word names are more a mix of places such as Sharon and Shannon, nature names such as Robin, Dawn and Ginger, jewel names, and abstract virtues such as Joy, Faith, Gay and Hope.

In the 2000s, there has been a large increase in the number of surname and male names, which now comprise 13% of names. Unlike previously, several male names feature prominently such as Alexis and Morgan. Additionally, the majority of surnames have previously been used as male names such as Ashley, Taylor and Sydney, while there is a small minority that seems to solely have emerged as a female name, such as Madison, Hailey and Courtney. The highest position of a male name or surname in 2000s is #2, held by Madison, and there are three other names from this category in the top 20. In 1950s, the highest position was Joyce at #29, and in the 1900s, it was Evelyn at #38 (or Vivian at #129, or if you want a solidly male name, Bertie at #235).

Word names comprise 5% in 2000s, and there seem to be more place and landscape names such as Savannah, Brooke, Sierra, Brooklyn and Brittany. More abstract ideas such as Destiny, Trinity, Genesis and Serenity have also appeared, and these appear arguably to be less connected to traditional virtues.

Here are some pie charts that portray visually what I have clumsily tried to explain in words:




A few more things to look at, before trying some actual analysis. First, the top 20s. In the 1900s, 18 names from the top 20 fall into the 'female' name category, with the other two – Frances and Bertha, being feminisations. In the 1950s, 5 of the top 20 are feminisations – Patricia (at #3), Sandra, Carol, Brenda and Janet, and one is a word name – Sharon. The rest are female names. The 2000s are much more of a mix- 13 of the names are still 'female', but there are 4 male names or surnames – Madison (at #2), Ashley, Alexis and Taylor, and 2 feminisations – Olivia and Brianna.

Some analysis:

First, does the gender affiliation of a name really mean anything? We live in a time when gender differences are being downplayed, in favour of equality and women (and men) are told that we can do whatever we want, regardless of the gender divide. Can the way that we choose the names of our children reflect that – that there is now much more emphasis on the choice of both an individual name, and a gender neutral name. Thus the increase in masculine surnames, and male names on females. Of course, there is also the problem that boys are not being given female names – Elizabeth or Mary are not charting as male names. Should we care about such gender differences? Isn't the adoption of masculinity actually an adoption of having the power to determine one's own life rather than being submissively feminine? I am not here to answer such big questions, my interest remains in issues of naming, and I can so I can only see this current spate of adoption of male names on females as a bad thing because it is so one sided. Rejecting female names in favour of male names would be fine if male names were rejected for males in favour of female names, but instead, we are in danger of losing female names.

In the 1950s, feminisations of male names were popular – such as Patricia, Sandra and Christine – all of which can be shortened to more masculine nickname such as Pat, Sandy and Chris. Why so? Was this a way of honouring fathers, or a way of giving females stronger nicknames, or a way of increasing the name corpus without resulting – as we have in recent years, to adopting abstract words, male names and surnames.

Is the adoption of male names and surnames an attempt at gaining more individuality? Through adopting say, Alexis – known on boys, but originally unknown on girls. These names are recognisable but originally unexpected on girls, similar with the word names such as Destiny. Better communication – especially the internet, means that people are more aware of the popularity of their name in the wider national and global community, and so may aim to have a more individual name for their child. Additionally, there are studies that suggest girls with more feminine names avoid 'masculine' subjects such as maths and science (see here) – desire for girls to have wider opportunities and not tied into their 'feminine' names (of course, you can argue the other way, that women with more masculine names are biased against choosing feminine subjects).

Another look at the subject of femininity and masculinity in names is found here . Hopefully, this post provides some information to help look at the subject.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Elizabeth Through the Ages

*I wrote this post a few months ago for something else, that thing has not materialised so I am publishing it here*

Elizabeth Through The Ages

‘The name boasts more diminutives than it has letters’ – Sophy Moody, 1863

From Ellie to Lizzie, Beth to Lisa, and beyond, one of the name Elizabeth’s strengths is its wide variety of nicknames. Whilst Elizabeth has remained a popular choice since the 15th century, its nicknames and diminutives have gone in and out of vogue. This article principally focuses on such trends in the USA, though there is some reference to UK and other worldwide trends as well.

Popular 19th Century nicknames

Eliza, the earliest nickname for which I have data, was a popular nickname in the UK in the 1840s, when it was in the top 10. Indeed, this popularity was likely reflected in the USA, as its highest position was during the 1880s, when SSA records began.

The other names popular in the late 19th century include Bess and Bessie, which were originally used as nicknames in the 16th century – for example, as an epithet for Queen Elizabeth I of England as ‘Good Queen Bess’, as well as other notable figures such as Bess of Hardwick and Bess Throckmorton, wife of Walter Raleigh. Though Bessie may now elicit response of ‘suitable for a cow rather than a person’, in 1889, the name ranked 9th in the USA, being given to 1.2% of girls born that year and was more popular than Alice, Grace or Sarah.

Another trend for late 19th century nicknames was an ending of ‘-ie’ – Bettie, Elsie, Libbie, Lissie and Lizzie all had their highest popularity in the late 19th century. This was not a trend confined to nicknames of Elizabeth. The US top 50 for 1890 includes Minnie, Annie, Nellie, Carrie, Lillie, Hattie, Jennie, Mattie and Jessie. Lillie and Jennie in particular rank above their more common forms today of Lily and Jenny.

