Caitlyn at the Crossroads: The Fastest-Falling Baby Names of the Year

May 12th 2017

It's easy to think of celebrities who made their names suddenly popular. It's much harder to think of celebrities who made their names suddenly unpopular. This year, though, we have such an example.

In 2016, the first full year after the star formerly known as Bruce Jenner was reintroduced as Caitlyn Jenner, the three fastest-falling names in America were all versions of Caitlyn:

#1. Katilyn
#2. Caitlin
#3. Katelyn

And then there's #5 Caitlyn, #9 Katelynn, etc. At first glance, this wholesale retreat from a familiar name may seem to be a rejection of Jenner's new public identity. Certainly, parents do shy away from controversy in names, as we've seen in the decline of political homages. But I think the real story on Caitlyn is complicated, and as much about names as about gender.

First off, it's important to realize that the name was going to fall in popularity even if Jenner hadn't existed. Take a look at the popularity trend of all 57 (!) varieties of Caitlyn over the previous two decades:

The name was sliding out of fashion, and it's easiest to move the public in a direction it's already heading. Next, consider that this wasn't just another new celebrity name. The name itself was the story, announced with a flourish in a "Call Me Caitlyn" magazine cover, the choice of name debated and analyzed.

Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair magazine cover

The result was inevitable Caitlyn fatigue. With the year-long media blitz it became hard to hear the name in its own right, as just a nice baby name. Jenner had staked her claim to it. 

Finally, consider that the Caitlyn gazing out of that famous magazine cover was 65 years old. Caitlyn became popular as a fresh, youthful twist on Catherine and Kathleen. The new standard-bearer for the name helped age it in a hurry.

The rest of the fastest-falling names:

#4 Jase (M)
#6. Alexa (F)
#7. Blake (M)
#8. Brandon (M)
#10. Alexis (F)



May 12, 2017 12:29 PM

I wonder if the fall in "Alexa" and "Alexis" has anything to do with Amazon's Alexa.

May 12, 2017 1:26 PM

Lucidian, Amazon is definitely culpable for the fall in Alexa, and very probably for Alexis as well. In fact, I would argue that Alexander would still be about one place higher in the rankings (that is, still in the top 10) if it weren't for the gadget's name.

(Is the device's name hard-wired, or can you change it?)

May 12, 2017 2:35 PM

I can't get past the 57 varieties!  I knew there were LOTS of spellings of this name, but holy cow!  I thought the Megans were out of control, and I'm only aware of a small handful.

I wonder what is the most re-spelled name?  (Very hard to know how people intend to say a name, so I realize it is almost impossible to quantify).  But I wonder if the variety of spellings makes Caitlyn the "it" name of the early 2000s.

By Spam
May 12, 2017 6:20 PM

I am very surprised that Hillary and Ivanka actually increased!  (due to the usual partisainship turn-off factor)

The decline of Caitlyn is really really reaally impressive when you considered how fractured by so many spelling variations.  That's the only reason I didn't pick it for the baby names pool!  Quite the dramatic tanking there...if it only had one spelling I wonder if the degree of the decline would be along the lines of Isis last year.

May 12, 2017 9:50 PM

I dislike Bruce Jenner's change to Caitlyn because it is out of sync with his age. I would have chosen Catherine, or another more classic name. 

May 13, 2017 10:27 AM

I confess, this has been my issue.  I'm more than impressed she transistioned so publically.  Caitlyn seemed tired to me when she chose it.  She could have gone trendy with Emma or stayed classic with Kate.  She found the unhappy medium in my book.

May 13, 2017 1:30 PM

Caitlyn Jenner's name choice is her own regardless of who agrees with it. Referring to her by her birth name or with male pronouns is a very disrespectful thing to do. I'm assuming good intentions, but letting you know this is considered by trans folk to be very ill-advised. As they say, if you don't have anything nice to say...

May 13, 2017 11:49 PM

My best friend is one of the Heinz 57 varieties of Caitlin spellings and since Ms. Jenner's announcement she's heard occasional jokes about it, especially when she introduces herself. Thankfully, she is able to take it all in stride and respond with humor. (Her standard reply has become "Call me Bruce," which she finds immediately shuts down further jabbing and warrants a chuckle.) However, I think if expectant parents heard or possibly even made similar jokes about Ms. Jenner's new name, it would be a further turnoff from the already declining Caitlin & Co.

May 14, 2017 8:56 AM

I heard somewhere that Caitlyn's original transition attempt was in the late '80s when that name was at its fashion height. Due to the even stronger stigma against transgender people at the time she didn't publicly start living as a woman then, but she probably decided to stick with the name she'd chosen when she first tried.

May 15, 2017 4:45 PM

I'm actually wondering if the fall in Alexis/Alexa doesn't mirror the fall in Caitlyn and its variants. Both names were very popular for girls born in the 90s and early 2000s, almost 20 years ago. Just as Jessica and Stephanie eventually gave way to Caitlyn and Alexis, the time is right for those names to give way to... Adalyn and Sophia, I suppose?

Edited because I just had a huge brain flash: You know how we're all so allergic to names that are too popular? I wonder if the cycle of "unique" names that peak and then within a decade or two is caused by parental concerns that their daughter will be KateLynn P. or Alexa J. at school? A lot of people having babies aren't necessarily looking at 2017's top names, they're thinking of what names sound samey or stale to them. And suddenly, Caitlyn and Alexa are in that territory.

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