Where all boys end up nowadays

Jul 19th 2007

As I research names I'm constantly poking into dusty corners of data and compiling arcane charts. Most will never see the light of day, but one has grabbed me so hard I just have to share. So strap on your helmets, we're going data mining!

For background, I'm convinced that that the whole baby-naming enterprise has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. Part of what I'm trying to do is to demonstrate that this change is real and get a handle on what it means. One natural place to look is in name endings. As I've discussed in the past, endings do a lot of the work of giving a generation of names its trademark sound. (See the posts called "It's how you finish," parts one and two.)

So here is a graph of boys born by the last letter of their given names, back in 1906:

Only 11 letters were in common end-letter use, led by a clear "Big Four" that memorably spell ENDS (think George, John, Edward, James.) Now let's leap 50 years ahead and chart the same data for boys born in 1956:

It's hard to compare the graphs in this format, but the changes are relatively modest given the 50-year time span. The exact same 11 end letters dominate as in 1906, and the Big Four ENDS all rank among a new Big Five. This is the fundamental conservatism of the English men's naming stock, the immovable core of Johns and Jameses that endures across generations. Or did, at least. 'Cause take a gander at 2006:


Ladies and gentlemen, that is a baby naming revolution.

More on this in the months to come...

Comments

1
By Rebekah (not verified)
July 19, 2007 4:15 PM

Oh my goodness! I never would of thought it was that dramatic. That is amazing.....Good work Laura! I can't wait to more on this.
What do you think makes the N so dominant?

2
By Jennifer...again (not verified)
July 19, 2007 4:19 PM

Whoa. I knew that end-in-N names were really trendy, but it's mind-boggling in number form. 600,000. That's over half of all boys born in a given year.

Interesting that the #1 name, Jacob, is barely a blip on this map.

My two boys end in L and T, so I guess I did better than I thought in avoiding the trends.

3
By Jennifer...again (not verified)
July 19, 2007 4:24 PM

Rebekah -
Aidan/Jayden/Brayden/Hayden/Caden/Jaylen
Logan
Nathan
Ethan
Ryan
Jonathan
Benjamin
Brandon/Brennan/Brendon/etc
Austin
Landon
Cameron

Most of these have multiple misspellings, so the true popularity is masked.

4
By Gordon (not verified)
July 19, 2007 4:36 PM

Just a small correction.
ENDS all rank in a new Big Six in 1956.
(YNDSLE)

5
By Megan W. (not verified)
July 19, 2007 4:37 PM

That's stunning. (Can't wait to see the girl graph, but I suspect that multiple spellings may mask some ending sounds, like: -ley, -lee, leigh etc.)

No wonder I'm constantly looking up at the playground thinking someone is calling to me, when in fact it's someone else! I thought it was just that Megan had become so common, now I realize, that's the tip of the iceberg.

6
By Rebekah (not verified)
July 19, 2007 4:38 PM

Thanks Jennifer- I guess what I was wondering is what makes these sounds so appealing to the ear right now. I know the Irish trend had a lot to do with it but those numbers are incredible.
So why hasn't the name Gideon taken off? Every time I mention it I still get the wrinkled nose.

7
By C & C's Mom (not verified)
July 19, 2007 5:28 PM

What would the same graphs look like for girls?

8
By Hillary (not verified)
July 19, 2007 5:35 PM

Rebekah,
When I hear Gideon I think of "The Gideon" who give bibles to hotels and churches in the name of someone. That kinda puts a "wierdness" on it for me. Kinda like Damien or Lucifer.

Just my opinion

9
By molly h (not verified)
July 19, 2007 5:37 PM

I too wonder what caused the -ens to sky rocket so dramatically. It's not that they have an unpleasant sound to me, but they just don't appeal to me like they do for so many others. I especially find it amazing when Ii hear someone claim that they love Jayden or Caden because they're "unique". I think Ethan and Logan are the only names on Jennifer...again's list that I like.

10
By Tris (not verified)
July 19, 2007 5:40 PM

It could be that Gideon has "giddy" in it. That could be weird for people. I sort-of like it though. :)

11
By Camilla (not verified)
July 19, 2007 5:53 PM

And as usual, in the drive for independence, everyone has really moved toward conformity.

12
By a.c. (not verified)
July 19, 2007 6:26 PM

Wow! The trend is really striking when shown that way. It also really sheds light on the rise and fall of the letter y.

13
By Penn (not verified)
July 19, 2007 6:52 PM

So, to be really "unique," shoot for boys' names ending in F, G, or Z?

Leaf, Padraig, and Cruz, it is.

