The Red and the Blue
After writing about country names and city names last week, I fielded a flood of requests for a "red-blue" analysis. For those of you not immersed in American politics, charting red vs. blue has become something of a national pastime since the 2004 presidential election. Just take a U.S. map, shade the areas favoring the Republican party in red, the Democratic party in blue...and a glance at the map will show you that politics isn't the only thing dividing those regions.
The Red states cut a vast swath through the middle of the country, occupying the majority of the geographic territory. The Blue states tend to be concentrated on the coasts, including major urban centers. Blue-staters are more likely to have college degrees and six-figure incomes, but red-staters have a much lower cost of living. And on it goes.
So naturally, the red and blue regions differ in their naming choices, too. The differences actually represent several underlying name cultures (look for a full U.S. naming map here soon), but some broad patterns emerge. I've tallied up a dozen of the reddest and bluest names in America--names with the biggest popularity gap between the top Republican states and the top Democratic states. First, the girls:BLUE GIRLSRED GIRLSIsabellaHannahKaylaAlexisSophiaHaileyAshleyAbigailSarahAlyssaJuliaLaurenSamanthaTaylorOliviaElizabethJessicaEmilyLilyChloeKatherineAnnaCarolineEmma
Some of the differences reflect the racial diversity of blue states like California and New York. Kayla, for instance, owes its ranking largely to African-American and Latino families. (It's the #1 name for black girls in New York City.) Latino and Asian parents, meanwhile, tend to favor the girls' names that dominated the '80s, like Ashley and Jessica. White blue-state families (or is that blue white-state families?) lean heavily toward gentle antiques like Olivia, Lily and Caroline.
The red girls' list leads with Hannah, an Old Testament/Hebrew Bible name that was seldom heard until the '90s. (It's worth noting here that Hannah, like many of the names on the list, is popular in blue states too--but it averages #13 in blue, #5 in red.) The red list also features several names that started out as male names (Alexis) or surnames (Hailey, Taylor) and have emerged suddenly as girls' hits. Keep those two themes in mind as you look at the boys:BLUE BOYSRED BOYSRyanEthanNicholasLoganAnthonyTylerMatthewSamuelDanielJacobChristopherHunterJohnJamesJosephAustinMichaelJacksonNoahNathanAlexanderIsaacKevinGabriel
The red boys' list is a marvel of consistency. Except for James, every name either is from the Old Testament or is a common surname. It's notable that Republican voters are more likely to strongly identify themselves as Christians, yet the strongly Christian-identified names--John, Christopher, Matthew--are stacked on the Democratic side. (Even the name Christian leans blue.)
Overall, the blue boys are varied in origin but steady and traditional. Unlike the blue girls, the boys' names are used relatively evenly across races. And unlike the red boys, almost all of the blue boys' names were as common 30 years ago as they are today.
The strength of tradition seems to be biggest theme dividing red and blue names. Red staters are more prone to neologize--to create new names from surnames (Tanner), place names (Brooklyn), or simply appealing sounds (Kaden). Blue staters are more likely to stick to traditional naming stock. Even when they seek fresh territory, it's among traditional first names: antiques (Ava) or foreign imports (Gianna). In other words, the political conservatives turn out to be the naming activists, and the political progressives are the naming conservatives.