SSA list artifacts

I've discovered at least three groups of "artifact" names that show up on the SSA lists. If you have any comments or other ones to mention feel free to do so.

  1. Obviously non-unisex names on the opposite gender. This is a big one, frequently cited in name discussions. While there might be a very small number of boys named Jennifer and girls named John out there (for example), more likely than not they show up because of errors in gender coding with the SSA's records. In the days before computers (and when additionally the most common names were more common) these mistakes were more likely, enough to bring a very common name for one gender into the Top 1,000 of the other. Although such errors are less prevalent now, they still occassionally happen (for example there are enough boys named Sophia and girls named Jacob to show up on the extended list, but in any case such artifact names are well below the Top 1,000). For genuinely unisex names, the errors probably mean that the name appears to be slightly more evenly used between the genders in reality (with the largest effect being with names like Ashley or Ryan which although strongly used for one gender are sometimes used in reality on the other).
  2. More nicknames-as-full-names than in reality. This one exists because unlike what is typical now many people in the past did not get SSNs at or shortly after birth, but rather applied for one when needed (for some this wasn't until they got their first job). (That begin to change in the late 1980s and into the 1990s when SSNs became necessary to claim a child as a dependent, since before some people would claim fictitious dependents, and having a SSN ensures that the dependent is a real person. The change was gradually phased in, and by the mid-late '90s that's when it became typical to get a SSN assigned when the birth certificate is filed.) The effect this has on name stats is that when a teenager getting his/her first job would apply for a SSN, he/she might put down a shortened form of the name instead of what the birth certificate said (this was also before the various agencies were so stringent on names matching), and hence more nicknames used as the offical name show up than what would exist under today's procedures for getting a SSN. (Incidentally I saw this point in a name-related article recently.) In addition the lists for all the years before the SSA was established (in 1936-37) are completely retroactive since noboby would have a SSN before that (1880 is the cutoff because presumably the sample size of people born before then would be too small).
  3. Placeholder names. Once the era of getting SSNs at birth began, then you started having cases where the parents couldn't decide on a name right away but they needed a SSN anyway. A name like "Baby" or "Infant" would be put in as a temporary placeholder (to be replaced with an actual name later), and these are counted in the stats.


March 20, 2014 10:11 PM

Great points, KellyXY. I didn't get my SSN until I got my first job as a teenager (working as a page in the local library, still one of my favorite jobs). It didn't occur to me to put a nickname on the card, but I'm sure it did to some.

March 21, 2014 2:18 AM

LOL.  That's when I got my SSN, my first job as a teenager working as a page in the public library.  And I was so proud that I was being paid 15% over the minimum wage.

March 21, 2014 9:12 AM

I'm not saying that putting a nickname down to appear on your SS card was common - but given the different typical procedures at getting a SSN was different in the past (didn't happen until you were older, less strict about checking that everything matches) there would be at least a sizable number of cases where the birth certificate would have the full name but the SSN would be registered under a shorter version (enough to skew the stats as compared to the contemporary lists a bit).