Ella and Elsa were also popular in the late 19th century. Ella was revived in the 19th century by the pre-Raphaelite writers, and ranked #13 in 1880. Elsa is a German diminutive of Elizabeth, and like Elsie, was popular in the 1890s.

The First Half of the 20th Century, and the ‘Bet-’ names

During the first half of the 20th century, ‘Be’ names were really at the fore of the popular Elizabeth nicknames. Betty took over from Bessie as the most popular Elizabeth nickname in the 1910s, while Bette, Bettye and Bettie all experienced continued popularity. From 1928 to 34, Betty was the 2nd most popular girl’s name in USA, just after Mary and surpassing Elizabeth. Betsy and Beth had later surges of popularity, being most popular in the 1960s and 70s.

Betty was not quite as popular in the UK – in 1944, it was only #68, compared with #10 in the US. Influences on Betty’s popularity from the period include the ‘Betty Crocker’ food company, formed in 1921, and the cartoon character Betty Boop, who first appeared in 1930.

Latter half of the 20th century, and the ‘Li-‘ names

Lisa is the name or nickname of Elizabeth that really dominates the latter half of the 20th century. Lisa was #1 in the USA from 1962 to 69, taking the top spot from Mary – a spot that Mary has never regained. As is usual with a popular trend, various other ‘Li-‘ names grew in popularity during the period that Lisa was #1, including Liz, Liza and Lisette. Interestingly, Lissie did not re-enter the top 1000 during this period.

Lisa arrived in the UK a little later than the US, charting at #54 in 1964, but #5 in 1974.

21st century – return of the ‘El-‘ names

While Bessie, Betty and Betsy remain out of style at the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a recent resurgence in the popularity of other late 19th century nicknames such as Ella, Eliza, Elsa and Libby. Elise, which has remained steadily popular throughout the 20th century, is beginning to climb the charts, while a new nickname in the form of Elle has emerged.

In the UK, Ella and Ellie are becoming less popular after a surge in popularity in the early 00s that brought Ellie to the #2 spot. Ella is also a nickname that crosses language borders – appearing in the top 100s of Sweden, Belgium and Norway. It is also very popular at the moment in Australia and New Zealand. Back in the UK, Libby has also climbed into the charts, and was #62 in 2008 in England and Wales.

Isabel and especially Isabella are very popular at the moment in the USA, though I did not include them in this study as they are more derivatives than nicknames. Lily – also a nickname for Elizabeth, is also popular though it is difficult to tell whether this is due to the flower, or due to parents wanting another nickname for Elizabeth (indeed, many are unaware of the link at all!)

What’s next?

After the ‘El’ names have run their course, one can ask which nicknames will return or arrive. It seems likely that the ‘Be’ names will begin to rise again – Betsy and Betty in particular seem to have attracted a vintage chic. This may lead to modern respellings of the names such as Betzi and Bettee. Parents may seek out new nicknames for Elizabeth – Lisa was once unknown, and there are nicknames such as the Cornish Eppow out there waiting to be discovered. Parents may look to the sound of the name, as with Elle, and embrace Isa, Zab or Eth as nicknames.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Renault name car 'Zoé'

I accidentally clicked on this article on the Times' website, and found it rather interesting - Renault have named their latest car Zoé - which has sparked some controversy among parents of children named Zoé. Car names and real names are quite interesting - some names are utterly tied up with the car - Mercedes, and perhaps Portia (though Porsche use a different spelling). Others have it as an ancillary, names you possibly wouldn't associate with the car unless you had one - Renault Clio, and Skoda's Fabia, Octavia and Felicia. Then there are car names that sound like they ought to be names, or almost are - Vauxhall/Opel's Corsa, Meriva and Zafira, Citroen's Xantia and Xsara. And then there are the companies that avoid giving their cars proper names altogether- Peugeot and Rover spring to mind (and many hours of trying to remember the make of the new car that a family member had got).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

More thoughts on England and Wales Popular Names - Percentages

345, 731 baby girls names were recorded when making the popularity charts for 2008, and 362, 908 baby boys.

The #1 girl name was Olivia, with 5317 births. This accounts for 1.54% of all girl names given.
The #1 boy name was Jack, with 8007 births. This accounts for 2.21% of all boy names given.
The top ten girl names gives 44255 births, and accounts for 12.8% of all girl names given.
The top ten boy names gives 59555 births, and accounts for 16.4% of all boy names given.

If Olivia was in the male top 10 then it would chart at #7. There is also much less diversity in boy names given - 26815 different boy names were registered, while 34043 different female names were registered.

Just comparing with the US, the top names for 2008 -Jacob and Emma accounted for 1.04% and 0.9% of births respectively, and the top 10 boy names only accounts for 8.8% and girl names 7.7%. With boys, this is almost half of those in the UK.

The top 100 girl names account for 47.4% of girl names given, and the top 100 boy names account for 57.7% of boy names given. This certainly isn't the same as it was in the 17th century, with three quarters of boys being named John. But also there seems to be more conservatism in use of names in England and Wales than I expected.

