Guess the year

Which year were the following names from? Method: I looked at the top 1000 and chose the highest-ranked name from each letter of the alphabet. This makes the game somewhat tricky, as some names were ascending in popularity while others were declining. A more representative way would have been to choose names at their peak, but I didn't have the energy for that.

Angela, Brenda, Christine, Dawn, Elizabeth, Felicia, Gina, Heather, Irene, Jennifer, Kimberly, Lisa, Michelle, Nancy, Olga, Patricia, Rebecca, Susan, Tammy, Ursula, Valerie, Wendy, Yolanda

Interesting discover: The following names were also in the top 1000 for girls (at least one in the top 600!): David, Richard, Mark, Joseph, Christopher, Charles, Kevin, Thomas, Paul, Steven, Christian, and Jeffrey



September 10, 2012 1:02 PM

I'll take a stab at this and say 1986. I'm sure I'm wrong, possibly drastically wrong.  I look forward to finding out the correct year.


September 11, 2012 5:14 PM

I started by guessing 1972, because the list reads like a class roster for me. Amy had overtaken Angela by then, though, so I checked 1965 (as a random guess), and found that Jennifer hadn't made it past Julie yet back then, so my third semi-random stab was 1968. By the time I got to Susan, I was fairly certain, and at Felicia I stopped checking. Here's the order by number of babies in 1968:

1.  Lisa,F,49525
2.  Michelle,F,33207
3.  Kimberly,F,31910
4.  Jennifer,F,26843
5.  Angela,F,20662
6.  Tammy,F,20050
7.  Susan,F,19512
8.  Christine,F,16511
9.  Patricia,F,15807
10. Elizabeth,F,14889
11. Dawn,F,13437
12. Wendy,F,10709
13. Rebecca,F,10227
14. Brenda,F,9939
15. Nancy,F,8959
16. Gina,F,6040
17. Heather,F,5501
18. Valerie,F,4550
19. Yolanda,F,3692
20. Felicia,F,1937
21. Irene,F,1168
22. Olga,F,446
23. Ursula,F,353

September 10, 2012 8:32 PM

Good work, HNG! Here's a new one, this time with boys' names:

Arthur, Billy, Charles, Donald, Edward, Frank, George, Harold, Ira, James, Kenneth, Lawrence, Marvin, Norman, Oscar, Paul, Quentin, Robert, Stanley, Thomas, Ulysses, Vincent, and William

Girls' names that appeared in this list (most of these were probably due to data-entry errors, but some were ranked too high to be mistakes; I excluded those that were unisex or mostly male at the time, such as Shirley):

Mary (ranked #305!), Lupe, Carmen, Gail, Dorothy, Doris, Kay, Kaye, Patricia, Gloria, Ivy, Laurel, Alice, Virginia, Bernice, Louise, Elizabeth, Lauren, Dolores, Hazel, Ruby, Margaret, Joan, Barbara, Bonnie, Helen, Lois

I had no idea any of those names were ever given to even one single male (except Joan, as in Joan Miró).

By Tana
September 10, 2012 10:39 PM

I think it's 1929.  If Shirley's still predominatly male, it's got to be pre Shirley Temple.  I don't remember exactly when she started acting, but I know it was early '30s, so it's got to be before that.  At the same time, James has to be more popular than John, and 1929 seems to be the first year that happened - although I only checked 1925 - 1929 on this one.

September 10, 2012 11:09 PM

1929 looks correct for 14 names (Arthur, Billy, Charles, Donald, Edward, Frank, George, Harold, James, Kenneth, Paul, Robert, Thomas, William), but then you get to Louis instead of Lawrence, Vernon instead of Vincent, and eventually Irving instead of Ira. But those 3 are the only differences.

September 11, 2012 6:43 AM

You're on the right track! Keep going! I love how looking at these names gives us little snippets of history...

By Tana
September 11, 2012 10:25 PM

Okay, so I'm not finding a year that fits the data given in the post. 

