That other name in the race

Feb 23rd 2008

In December, I tapped Barack as my official Baby Name of the Year.  But there's another significant name story in the Democratic race.  Hillary Clinton has already swayed the naming of thousands of American babies.

In the late 1980s, Hillary was a fashionable contemporary name for girls.  Two spellings (Hillary, Hilary) were equally popular, both ranking around #250 in national popularity.  Then Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail, and see what happened:

If you contemplate that graph, you'll see three separate phenomena.  First, Hillary Clinton's new national visibility gave her name a huge boost.  Second, once she actually became first lady her name plummeted.  And third, she took such complete ownership of the name that the single-L spelling became irrelevant.  All of Hilary Swank's Oscars and Hilary Duff's omnipresence haven't made a dent...and that was before Ms. Clinton started running a presidential campaign on a first-name-only basis.  This is now Hillary Clinton's name, like it or lump it.

Punditry alert: I'll be talking about political names on MSNBC this Sunday morning (2/24).


By C & C's Mom (not verified)
February 23, 2008 2:48 PM

What time will the MSNBC clip on political names air? I would love to catch it.

By baby boy (not verified)
February 23, 2008 3:37 PM

Does this affects happened all the time? like now the baby name George is up?

By Lara (not verified)
February 23, 2008 7:06 PM

Guess I'm in the "lump it" camp, because I dislike the name, all politics aside.

For the record, I love the name George. Again, all politics aside.


By Caren (not verified)
February 23, 2008 7:11 PM


I was interested in what has happened to Hilary as a boy's name (as in the famous philosopher Hilary Putnam since Hillary Rodham Clinton entered public consciousness.

Turns out, according to Laura's Name Voyager, Hilary never was a top 1000 name for boys anyway, so the relevant data aren't accessible via this site.

I didn't realize Hilary as a boy's name was that rare.

Still, I'd like to know when and why it became less popular for boys. Also, did it start as a boy's name and cross over (like Ashley, Courtney, or Whitney)?

Any guesses or insights would be read and appreciated!

As an aside:
I always thought that Hilary was for boys, and Hillary was for girls. I don't know how I came up with this, except that I was familiar with Hilary Putnam (man) and Hillary Clinton (woman) and must have overgeneralized.

By Cleveland Kent Evans (not verified)
February 23, 2008 7:22 PM

Lyndon Johnson was the last President to positively affect the use of his name while in office. Since Nixon, names strongly associated with sitting Presidents have been negatively affected. The only two years since 1880 when Carter has NOT been among the top thousand first names for American boys on the SSA list were during Jimmy Carter's presidency. Clinton receded as a first name while Bill was in office. William wasn't negatively affected because it's so common that the President couldn't dominate its image, but when the Clintons entered the White House, Hillary Clinton was the only American Hillary that had any fame to speak of, so her image dominated the name.

Nowadays a President has to be out of office for a decade or so before the name sounds "cool" to new parents. Carter, Reagan, and Kennedy are all fashionable now -- the latter two for girls much more than boys, which is itself a new phenomenon.

This is a big contrast with the early part of the century. Taft, Harding, and Hoover were all among the top 1000 first names for boys only while men with those surnames were President.

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 23, 2008 7:31 PM

To Caren:
According to Everyman's Dictionary of First Names by Leslie Dunkling, Hilary has been a predominately female name in England since the 1890s. It was almost exclusively male in England up until that time, however. So Hilary is one of the first examples of a male name ending in -y making the transition to female in English speaking countries.

By Suzanne (not verified)
February 23, 2008 9:07 PM

The rising popularity of George (which I haven't verified, but seems to be commented upon frequently) likely has nothing to do with Bush. George is not a one-man name, the way Hillary has become. Clooney, Stephanapolous, Straight, Curious, Washington... all kinds of popular associations that make the name attractive and applicable for many families. The resurgence is probably related to the renewed interested in classic, somewhat "stodgy" names these days like Henry. Hillary, on the other hand - you say it, and you think of one person.

By Cleveland Kent Evans (not verified)
February 23, 2008 11:35 PM

In the US population as a whole, George certainly is not rising in popularity the last few years. It fell from #130 in 2000 to #153 in 2006. Its possible George has now started to rise in use with avant garde parents, but I haven't seen any statistics that would indicate that's really the case.

George has been rising in use in England the last three years and was #12 there in 2007, but I'm sure Bush has nothing to do with that.

By Cecelia (not verified)
February 24, 2008 12:31 AM

Here is Australia we elected in a new government at the end of last year. This new one is associated with two strong female voices: Julia Gillard (the deputy prime minister, minister for education and minister for industrial relations) and Therese Rein (wife of PM Kevin Rudd and hugely successful businesswoman). I am pretty confident that these names will be on the rise here in 2008.