Hurrah - England and Wales stats are back

Here and here.

A few changes from before - they are published by ONS rather than GRO (Office of National Statistics instead of General Register Office, so may differ slightly from before. There is the ONS data from 1998 and 2007 as well, but a gap between '99 and '06.

Jack and Olivia are number one, while Ruby was, according to this data, #1 in 2007. Ffion, Seren and Megan are in the top 10 in Wales. In particular interest are the tables that list most popular names for each month - Holly is #1 in December and Summer is in the top 10 in June, July and August.

Dylan and Rhys are in the top 10 in Wales, a quick glance doesn't reveal any large monthly variations on names given. Regional information is also interesting - Mohammed is #4 in Yorkshire and the Humber, #3 in London and #2 in West Midlands but doesn't appeal at all in the top 10s for E Midlands, N East, E England and S East.

New entries to top 100 include: Lexi (fastest mover), Florence, Emilia, Maryam and Esme, and Blake, Ewan and Zak. Other quick climbers include: Evie (from #15 to #10), Ava (#39 to #21), Summer (#44 to 23), Isla (#65 to 36), Matilda (#62 to 43) and Lacey (#77 to 60), and Oscar (#41 to 30), Riley (#57 to 33), Alex (#58 to 47), Theo (#73 to 58) and Leon (#74 to 62). As ever, there seems to be fewer dramatic changes in the boys list than there is in the girl's list.

Fast fallers include: Amy (#23 to 34), Caitlin (#34 to 44), Georgia (#42 to 52), Madison (#36 to 56), Rebecca (#47 to 64), Maddison (#63 to 74), Skye (#67 to 77), Aimee (#76 to 86) and Courtney (#79 to 98), and Cameron (#34 to 46), Jamie (#36 to 51), Ben (#48 to 57), Kyle (#51 to 69), Kieran (#61 to 73), Aidan (#78 to 92) and Billy (#89 to 98). Is it just me, or is there a Scottish/Irish flavour to these falling names? Callum, Connor, Finlay and Sean have also fallen. But Ryan, Liam and Finley have all risen.

Also interesting are new entries from 1998, names that have become top 100 in 11 years include: Ruby, Evie, Ava (rose 508 places), Summer, Isla (333 places), Scarlett, Eva, Brooke, Matilda, Keira, Lola (322 places), Lilly, Gracie (529 places), Madison, Amelie (2641 places!), Lacey, Sienna (1060 places), Libby, Layla, Maya, Lexi (4917 places!), Maddison, Sofia, Skye, Lexie (4911 places!), Faith, Martha, Eve, Julia, Evelyn, Maria, Tilly, Florence, Emilia, Maryam and Esme.

Jayden, Oscar, Archie, Riley, Lucas, Leo, Finley, Logan, Noah, Mason, Theo, Freddie, Finlay, Harley, Kian (436 places), Hayden, Zachary, Luca, Ashton, Bailey, Sebastian, Gabriel, Evan, Taylor, Reuben, Blake, Louie, Ewan and Zak. There are much fewer dramatic rises for the boys.

Fallen out of the top 100 are: Rose, Victoria, Rachel, Shannon and Madeleine, and Andrew, Frederick and Dominic.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

90s names (US, Australia and Europe)

I wanted to compare certain regions on names - looking at whether they were rising or falling at the same time. I considered using 2000 data - enough time to see sufficient change in the popularity of names, and then realised that the amount of data was so much that I would get lost under it all. So I downscaled, back to 1994, where data is scarcer but trends can still be seen.

So the aim was to see whether various regions, with similar (European) naming cultures, experienced the same popularity of names at the same time, or at least influenced on another, leading to names rising or falling popularity.

The countries I chose (due to there being available data) were UK (England and Wales, at least), USA, France (La cote des prénoms by Besnard), Victoria in Australia, Austria, Denmark and Norway.

I took the top 10 girls names for each region in 1994, except Norway - as it was not available, and France - where I had to take the 1990-4 data, and then compared whether the names were rising or falling in the other regions.

Some notable names:

Amanda - while it was #8 and falling in the USA and had fallen off the popularity charts in UK, it was rising in the other places it appeared - Victoria, Denmark and Norway.

Anna - rising in popularity in USA, Victoria, France and Denmark - though Anna was not in the top n20 in any of these countries. Austria - where Anna was in the top 10, at #8, had Anna falling, as did the UK, where it was #49 - having peaked in 1970s and 80s at #40. In Norway, there was little change in Anna's popularity in the years preceding and succeeding 1994.

Charlotte - peaking in France and Norway, but falling or staying in a stable position everywhere else. It was #4 in UK.

Elizabeth - falling or having little change, #9 in USA.

Emily/Emilie - rising in USA (#3), Denmark and Norway, but little change in UK and Victoria. Emilie was unfashionable in France.

Emma - rising in USA, Victoria, France and Denmark but falling in UK (discussed in previous post about Emma).

Jessica - #1 in USA and Victoria but falling, #3 in UK and rising, unfashionable in France but rising in Austria.

Laura - falling in the English-speaking countries but rising in France, Austria and Denmark.