  • Based on James-John, it has to be 1929 or later. 
  • It looks like Shirley had pretty solidly "gone girl" by 1900, especially if you look at number of babies born instead of just ranking (its big spike does more-or-less coincide with Shirley Temple, but, for example, in 1929 it was ranked 9th for girls and 346th for boys, which I'd say made it primarily a girls' name at that point).
  • Mary was ranked 305 for boys in 3 years: 1886, 1929, and 1932.  In 1886, John was more popular than James.  In both 1929 and 1932, Vernon (72 and 78) was ranked more highly than Vincent (82 and 93).
  • So I tried ignoring the Shirley-Mary data (which was technically extra information, anyway).  Using that Vincent had to be more popular than Vernon, it looks like it has to be 1940 or later.  But by 1940, David was ranked higher than Donald.

What am I missing?


September 12, 2012 1:07 AM

I think there's a mistake in the list, because I checked 1922-1947, and none of those work. 1932 and 1933 are both off by exactly one name: Vernon over Vincent. Vincent finally beat Vernon in 1940, but by then David had outpaced Donald, and continues to do so to this day.

September 12, 2012 2:06 PM

Oops! You're correct. The year was 1932. Sorry for the confusion! I'll work on another list later today if I have a chance.

September 12, 2012 3:26 PM

While a mistake is unfortunate, I find it fascinating that there was ever a time when Donald was ahead of David!

By Tana
September 12, 2012 7:59 PM

I had a similar thought, but about Vernon and Vincent!  I'm pretty sure the Harry Potter books are, to this day, the only place I've ever encountered the name "Vernon."

September 11, 2012 10:01 AM

Yes, most of those names that are obviously on the wrong gender are most likely errors. In the pre-computer days enough mistakes would often accumulate to put the most popular names into the other gender's Top 1,000. These days the errors aren't as prevalent, but still enough to make names like Jacob and Sophia show up in the other gender's extended list (all names with 5+ births).

September 12, 2012 8:44 PM

A new set:

Ann, Barbara, Cynthia, Debra, Elizabeth, Frances, Gail, Helen, Irene, Janet, Karen, Linda, Mary, Nancy, Olga, Patricia, Queen, Robin, Susan, Teresa, Unknown*, Vicki, Wanda, Yvonne, Zelda

*Unknown was ranked 534. No other girls' names beginning with the letter 'u' were ranked in the top 1000 for this year. I choose to believe that no little girl actually went through life with the name Unknown!

I was fascinated that Debra ranked above Deborah and Teresa above Theresa.

'X' was the only letter not represented (other than 'u') in this year.

September 12, 2012 9:10 PM

I started at 1953 but Deborah was still above Debra, likewise with 1954 and 1955.

1956 seemed good until I got to Rebecca instead of Robin.

And now all the scrolling is making me dizzy, so I'm going to let someone else take it from here.

By Tana
September 12, 2012 10:19 PM

Picking up where Karyn left off, I tried 1957 next, and that one seems to be good.

I also think it's interesting how much lower Debora is than either Debra or Deborah.  It's still pretty high, at 161, but both Debra and Deborah were top 10!

September 12, 2012 10:52 PM

Nope, in 1957 Zoe (142 babies) outranked Zelda (127) -- but that's the only difference.

I don't have time to check another year right now, so I'll leave it for others.

September 13, 2012 10:52 AM

Yikes, HNG! I'm going to have to let you take over! I read that list three times to look for another 'z' and didn't spot Zoe. 1957 is right, but with Zoe instead of Zelda. There's a good reason I don't earn a living as an editor or proofreader!

September 13, 2012 3:26 PM

For the less-common letters, I used the search function of the text editor. I told it to match case and searched for each capital letter. It doesn't work for F in a girl's list or M in boys, although if I used something more sophisticated than Notepad I could probably figure something out.

September 13, 2012 7:28 PM

Yeah, I used Excel, separated the cell into three columns (text to columns function,) extracted the first letter, then sorted by first letter and number.

I don't know if it's just me, but I kept seeing the F as a last name initial. Is that just because it's MY initial, so it's really familiar in that role?

September 19, 2012 2:44 PM

Ok, my name is Helen so I know that it hasn't peaked in popularity since the mid 40s even though I was born in 1958.  I'm going to go with 1945.

