Sunday, August 7, 2011

Brits are more likely to use a top name than Americans

Recently I got to playing around and doing some comparisons between the US and UK stats (links are at the bottom of the post). To make the numbers comparable, I multiplied the UK (in this case the England + Wales) stats by the ratio of the US's population to that of the aforementioned areas. As it turns out the ratio falls between about 5.5 and 6; when using my figuring to base the statements below they are approximations (if I could use the actual birth rate stats rather than that of the whole population the ratio would probably be a bit higher since if I'm correct the US birth rate is higher than the UK one).

A difference I noticed between the two countries is that the top names make up a lower proportion of births in the US than across the pond (in other words there is more "name conformity" in the UK). For example, the percentage of babies given the top name is higher in England/Wales than in America (with the boys having a larger effect). When comparing the complete top 10 lists similar results show up.

Taking the 2010 stats here's the respective names and numbers for the top 10 (raw numbers, not adjusted like I did to make true comparisons):

US Top 10:
Jacob 21,875 Isabella 22,731
Ethan 17,866 Sophia 20,477
Michael 17,133 Emma 17,179
Jayden 17,030 Olivia 16,860
William 16,870 Ava 15,300
Alexander 16,634 Emily 14,172
Noah 16,281 Abigail 14,124
Daniel 15,679 Madison 13,070
Aiden 15,403 Chloe 11,656
Anthony 15,364 Mia 10,541

England/Wales Top 10:
Oliver 8,427 Olivia 5,279
Jack 7,031 Sophie 4,469
Harry 6,862 Emily 4,310
Alfie 5,478 Lily 4,257
Charlie 5,410 Amelia 4,227
Thomas 5,307 Jessica 4,102
William 5,256 Ruby 3,961
Joshua 5,217 Chloe 3,883
George 4,542 Grace 3,722
James 4,351 Evie 3,469

US stats:
UK stats: (outdated link)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nicknames vs. formal names, part 3

A few months ago I came up with a hypothesis that in the U.S. the preference for nicknames or short names as full names vs. longer names as the given name varies across the saeculum, with the former increasing during 4Ts and peaking during 1Ts, with the latter increasing during 2Ts and peaking during 3Ts. I found more evidence supporting this; if you look back to the earliest years covered by the SSA list you'll see that nicknames as official names as well as "shorter" official names were fairly big during the 1880s and 1890s, fell off during the 1900s and remained low during the 1910s and 1920s, went back up during the 1930s and remained up until the late 1970s, went back down again around 1980 or so and has stayed down until very recently. If you compare the SSA list of 2010 to that of 2007 (before the start of the Great Recession) you'll see that although the nicknamey and shorter names are still far less popular than they are in the U.K. they are overall on the rise (the four names I used for the comparison are Ellie, Finn, Lucy, and Max; all four increased during that time). To be fair, Finn does have a strong pop-culture influence right now (Glee); even so Finn is on its way up in comparison to some of its "longer" forms such as Finnegan (which remained nearly steady between 2009 and 2010). My prediction: Although I don't think the more extreme "nicknames as full names" that are currently popular in the U.K. (such as Alfie or Millie) will catch on in the U.S. I think the phobia of nicknames or short names as official names is on the wane with more "just Finns" or "just Lucys" rather than superflously going for a longer form on the birth certificate for the sake of formality.

Now for the question that many name enthusiasts have been wondering: Why has the U.K. loved the nickname trend in recent years while the U.S. has not, when it's the U.S. that is traditionally less formal in its lifestyle? Well, the Strauss and Howe saeculum may provide some insight here as well. During First Turning (High) eras (such as the 1950s or 1870s) community bonding is up while individualism is down; during Third Turning (Unraveling) eras (such as the 1990s-2000s or 1910s-1920s) community bonding is down while individualism is up. At the present point in history (though it's not always been the case) the U.S. and U.K. are closely aligned in their saeculae (in other words approximately in the same Turning era). During High eras, desire to bond in with the prevailing culture persists; at these times we have less formal names ruling in the U.S. and more formal names ruling in the U.K. During Unraveling eras, desire to have a name that marks one as an individual persists. In the U.K. this means scaling down from the formal prevailing culture and using informal names, while in the U.S. this means scaling up from the prevailing informal culture and using more formal names (notice how during this era Americans were obsessed with "becoming and looking rich" with McMansions, SUVs, etc., and likewise tended to use baby names that present such an image; in addition this was one of the few times in recent history that American schools were seriously considering school uniforms [which are common in the U.K. all along] but the talk has since largely subsided). I do not have any official statistics on U.K. names available other than those from recent years, but from what others have said I've been able to extrapolate that Britain follows a cycle on name formailty that is about equal in length (~80 years or so) but runs opposite to that of America's.

Once again, remember that this post is a generalization of trends.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The changing baby name trends from 2010

Last Thursday, as they usually do right before Mother's Day, the U.S. SSA released their baby name data for 2010. One pattern that many are noticing is that the pattern of girls tending to get more trendy/unusual names than boys is diminishing or in some cases reversing. If you do the math from the percentages given on the SSA lists (don't use the actual numbers when comparing between years since that enters the birthrate into question), you will see that the percentages of girls being given a Top 10 name is going back up after an overall downward trend over the past several decades while the percentages of boys with a Top 10 name continues to go down. Also, if you take a look at Laura Wattenberg's NameVoyager and select to see either all of the girl or boy name data (but not both together) you'll see that the percentage of boys given a name that is less common than #1,000 continues to go up while it's basically flat (between 2009 and 2010) for girls.