Or maybe Yusuf, Craig, and Amoz?

14
By Kat (not verified)
July 19, 2007 6:59 PM

As a biochemist, I look at graphs alot, and I must suggest displaying the graphs as % of names ending in each letter rather than absolute number of names ending in each letter. Those Y-axes are bugging me (yes I am a nerd). Very interesting trend though!

When we were choosing a middle name for Solomon, it WAS very difficult to find a middle name we liked that didn't end in N. Sounded awkward I thought to end with two N-ending names for first and middle names. Now I see why it was so difficult to find non-N-ending boys names!

15
By tifani (not verified)
July 19, 2007 7:43 PM

Interesting indeed. I agree with the last nerd to comment (sorry, Kat, I'm a nerd, too!) that a percentage graph or seeing all of the graphs on the same x/y chart would be much more telling. Other than the letter N which is clearly having a heyday right now, the other top letters are still relatively similar in popularity even if less-frequently used.

Thanks for the new blog, Laura - I look forward to reading your latest insights on name trends. I refer to your book all the time even though I don't have kids yet. :)

16
By SJ (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:14 PM

Hi all,

Speaking of N's... What do you think of the name: Evelyn Nadia Wallerman (Evelyn Wallerman, Evelyn N. Wallerman)? Are there too many N's?

I love your blogs and name tools, Laura!

17
By b (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:23 PM

Thanks for the interesting article Laura. I look forward to it every week!

18
By J&H's mom (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:24 PM

Practically all the surname/first names I can think of end in N also, and they're still quite popular.
The only Gideon I've known was actually a girl, and she went by something else.
I wish I'd asked her about it...

19
By Valerie (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:45 PM

Thanks, Laura- really interesting, as usual!

The-n names cover such a wide range, from the traditionally British Colin and Simon, through the more effeminate (IMHO) Florian, Corin, Dorian, Crispi(a)n, Biblical Nathan, Jonathan and Benjamin, Irish Declan, Ciaran... the list is endless!

I have a friend who named her kids Adrian, Steven and Julian back in the early 60's- guess she was ahead of the curve!

20
By a.c. (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:52 PM

It's interesting, too, that Madison Ethan are the only names in the official top tens that and in n. I think it's probably because, as Valerie said, there are tons of different -n names.

SJ--Evelyn Nadia Wallerman isn't too n-ish. Maybe because the n in Nadia comes at the beginning, so there's mor variety...?

21
By a.c. (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:54 PM

Obviously, that should read "Madison and Ethan". Stupid typos.

22
By a.c. (not verified)
July 19, 2007 8:55 PM

Oh, and J&H's mom--what did your Gideon go by?

23
By stepmom to J&C (not verified)
July 19, 2007 9:17 PM

Wow. And of course, we've got Julian and we're considering Robin (for a boy). I thought we were being a bit different.

24
By Cleveland Kent Evans (not verified)
July 19, 2007 10:41 PM

Well, this is what happens when most people in the culture are no longer naming sons after older relatives or friends, but what to find something new and "unique" that nevertheless fits the ubiquitous "different but not too different" criterion. You end up with names chosen primarily on the basis of sound, and in the USA names that end in -n are considered particularly attractive.

This is not just in terms of given names. This also extends to the surnames of politicians. Research by Dr. Grant W. Smith of Eastern Washington University shows that over the last few election cycles in the USA, in elections where only nonincumbents are running, politicians who have surnames that fit a certain set of sound patterns are more likely to win. And though there are other factors to this, one of the main ones is "ending in -n". Reagan and Clinton are particuarly good surnames for successful politicians -- and a great many of the newly popular boys' names these days are just these sort of surnames turned into first names.

25
By Jessica (not verified)
July 19, 2007 11:23 PM

I love Evelyn Nadia. If you like Evelyn Wallerman, use it. It sounds "tried and true" to my ears and I like it.

26
By Rebekah (not verified)
July 20, 2007 2:54 AM

a.c.- Ok, I hate to be the one that doesn't like it, but I don't particularly care for the combination. It is a nice name but it is hard to say, at least for me. I even think the first and last names don't go very well. It just doesn't flow off the tongue. I feel as if I have to enunciate it so it doesn't run together. It is not just an issue of too many Ns, it is also because the first and last name have 3 syllables each. I think it would be better if the first name only had two syllables. For example, Nadia Wallerman sounds good together.
I hope that helps! :)

27
By Rebekah (not verified)
July 20, 2007 2:56 AM

Question-What is your favorite website for names?

