Jacob is the #1 name for American boys. Its popularity rose steadily for many years until it claimed the baby-name crown in 1999, and it has held onto that spot ever since.
I'd like to tell that story for you in pictures, below. The orange graph on the left shows the popularity of Jacob since 1990. The blue graph on the right shows...the popularity of Jacob since 1990. The key is that the left graph shows popularity rank, while the right shows frequency of use.
If you only looked at rankings, you would think that Jacob's popularity rose dramatically up to 1999 (highlighted in green) and has held perfectly steady since then. But the frequency graph shows that the name has actually made a complete u-turn.
The percentage of parents choosing Jacob peaked in 1998 and has since fallen by about half, to below 1990 levels. Due to the name-diversity revolution, a popularity level that would have ranked in in the 20s back then is good for the very top spot today. In fact, the year that Jacob began its long, triumphant reign as the top name was the very year it began to decline after decades on the rise.
Oh, and that sky-high peak in 1998? Jacob wasn't even the #1 name back then. Michael still held the crown -- despite falling by 61% from its own historical peak.
So before you give up on your lifelong dream of naming your son Noah because Noah has climbed to #4 on the baby name hit parade, remember that those rankings don't mean the same thing they did when you were a kid. "Popular" is very, very relative.
The winner of this year's Baby Name Pool can claim a unique distinction. Jennifer Nicholas is the Pool's first ever repeat champion, reclaiming the crown she won two years ago. Please join me in a round of applause for the Ken Jennings of baby names!
Impressively, Jennifer earned this year's highest scores for both rising and falling name predictions. Her ballot correctly predicted both the #1 fastest-rising boy's name, Gael, and the #1 fastest-falling boy's name, Jaden -- plus the #4 falling name Ashton for good measure. (The complete winning ballot: Gael, Aldo, Danna to rise, Jaden, Ashton, Karla to fall.)
Jennifer is a literacy instructor and doctoral candidate in Workforce Education and Development at Penn State. Her own impeccably named children are Arlo (6) and Levi (4). She offered some insights on how she made some of her Pool choices:
"Gael was inspired by Gael Garcia Bernal. I love the unique blend of Celtic on a Mexican actor and director...not only is Gael an acclaimed actor and director, he's collaborated with Amnesty International and he's not bad looking! It's easy to picture him as a modern-day namesake.
"My first two 'fallers' were inspired by names and associations that I felt had lost their freshness. Ashton Kutcher has experienced skyrocketing success and he's currently attached to another name-inspiring phenomenon (Mila Kunis), but his name is all too familiar after an abundance of press over the years. The same could be said of another popular namesake, Jaden Smith. Jaden is young and incredibly successful, but there is nothing new about him or his name and I think his naming influence has peaked."
And some wise words on names in general, which should resonate with readers of this blog:
"I am preaching to the choir here, but I encourage everyone to think more about naming practices as a prism through which we can better understand each other. Sometimes we have 'tunnel vision' when it come to names, with a hyper-focus on the ones we see and hear frequently in our own circles, but that ignores the diversity in the SSA database. There is so much out there and it's all interconnected! Naming draws from my favorite disciplines-- history, sociology, psychology, and linguistics, and it even touches on religion and politics. Rapid risers and fallers are one small but fascinating aspect of naming and they capitalize almost exclusively on trends in popular culture. Knowing the risers and fallers is like knowing the buzz!"
Amen! I'd also like to offer congratulations to Pool entrant Lara, who was the only one to predcit the fastest-falling girl's name, Alexis. (Nobody picked up on the hottest girl's name, Cataleya.)
On a final note, this marks our third year in a row with a champion named Jennifer. Could it be that women who grew up with a name that has become a symbol of popularity cast an especially careful eye on name trends?
For the past decade, America has had an unprecedented love affair with the letter N. Over a third of American boys receive a name ending in that stylish letter. The N-thusiasm continues in the most recent name popularity stats, with -n names accounting for 36% of newborn boys. But the wave may be cresting. Take a look at the fastest-falling boys names of 2012:
Each name has its own story. Jaden, for instance, has given way as parents have standardized on the spelling Jayden. Justin is finally feeling its age after a 40+ year run as our national cute-boy name. (And in more bad news for incumbent cute-boy Justin Bieber, the names of all five members of the new cute-boy band One Direction rose in popularity). But as a group, this falling list gives a first hint that the age of N may have reached its limits.
On the girls' side, the fastest-falling names:
Dulce, Audrina and Danna are all coming back to earth after sharp popularity spikes associated with celebrities (Dulce María, Audrina Partridge, and Danna Paola). Alexis and Alyssa, though, show bigger changes afoot. Both names are part of a new style category I added to the just-released edition the Baby Name Wizard book: the "Turn of the 21st Century" names. Alexis, Alyssa and cohorts are still very popular, but...
"Just as Shawn, Kristie, and Chad spell '1970s' now, these names will be the sound of the turn of the 21st century to coming generations."