Do April showers bring Aprils?
A reader who is expecting a baby girl in April recently wrote me with the question: how many girls named April are actually born in April?
It's a nifty question that taps into the fundamental nature of "meaning" names. How much do we think of jasmine when we hear Jasmine, or rubies when we meet Ruby? And does the word's impact change along with the name's usage?
Seasonal names are a great place to look for answers, since the you can use birthdates as a measure of the word-meaning's influence. April in particular is an ideal choice because it's a relatively modern naming phenomenon. That means we can track its journey from obscurity to popularity and (partway) back again, with full data available. So let's geek out, shall we?
All else being equal, you'd expect about one April in every twelve to be born in the month of April, or 8%. In fact the rate is one in three, a clear case of month-matching. But even that doesn't tell the whole story.
I've written before about a 50-year cycle of month names. You can check out that column, but here's the key graph:
Clearly, there's more to the popularity of April than just the month. Using birth records from several U.S. states, I looked at a sample of 671 Aprils: 71 born 1920-1940 when the name was rare, and 200 each from 1960, 1975, and 1995 -- at the beginning, middle and end of the name's big surge. The pattern...
In other words, before April became a familiar name, most Aprils got their name from their birth date. It took that connection to spur parents to choose -- or even think of -- such an unconventional name. But once the name was well established on its own, parents simply considered it alongside other names, with an extra boost when Spring rolled around.
It's a great illustration of "namehood" taking hold. You can hear the same process at work in names like Crystal and Amber. If you met women with those names today, would gems leap to mind? Likely not, because the words have crossed over the threshold into the world of names. But that crossing can go both ways. A century ago girls named Coral and Garnet outnumbered Crystal and Amber, but those names have since returned to the gem column. So let's make a date to follow up on the fate of April -- see you in 2075?