28
By Suzanne (not verified)
July 20, 2007 3:59 AM

The latest graph is astonishing. What could it be about the N that is so alluring? I listed all the young boys of my acquaintance, and by the time I got to 20, I had 14 ending in N! The outliers were Noah, Vincent, Frankie, Angus, Luke and Cole.

Thanks to Laura for compiling such fascinating data!

29
By Camilla (not verified)
July 20, 2007 4:39 AM

"I have a friend who named her kids Adrian, Steven and Julian back in the early 60's- guess she was ahead of the curve!"

Not really. In 1956 it appears N was the second most popular last letter.

30
By Suzanne (not verified)
July 20, 2007 4:59 AM

In noticing that E was the top in 1906 and Y in 1956, I was having a hard time coming up with full names that end in those letters. George is all I could come up with for E, and a few more for Y - Barry, Gary, Ray, Jay.

Perhaps nicknames used as given names may be the explanation? Laura showed us a few posts ago that names like Sammie and Billie were given to boys at the turn of the century. My grandfather (b. 1920) was named Johnnie, but by the 50s I believe the Y spelling was favored for Tommy, Bobby, Jimmy etc. Very interesting!

31
By a.c. (not verified)
July 20, 2007 2:41 PM

Rebekah--I assume you meant that message to SJ. :)

32
By Rebekah (not verified)
July 20, 2007 3:22 PM

Yes....I meant SJ. Silly me. =)

33
By Meegan (not verified)
July 20, 2007 4:43 PM

SJ: I agree with Rebekah about Nadia Wallerman sounding better than Evelyn Wallerman. Both my first and last names end with an "n" and I've always hated the way they sound together!

34
By Dorothy (not verified)
July 20, 2007 4:56 PM

I think it's the N's combined with the syllable pattern that bother me about the name. Each "issue" on its own wouldn't be so bad.

"Evelyn Wallerman" starts getting scrambled as I say it over and over. First I'd mispronounce it to Evelyn WEllerman for some reason, then comes the nickname "Ev" and it's Ev Wellerman, which eventually morphs to "Everman" which is a weird nickname for sure . . . I almost like the other half of the name -- Lynn Wallerman -- better!

I think the A's and E's are confusing for me (including Nadia) -- what if you did a different vowel altogether, like Judy Wallerman? (or heck, even my name, Dorothy Wallerman?!) Just a thought. Sorry to pick apart your name choice, but this board is good for a thorough critique, isn't it? :)

35
By SJ (not verified)
July 20, 2007 6:33 PM

Please don't apologize for your critiques of "Evelyn Nadia Wallerman"! They're very helpful.

I was unsure about the syllable-issue, too.

My spouse and I have a hard time agreeing on names...and ENW is the best we've got so far.

By the way, we have a toddler boy whose name ends in an "ee" sound, which seems to be more popular for girls...?

Please keep your comments about "Evelyn Wallerman" coming. I appreciate it!

36
By Suzanne (not verified)
July 20, 2007 7:08 PM

I have to say, I love the names you've chosen - but Evelyn Wallerman is quite a mouthful to me. I also have a last name that excludes a lot of great names, and I agree it's frustrating!

I like Nadia Evelyn. I also took Nymbler for a spin and got a few ideas:
Lydia Evelyn
Nadia Eleanor
Mira Evelyn

37
By Wendy (not verified)
July 20, 2007 7:30 PM

doesn't surprise me about the "n" names. The boys in my daughter's preschool class this summer:

Aidan
Braydon
Evan
Brandon
Julian
Logan
Max

My daughter pointed out that all the boys names sound alike...

We had a new experience at the park today -- we met a little girl with my daughter's name -- this is the first person under 20 years old we have met with her name. Her mom said to me that the name is "kind of unusual." Fortunately I decided not to be a name nerd and tell her the statistics on the name and its various spellings. :)

38
By Kara (not verified)
July 20, 2007 7:55 PM

I'm not surprised at all that N was wickedly popular as the final letter for boys, but was surprised that R didn't make a stronger showing...with all the popularity of occupation names right now for boys. Like Hunter, Tanner, Tyler, Parker, etc.

39
By dinn (not verified)
July 20, 2007 8:18 PM

I have a hard time believing this graph...There is only one -n name in the top 10 (at 4), 2 in the top 15, and 4 in the top 20. How could there possibly be that many n's in the remaining names to make up more than half of the total?
The top 20 boys names are as follows:
1Jacob
2Michael
3Joshua
4Ethan
5Matthew
6Daniel
7Christopher
8Andrew
9Anthony
10William
11Joseph
12Alexander
13David
14Ryan
15Noah
16James
17Nicholas
18Tyler
19Logan
20John

40
By Rebekah (not verified)
July 20, 2007 8:48 PM

Wendy-Now I am intrigued, do you mind telling what your little girl's name is? I am dying to know?

