The Name of the Olympic Hockey Team

Feb 18th 2010

At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, 23 American professional hockey players are taking time off from the NHL to play for their national team. If you were to meet one of these men, what would you call him?

Your best bet: Ryan.

The name Ryan may not scream "hockey" to you, but the numbers don't lie. As reader Ian pointed out to me, 6 of the 23 players on the Team USA roster are named Ryan. That's a whopping 26% Ryan rate. For perspective, at its peak popularity the name Ryan accounted for only 1.5% of American boys born.

Of course, this sort of statistical anomaly can easily pop up with small sample sizes like 23 players. If you expand the pool to all of the American players in the NHL, though, you still come up with an impressive 7% Ryan rate. In fact, Ryan is the 2nd most common name in the NHL, trailing only the perennial powerhouse Michael. Many names that are more common for young men in the rest of the country, and the world -- Dave, Matt, Jason, Josh, Chris -- trail Ryan in the NHL.

Again, statistical anomalies happen, but there's a reason this particular distinction falls to Ryan. The key is that hockey players aren't a random sample of American athletes; they're Northerners. Of the 23 Olympic players, 21 hail from New England or Great Lakes states. Even within those states, the players skew Northern. The three New York natives, for instance, were born in Buffalo, Ithaca and Rochester.

Take a look at the NameMapper map of Ryan popularity from 1979, the year Team USA Left Wing Ryan Malone was born:

That's a hockey-country name for you: a high rank of #4 among all boys' names in Wisconsin and North Dakota, a low of #47-48 in Alabama and Mississippi. (In case you're wondering, Ryan does skew white as well, but not dramatically within a geographic area.) Now compare the Ryan map to the William map from the same year:

Sure enough, there are only 2 Williams, Willies, Bills or Billies in the National Hockey League, compared to 19 Ryans. In the National Football League, which draws more heavily from the Southern U.S., the ratio is 23:29.

So what can we expect the U.S. hockey team to look like at the 2034 Olympics? Keep an eye out for new Northern names like Owen, Evan and Jack. But don't expect 26% of any of them. No name in America is as popular today as Ryan was -- ranked #14 --  back in 1979.

<p><strong>#1: <a href="/baby-name/girl/simone"><strong>Simone</strong></a>.</strong>


By ClaireP (not verified)
February 18, 2010 11:31 AM

Why was Ryan popular among northern tier states? Is there a correlation between the geographic distribution of Ryans and the geographic distribution of those with Irish ethnic roots, and are more of those people in the northern part of the US? Or?

February 18, 2010 11:37 AM

The Ryan phenomenon does hold true in my own experience, now that I think about it. I grew up in Texas, where I didn't know many Ryans, but now I know a ton of Ryans of my generation.

I think the reverse name, girl-wise, is Jill. In Texas I met Jills of my age everywhere as a kid, haven't met one my age as an adult anywhere else.

February 18, 2010 11:40 AM

Good question about Irish roots. If you look at the 1979 Ryan map, it doesn't correspond at all closely to the local Irish population.

For instance, Massachusetts has the highest percentage of residents of Irish descent, and Ryan ranked #23 there; Hawaii the lowest, and Ryan ranked #5. (Hawaii obviously isn't hockey country, but it doesn't travel with the Southern U.S. style-wise.)

By Eo (not verified)
February 18, 2010 12:00 PM

That sounds like a good working theory to me, ClaireP.

I can confirm that Ryan is still quite popular, surprisingly so, in this pocket of New York state.

Have seen it migrate somewhat to the girls' side of the ledger in the last few years.

This prompts my recurring reverie that, for some reason, Irish-derived names used in North America, (at least the familiar ones that don't have original, authentic spellings), inevitably seem to "date" rather quickly and seem tired.

Kevin, Erin, Shannon, etc. You could argue that "Erin" (meaning Ireland)and "Shannon" (the river) are not true Irish given names that would be used in Ireland for actual people, though.

Still, it's interesting...

Speaking of the Olympics(!), our school basketball lists have come out for Grades 3, 4 and 5, and the name that appears with most regularity is "Jacob"-- at least three of them.
There are two other Benjamins on the list, who are listed simply as Ben-- but guess what?

