A NameVoyager Case Study: Adolph
My NameVoyager is designed to give you a sense of names as history. In certain cases you can see the stamp of a single individual -- type in Shirley to see the huge impact of Shirley Temple in the '30s. At the opposite extreme, you expect fo find names sunk by a negative personal association. So one of the most examined names in the Voyager is Adolph.
A few representative user posts:
"It's also funny to note the fortunes of names with political implications. Adolph appears to have been a somewhat popular name during the early part of the century, then plummets off the list in the 40's."
"Check out Adolph. It had a fairly precipitous drop in about 1940.. wonder why."
The odd part is, Adolph does not show a precipitous drop in the 1940s. Our intuition tells us it should, but in fact the name was already disappearing before then. The use of Adolph in America dropped 80% from 1900 to 1930, then slowly trickled off into oblivion by the late '60s. This is not to say that war with Germany played no part in the name's demise...but rather that we're looking at the wrong war.
In the 1890s and 1900s, German names were wildly popular with American parents. (Irish names play the same role today, so think of Gertrude as the Caitlin of her day.) With the dawn of the First World War, that generation of German hit names melted away. Try loading up the NameVoyager and typing Adolph. Then try Gertrude and Otto, and see how remarkably similar the patterns look. By and large, the more distinctly German the name, the faster it plummeted. The spelling Adolf disappeared completely during WWI along with names like Ernst and Ludwig.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Adolph took so long to vanish from our shores. It's hard to imagine an American family circa 1950 naming a son Adolph, yet a good number did. The name was still close enough to its popularity peak that many parents still had Grandpa Adolphs, or other positive personal associations with the name. Half a century later, Adolph is virtually taboo and will doubtless remain that way...even as Otto prepares for a comeback.