Back to School with Baby Names: A Tale of Two Classes

Sep 19th 2013

Kindergarteners. College freshman. Those two classes of entering students are at very different phases of their lives, yet their educational "generations" are only 13 years apart.

How much changes over the course of one cycle of schooling? To get a sense of cultural time passing, let's take a look at the names of this fall's two matriculating classes: the college students, born circa 1995, and the kindergarteners, vintage 2008.

• Entering college students are most likely to be named Jessica, Ashley, Michael, and Matthew. For the kindergarten students, fast-forward to Jacob and Emma.

• Among the college students, Robert is still a top-25 name, 15 times as common as Landon. Kindergarteners, though, are more likely to be named Landon than Robert.

• Brittany is a top-10 name in the college class. Just 13 years later, the Brittany rate had plummeted by 95% -- as did the rates of Brittney, Brandy and Brandi.

• Ava is a top-5 girl's name in kindergarten. In college it ranks #734, lower than Gladys. 

• Some popular college names that are virtually unhead of among kindergarten students:


• Some popular kindergarten names that are virtually unheard of among college students:


•  The biggest generational eye-opener: the "Age of Aidens" hasn't reached college yet. The total number of college freshmen named Aiden or Jayden is 379. The number of kindergarteners: 32,673. Use your imagination for Ayden, Kayden and beyond to get a sense of how different the two classes sound.

It isn't much of a stretch to say that the names of the kindergarteners and college students sound a full generation apart. That's a big leap for 13 years. If you look at names from a century earlier, comparing 1895 vs. 1908, the changes are much less dramatic. But fashion moves fast today, and name lifespans are shrinking. By the time this kindergarten class graduates, we'll be talking about a new set of popular names that we can't yet imagine.


September 19, 2013 3:19 PM

I find this rapid fashion changes in names particularly interesting as the new baby we're expecting will be 12 grades below our oldest child.  I had recently been contemplating that when Paul goes off to college the new baby will start 1st grade.

September 19, 2013 3:55 PM

I just started college a few weeks ago (I feel old. I was still in middle school when I started reading BNW!) so this is quite relevant. I actually know multiple college-aged Avas, but everything else falls right in with my experience. Here are some other interesting names I've heard:

Th0r (2, both are middle names, but are what they go by)

R3x (also a middle name, but what people call him)


R3illy (girl, I've never seen this spelling as a given name)

B@iley (this seems sort of young for an 18 y/o girl)

M@ttison (boy, another interesting spelling)

Gus (I don't know if it's a nickname, but I've never met a Gus my age)


T0rii (this is her given name)

N0la (named after New Orleans)

S3quoia (boy)


September 19, 2013 5:36 PM

I have taught two Brittanys, a Brittney, and a Britney in the past two years (I teach both undergraduates and graduate students). This semester I also have a McKenzie--my first. Last semester I taught a Jaclyn, and this semester I have a Stacy. 

September 19, 2013 7:42 PM

I have been feeling this in the workplace.  I am surrounded by Susans, nearly all young baby-boomers and one Gen Xer.  As a Megan, I've had the workplace to myself, but this year they arrived!!  Now I'm one of many.

In my HS classroom, the name of the year is Max.  I have a feeling this one will be with us in the years to come too.

September 20, 2013 12:44 PM

I have a N0ah born in 1994, right before that name hit the top 100. He just went to college this year, and is definitely an outlier. In his entire K-12 career, there was never another N0ah in his class (and usually not in the whole school). He would sound just right in a kindergarten or preschool now, though. I don't know if that's an advantage or disadvantage for him when he graduates in (hopefully) 4-5 years and enters the workforce. His name will always look much younger than he is.

September 20, 2013 2:36 PM

Is there a class element in this too? I would imagine a larger proportion of middle class kids going to college than kindergarten?

September 20, 2013 8:49 PM

The one advantage I can think of is many years down the road.  If he is still in the workplace in his 60s or 70s his name will make him seem younger.

September 21, 2013 11:44 AM

JennieCat, I think you've misunderstood the type of data these conclusions are based on: these aren't from actual lists of students -- nobody compiles, nevermind publishes, such lists. This is simply based on the Social Security data for the relevant birth years, so it's really the names of kindergarten-age and college-age children, regardless of whether they're actually attending school or not.

But you're right that if we had actual lists of names of all kindergarteners and all college freshman for any particular birth year, the names favored by middle- and upper-class parents would be better represented on the college-bound list.