September 13, 2012 2:18 PM

Alright, I really nerded out and used spreadsheet formulas to find the first appearance of each letter:

Ava, Brianna, Chloe, Destiny, Emily, Faith, Grace, Hannah, Isabella, Jasmine, Kayla, Lauren, Madison, Natalie, Olivia, Paige, Quinn, Rachel, Sophia, Taylor, Unique, Victoria, Wendy, Ximena, Yasmin, Zoe

(Hint: I had to go quite far down to find a Q!)

September 13, 2012 10:26 PM

I first guessed 2005, but one look at the 'A' name (Abigail) told me I was off on that one. Then I guessed 2009, but Emma ranked above Emily. 2007 was correct until I got to L and then discovered that Lily was ahead of Lauren. So on that I'm headed to bed and guessing that it's either 2006 or 2008 (probably '06).

By Tana
September 14, 2012 7:47 AM

2006 fits, except for U.  There don't seem to be any U names in the top 1000 that year.

September 14, 2012 10:53 AM

Oh, were you looking in Beyond the Top 1000? I didn't think about the fact that the files I have saved on my computer are all Beyond... Sorry about the confusion! I guess implementation of the game rules aren't perfect just yet :S

These are the babies born with U names in 2006 and how many girls were given each name:

Unique    239
Uma    81
Uriah    31
Ursula    30
Una    26
Unity    21
Unknown    15
Uriel    11
Urvi    11
Ulani    10
Uchechi    9
Ula    8
Ulyssa    8
Uniyah    8
Uzziah    7
Uchechukwu    6
Ugochi    6
Umaiza    6
Ubah    5
Ugne    5
Umi    5
Ushna    5

By Tana
September 17, 2012 10:17 PM

I probably should have thought to look Beyond the Top 1000 when I didn't find it in the top 1000 :)

By Tana
September 17, 2012 10:33 PM

I had fun searching for the other lists, so I'll give making a list a try.  Boys again, this time.

Albert, Bernard, Charles, Donald, Edward, Frank, George, Harold, Irving, John, Kenneth, Louis, Michael, Norman, Oscar, Paul, Quentin, Robert, Stanley, Thomas, Ulysses, Vernon, William, Xavier, Yoshio, Zack

One of these isn't in the top 1000.

September 17, 2012 10:57 PM

I don't want to hog the game, so I'm just going to brag instead and say that I got it right on the first guess! (Well, unless multiple years had the same results.) It felt like these men would be my grandpa's contemporaries (and his was the B name) so I started with his birth year and it was right! Very random choice, I must say :)

Being right probably made me happier than it should have :D

September 18, 2012 1:44 PM

No time to investigate this thoroughly right now, but I guessed 1925 and was off with the A! (Arthur instead of Albert.) Arthur was number 20, but 1 - 19 fit (many repeated letters).

September 18, 2012 5:59 PM

On the subject of initial letters of names, I found some interesting stats with NameVoyager on how common each letter has been throughout the SSA list's time (which I've posted here). Like individual names, there are varying fashions with the initial letters. For example, the vowels show a typical "100-year revival" pattern (common early in the SSA list, fell out of fashion, and now coming back); on the other hand letters like D, P, and R were fashionable mid-century but less so now. I got cued into that when I compiled the most common names by starting letter for the year I was born (not mentioning the exact one, but it's mid-1980s), and noticed for the girls the O spot went to Olivia (a generation ahead of when the name itself was/is most popular) while the P went to Patricia (a generation behind that name's peak). As I found out that also reflects the fashion of those initial letters.

September 19, 2012 2:35 PM

I'm thinking 1968.  I'm going by the names Brenda, Tammy, Ursula, Lisa, Wendy and Michelle mostly.  Some of the boys names, too, like David, Mark, Steven and Christian.  We'll see...

September 20, 2012 10:05 AM

I have to tell you that my first guess was 1971-3. Then I read it again and realized that Susan was there and that was a dead giveaway. My mom is Susan and she is on the young side ove most American Susan's. So I changed it to 1968 (her year) and came to see the thread.