Classics on the Decline: Paul, Jesse, Frank

boy names falling out of fashion

A few weeks back, a reader named Caitlin emailed me a cool list of well-known names that were decreasing in usage. Her list included:

  • Andrew, now ranked 40th — lowest ranking since 1963
  • Michael, now ranked 12th — lowest ranking since 1942
  • David, now ranked 23rd — lowest ranking since 1924

She also generously told me that I could share her findings (thank you Caitlin!).

The names that intrigued me most were the “lowest ever” names: names that had been in the data since 1880, but that saw their lowest usage ever (in terms of rankings) in 2017. Three of the boy names on her list — Paul, Richard, Robert — were “lowest ever” names, so I decided start with these and search for others.

I checked hundreds of potential candidates. Many (like Andrew, Michael, and David) hit a low in 2017, but it wasn’t their all-time low. Many others (like Stanley, Alvin, and Clarence) hit a low recently, but not as recently as 2017.

In the end, I was able to add 15 names to the list:

  • Allen. Ranked 401st in 2017; peak was 71st in the 1940s/1950s.
  • Dennis. Ranked 544th in 2017; peak was 16th in the 1940s.
  • Edgar. Ranked 353rd in 2017; peak was 51st in the 1880s.
  • Edwin. Ranked 332nd in 2017; peak was 52nd in the 1910s/1920s.
  • Frank. Ranked 373rd in 2017; peak was 6th in the 1880s/1890s.
  • Gerald. Ranked 824th in 2017; peak was 19th in the 1930s.
  • Glenn. Ranked 1,288th in 2017; peak was 55th in the 1960s.
  • Herman. Ranked 2,347th in 2017; peak was 44th in the 1880s/1890s.
  • Jerome. Ranked 857th in 2017; peak was 93rd in the 1930s.
  • Jesse. Ranked 186th in 2017; peak was 37th in the 1980s.
  • Lloyd. Ranked 1,570th in 2017; peak was 51st in the 1910s.
  • Martin. Ranked 281st in 2017; peak was 62nd in the 1960s.
  • Marvin. Ranked 559th in 2017; peak was 44th in the 1930s.
  • Paul. Ranked 225th in 2017; peak was 12th in the 1910s/1930s.
  • Raymond. Ranked 293rd in 2017; peak was 14th in the 1910s.
  • Richard. Ranked 175th in 2017; peak was 5th in the 1930s/1940s.
  • Robert. Ranked 65th in 2017; peak was 1st in the 1920s/1930s/1950s.
  • Wayne. Ranked 816th in 2017; peak was 29th in the 1940s.

Interestingly, all 18 have spent time in the top 100. And one, Robert, is still in the top 100. (How long before Robert is out of the top 100, do you think?)

A handful of girl names also saw their lowest-ever rankings in 2017. I’ll post that list next week…

Christopher as a Girl Name?

Orson Welles, his first wife Virginia, and their daughter Christopher (1938)
Legendary actor Orson Welles was married three times and had one daughter per marriage. The last two daughters had conventional names (Rebecca and Beatrice), but the first had an unexpected name: Christopher.

On the day Christopher Welles arrived in March of 1938, her father sent out a short telegram that read: “Christopher, she is born.” The name Christopher was chosen simply because “Orson liked the sound of the name.”

The same year, the baby name Christopher appeared as a girl name for the first time in the SSA data:

Year # Boys Named Christopher # Girls Named Christopher
1940 500 7
1939 359 5
1938 308 8 [debut]
1937 294 .
1936 277 .

My hunch is that Orson Welles’s daughter was the main influence behind the debut. That said, the name Christopher was on the rise (as a boy name) in the late ’30s, so it’s possible that some of these female Christophers were simply miscoded male Christophers.

As it turns out, Christopher Welles did not like her name as a child: “I was teased mercilessly in school and was quite miserable as a result. I wanted to change it to Linda.” As an adult, she went by the shortened form Chris.

The name Christopher was in the top 10 for boys from 1967 to 2009, ranking #2 for many years from the ’70s to the ’90s. But it also ended up in the girls’ top 1,000 for 24 years, from 1967 to 1990.

What are your thoughts on Christopher as a girl name?