Lisa - falling for some time in USA, UK and recently in Austria, where it was #2, but rising in France, Victoria and Norway.

Samantha - falling in English-speaking countries and France.

Sarah - falling in USA, UK and Austria, but rising everywhere else. Its lowest numeral position is in UK, where it was #12.

Sophie - rising in USA, UK, Victoria and Austria but falling in France, where it is seen as unfashionable.

Stephanie - falling in all countries where it ranked (not Austria or Norway).

Some themes:
France is generally a little more independent of the other countries included in this study. Julie, Laura, Sarah and Melanie in its top 10 are found in other countries' top 10s, but other names from its 10 - Marine, Camille, Elodie, Marion, Pauline and Anais are not really found elsewhere. Also it bucks the rising trend with Sophie (which is, in essence, a French name!), Jessica and Emilie/y are popular elsewhere but unfashionable in France, and shares peaking Charlotte with Norway. Just looking at the popular names on for 2006, France still seems to maintain its mix of international and independently French names - international such as Emma, Sarah and Jade, and French names - Lea, Manon, Camille and Oceane.

The English-speaking countries share more names in common than the non-English speaking countries. Especially seen with Laura, Samantha and Sophie. USA and UK tend to have more in common with each other than Victoria, Australia. Share top 10 names Emily and Jessica, and top 20 names Sarah, Samantha, Lauren and Hannah.

Most of the names found from other countries in Norway are rising. Only Cecilie, Christina, Katrine and Elizabeth are falling.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Names pt 2

A link to begin - Nameberry today have done an interesting post with a 'Baby Name Timeline', US-focussed but very interesting. Reminds me of the great lists in J Besnard's 'La Cote des Prénoms' which show the most popular names in France over specific decades - an easy way to see the trends.

Back to the 'new' names idea. I just have a graph(because pictures are fun!) to show:

This is the number of names from US top 100 in each of the books. As mentioned yesterday, very few female names are in Camden in 17th century, while Baby Name Wizard has almost all of the names - Camila is the only one that is missing. I haven't included any names that were listed for the wrong gender (e.g. Avery or Aubrey as male names, rather than female). The Collins book by J Cresswell is the only book where there are more of the female top 100 than male - I find this rather surprising, especially as it is such a small book.

Of the books that are close in date: Yonge seems more extensive than Moody, and Withycombe than Weekley. The Baby Name Wizard - possibly due to its focus on style and US names, is the most up-t0-date of the 2000s books. There is quite a leap in coverage between Withycombe, published in 1977, and Dunkling, in 1983. For more details on these books see my previous post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'New' Names

What is a 'new' name? A general definition would be a name that has been newly adopted by parents, that was not previously used as a first name - the likes of Cooper, Nevaeh and Addison. These names may have history as surnames (Cooper, Addison), occupations (Cooper, Mason - often also surnames), place names (Brooklyn, Savannah, Sydney) or words (Chase, Destiny, Savannah - and I suppose, Nevaeh). One way of identifying a 'new' name is to look at its popularity over time - when it first emerged. One of my favourite posts from Laura Wattenberg on the Baby Name Wizard was looking at the false antiqueness of Olivia and Ava (also this post) - though they are seen as 'vintage revivals', they were never that popular to begin with.

Another way of looking at this problem, and one I intend to address in this post, is to look at the appearance of names in 'baby name books' and 'name dictionaries'. I have used a selection of name books over time, plotting the appearance of names from the US Top 100 (yes, it pains me not to use the UK top 100, but US has a lot of 'new' names in it) in the book, as well as noting whether they are being used for the right gender (Alexis, Avery and Sydney, for example, swap gender). The appearance of a name in the book assumes that the name is being used enough for the author or compiler to have sufficient information to write about it.

The books I used are:
William Camden's Remains Concerning Britain - this is available on snippet view on Google, which means some names may have been missed. It was compiled in 1605 and published in 1623 and is considered to be one of the first attempts to list names with etymological comments, saying that he chose the names 'most usual to the English Nation' (for more info see the introduction to Dunkling and Gosling's New American Dictionary of Baby Names).

Charlotte M Yonge's History of Christian Names - available on limited view on Google, though the search seemed fairly accurate. This was published in 1863 and revised in 1884. It comprises two volumes, is fairly wide-ranging, and has interesting discussion on current international name trends.

Sophy Moody's What is Your Name? - available on full view on Google, also published in 1863. Less extensive than Yonge, but still indicative of the time.

EG Withycombe's Oxford Dictionary of Christian Names, published 1945 and revised in 1950 and 1977, is less extensive than Yonge or Moody's works, but includes interesting research on the medieval origins of certain names. Its concern with such medieval origins, as well as aristocratic names does lead me to suspect that there is less interest in more contemporary and up-and-coming names in the 70s. However, inclusion of a name in this work does suggest it was fairly well cemented as a 'name'.

Ernest Weekley's Jack and Jill: A Study in Our Christian Names is available on limited view on Google. This was published in 1974. It is more of a discussion book than a name dictionary, grouping names into their respective styles and categories rather than alphabetically.

Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling's New American Dictionary of Baby Names was published in 1983. In the introduction, the authors announce that they compiled their dictionary based on statistical evidence, rather than whether their predecessors included the name.

Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges' Oxford Dictionary of First Names from the Oxford Names Companion, published in 1990. This is included in a volume that has a Place Names and Surnames section, so it may have been

Julia Cresswell's Babies' Names, published in 2004 as a Collins Gem. This is a small volume, so less extensive and less coverage of names - really has to be cemented as a 'first name' to be included.

David Pickering's Penguin Dictionary of First Names, published in 2004. More extensive than Cresswell.

Laura Wattenberg's Baby Name Wizard published in 2005. Though this contains an alphabetical listing, it is not a traditional dictionary. Wattenberg has more interest in trend and styles, so includes more names of marginal popularity. Also more US focussed than the other books.

Patrick Hanks, Flavia Hodges and Kate Hardcastle's Oxford Dictionary of First Names published in 2006, second edition of the previous Oxford Dictionary. The most modern, but in the dictionary style nonetheless, also quite UK focussed.

The Names that Appear in All the Books (by US popularity):
Emma* Sophia Elizabeth Sarah Anna Audrey Rachel Mary

Jacob Michael Joshua Daniel Alexander Anthony William Christopher Matthew Andrew Joseph David James John Gabriel Benjamin Jonathan Samuel Nicholas Caleb Isaac Evan Luke Robert Aaron Thomas Adrian Owen Jason* Julian Charles Adam Nathaniel Henry Brian*

Emma, Jason and Brian probably appear in Camden

A remark often made is that the top males names are less changeable than the girls, this list also shows that they are more traditional: names that have been in name books since the 17th century are much more frequent on the male list.

Names Not Appearing Until 2000s:
Madison Addison Taylor Kaylee Savannah Nevaeh Makayla Brooklyn Destiny Kaitlyn Mackenzie Trinity Aaliyah Katelyn Camila Payton Genesis

Jayden Landon Brayden Wyatt Brody Jaden Ayden Caden Colton Kaden
Is it a surprise that the girls' list is longer than the male list? Male names are not only traditional, there is also less variety in their 'new' names - 6 of the 10 are 'ayden' names, and only two do not end with 'n'. The girls list is a mix of surnames (Madison, Addison, Taylor), places (Savannah, Brooklyn) and words (Trinity, Destiny, Genesis) as well as respellings/foreign spellings (Makayla, Kaylee, Kaitlyn/Katelyn, Camila and Aaliyah). There isn't a dominant common theme.

A few names with appearances in books that surprised me:

Ava - doesn't appear until Dunkling in 1983, though Gardner was active in the movies until the 1940s.
Olivia - appears in all books except Camden, 'Twelfth Night' was written in 1599. Too new for Camden? Jessica is the same, 'Merchant of Venice' was 1596-8
Alexis - appears as a male name until Dunkling, and a female name thereafter.
Ashley - appears for neither gender until Dunkling, where it is a unisex name.
Lauren - not until Dunkling, though Lauren Bacall in films from 1940s.
Avery - first appears in Dunkling as a m name, as a female name from Baby Name Wizard (BNW) Riley has a similar pattern
Aubrey - a male name until 1990 Oxford
Morgan - a male name until Dunkling
Evelyn - a male name in Yonge, but female in Moody
Ariana - appears in Moody as a Persian name, but not again until BNW in 2005

Ethan - doesn't appear until Withycombe, 1945 but is a Biblical name
Aiden - appears in Dunkling, and then not til BNW
Dylan - not until Dunkling
Angel - in Yonge, not Camden or Moody. 'Previously male' in Oxford 1990 - Angel Clare as in 'Tess of D'Urbervilles' rather than Spanish origin.
Kevin, Connor- in Yonge and Withycombe, but not Camden, Moody or Weekley
Hayden - not until Dunkling, and then under Haydn in Penguin and Oxford 2006

Natalie, Leah, Claire, Jennifer, Sara, Gavin, Isaiah, Justin, Lucas, Jordan, Aidan, Tristan, Alex, Dominic - in Yonge, but not Camden or Moody

Isabella, Abigail, Hannah, Amelia, Grace, Victoria, Julia, Angelina, Ella, Zoe, Alexandra, Vanessa, Charlotte, Faith, Caroline, Isabel, Noah, Nathan, Elijah, Christian, Austin, Jeremiah, Carlos, Sebastian, Ian, Eric, Josiah, Eli -
all except Camden

Data here

Sunday, May 10, 2009


It has been a while since I have written a post on a single name, but with Emma being crowned the most popular US female name, overthrowing Emily, I thought that this was deserved. Anyway, for such a short name, Emma has some interesting history.

I'll start with a comparison:
Emma in the UK:

Here in Britain, Emma's on a downwards turn - particularly popular in the 1970s and 80s when the name was #4, and the 1840s-70s when Emma was in the top 10. In the 2007, Emma charted at #26 - not unheard of, but not the popularity experienced in USA.

USA (I'm being a little lazy and using a screenshot from Laura Wattenburg's fantastic Name Voyager - if you're really interested in Emma's graph, then this great tool allows you to check out the # in certain decades. The Name Mapper is also quite awesome - Emma seems to have originated in terms of popularity in the NE/New England area). 

