The Shape of Boys' Names: An Update on the Age of Aidan

May 16th 2012


Once upon a time -- not so very long ago -- parents were super conservative with boys' names. Even as trendy girls' names began to rise and fall, you could count on the classic English kingly names to rule the boys' chart. Compare the top 5 boys and girls of 1947:

GIRLS
Linda
Mary
Patricia
Barbara
Sandra

BOYS
James
Robert
John
William
Richard

The girls' list is recognizably American Baby Boom. As for the boys...well, check out the top 5 boys' names in London in the year 1260, per Douglas Galbi:

John
William
Robert
Richard
Thomas

How many styles can say they've held steady for 7 centuries? In the space of the past two generations, though, that rock-solid name base has started to melt away. Parents no longer feel bound by age-old tradition in naming their sons. As tradition gives way, something has to take its place, and that something turns out to be pure fashion.

My shorthand for the power of boys' name fashion has been names rhyming with Aidan (Jaden, Kayden, Braidyn, etc.). When I started tracking "The Age of Aidans" in 2003, 28 Aidan rhymes Aidan ranked among the top 1,000 American boys' names. That number rapidly climbed, and has been holding steady around 40-41.

In 2011 the Aidans showed their first small decline to 37. Don't expect revolution, though; this change looks like a very gradual evolution. As the -den names have slid, names ending in -ton have risen to keep pace.

In fact, the pure rhyming names are just the tip of the iceberg. I first charted the extraordinary rise of -n names for boys back in 2007. Here's the historical view again, 5 years later:

American Boys Born, By Last Letter of Name, Year 1900

American Boys Born By Last Letter of Name, Year 1900


American Boys Born, By Last Letter of Name, Year 1950


American Boys Born, By Last Letter of Name, Year 2011


The takeaway message seems to be: The more things change, the more they sound the same.

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That is one helluva graph.  I'd be really to see what the same study looks like for girls over time.

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