5 Things We Learned from the New Baby Name Popularity Stats

May 12th 2018


 

The top baby names make the headlines, but the lessons to be found in the national name statistics run deeper. Here are some quick observations from a first look through this year's stats.

The average American babies today are named Brinley and Miguel. Parents continue to shy away from names considered "popular," and the top of the name charts represents an ever-shrinking percentage of American babies. It now takes 504 names to account for half of babies born, up from 470 two years ago and just 80 names back in the 1950s. And the "average" baby—at the 50% point of popularity—receives a name that's fairly uncommon nationwide, and concentrated in specific communities. That means names are sending ever-stronger signals about where a child comes from.

Politicians are still a no-go zone for baby naming. Political families, though, are a different matter. Every new American president used to be honored by a slew of namesakes. Warren G. Harding's election led to hundreds of little Hardings, along with thousands of Warrens. Today Americans actively avoid names of living politicians, but treat political family members like ordinary celebrities: if their names are attractive, they'll rise.

The names Barack and Obama were barely blips on the radar during the Obama administration, but Malia and Sasha soared. Similarly, Melania is now a fast riser and Ivanka saw an uptick, but the decline of Donald accelerated and absolutely nobody was named Trump. An American baby is now more likely to be named Nixon than Donald and Trump put together.

Game of Thrones is a powerhouse—but only for girls. The Game of Thrones fantasy franchise has been criticized for its treatment of female characters. In the baby name arena, though, the women are the big winners. Arya, Khaleesi and Lyanna are fast risers that now rank among the top 1,000 American names. Daenerys, Brienne, and even Cersei are climbing too. No male character names rose (unless you count Jorah, which also benefited from the search for underused biblical names).

EDIT: Digging deeper into the vast realm of GoT names, this difference isn't as—ahem—"stark" as I initially thought. Girls' names definitely dominate, but there were upticks in the names Benjen, Renly and Aerys for boys.

The "exalted" name trend continues to grow. The names King, Queen, Prince and Princess all rose in popularity, and Kaiser, Kyng, Legacy and Reign made top-1,000 debuts. A slew of creative exalted names were new to the stats, meaning they were given to five or more babies. (A sampling: Almighty, Empryss, SirPrince, and the back-to-basics choice God.) We even saw a comeback for the name Milady (read more about the surprising history of this name).

Hollywood parents have nothing on the rest of America. The next time you read about how Hollywood types choose out-of-touch names, remember that these names all rank among the 1,000 most popular boys' names across the country:

Creed, Achilles, Kal-El, Kylo, Jericho, Blaze, Darwin, Huxley, Draven, Ridge, Cairo, Castiel, Cannon, Kannon, Jaxiel, Dash, Anakin, Zaire, Tripp, Elvis, Crew, Cain, Zechariah, Ares, Stetson, Sincere, Titan, Talon, Valentino, Jagger, Memphis, Boston, Apollo, Lennon, Zion, Uriah, Leonidas, Nixon, Eden, Lyric, Otto, Atlas, Hendrix, Bodhi, Adonis, Ace, Cash, Phoenix, Messiah, Knox, Maximus, Axl.

Welcome to the new normal.

 

Comments

1
May 13, 2018 2:16 AM

Correction: Benjen debuted with 8 boys, clearly a male Game of Thrones name! 

3
May 13, 2018 12:21 PM

For me, the thing that sticks out in the 2017 numbers is a demonstration of how statistics can be used to prove "X" and "Not X" simultaneously.

Julianna
2017: 1593 babies, rank 194
2016: 1597 babies, rank 200

6 _fewer_ babies resulted in 6 places _higher_ ("more popular") ranking. In other words, the numbers can be used to show that Julianna was less popular in 2017 than it was in 2016, because fewer babies were given the name, but at the same time Julianna was more popular in 2017 than it was in 2016, because it ranked six places higher.

4
May 13, 2018 12:48 PM

@HungarianNameGeek another statistical curiosity to ponder: the flattening out of the curve at the top means that making it into the *bottom* of the top 1,000 means more than in previous generations. Today's #1,000 boy's name is three times as popular as past #1,000s. (Hmm, I feel a blog topic coming on....)

5
By Spam
May 13, 2018 3:57 PM

The Harvey Weinstein scandal didn't break until...October?  The name was on the upswing in popularity before that, so it's nearly impossible to impossible to undue that trend in the last 2-3 months of 2017.  Harvey might be an okay pick as a declining name for NEXT years Baby Name Pool but expecting to see it decline in the 2017 data would have been premature.

6
May 14, 2018 2:26 PM

What I'm surprised by: the noted dislike of American parents for names used on girls as boys' names seems to be lessening a little tiny bit. 

One, Briar and Nova debuted for boys. Briar I can see because nothing about it is inherently feminine (although its most bearer is Sleeping Beauty), and it's not that popular on girls. But Nova? Ends in a, is a feminine adjective, and is very trendy for girls. I was surprised.

And, more people named their sons Avery, Kendall, Reagan, and Eden than they did in 2016.  

 

 

7
By tp b
May 15, 2018 12:03 AM

@Laura

I've been addicted to your posts for a few months now. Thanks for writing them! 

Very very basic question — the names in the 1000 list, are they first names only or first and middle names? 

I wonder if the high ranking of Michaels, Elizabeths, Emmas, etc, etc, etc, for years and years is partly due to middle names. If both "Michael Cruz" and "Kylo Michael Smith" count as tick for Michael, those safe names are going to add up quickly. 

8
By EVie
May 15, 2018 9:43 AM

@tp b: No, the SSA stats only include first names. They don't track middles at all, unfortunately for those of us who would love more data. The exception is double first names or hyphenated names, in which case the whole thing will be smooshed together in the listing, e.g. Emmarose, which could be actually Emmarose, or Emma Rose, or Emma-Rose.

9
May 15, 2018 11:49 AM

My names Juliana but with one n, I was born in 2001

10
May 15, 2018 8:58 PM

Minor correction: I think you may be overselling the decline of Donald a bit. The popularity of Donald actually isn't falling particularly quickly, and his decline didn't accelerate.  In 2017, Donald remained ranked at #488 (same as 2016).  Donald was given to 594 babies in 2017, down only 30 babies from 2016.  In contrast, Donald was given to 67 fewer babies in 2016 (624 total) than in 2015 (691 total).  So perhaps Donald's decline is actually tapering off?  I would have expected a steeper fall too!

12
May 16, 2018 11:44 PM

@jxmann17 Sorry, I should clarify: the "accelerating" comment was based on the past two politically charged years (election + inaguration) vs the two years previous.

13
June 1, 2018 5:24 AM

Just a thought on Nova for boys: I have an uncle named Casanova, and he has family members named after him. A lot of them go by Nova. So maybe it comes from Casanova. Who knows? :)