Sources: Orson Welles – Wikipedia, In My Father’s Shadow: a Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder: review, Daughter of Orson Welles: daddy never let me hold him back

Popular Baby Names in South Africa, 2017

According to Statistics South Africa, the most popular baby name in the country in 2017 was Enzokuhle — for both boys and girls!

Here are South Africa’s top 10 girl names and top 10 boy names of 2017:

Girl Names
1. Enzokuhle (meaning “to do good” in Zulu), 2,587 baby girls
2. Melokuhle (“stand up for what’s right,” Zulu), 2,456
3. Amahle (“pretty,” Zulu), 2,260
4. Lethabo (“luck,” Sesotho, Sepedi & Setswana), 2,243
5. Amogelang, 2,089
6. Omphile, 2,078
7. Lesedi, 2,059
8. Rethabile, 2,045
9. Luthando, 1,919
10. Thandolwethu, 1,784

Boy Names
1. Enzokuhle, 2,832 baby boys
2. Lethabo, 2,824
3. Melokuhle, 2,487
4. Lubanzi, 2,293
5. Amogelang, 2,164
6. Siyabonga, 2,147
7. Bandile, 1,976
8. Junior, 1,969
9. Bokamoso, 1,877
10. Mpho, 1,818

Interestingly, three names — Enzokuhle, Melokuhle and Amogelang — ranked in the top five for both genders.

In terms of middle names, the top choices were…

  • Girls: Precious (5,355), Princess (3,925), Angel (3,351)
  • Boys: Junior (9,196), Blessing (4,694), Gift (3,735)

In 2016, the top baby names names were reportedly Precious and Junior, but…I’m under the impression that SA rankings from before 2017 accounted for overall usage, not first-name usage specifically.

Sources: What’s in a name? | Statistics South Africa, It’s official: Here are SA’s most popular baby names, P0305 – Recorded live births, 2017

The Baby Name “Burjoice”

I found the following story in a 106-year-old newspaper article about Southern names. No doubt many of the names/stories in the piece were made-up (urban legends, perhaps) but this one had such weirdly specific details that I’m hoping it was true.

Around in the next cove was the boy, Burjoice Robbins, whose mother derived even greater satisfaction from his curiously un-Christian Christian name. The Cumberland Presbyterian preacher who christened the child insisted on calling him “Rejoice,” and that is the way it is written in the church record. The explanation is simple in the extreme. That summer a learned man ran away from the city to the seclusion of the mountains while he was reading proof on a profound work that was being printed in Chattanooga. Every few days a youth would come out from the printing office with a bunch of galley proofs and there was always a discussion of the type. The learned man wanted some paragraphs set up in small pica, for emphasis, and certain foot notes set up in nonpareil, but the body of the text was to be in bourgeois, which the printer’s helper invariably pronounced “burjoice.” Whenever the writer said anything about “bourzhwa” the youth repeated it after him, making the correction in pronunciation, “burjoice.” The mother of the little boy was convinced that this wonderful thing, which was to play such an important part in a learned book, would make the grandest name her son could possibly have. Even when the preacher said it was heathen she did not yield, writing it in the family bible, in defiance of the church record.

The words “pica,” “nonpareil,” and “bourgeois” refer to letter sizes that predate the point system we use today (e.g., 12-point Times New Roman, 10-point Arial).

And here’s a twist: In the world of printing, the word “bourgeois” was indeed pronounced burjoice. So the printer’s helper was correct in making his correction. :)

Source: “Peculiar Names Found in the Southern States.” San Francisco Call 28 Sep. 1912: 2.

No One Wanted to Name These Triplets

On March 8, 1911, George and Lida Duncan of Corydon, Kentucky, welcomed triplets — one boy, two girls. They asked several public figures of the day to name the babies:

  • William Howard Taft, who was serving as U.S. president at the time, “congratulated the parents and wished “a long, prosperous and happy life” for the children, but declined to name them.”
  • Theodore Roosevelt, who was president before Taft, “tendered “hearty congratulations” to both parents, particularly to Mrs. Duncan,” but declined as well.
  • Philanthropists Helen Gould and Olivia Sage “also declined to name the children, but sent expressions of appreciation to the parents.”

So George and Lida took it upon themselves to select names for the babies. They settled on Ralph, Ruth and Ruby.

If they had asked you, though, what names would you have suggested for the triplets?

Source: “All Decline to Name Children.” Spokesman-Review 27 Apr. 1911: 12.