Though Emma is #3 in 1880s, this counted for a larger percentage of babies compared with today. It fell to #448 in 1970s, before rising to #2 in 2000s, and #1 in 2008.

It's a bit of an unfair comparison to show the US data, which runs from 1880 to 2008, with my UK data, which runs from 1840 to 2007. To try and rectify that, I've cut the UK
 data back to 1880 (bare in mind that 1910-44 I have no data, so have no idea what Emma was doing!)

In both countries, Emma falls from a high position in 1880, to obscurity in the early 20th century. However, in the UK, Emma rises back to popularity in 1970s, whereas it is in its deepest trough in the US at that point. Obviously, Emma's cycle of popularity in the UK is shorter than in the US, or at least, shifted to a different era.

So, where to begin with Emma?

With most names, people tend to associate names with a particular person or thing. Some will be universal - a literature, historical, movie, celebrity reference, others will be more personal - mother, girl from school, friend's daughter etc. For me, Emma is associated primarily with Emma of Normandy, wife of two rather differing kings of England.

Emma was a political pawn - a way of these kings of England to cement an alliance with Normandy. Her first husband was Aethelred the 'Unready', the second was his opponent Cnut the 'Great' of Denmark, who conquered England. Emma was known in England as Aelfgifu - which was also the name of the first wives of Aethelred and Cnut, but is primarily known by her first name, Emma, now due to her biography: the Encomium Emmae. This highly selective work ignores her marriage to Aethelred, though is happy to highlight the rise of her son by him, Edward the Confessor. Emma is also one of the very few, if only, person living before the Norman Conquest whose residence can be located - God Begot House in Winchester, which is now a pizza restaurant. She was, for the period, a highly remarkable woman and compared with other women from the period, she was highly visible in records.
What is the point of writing about Emma of Normandy? Well, she introduced the name to England, where it was used throughout the Middle Ages, particularly in the one syllable form of Emm. My assumption is that like the other popular female name from pre-Norman conquest England, Edith, Emma was superceded by Biblical names such as Mary, Sarah and Elizabeth from 12th century onwards. Redmonds has a list in his 'Christian Names in Local and Family History' which has found the most popular names from some records (poll tax? I think) from 1377-81, where Emme comes in #6 - above Sarah, Elizabeth and Mary. Other Emmas from before the 18th century revival of the name include Emma of France, daughter of Robert I; Emma of Italy, daughter of Lothair II and mother of Louis V of France; Emma of Provence, daughter of Rotbold III; Emma of Hauteville, daughter of Robert Guiscard; Emma de Guader, Countess of Norfolk and daughter of William Fitz-Osbern; St Emma of Lesum; St Hemma of Gurk and Emma of Altdorf, wife of Louis the German.

We now have to skip forward to 1761 and the birth of another Emma. Or Emy, as Emma, Lady Hamilton was born, she later adopted the name Emma. The mistress of Lord Nelson, Emma was the first in a group of 18th century namesakes. I've mentioned this before, but E.G. Withycombe attributes Emma's reburst of popularity to the poet Matthew Prior (1664-1721), who wrote the poem Henry and Emma. Though Emma Hamilton was the first of a group of famous Emmas, that does not necessarily mean that she was original in her new name choice.

Another 'Emma' that precedes Emma Hamilton was Emmanuel College, Cambridge, founded in 1584 and known today as 'Emma'. Whether it was known as Emma prior to the revival of the name is not known by me. 

I'm going to move onto the Emma now, that novel by Jane Austen. A brief interlude, to stay somewhat chronological, is to say that Emma Darwin, wife of Charles, was born in 1808 into the Wedgwood family. However, she was no child prodigy, so if she had any effect on the popularity or perception of the name, it would not occur until later in her life.

Emma Woodhouse, of Emma, written 1815, is a striking, beautiful, witty heroine who is a disastrous matchmaker. Despite her matchmaking failures, the book has been extremely popular.  Emma also appeared as Emma Bovary in Flaubert's 1857 Madame Bovary, but by then the name was fully revived.

Thinking about Emma's revival in Britain in the 1970s, I'd like to propose that Diana Rigg's character Emma Peel in The Avengers was at least partly responsible. The name was a play on M Appeal or Man Appeal, rather than an effort to revive the name of Emma Woodhouse, Hamilton and Bovary. Emma Peel first appeared in 1965 - as my data comes from 1964, then the sudden change to not being in the top 100 in 1964, to #4 in 1974 is very obvious. 

Nowadays, there are numerous pop culture and celebrity references that can be used to try and explain the popularity of Emma: perhaps it's actress Emma Thompson, Spice Girl Emma Thompson or Ross&Rachel's daughter in Friends. Or maybe it's none of them: it is conceivable that American audiences have become accustomed to Emma as not being primarily associated with anything in particular at the moment. Emma's historical, literary and pop culture, whilst not being overwhelmingly any of those. 

Will Emma stick at the top in the US?
Hmm, well there was only 200 births between Isabella and Emma, and as pointed out by Laura Wattenburg, if Emma had had that number of births in 2007 it would only have been #3 - there by the grace of the decline of Emily and Isabella. But Emma didn't fall last year - it has been but it increased by 300 births between 2006 and 7. It very much seems that Emma's position depends on its neighbours - Isabella could still push up to the top, or perhaps Sophia - which is the most popular name in terms of sound. Emily does however, seem on the way down. Roll on 2009!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Being On Trend with Syllable Names

Or let's put the data I have for decades to good use and find out when certain one syllable names (which seems to be bringing all the hits to the blog) were most popular. Hooray!