September 21, 2013 2:20 PM

What about upper-elementary & jr. high aged kids? I know those names (especially jr. high aged), would be much, much different than kindergarten-aged kids!

September 22, 2013 12:08 AM

My oldest and youngest are 8 years apart -- youngest just started K.  The names I've noticed that really came in suddenly (that I had never heard before and were suddenly common) were the Cecily/Celia/Cecilia ones, Scarlett, and Avery. On the boys side the names didn't change as much, all I can think of is Theo.


September 22, 2013 12:23 PM

@another Laura - From people who've shared their experience with having an "out-of-generation" name the advantage you mentioned can work both ways. An "older" name tends to be a benefit when starting out when they may assume you're older, while a "younger" name can be helpful in the later working years like you mentioned.

September 24, 2013 3:11 PM

I teach 70 college students, probably about 75% of them are freshmen.  What struck me about their names is that of the 70, there are only two repeats - two Matthews, two Joes.  

BUT, among the girls (and about 40 of the 70 are young women), there are about 8 similar names - Kaela, Kylee, Kiley, Micaela, Mikaela .... you get the idea.  All varients of these sounds, but none with identical spelling.  It was tough to get those ones straight!  If you would have picked 70 students from my college class (I'm in my early 30s) there surely would have been more than two repeats: Emilys, a few Sarahs, Ryans and Matthews etc.  I'm sure that this reflects national trends which are becoming even more pronounced with the kindergartners (smaller percentages selecting Isabella and Sophia, more and more spelling variants).

Beyond those two observations, yes, the usual suspects are in my classes: Jessica, Megan, Lauren, Nathan, Brandon, and Mike, definitely 

September 24, 2013 4:28 PM

I am college professor with a son in preschool, so I definitely see the differences in the names.  In my classes (I teach mostly upper classmen but the occasional freshman sneaks in there), I am still seeing LOTS of Kate/Katie/Katelyn/Cate/Catie - I can almost guarantee I'll have one of them in every class, and sometimes more than one.  Also lots of Taylor/Tyler of both sexes.


My son has 16 kids in his pre-K class, and they actually have 2 repeating names - 2 Coles and 2 Abigails.  Other than the Coles, every other boy in the class (there are 9 of them) have a name that ends in -N, my son included.  And none of them is an Aiden rhyming name.

September 24, 2013 5:13 PM

I have noticed over the past few semesters that the Rachels are becoming more scarce among the students I teach. There are still gobs of Katies, however.

September 24, 2013 5:21 PM

I'm stunned that my name, Colleen, is listed as being popular on college campuses right now!  I've hardly ever met any other Colleens of any age (I am 41).  I was always the only Colleen in my class, year, workplace, etc.  Guess I'll have to visit a college campus to find some!

September 24, 2013 5:25 PM

Our two are like this as well, by providence rather than choice! 


Henry was born in 2000, quite a number of years before the Henry trend. He's in 8th grade at a very small school (just under 300 students in preK-12), so the Henrys are just starting to roll into school in the lowest grades.


Agnes was born last year, and I expect her (or rather her name's) curve to popularity will be shorter than Henry's, though I doubt her name will ever reach the heights of his.

September 24, 2013 5:38 PM

My post was a direct reply to the first one made by another Laura, sorry for any confusion since it isn't showing up correctly on my phone!

September 24, 2013 10:19 PM

cnewman, the only Colleen I know just turned 41 last week!

Lara Jane, the blog comments are strictly chronological, unlike in the forums. This makes it easy to find the new comments, but it also means that you need to specifically mention or quote from any comment that you're replying to. (Dunno why there's a "reply" option, though -- if all you had was the comment field down at the bottom, it'd be pretty obvious that your comment would end up after everyone else's.)

September 25, 2013 8:30 AM

I'm surprised to see Colleen on this list too! I'm a Colleen in my mid-twenties and I've only met two other Colleens in person. One when I was ten and the other when I was in my late teens. Neither of those Colleens would be of college-age now. The first was a year or so younger than me and the other was in her 50s.

I just finished my Master's degree and now work at a university. I haven't met a single other Colleen in all of the time I've spent on a college campus. Where are they hiding?!

September 27, 2013 12:00 AM

I'm surprised by the college freshman name list.  I have a senior in high school and he doesn't have a whole lot of classmates with any of these names.  I would have said:  Cameron, Alexander, Madison and Ryan.  Maybe it's just where we live.

I also have a preschooler, though, and I would say those names are spot on.

September 30, 2013 7:09 PM

Oops, I replied to the wrong post. 

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