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Where Are the Classic Names Now?

July 23, 2019 namerology 1 Comment

Where Are the Classic Names Now?

July 23, 2019 Namerology 1 Comment
Photo of chess king falling to pawn
Image: bizoo_n/Adobe

The mighty have fallen. The names that ruled over the English-speaking world for centuries have been deposed, and I can prove it with a single chart. Take a look at this past vs. present view of some classic names, 1900 vs. 2018:

Chart: popularity of Mary in 1900 vs. 12 classic names 2018

The 2018 column shows the number of American babies receiving the dozen core names of English tradition, names that in centuries past accounted for a majority of English babies born. The 1900 column shows just girls named Mary. If you quibble with my dozen selections of “core” names, feel free to add other candidates like Charles, Alice, Henry and Richard to the 2018 column. 1900’s Mary will trounce them all.

Now let’s make it a fair fight, with the full dozen names on each side:

Bar chart of 12 classic English regal names in 1880 vs. 2018

That’s a major change in national naming practices in just 12 names. What’s more, the phenomenon extends beyond Americans to the whole English-speaking world. In England, while a few classics like George and Edward are trendy, most of the old standards are even less popular than in the US. An English boy today is more likely to be named Sonny or Lincoln than John. In New Zealand, the most popular classic girl’s name is Elizabeth at #83, well behind the likes of Quinn and Aurora.

What, you may ask, has risen to claim the classics’ former position of dominance? Nothing. The royal baby names lost their throne not to a coup but to a popular uprising. Anything goes, and no set or style of names can claim preeminence. Today’s top dozen American names together don’t equal the popularity of John and Mary in 1900.

The result is something like the Tower of Babel. We have a newly fractured and fractious language of names with mutually incomprehensible dialects. To clarify, I’m not talking about a rise in ethnic and racial diversity in naming. In fact, some of America’s whitest, least diverse regions have left the English classics furthest behind. This is a different kind of diversity, driven more by individual than group identity. As we all strive to set ourselves apart, the names that are hit the hardest are those that used to bring the most people together.

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1 Comment

  • Nicwoo July 25, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    Interesting. Thank you for pointing out that white representation is as diverse and purely show or sound now, when so many there still seem to question names of others (in diversity harkening back to culture). I wonder though if names were ever to bring us together so much as keep a status quo for mainstream acceptance. There was a problem with still needing to be distinguished from Mary A. to Mary Z. and from Ashley A. to Ashley Z. From cable and now streaming over network, respectfully acknowledging different orientations, news outlets verses grassroots on social media, I think this is just one more way those of former “convention” realized they are missing out on the freedom and health that diversity and acceptance with respect really brings.

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