Despite the amazingly high approval ratings for the new PM, I can't see the name Kevin suddenly being popular for boys though.

By Kiki (not verified)
February 24, 2008 12:45 AM

Anecdotally, here in NZ we use Hilary for boys and have done since Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mt Everest. I think the name might have a surge her following his death last year.

By Harriet (not verified)
February 24, 2008 1:01 AM

Wow...wonder how Clinton's campaign will affect it?

Actually, I'm really curious as to who is naming their daughters Hillary. Are they politically left, as I would think? Within that group, are the groups that tend to support Barack Obama--such as African-Americans--less likely to use the name?

I really like the name Hillary acttually; my first association is a girl in my English class, my second, Mrs. Clinton. Almost immediately I think of a Hilary from the Amelia's Notebook children's book series, who was kind of a bully, and an older woman who was my neighbor until I was six or so (don't know whether she spelled it with one L or two). Then come Hilarys Duff and Swank, followed by a vivacious but lazy little Hillary in a book called _Dancing Shoes_ (a sequel to _Ballet Shoes_, if anyone's heard of it; I actually think the author had fun with her characters' names--Rachel was nicknamed ewe-lamb, Dulcie's mother thought she was very sweet, and Hillary was full of joy and verve). Then the spelling Hillarie pops into mind, and I don't know where it comes from--a magazine article or something? It's weird how many associations fly into my head with it, most names don't do that.

The _Oxford Dictionary of First Names_ says that from the Middle Ages onward Hilary was mainly a male name in honor of St. Hilarius. It doesn't say when it switched, though.

Other than Hil or possibly Hallie, does anyone know of cute nicknames for Hillary?

By Harriet (not verified)
February 24, 2008 1:07 AM


By JM (not verified)
February 24, 2008 2:32 AM

Dancing Shoes! Dancing Shoes!!!

I have nothing of substance to add to the conversation; I just love that book more than words can say, and am always pleased to encounter someone who's even heard of it.

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 24, 2008 3:23 AM

Rather than looking at the "George" trend, a better gauge of Bush's true influence on baby naming will be to see if any parents ever name their children "Dubya".

By hyz (not verified)
February 24, 2008 3:27 AM

lol. Saint Hilarius. That's cute. Maybe a good baby name choice for Catholics with a sense of humor? :)

By Keren (not verified)
February 24, 2008 8:38 AM

Another fan of Dancing Shoes here! By Noel Streatfeild and back in print if anyone wants to read it. At the time (when I was 9) my best friends were called Hilary and Rachel, so it was a particular favourite of mine.

Noel Streatfeild often had interesting names for the children in her books - Sorrel, Mark and Holly were a set of sibs, with cousins Miranda and Miriam. And of course there were Pauline, Petrova and Posy. And there were the skating girls Harriet and Lalla.

By Dolley Madison (not verified)
February 24, 2008 1:44 PM

Okay, for fun, here are all the US First Ladies' first names, in order, starting with Martha Dandridge Custis Washington:

Martha, Abigail, Martha, Dolley, Elizabeth, Louisa, Rachel, Hannah, Anna, Letitia, Julia, Sarah, Margaret, Abigail, Jane, Harriet, Mary, Eliza, Julia, Lucy, Lucretia, Ellen, Frances, Caroline, Frances, Ida, Edith, Helen, Ellen, Edith, Florence, Grace, Lou (yup, just Lou), Eleanor, Elizabeth, Mamie (just Mamie), Jacqueline, Claudia (Lady Bird), Patricia, Elizabeth, Rosalynn, Nancy, Barbara, Hillary, Laura.

(I like the Edith-Helen-Ellen-Edith series at the turn into the 20th century...)

By Dolley Madison (not verified)
February 24, 2008 1:46 PM

PS--note that whichever candidate wins, we'll be adding a new name to the list--not a repeat. Michelle, Cindy, or ...William? Or would Bill start a brand new list?

By AJ (not verified)
February 24, 2008 5:51 PM

Hilary Swank is not popular enough to generate a name trend, and the kind of female who loves Ms. Duff enough to name a baby after her is not breeding yet. ;-) Perhaps One-L-Hilary will resurge in a decade.
Anyone see the MSNBC bit? I found this post too late I would have loved to have seen it.
Laura, put yourself up on YouTube and link it for us. Please?