The school has finally absorbed the fact that our Benjamin is shortened differently! Right there, in black and white, he is listed as "Banks Lastname". Hooray-- some of you know how long it took them to stop referring to him erroneously as Ben. Kudos to his teacher and almost all of the other kids who use his correct nickname faithfully.

As a nice by-product, we continue to get surprised and delighted compliments from people who like "Banks" as a nickname for Benjamin...

By hyz
February 18, 2010 12:04 PM

Anne with an E--that's funny--I've never met a single person in my generation named Jill, as far as I can remember. It's so funny to think of it being a common name! I knew a Gillian once--does that count? Ryans were a dime a dozen in my experience, though--both for boys AND girls.

By hyz
February 18, 2010 12:15 PM

Eo, I agree about certain Irish names seeming very dated--to your list, I'd add Colleen, Eileen, Maureen, Kathleen (or Caitlin, now), Sheila, Casey, Brian, Sean--and these days you have the likes of Aidan, Brady, Brody, Grady, Quinn, and all the Fin- derivatives. With the rising popularity of Fiona, I wonder if will suffer the same fate.

February 18, 2010 12:26 PM

This is an interesting question. Did Ryan appeal more to families interested in having their sons play competitive sports? It would be interesting to know if there is a category of "jock" names.

By namedaftermygrandmother (not verified)
February 18, 2010 12:39 PM

My son, age 2, is named 0ri0n. Upon first meetings, I generally say "like the stars/constellation" so that people think of the spelling, and not "Oh, Ryan" or "O'Ryan"--if they do, eyebrows go up, as if they're thinking "what a dated/70's name" or "hmm, made-up last name as a first name." I live in New England.

I'm hoping to float a few names in this forum for the next baby, TBA. First, boy's names. My all-time favorite boy's name is Kai, from H C Anderson's story the Snow Queen, and I have lots of Scandinavian ancestry. But there is a baby shoe line "see kai run" and a perfume site (?) now named Kai, which bother me somewhat. Is this a trendy name? Is it androgynous (a definite minus in my book)?

Otherwise, my preferences tend to be off-generation (mid-twentieth cent) names like Jerome, Russell, Myron, Arthur. Names I like now but are too popular are Alexander, Owen, Joseph, Benjamin, Asher, Quentin, Xavier, Oliver. All of these we probably can't use for one reason or another, though maybe for middle names.

I have a big family and don't want name-overlap, or anything popular (I know, I'm a child of my time); ln like MacKinney; and Nymbler seems to be popping up the same name set over and over. Names from literature, western mythology, and nature/season a plus. 0r10n was born in January, the constellation very bright at the time.

Thanks for indulging me--hopefully this challenge excites rather than induces boredom, in this crowd!

By Heuristics Inc. (not verified)
February 18, 2010 1:03 PM

Funny, I had noticed the preponderance of Ryans the other day and was just popping over here to see if you'd also noticed it. Note also that among all the first-name Ryans there is also one last-name Ryan on the USA team :)

February 18, 2010 1:21 PM

Laura, Wonderful topic as usual! Now I actually have something to talk to my husband about. I can now meld my love of names with his love of hockey-perfect! (Now he's trying to think of all 6 Ryan's right now). I've always kept myself busy when watching the games, by analyzing the names of the players. Some of them are so unique as they have kept the original spellings and pronunciaitons. They consistently catch my eye by also having a different pronunciation in English then in their native language. Satan being an example (it's pronounced Sha-tan).

As far as the name Ryan, it is still very popular around PA in the 10yo crowd. In addition to it being in the Irish category, I think it swings Classic and matches up with Mark, Paul, Christopher, etc. and also matches up with the Western crowd of Walker, Wyatt, Parker, etc. as well.

Eo-Congrats! I do remember what a struggle Banks' name has been for the school.

By Katie25 (not verified)
February 18, 2010 1:36 PM

Is there a similar effect in the women's hockey team?

By Karen R (not verified)
February 18, 2010 1:48 PM


I'd definitely say Kai is androgynous--the only Kai's I've known were Asian women.