41
By kristi (not verified)
July 20, 2007 8:56 PM

The graph is right. You just have to look a little beyond the top twenty to see why. From #20 John to #100 Devin, 40 of these 81 names end in N.

42
By a.c. (not verified)
July 20, 2007 9:23 PM

Kristi--How are your friends with the sextuplets? Their website doesn't seem to have been updated recently. (And of course, my condolences for those they lost.)

43
By a.c. (not verified)
July 20, 2007 9:32 PM

If you write on your kid's birth certificate, say, "james", as opposed to "James", would that mean that to capitalize the "j" on something else be incorrect? Totally random, just wondering.

44
By Debra (not verified)
July 21, 2007 1:09 AM

I definitely believe the statistics. Relatives & friends boys include Donovan, Emerson, Jackson, Aaron, etc and I have to admit that I was very drawn to Julian & Adrian during my pregnancies, but the "N" ending just happens to sound awful with our last name. I had noticed this trend for the N.

45
By Beth (not verified)
July 21, 2007 2:45 AM

OK, well, SJ I guess I have permission now to say it! The thing about Evelyn Nadia Wallerman is that not only is it 3 names with 3 syllables each, the are all "dactyls" (three syllables, accent on the first syllable). So you've got EVelyn NAdia WALLerman. CHUG-a-chug CHUG-a-chug CHUG-a-chug.

I'd suggest that the first name not be a dactyl, even if you use 3 syllables, as in BetTINa WALLerman (not that I love that name, but you see what I mean). Or, if you want to accent the first syllable of the first name, use a 2-syllable name, as in CHARlotte WALLerman. Or even 4 syllables, accent not on the first: Ann-a-STAS-ia WALLerman.

If only Nymbler could accommodate the rhythm of your last name!

46
By NB (not verified)
July 21, 2007 3:26 AM

SJ- In my first and (married) last name combined, I have FIVE Ns. It can be a mouthful sometimes.

My last name also ends in -man, and I dislike the sound of anything ending in -n with our name. It sounds a little too rhymey or sing-songy for my tastes. A shame- I had always LOVED the name Benjamin growing up but knew that marrying my husband would mean not being able to use it. (Not that it was actually a consideration in choosing a partner, but as a name nerd the thought did cross my mind!!)

Good luck, and congratulations on the pregnancy. Please do let us know what you decide!

47
By s (not verified)
July 21, 2007 7:56 AM

SJ-

I would go with Evelyn Nadia if you love it.

My daughter's first and middle name don't really go with our last name, but oh well. Nothing really does.

I finally just chose a name I loved. Maybe someday she will change her last name anyway...I didn't want to choose a name I didn't like as much just to match our last name.

48
By Allira (not verified)
July 21, 2007 12:05 PM

Hi. I'm giving birth to a son in a few months and am still thinking about the name. I really like Leonidas Joseph (Leon for short), but my mother and her friends disagree. I'm told that names that I like now (I'm in my late teens) I'll hate when I'm older, and that I should choose a top-20 name for my son. So I'm not sure. Can anyone help?

49
By Katharine (not verified)
July 21, 2007 3:32 PM

On the 'Gideon' debate - the only Gideon I ever met was rather unfortunately nicknamed Giddy -up...

Wendy: I too would love to know your daughter's name!

NB: I'm glad these random thoughts re. name choices go through other peoples minds too! :-)

I mean I like Evelyn Nadia but I see the issues with combining it with Wallerman, it's tough to know whether to go for the name you love or the name that sounds better with your surname (Sorry I haven't been more helpful - I need to mull it over for a while first I think...)

Allira: You certainly don't have to go with a top 20 name for your son! (although I see the thought groove behind this suggestion - your mum et friends are just worried you'll choose a fad name which you'll soon tire of) Personally I'm not into Leonidas (how do you say it?) but Joseph is lovely... Are there any other names that particularly grab you ?

50
By Katharine (not verified)
July 21, 2007 3:50 PM

Allira:

After a quick brainstorm - helped along by Nymbler, I've come up with a few suggestions that I thought were similar in style to Leonidas Joseph, though I would say if you truly love Leonidas Joseph to go with that...

Phineas
Reuben
Oliver
Nathaniel/Nathan
Raphael/Rafe
Daniel
Zackery/Zachariah
Joel
Isaac
Nicholas
Finlay/Finn
Benjamin
Samuel
Joshua
Gabriel
Barnaby
Lucas/Luca
Eliot

See what you think...