By Easternbetty (not verified)
February 24, 2008 5:55 PM

The funny thing about this list is that, with the possible exceptions of Martha, Dolley, Mamie, Nancy, and Barbara (and Hillary, of course, for the reasons in Laura's post), any one of these names could be chosen by parents today. And I am not referring to the heightened hipness standard that insists on "stodgy" names as cool; I think even mildly coolness-factor parents will be choosing Florence, Letitia, Ida, Edith, and Louisa if not already, then very soon.

By Audra (not verified)
February 24, 2008 6:41 PM


I agree, and also know of a pair of hipster, urban attorneys with a little Mamie Grace. ;-)

By Liz & Louka (not verified)
February 24, 2008 7:35 PM

Yep, Easternbetty, I met a 2-year-old Letitia just the other day.

By Kara (not verified)
February 24, 2008 8:16 PM


I know a Hillary from childhood who went by Lori as a nn. Her use of her nn by friends, teachers, and parents was so strong that I probably knew her for a year before I learned her real name was Hillary. I also probably didn't make the connection because Lori (Lory, Laurie) is a name on its own and is typically a nn for Laura or Lorraine, not Hillary.

By Lee (not verified)
February 24, 2008 8:33 PM

It looks like Hilary--like Beverly, Shirley and a few others--was an early male to female switch. What makes the current examples of this phenomenon interesting, however, is the number of names that do not end in a vowel sound (specifically "ee," but sometimes even "a" such as Dana, which I believe was used pretty much exclusively for males until the 20th C.).

Ashley and the earlier Leslie were probably prime candidates for crossover, given their "lee" endings. Cameron and Jordan may be less obvious examples, however "n" endings for girls' names are fairly frequent (Ann(e), Joan/Jean/Jane, June, Lynn, Carolyn/-line ad infinitum, seemingly). So even though Laura and others have noted an upswing in BOYS' names ending in "n," parents will always have some justification in "raiding" at least some of those for girls.

Jordan has a certain lit cachet from GATSBY. Morgan has that and myth associations from Arthurian tales. Cameron seems a later arrival. Always wondered if Ms. Diaz's parents weren't looking for an Anglo version of "Carmen."

Speaking of unisex names, I noted several weeks ago that one poster was recommending Dale as nice crisp, masc. name (among several other monosyllabics). Could be that both Dale Earnhardt's popularity has helped reclaim that name for boys. Esp. now that people are beginning to forget female Dales like Evans and the fictional Arden.

By Harriet (not verified)
February 24, 2008 8:43 PM

JM & Keren--Yay! Keren, the whole naming of the Fossil girls first gave me the impression that the author was a name-person. What book are Harriet and Lalla in? They're the only ones I never read about.

hyz--Lol, I didn't even realize--I hadn't said St. Hilarius out loud! Hm...I'm kind of liking it as a mn option now. Maybe I'll look up more about the saint.

Aaa no time to finish reading.

By Ash (not verified)
February 24, 2008 10:16 PM

Harriet and Lalla are from _Skating Shoes_, my personal favorite of the Shoes books (but that is probably just the figure skating fan in me). Definitely some interesting names in Streatfield's books (writing that out, in turn, makes me think of the scene in _You've Got Mail_ where Meg Ryan's character spells it out through tears in the chain bookstore -- her character also loved the shoes books).

As I was reading through the list of First Lady names, I thought to myself, gee, a lot of these are my favorite names! Then again, I like the old stodgy and classic names best anyway.

Interestingly, I have male family members, both born in the early part of the last century, who were Ashley and Beverly. In fact, the two were cousins and were born in the same town, at about the same time. It seems that they were among the last generation of males with those names (or, more accurately, males with those names when the name was not seen as feminine).

By Keren (not verified)
February 24, 2008 10:24 PM

I know Skating Shoes as White Boots. Harriet has three brothers, Alec, Toby and Edward. Just remembered some more Streatfeild sibs - Santa and Peter who join the circus. I think she's brilliant at naming characters - all the siblings 'match' and they all suit their parents.

By Lee (not verified)
February 24, 2008 10:49 PM

One other note on Cameron, it has been getting some traction among girls as "Camryn," presumably with actress Camryn Manheim in mind. That Camryn actually re-named herself. I believe her given name is actually Debra. (I know, I could look it up.)

By Harriet (not verified)
February 24, 2008 10:54 PM

Kara-not crazy about Lory for Hillary...interesting though.

And I missed Laura's segment too! :( If anyone could post it on YouTube, please do.

By Amanda (not verified)
February 25, 2008 2:44 AM

I DVR'd Laura's MSNBC segment. It was just a bit on "Barak" as NOTY. The interviewer's questions were pretty basic. The conversation on the site was much more compelling. It was nice to see Laura, as always, but you didn't miss much.