Let's start in 1550, you're a trendy Tudor namer searching for the perfect name for your little girl (who you are rather obviously disappointed is not a son and heir). As she's not that important in terms of succession, you want to call her something easy, forgettable and preferably, one syllable. What do you choose?

Joan - yes, this name catches your eye. As there aren't any statistics to inform you that Joan is actually the 2nd most popular name in England according to baptisms, you happily inform the vicar that that is your chosen name. You could have gone with Anne (#7) or Jane (#8) but that would make you a bit ahead of your time. 

Dashing on through time to the 17th century, and your descendant has decided that as the perfect choice for her little girl. Anne. Too bad that it was the #3 name from 1600 to at least 1700. Well, she's a girl, and you've already used up Mary and Elizabeth on the other fortune-drainers.

The fourth daughter comes along in 1650, and your husband decides that Jane is a good choice. Honours that ancestor Joan, born 100 years ago. Unfortunately, the 1650s were the years that Jane peaked at #4, having remained a solid #5 for the rest of the 15th century. You could have called her Margaret, the previous #4 but that is beginning to sound a little old-fashioned.

1690, and as you look forward to the 1700s, you reckon you have a great, fashion forward name: Grace. And you are totally on trend, as Grace has risen to #10 that year - indeed, it may have risen even higher in the 1700s!

We skip forward now to the Victorian age, and the family name has become Smith, through a series of social marriages. Mother Smith's 1845 search for the best one syllable name has led her to Jane, yes, again! Jane has falls in popularity throughout the Victorian age, and so Mother Smith has chosen the name at the last available 'trendy' moment!

Many years pass, and Jane Smith gives birth to twins in 1875. After much contemplation, she names them Ann and Kate, Ann being a good, solid traditional name and Kate being a sweet, short nickname. Both have risen and subsequently fall right in the middle of the Victorian era.

In 1880, Ruth is born, while 1885 brings Maud - a name unheard of at the beginning of the Victorian era! Nell and Rose come in 1895, Nell - a name, like Maud, having no Smith births until 1855, while Rose a pretty floral. May in 1900 and Olive and Grace again in 1905 complete the Victorian (and Edwardian) age. 

We move on to 1944, year of the D-Day landings. In this time of struggle, no wonder that the one syllable names have returned to popular traditionals: Joan and Ann both peak in this year, along with new entries: June and Jean.

1954 is a return to peace and Joy is popular. Parents show their love of 'e's by adding them to popular favourites Anne and Lynne, while Lynn is also popular. 

1964 is really the decade of the one syllable names - Ruth and Jane return to popularity, while Dawn, Kim, Kay, Gail and Jill all reach their own heights of popularity.

1974 is the year of Claire, and Clair, and Clare.

The 1980s aren't a good decade for one syllable names, only Kate peaks in popularity in 1984, while the rest begin to slide off the charts.

1994 brings lots of new one syllable names: Beth, Paige, Sian and Jade. 

And 2007? Well, it was all about Grace, returning with its highest popularity yet to #1. Meanwhile, Skye, Brooke, Eve, Niamh, Faith and Rose were all in the UK top 100.

The future? Well, Anne and Ann both increased in popularity by about 46% between 2006 and 7 in UK, so they may be in the way back up. For new names - Belle increased 80% between 2006 and 7, and may increase even more due to all the exposure Bella is getting due to the 'Twilight' series. Elle has been rising in USA, but it seems to already be falling here in UK. Looking atthe campaign of Obama, Hope may be the next best thing - but it's been falling in US for a while, and barely moved in UK in 2007. Joy meanwhile, rose quite a bit so may be experiencing a revival. Jane rose 28%, so may join Anne as a revival of vintage 1 syllable names. 

Luz is gaining ground in US, but the lack of large Hispanic community in the UK makes me doubt that it will catch on. The Polish population is growing the UK, but a quick scan of Polish names shows that they are many syllabled, and I can't find an obvious one syllable Polish name. 

Fascination with Irish names in USA means Maeve is on the up, but that doesn't seem to be reflected in the UK yet. Olive may return due to the popularity of Olivia - it made a comeback to the top 1000 in the US in 2007, and increased 37% in UK. Quinn is used on girls in the US, but not in substantial numbers in the UK yet. Rose has stagnated as a middle name, but is rising as a first name - especially in cutesy combinations such as Ellie-Rose and Lily-Rose. 

Looking outside the English speaking world - Noor, Jade, Fleur, Kaat, Fien, Laure, Lien, Roos, Britt, Lou, Tess, Floor and Lise all grace the top 100 of Belgium. Tess, Maud and Fleur are all also in the Dutch top 20. Merle and Kim (and possibly Jule and Jette if they are 1 syllable) are in the German top 100. Linn and Liv are both near the bottom of the Swedish top 100. Nur and Malk were in the top 10 for Muslim and Druze girls in Israel in 2006. 