Your other picks are good--one of my best friends in elementary school was a Russell. :) I'd be wary of Myron--it's a near-rhyme with your firstborn's name.

February 18, 2010 1:59 PM

@namedaftermygrandmother: I think in the U.S. a Kai is more likely to be male. For the past several years the name has ranked in the 200's for boys and not in the top 1,000 for girls on the SSA lists. Nonentheless, I think it's a great name!

By Jillc (not verified)
February 18, 2010 1:57 PM

Great post! As a resident of a supposedly Ryan-heavy state who was born in 1978, I want to get out my yearbook and start counting Ryans (both on the school hockey team and overall for a fuller picture, of course).

*named, I really like Kai, and only know 2 IRL (both in their early 20s -- strangely, a la the Ethel-Mae Postulate, they both have the same last name, too). It seems to go well with Ori0n. Of the other names you mentioned, I quite like Arthur. It seems like any of the names other than Kai result in a decidedly un-matchy sibset. (Which, of course, is fine if it doesn't bother you; likely you've thought about that already.) Others may assume that mom got to name one child and dad got to name the other. Personally, this bothers me less than names that are TOO matchy in a sibset, either soundwise or themewise.

By hyz
February 18, 2010 2:07 PM

namedaftermygrandmother: I think Kai fits well with your first son, and it does not seem androgynous to me at all--I've never seen/heard of a female Kai. It does seem a little trendy to me, but I can't think of any group where it's hugely popular (like Ruby for hipsters, or whatever). I agree that the other names on your short list don't seem to fit as well with Ori0n, but Russell is my favorite from the list. I have a really hard time seeing Myron on a little boy--I think you can feel pretty sure he'd be the only one in his class!

By WendyC (not verified)
February 18, 2010 2:18 PM

interesting... Laura, how do you know that Ryan "skews white". Are there statistics which shows names by race/culture in the US? Or is this an educated guess?

February 18, 2010 2:19 PM

namedaftermygrandmother- I don't know what popped up for you on Nymbler but here are some thoughts I liked after I input your preferences along with some others I thought of:
Blaise; Alexander; Bryce; Ulysses; Phoenix; Hunter; Archer; Tristan; Lucian; Ray as a nn for something; Marshall; Jett; Brighton; Titus; Soren; Uri; Sterling; Adonis; Falcon; Hawk; Raiden; Sylvan/Silvio; Anatole
Do any of those match to what you are looking for?

By John C. (not verified)
February 18, 2010 2:27 PM

I've always been under the impression that the growing popularity of the name Ryan in the '60s and '70s was part of the wave of Irish names (like Sean and Megan) starting to take root, but that it only really blossomed when Ryan O'Neal became famous, first for "Peyton Place" and then for "Love Story." (In 1971, the year after "Love Story" was released, the number of babies named Ryan more than doubled.) So I guess the question is: were parents in the northern U.S. more susceptible to O'Neal's charms? It may be worth noting that both "Peyton Place" and "Love Story" took place in the Northeast.

By Amy3
February 18, 2010 2:33 PM

@namedaftermygrandmother, I really like Kai with Orion's name. In truth the only Kai I know IRL is a girl (probably about 10 yrs old), but the name doesn't read as androgynous to me and certainly not as a "girl" name.

As for Ryans, I knew a fair number growing up (born late 60s, grew up in Oklahoma), and I also knew a couple Jills (per Anne with an E's observation). Maybe Oklahoma represented a "border" area between Ryan popularity in the North and Jill popularity in the South. While I don't know any Jills who are kids today, Ryan is definitely a name I hear around playgrounds and at my daughter's school.

By John C. (not verified)
February 18, 2010 2:31 PM

Also re Kai: I've never met anyone with this name personally, but I think of it as male because of 1950s jazz musician Kai Winding and current NPR host Kai Ryssdal.