By Eustace (not verified)
February 25, 2008 3:23 AM

I love the shoes books, too! All of them! Yay!
I know a lovely little girl named Dulce now and I cannot help but think it's a cosmic balancing of the horrible Dulcie in Dancing Shoes (which was my favorite bc. I identified with awkward Rachel reading Wind in the Willows during rehearsal).

By Jenna (not verified)
February 25, 2008 5:18 AM

Preved dyatlam!

By Lee (not verified)
February 25, 2008 2:25 PM

It's probably not just political names that are avoided. But it makes sense that any name closely linked to a controversial figure would be avoided...even by those who ADMIRE the person in question. As some have suggested, it can just be too much baggage.

I don't think that Angelina Jolie has inspired many namesakes, for instance--either for Angelina OR Jolie. There probably are a few Madonnas out there named after that superstar, but there was a whole generation of Madonna Wannabes out there in the 80s and 90s and yet their idol's name did not inspire much imitation.

As for first ladies and presidents, many of them ARE pretty standard names, but linked to a previous generation. In a trend conscious society, parents will likely avoid Nancy or Barbara simply because they're no longer fashionable. Laura is a standard that will likely remain fairly constant, if not overwhelmingly popular. None of these names are associated exclusively with any one individual. Rosalynn is pretty much a one-person name, but I don't think people either embraced it or avoided it because of Mrs. Carter.

I'm just recalling the show MOLLY DODD, in which the '50s born heroine had siblings named Dwight and Mamie.

By Cleveland Kent Evans (not verified)
February 25, 2008 3:12 PM

There is nothing to "reclaim" about Dale's gender. It has always remained overwhelmingly male in spite of Dale Arden and Dale Evans. Another example is Glenn, which has never switched to female with the general public in spite of Glenn Close and Glenne Headley.

Jordan was used for both boys and girls when it first became a name in English back in medieval times. So its modern unisex status is really a return to its origins. And Jordan is one of the few names which has managed to maintain its use for boys in modern times even though it has also been quite fashionable for girls.

Both Angelina and Jolie have definitely increased in use in the USA the last few years, so I think the idea that the actress is not inspiring young parents may be incorrect. Of course, as with most celebrity-inspired names, most parents are not naming daughters "after" Ms. Jolie in the sense of honoring her, but merely find them as "different but not too different" alternatives because of all of the publicity she gets.

By Heidi (not verified)
February 25, 2008 3:31 PM

Re the name George, which Cleveland indicates is falling in popularity generally:

Do you think of George as a "Yuppie" or "Volvo" name? There seem to be a fair number of them in upscale suburbs, but not in other places. Another name very much like this is Frank. Classic, but fusty -- is anyone else seeing this one making a comeback? There are three of them under age 8 in our local elementary school (outside of DC).

Very glad to see you on these boards, Cleveland. I started reading your books in high school (was a name nerd even then).

By Lee (not verified)
February 25, 2008 4:35 PM

The split among the Dales I've known personally is about 50/50, CKE, but I'll certainly trust your data.

It was interesting to see it included in one poster's listing (sorry that I forget whose at the moment) list of distinctly masc. names (all monosyllabic, as I recall).

I wonder if Angelina (and Jolie) could be on the upswing now that the actress has become more famous for her humanitarian work and her international adoptions (basically a positive thing, although controversial in some people's eyes) than for wearing a vial of blood of Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck and being overly affectionate with her brother on award shows.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
February 25, 2008 6:32 PM

Three Franks under age eight is a bit much. I wonder whether they were named purely for style/parents' affinity or to honor male relatives (it's possible that many Americans with several generations' ancestry in the U.S. have a Frank somewhere in their family tree).

I know of an Atlantan couple in which one partner is American and the other is half French & was raised by an American mother; the couple have named their new baby George (English spelling) as a reference to the French version (Georges) of the name. More demo info: They are on their way between middle and upper class and have graduate degrees.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
February 25, 2008 6:39 PM

Though now I think about it, some of those Franks may be short for Franklin (last name trend) or Francis (classic name trend), both of which are more appealing to me, and probably to other parents, than "Frank."

By Astrid (not verified)
February 25, 2008 6:45 PM

I can't get Name Voyager to show up here at work, so I can't check this myself - what happened to Monica in the early to mid 90s? Was that a result of Ms. Monica L., or because Monica was already on the way out? The youngest Monica that I know is 15 - pre-Monica scandal, I believe.

I know of two toddler/baby George's - and I would classify both of their parents as potential Volvo-owners. A sample of two is hardly representative, though. Personally, when I hear the name, Dubya isn't the first person who comes to mind - it's probably Clooney, George Washington, or mad King George.