What's the force behind the changing trends? Well, much of it falls on the rising generation of under-30 new parents: the Millennials (or Generation Y if you prefer). Although sexism in naming and other gender issues is certainly still there, for this new generation it is less so. From my experience, we're (I'm a member of this generation) less uptight about our boys standing up to traditional expectations. This leads to the continuing diversification of the boy name pool, as well as a slowing down of the "unisex name plight" to the girls in spite of the co-opting of such names continuing (the latter I've discussed before on my blog).

Although the Millennials may be more diversified in their name choices, from my predictions they will overall also be more "traditional" than Boomers or Xers were. This does not necessarily mean that they will go back to the stalwarts of their parents' day, but rather than going more "tryndee" they will likely go on routes like the "Exotic Traditionals" and the "Antique Revivals" (using terms from Wattenberg's book) that are becoming fashionable and go for those names that have a history but aren't saturated in usage to their ears. In cases like the Irish/Celtic trend, it will likely continue but we'll probably see more "authentic" Irish names rather than the "faux-Irish" names like Colleen and Erin (i.e. ones that aren't traditionally used as names in Ireland) that were common in the past.

Remember that with much I've posted this is a generalization. (If you have your own thoughts on the general trends they're certainly welcome though.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy (nonexistent) Birthday, Ryan Laura Bush!

I can't post this on her actual birthday since it doesn't exist, but the U.S.'s previous President has another daughter that a lot of us don't know about. Her name is Ryan Laura Bush (her middle name is after her mother, which she frequently uses like many other female Ryans so people don't constantly assume that she's a he). What's really unique is the day she was born: February 30, 1984. February 30 is also a special day for George W. Bush for this reason.

As for what Ryan Bush is up to, she's planning on running to be the first member of Congress from the Millennial generation (1982-sometime in the early-mid 20-aughts) in 2012.

If you haven't realized, this whole post is made-up (hence the February 30 birthday, based on Dubya's blunder in that video). I made it up as a joke to this thread on Nameberry when one of the members gave out "Natal Flower Names" based on the birthday of the person in question (if the link doesn't take you to the right post on the page, it's the third from the bottom; the first post on the next page is the OP of that thread's response to my joke). If it were real, that might explain the rise in female Ryans born during Bush 43's administration.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seasons and phases of name popularity

In describing the rising and falling popularity of names, I've used the terms for the seasons to describe the four phases of a name's popularity fluctuation. (If you've spent any amount of time on my blog you know that Strauss and Howe do the same with the "seasons" of history, although their works are off-topic in this blog post.)

Spring - The name is increasing in popularity, and often falls into what is called on Nameberry the "hipster" phase when it is often well-liked by name enthusiasts and other similarly-minded people. These names may still seem a bit "out-there" for the general population.

Summer - The name is in its period of peak popularity and loses the "hipster" feel when it becomes most mainstream. In cases of really popular names, those not often around babies or young children may not realize the name's hotness but those that are do (this is what has inspired many of the titles in Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz's Beyond... series; in the late 1980s they published Beyond Jennifer and Jason, a decade later added "Madison and Montana" to the title, and now they have Beyond Ava and Aiden).

Autumn - The name is decreasing in popularity. Although these names are usually perfectly respectable to the general population, typically they are no longer considered "fashionable" and may sound dated. Names popular in the eras in which the current parents and grandparents were born that no longer are often in this season.

Winter - The name is steadily low in popularity. Names which were mainstream two seasons ago may sound old-fashioned to may people, but going for one of these names may actually put your child's name ahead of the curve if it "survives" the winter and doesn't become stuck in fashion limbo (think Bertha and Gertrude). Often names that don't fall as low are more likely to come back (for example Emma after being very popular circa 1880 never fell out of the top 500 and came back to near the top of the list in the 2000s, whereas the previous examples are all long out of the top 1,000).

A way you can determine when a particular name is or was in each season is to use a feature that graphs the name over time by the percentage of births (some good ones are The Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager and Behind the Name's top popularity lists/graphs). Naturally, these discussions discuss the names using U.S. stats; internationally they may be different.

For example, if you were to show the aforementioned Emma, it's previous summer was in the 1880s-1890s, it had a long autumn lasting until the early 1960s, wintered for a little over 20 years until the mid-1980s when it started rising again into spring, and reached its current summer in the early 2000s.

For a boy's example, let's use one of my current favorites: Oliver. This one up until its winter followed a similar trajectory to Emma (although Oliver's peak was nowhere as high) with its height in the latter part of the 19th Century and then declining until the early 1960s. Oliver wintered longer though, not showing a major rising until the second half of the 1990s and still in its spring phase.

For a name on a different part of the cycle, I'll use an example of what Satran & Rosenkrantz call a "mom name": Amy. When the stats began in 1880, it was either late summer or early autumn being on its way down until the late 1920s or so, was at its low for about 20 years or so after, then had a 20-year or so spring, then its late 60s to mid-80s heyday, and then started to decline. In recent years the decline is leveling off a little bit; it's too soon to tell whether the name is now still in the autumn decline or now in winter again (the 2010 stats when they come out may help give a clue).