February 18, 2010 2:34 PM

My older son has a Ryan in his class at school and I've met a few around my area in NY, including one female Ryan, so I think the name still gets some use here. The Ryan in my son's class has twin younger brothers (around 3ish) named Collin and Aiden so that family clearly favors popular irish/english names.

namedaftermygrandmother: i like Kai a lot and can see it on a boy more so than a girl. I've never met one IRL though. I'm surprised I've never seen it in my area (which tends to be trendy/hipster-ish). I feel like another nature/mythology name might work well with Orion. Maybe a name like Ash/Asher, Hollis, or Forrest.

By Amy3
February 18, 2010 2:36 PM

Re: Jill, I just checked NameMapper and this name was actually never all that popular in the South. Maybe Anne with an E was living the Ethel Mae Postulate with her Southern Jills!

By Bue
February 18, 2010 2:46 PM

Katie25, I checked the women's roster and only one names repeats - Molly. But there are a lot of names that are similar in sound and feel - Jenny/Julie/Jessie, Karen/Kerry/Kelli. Again, the team is almost 100% New England/Great Lakes.

I wonder why Ryan seems to appeal to northern parents... it is hugely popular all over Canada and has been for decades now. There's only 1 Ryan on our Olympic team, though!

February 18, 2010 2:57 PM

Other interesting Ryan tidbit:

Take a look at Ryan as a girl's name. On the summary map, it appears once, at #85, in 2004, in Kentucky. Anyone want to explain what happened in Kentucky in 2004?

I glanced at the name mapper for Brian and Bryan, and it appears those names/spelling have different (subtle) regional prefrences as well, supporting Laura's reasonings not to combine spellings when ranking names.

namedaftermygrandmother - I too liked many names that were a generation off. My husband and I found that we liked alot of names that peaked in the boomer years. We picked Mark and Timothy in the end, but looking at those BNW graphs, and finding names that aren't super popular right now, but certainly familiar was right for us.

By another amy (not verified)
February 18, 2010 3:00 PM

namedaftermygrandmother--its funny you should bring up Kai b/c I recently met another baby Kai so now I know 2 under 2 in this area (overeducated mid-atlantic college town). I think the first family I knew used it b/c of northern European roots (big sister Anya, possibly spelled Anja). Dunno about the second.

Kai always makes me think of King Arthur (his older foster brother in some texts, or so I seem to remember--I hit 40 this week so maybe my memory is going!)

February 18, 2010 3:16 PM

I dreamt about the board last night! I think I dreamt about reading posts and someone had chosen the name Ever Grace for their daughter. Idk if anyone remembers but I had dreamt the name Linden James several months ago. I don't think these are my taste exactly. They are more my assessment of the general taste of the board.

namedaftermygrandmother: Kai does strike me as a bit trendy. I've only met one Kai that was a Scandinavian rather than Hawaiian Kai, but I don't know many Scandinavians I guess. Anyway, he would be about 3 now I think, son of a professor. Not sure about androgynous. I knew it first as a Hawaiian name, used mostly for boys, but not only. I know there's Kai Risdahl (male) on NPR. I suppose I could see the sound appealing for girls too, like Kyla, Kylie, etc.

February 18, 2010 3:32 PM

Hmm, maybe I was living the Ethel Mae postulate! All I know was in the D/FW area, one of my classes had 3 Jills! (But my school had only one O'Rion--and he was 2 grades ahead of me) :)

I do think Ryan has never quite completely gone away, in fact a friend of a friend in CA had a baby Ryan about 6 months ago. It sounded kind of odd to me, because most Ryans I know are 20-35, but I'm pretty sure she's from the south, so maybe she was never inundated with Ryans our age?

February 18, 2010 4:01 PM

for whatever reason, i don't love kai.

some suggestions:

By Joni
February 18, 2010 4:42 PM

Why is such and elusive question. Why did these northerners embrace Ryan at that time? It's so subjective.

But once again Laura you have illuminated the "what" behind the name - as in 'What is the thing they have in common'.

By minnesota kate (not verified)
February 18, 2010 5:08 PM

"The name Ryan may not scream "hockey" to you"

I read that and immediately thought, "actually, yes, it does!"

Then I read on and it all made so much sense. I was born in 1980 and raised in a hockey-crazed Wisconsin family. My 1982-born hockey-playing brother is not a Ryan, but at least 3 of his teammates were!

