Baby name popularity through the years

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The website US Social Security Administration offers some fascinating statistics on baby names. Even if you aren't a parent or aren't likely to be anytime in the near future, you may find it interesting for what these lists reveal about the evolution of American culture over the last 120 years.

From the main page you can generate lists of popular names by birth year, going back to 1879; track the popularity of a particular name over a number of years; list the top 5 names for each state, for any year going back to 1980.

For any year from 1960 to the present, you can look up the top 100 names for each state.

My favorite is the top 1000 names by decade, from the 1880s to the present. It's striking that, in olden days, a much higher percentage of babies were given the most popular names. In the 1880s, 15% of boys were named either John or William, and 38% were given names in the top 10. For girls, 21% were given names in the top 10. So far in this decade, the numbers are 12% and 9% respectively. You can see the same trend in Scotland, although the percentages are almost double those of America both 100 years ago and today.

It would be interesting to combine the stats from different decades to see which names are the most timeless, which are tied most closely to their decades, and which display generational cycles. It would also be interesting to look at the top names for each state over the years to see how naming trends spread through the country.

Here's a question for you: In the top 100 girls names in Oklahoma for 2004, there's a name I've never seen before -- Cadence. Any idea where this name came from? Nationally, it was 958th in 2002, 474th in 2003, 218th in 2004. A cadence is something you sing when running or marching in a group, so why has it become a popular girl's name? Anyone?

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Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

No idea why Cadence is name at all, let alone a girls name. But here are some other musical terms that might be worthy candidates for names:
Accelerando
Cavatina
Contralto
Fermata
And, if you're so inspired, you might think about the name Klangfarbenmelodie. You could probably shorten it to Klangfarben and no one would notice.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 29, 2005 8:08 PM.

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