By Wendy (not verified)
February 25, 2008 8:26 PM

I think that the Monica Lewinsky scandal definitely resulted in Monica declining faster...

Monica had peaked at 39 in 1977. In the early- mid 1990's it was holding pretty steady -- between 76 and 88. The year before the scandal (1997) it was ranked at 79. (Influenced by the TV show Friends?)

January 1998, the scandal started. That year, the name dropped to 105. The next year (1999) it dropped to 151. It has continued to drop since... in 2006 it was at 250 which is still relatively popular...

By Harriet (not verified)
February 25, 2008 9:14 PM

I know a Mia-Jolie...I guess she's about four now? And I just remembered I've met a Raechel(fn) Hillery(ln). Weird...

By Dale (not verified)
February 25, 2008 9:19 PM

Some Dale trivia here:

Dale Evans took the name Dale as a stage name; it was her then-husband's middle name.

I have been in contact with only three female Dales in my life - all from Hawaii. Dale was very much a female name there, at least in the 1960s. They would be in their 40s now.

By C & C's Mom (not verified)
February 26, 2008 12:16 AM

My late grandmother's middle name was Dale and it is the middle name of one of my male cousins who was named after her. I think it truly is unisex.

By Kelly (not verified)
February 26, 2008 2:43 AM

Switching to another big name at the moment, I saw that the Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register is looking for baby Benedicts to feature in a story for the Papal visit in April. I remember Laura brought up religious figures for one post. It will be interesting to see how many they dig up. :)

By Lee (not verified)
February 26, 2008 4:59 AM

The female Dales that I know (none of whom are Hawaiian) were all born post 1950, with the youngest being born maybe '61. All in the Dale Evans era. I would guess that as a female name, it certainly has more traction than, say, "Glenn" has yet to achieve. But if you want to want to throw "Glenn" into the mix of unisex names, it would suggest an interesting pattern. "Dale," "Lee," and, now, "Glen(n)" are all topographical terms. I wonder if there's just something kind of gender neutral about, valleys (dales), meadows (lees or leas) and glens.

Some younger female Dales who achieved some prominence in the music world were Dale Bozzio of the group Missing Persons (and whose husband was, confusingly enough, named Terry) and Dale Krantz (later Krantz-Washington) of the Rossington-Collins Band. Both were reasonably well known in the 80s.

Kelly, it would be interesting to see if Benedict is catching on anywhere in the world. I don't see it happening in the US, but I could be wrong.

By Eo (not verified)
February 26, 2008 5:48 AM

Hm, can I make this work now?

By Eo (not verified)
February 26, 2008 6:04 AM

Yay, this format works!

I like Benedict, and see it as a nicknaming opportunity for some favorite nicknames-- "Bix" (as in jazzman "Beiderbecke" (sp?) and "Bing" (as in Crosby) Like the idea of names that are homages to early twentieth century popular music titans. But for us in America, Benedict is unfortunately a reminder of Benedict Arnold.

Still, would that stop me if I were besotted with the name? Possibly not. I'd see it as an opportunity to forge "good" associations with the name Benedict. The current Pope seems to be a genial fellow as well...

By the way, I think Bix Beiderbecke's real name was "Leon". But I believe his second name was "Bismarck(e)", hence the adorable, sporty short form.

Does anyone know what Hoagy Carmichael's real first name was? Or what New Orleans jazz player "Tuts" Washington's was?

By Liz & Louka (not verified)
February 26, 2008 6:10 AM

Well, according to Hoagy Carmichael's Wikipedia entry: "He was named Hoagland after a circus troupe "The Hoaglands" who stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother’s pregnancy."

Nothing in wikipedia on why "Tuts", but his first name was Isidore.

By Flulsisrusned (not verified)
February 26, 2008 8:42 AM

At Halliburton/KBR, sexual assault is just part of the workplace experience
for women Like many viewers, I watched this ABC 20/20 report when it first aired
in December with jaws-open, eyes-bugging horror. It told the story of two women
workers for Halliburton/KBR who had been sent to Iraq. There, one, Jamie Lee
Jones, a young computer tech, was gang-raped on her fourth day by coworkers
after being drugged; the other, Tracy Barker, was sexually assaulted by a State
Department employee. Both immediately reported their assaults, only to have
KBR first lock them in isolation, then question their accusations. In the case
of Jones, it even "lost" the medical report that documented evidence
of gang rape.

Click on a small picture to see shocking photos:

By Heidi (not verified)
February 26, 2008 11:26 AM

Easternbetty -- you're right, all three Franks at our school are short for Francis.