By Kerri (not verified)
February 18, 2010 5:15 PM

My uncle spells his name "Kie" - the only one I've ever known. Scandinavian from Wisconsin. No Ryans in the family - couple Brett's though.

February 18, 2010 5:17 PM

emilyrae, I too was going to suggest names like Ajax and Apollo for namedaftermygrandmother, but wasn't sure if they were too out there. I think Ajax is a very cool name. Other names along those lines...Orpheus, Leander, Phoenix, and even Maverick (I've met multiple little Mavericks, though wouldn't be surprised if after the last election this name gets used less).

By SP (not verified)
February 18, 2010 5:42 PM


We nearly named our first daughter Kaia (Scandinavian ancestry for me too). I think girls would be more likely to have the 'a' on the end than just straight Kai as it matches in with all the other popular girl sounds of the moment. I have met one boy Kai in real life and he is 5 years old.

February 18, 2010 5:44 PM

Re. Kai: I know one, a male and I think of it as a boys' name.

Re. Ryan: I've only ever met two Ryans, both girls, both born in the early '90s ('93 I believe) but I always thought of it as a boys' name, and, like Dylan (I've known 3 boys and 1 girl--the girl being about 5 years younger than the boys) one that was used on girls.

A new baby was born in my synagogue: J0s3phine R0se who has an older sister G3orgi@.

I saw Wicked last night and the woman playing Elphaba (Wicked Witch of the West) was named Teal Wicks, I thought that was a perfect name for the part!

@ Qwen: No problem, many people think that I'm more of a Rose than an Alexa (I agree with how you feel about the name Rose although the only one I've ever met wasn't like that at all.)

Re. Jill: I only know two, one born in the mid '50s in either DC or St. Louis, born to a family from NY/NJ and the other was born in the '50s and is from England, so to me, it's a much older name.

And, just out of curiosity, what's the Ethel-Mae Postulate?

By Amy3
February 18, 2010 6:16 PM

The Ethel Mae Postulate is the idea that names are often locally popular (whether geographical, socioeconomic, etc.) while they still may be generally uncommon. Like a hipster neighborhood having more than one Ethel Mae. :)

February 18, 2010 6:20 PM

@ Amy3: Ooooh, thank you!

By Guest (not verified)
February 18, 2010 7:30 PM

Is Elinor/Eleanor just popular in my pocket, or are others seeing it pop up recently?

February 18, 2010 7:41 PM

Re Jill: I went to school with a few in NE so that would put it about late 60's early 70's for popularity. Looking at Namemapper, Jill was well established by 1960 but Ryan didn't show up till 1965 in Hawaii and Utah. Both names show as very popular in Iowa. Looking on Wikipedia, the makeup of Iowa now shows as 35.7% German, 13.5% Irish, 9.5% English, 6.6% American, and 5.7% Norwegian.

Re Ryan on girls: I'm curious to those that know female Ryan's-Is it pronounced Rye-an like the boys name, or more like Ree-ann like Rhiannon/Rhianna? Just wondering if it was really supposed to be Ryan or a conjugate.

February 18, 2010 7:45 PM

elinor/eleanor is not at all common where i am, but i know some people here see it a lot.

February 18, 2010 8:39 PM

I've seen Eleanor popping up in my area. I think it's one of those names that has had less use recently but because it's a classic and is similar to Elizabeth is gaining popularity. My son has an Eleanor nn Leni in his pre-school class.

zoerhenne: the female Ryan i know is around the age of eight and her name is pronounced like the male name, Rye-an. She has a sister named Taylor who is probably 5 now, and I remember when I met their mother she first mentioned her children's names to me (before I had actually met her kids) and I had no idea if they were boys or girls.

A Rose: the family next door to us has a young daughter named Dylan. The name suits her nicely though to me it's such a boys name. In my area there seems to be a trend of using boys names on girls (i guess its a national trend though). I've met female Bretts, Kyles, Andys (probably short for Andrea). I tend to distinguish these names from more androgynous names though, like Riley, Devin, Jamie, and Jordan, even though they are all boys names originally.