Saturday, April 04, 2009

This makes me happy.

Short post. Mainly because I'm not sure how to write out how this all works.

Let's just say, UK statistics from 1550-2007. Ranks. Graphs.

Isabel:How to read the graphs:
Y (Left hand) axis = rank. #1 is most popular. If there is a gap then the name doesn't rank for that year. Lack of information for the early years means that I can't calculate % so the Mary graph is rather boring.
X axis = year. There are gaps in information from 1690-1840, and 1910-44 so that is why there are long straight joining lines between each.

They're not perfect. But they're decent, they're better than what there is already for the UK. And they make me happy.

Now, does anyone know where there are stats for the 1700s and interwar period?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One syllable names

One syllable names are somewhat useful - I suppose they are the names where you are really aware of their syllabic structure, they're short, generally snappy (though one could contest that statement with the lazy, drawn-out drawl of Charles or Blanche) and theoretically nickname-proof (though once again, Charles is an exception to the rule). They also tend to work well as middle names - many are of the the filler type eg Rose, Lynn, Ann, Grace and James. 

So here's a list, because it has been part of my 'Names' collection for a while, but I have not yet posted it:

Anne Belle Blanche Blythe Brooke Clare Dawn Eve Faith Faye Fern Fleur Gail Grace Gwen Hope Jane Jill Joan Joy June Kate Liv Lux Lynn Maeve Maud May Mor Neve Niamh Noor Paz Pearl Rose Ruth Sian Tess Wynne

Abe Bede Bjorn Blaise Bram Bran Bryn Cael Cai Carl Chaim Charles Cian Colm Dan Dean Drew Finn Ford George Giles Glen Grant Guy Heath Hugh Jack Jake James Jett Joel John Josh Juan Jude Klaus Kyle Lance Lars Leif Luke Mark Miles Neil Niles Noel Paul Paul Piers Quinn Rhys Sean Serge Seth Shane Tadhg Thor Yves Zane Ziv

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Victorian Smiths - how realistic?

So I have acquired the top 20 for the 1881 census, and what do I want to do with it? Compare it with the Victorian Smiths of course!

If you want to know about censuses in the UK then there's a wikipedia page, and things on the Office for National Statistics and GENUKI. The 1881 census is the only one that is available completely free and can be searched on Family Search. The top 20 list that I have is from an article by Dr Kenneth Tucker published in Onoma, the actual article has a lot more information and analysis.

What does this mean? Well, the 1881 census includes pretty much everyone alive in 1881 - so they could be born in 1852 or 1820 or 1881 itself (as long as it's pre April), so I've added up all of the totals. Unfortunately, this excludes everyone born pre-1840 or born outside of UK. But as the life expectancy was lower than it is today (around 40-50 seems to be what I am finding) then this should affect it less than if it was studying the 2001 census where the life expectancy is longer. Also, there was an increase in population (14 mil to 24 mil 1840-80) that means that a significant proportion of the population will be under 40.

Anyway without further ado:
1881 census:









































Victorian Smiths 1840-80:









































Mary, unsurprisingly, tops both lists with Elizabeth in second place. There is some shuffling around in #3 to 5 with Sarah, Ann and Alice in that order in the Victorian Smiths, while Ann, Sarah and Jane are in that order in the census list. Alice is #8 on the census, as Alice peaks in 1870s while Jane peaked in 1840s this probably represents that Jane was more popular pre-1840. 

Eliza similarly is in quite a different position - #7 in census, and #14 in Victorian Smiths. As Eliza peaked in 1850 and has a large fall (see 1850 graph), this probably means that there were more Elizas pre 1840.

Harriet is much higher on Victorian Smiths list - #13 compared with #18, this is another 1850 name so should really be the other way around. However, the 1850 graph shows that Harriet's popularity stayed fairly level from 1850 to 75 and started off lower, so this probably counts for its higher popularity on Victorian Smiths.

A few names on census list that aren't on Victorian Smiths top 20: Catherine, Charlotte and Maria. Starting with Maria, which peaked in 1840 and then fell fairly steadily throughout the period - that isn't really a surprise, and one wonders if Maria had actually peaked pre1840 and one of the limitations of the Victorian Smiths is only being able to go back to 1840. Catherine and Charlotte both peaked in 1870. In Catherine's case, there is an obvious growth to the 1870 peak, whereas Charlotte seems to have the same number of births throughout the period. Charlotte definitely feels like a Regency name to me, so that could account for its popularity. I am not sure whether in compiling the census list whether separate spellings were taken into account, for I think that is what decreased Catherine's share. 

A few names on the Victorians Smiths list that aren't on the census top 20: Ada, Clara and Florence. Ada and Clara are both names that peaked in the 1870s, and had very few births at the beginning of 1840s - their appearance shows the Victorian Smiths emphasis upon post-1840 popular names. Florence is #21 on the census list, and as I have written about a lot here, doesn't peak until 1895 when it dramatically ties with Mary. The Victorian Smiths is obviously foreshadowing such an event more than the census list.

If anyone has anything on the Victorian Smiths that they would like me to look into, then please post! If not, this may be the last post on the Victorian Smiths though I am thinking of using the data for a longer spanning project.