I am fascinated by names and am from a family that routinely gives uncommon family names to their too-young to argue babies. (My grandmother’s name was Pocahontas, sadly, everyone called her Pokey.) My name, Dabney, is unusual and has never made the list of top names chosen by Americans for their progeny. How do I know this, you ask? Well, each year the Social Security Administration posts a list of the top ten boy and girl names for the previous year. Currently, the website is showing the names from 2009.
If you were a girl born as a US citizen in 2009, there’s a good chance you were named Isabella; a boy, Jacob. Isabella is the first girl name NOT to start with an E that’s held the number one rank in the past fourteen years. For twelve of the past years, 1996 to 2007, the top girl name in the USA was Emily. In 2008, it was Emma. If you were a boy born as a US citizen in 2009, there’s a good chance you were named Jacob. In fact, if you were a male born any time in between 1999 and 2009, you might be named Jacob. It’s held the number one spot for the past ten years. And if you’ve noticed a lot of young men out there named Michael, that’s because, with the exception of one year, 1960, when American parents went for David, Michael held the number one spot from 1954 to 1998!
The SSA’s website is full of cool information about our naming habits. You can look at the most popular names by decade, state, region, even century. There’s a list that shows the most popular twin names of 2009, divided by girl/girl (Isabella and Sophia), girl/boy (Madison and Mason), and boy/boy (Jacob, Joshua). You can also enter any name and see if it’s made it into the top 1000 names at any time since the government began keeping track. My name doesn’t show up at all. My daughter’s name, Evelyn, has been on the list for every year for the past 100 years. Her name was most popular in the beginning of the 1900’s, dropped way down until the 2000’s and has been rising in the charts ever since. Her twin’s name, William, has also been on the list for the past 100 years, ranging from being the 20th most popular to the second most popular.
Another cool site for names is Baby Name Voyager. This site lets you enter a name and see a graph of its popularity since the 1880’s. I put in my husband’s name, Gregory, and saw that, despite a brief surge of popularity in the middle of the 20th century, it’s now on the down swing big time. The name of a friend of mine, Athena, amazed me by being in the Voyager database, first appearing in 1950. Athena is currently at an all time high for US name rank–it was the 430th most popular name for girls in 2009.
One limit of these and most other baby name sites is that records only exist for those who have filed for a Social Security card. I suspect that the list would be altered if those who live here but aren’t registered as citizens were included. If you’re interested in what’s popular in other countries, check out the website Most Popular Baby Names around the World. There, you can find out, for example, in 2009, the most popular names in Switzerland were Luca for a boy and Lea for a girl.
I like having an unusual name–now that I’m an adult. How about you? Do you have an unusual name? Did you give your kids unique names? Do you have a custom of family names? If you could rename yourself, would you? (I wouldn’t, but I’ve always loved the my great aunt’s name Arianna and, when I was younger wished my parents had named me for her rather than for her mother.)