By AndiK (not verified)
February 18, 2010 8:41 PM

The girl Ryans I know pronounce it the exact same way as the boy Ryans.

February 18, 2010 9:05 PM

I haven't known of any baby Elinor/Eleanor yet, but I do have a friend who debated between this and Eliza. She actually ended up naming her daughter N@ra 3lise, though.

It's funny that Ryan is such a popular name among the Olympian U.S. hockey players. But when Laura explained that these athletes are Northerners it makes more sense. I grew up in the Midwest (born in 1981), and I wouldn't say Ryan was a dominant name in my age group like Matt and Brian. The Ryan's I did know, though, tended to be athletic. I do wonder if athletic-minded parents are more apt to choose the name for their son. I did know 1 female Ryan, and she is now 30 I believe.

DH looked over my girl list today, so I had to come and share names with you all. Which names do you like, and which names sound good with big brother S0lomon? *Starred names are those he especially likes. Thanks in advance for your input!

*Elsa (we also like the nickname "Elsie")
*Mabel (DH's favorite)
*Louisa (my favorite)
*Rosaline (we also like the nn "Rosie/Rosy")
Bessie (we also like nn "Bess")
Edith (we also like nn "Edie")

By Philippa The First (not verified)
February 18, 2010 9:17 PM

The white/Northeast skew of Ryan reminds of of a recent scene from the show 30 Rock, where the staff of a fictional radio show in Boston called Bruins Beat "are all named Sean, they are mean"! It was so easy for me to get that Irish/hockey stereotype!

Also reminds that there was a rugby league team- I want to say the 1990 Wests Magpies- in which I think 10 of 11 players were called Jason. A name that definitely skews low-to-middle income, born in the early 1970s, in the Western suburbs of Sydney.

February 18, 2010 9:36 PM

Re. Female Ryans: The two I've known have pronounced it the same as male Ryan (although I've never met a male Ryan). One of the Ryans I knew had a little sister named Dylan but there was a third child, Ryan was the oldest and Dylan the youngest, I always wanted to know what the middle child was.

@ Empathy: I think that the following go especially well with Solomon:
Elsie (but not Elsa as much)
Gwendolen (I find it a bit matchy because of the endings)

February 18, 2010 10:44 PM

There was a female Ryan on American Idol a few years ago. This was the first female Ryan I had heard of. Here's the wikipedia:

Hrm, just noticed Ryan was originally her middle name; her first name was Tiffany.

By Mirnada (not verified)
February 18, 2010 10:57 PM


Kai (probably because of the host on "Extreme Home Makeover" - I know, I'm ashamed to admit I've ever seen the show) makes me think of a surfer guy.

I really like Archer with Orion.

I'd avoid Titus. Titus Andronicus is not the most ideal namesake.

February 18, 2010 11:03 PM

i believe the host's name is ty, not kai.
and out of curiosity, why would you be ashamed to have seen that show? i suppose it is a reality show of sorts, which generally don't have my good opinion, but the point of the show seems to be to give help to struggling families who need it.

By knp
February 18, 2010 11:12 PM

Empathy: Hmm, my faves with Solomon:
Mabel, Louisa, Rosaline, Edie, Eloise, Beatrice (only warm)

February 18, 2010 11:22 PM

Empathy, I love the name Edith nn Edie. I think Edie and Solomon go together nicely, though Edith works as well. From your list I also like Rosemary, Louisa and Mabel. I think Rosemary and Solomon together are very nice. They both have a clean, fresh sound and are familiar yet less-used names. I'm not a huge fan of Agnes (i like Agatha more) or Olive (too trendy and close to Olivia) and prefer Rosemary to Rosalind/Rosaline. I agree that Gwendolen is matchy in ending unless you plan on using nn Gwen most of the time. Hope that helps!

By Amy3
February 18, 2010 11:46 PM

@Guest 37, I know several Elinor/Eleanors as well as Ellas (don't know what the longer name, if any, is in all cases).

@Empathy, I really like Mabel, Edith, and Rosemary. That said, I've been charmed by your pairing of Louisa Bess and would throw a vote behind that too. I like Elsa, but since your ln starts with S (right?) it runs together too much for me.