The demise of the baby name Hillary

Hillary Clinton, 1992
Hillary Clinton

A cool post on the 14 most “poisoned” baby names by data scientist Hilary Parker reminded me that I haven’t yet written about the demise of the baby name Hillary. (Or Hilary. Or Chelsea.)

So let’s travel back to 1992 for a minute.

In mid-July, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was selected as the Democratic candidate for the presidency. His wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea were now in the national spotlight.

In early November, Bill managed to beat Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush to become the 42nd president of the United States. Hillary and Chelsea would now stay in the national spotlight.

And in late November, a few weeks after the election, the Miami Herald printed this:

Now that the Clinton women are set to move into the White House, both names are becoming more popular among new parents.

For the first time, Chelsea has cracked the top 10 list of the most popular girl names in Florida. Name expert Leonard R. N. Ashley, a Brooklyn College professor, said he expects Hillary to also catch on.


The popularity of Chelsea, on the rise long before the presidential pre-teen made her Democratic convention appearance, is likely to get a boost from the first family pedigree, Ashley said.

The “name expert” got it wrong, of course.

Hillary did not catch on. Nor did Chelsea. Both names had been on the rise, but usage dropped significantly after 1992. Here’s the data:


graph of usage of baby name hillary
  • 1995: 310 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 686th]
  • 1994: 408 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 566th]
  • 1993: 1,064 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 261st]
  • 1992: 2,521 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 132nd]
  • 1991: 1,789 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 166th]
  • 1990: 1,524 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 192nd]

That’s a 58% drop from 1992 to 1993. Hillary fell so low that it got pushed out of the top 1,000 entirely for two years (2002 and 2003).


graph of usage of baby name hilary
  • 1995: 125 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 1,326th]
  • 1994: 145 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 1,210th]
  • 1993: 343 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 651st]
  • 1992: 1,170 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 234th]
  • 1991: 1,149 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 242nd]
  • 1990: 1,216 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 232nd]

A 71% drop from 1992 to 1993. Hilary was out of the top 1,000 by 1994 and hasn’t been back since. (Hilary Parker says the name Hilary is “clearly the most poisoned.”)


graph of usage of baby name chelsea
  • 1995: 6,760 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 47th]
  • 1994: 7,717 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 38th]
  • 1993: 11,288 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 25th]
  • 1992: 16,174 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 15th]
  • 1991: 13,511 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 18th]
  • 1990: 12,782 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 24th]

The drop here isn’t as dramatic — just 30% — but Chelsea was out of the top 100 by 1999. It currently ranks 222nd.


Why did the name Hillary slip after Hillary Clinton became a fixture in the White House?

Because she violated gender norms — that’s my guess.

Hillary Clinton was a new kind of First Lady. She was a lawyer, a businesswoman, a scholar and an activist. She was the first First Lady with an earned (vs. honorary) post-graduate degree, and the first to have her own professional career.

But, instead of being praised for her intelligence and ambition, she was criticized for it.

Just two months after the inauguration, Anna Quindlen of the New York Times made note of the double standard:

Maybe some of our daughters took notice of how Hillary Clinton was seen as abrasive, power-hungry and unfeminine when to some of us she seemed merely smart, outspoken and hard-working. Maybe they saw the masquerade and recognized intuitively the age-old message about how much more attractive women are when they are domestic, soft, contented, the message aimed over the years at Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt and many, many others.

To expectant parents, it didn’t matter that Hillary Clinton was smart and successful. They began avoiding the name Hillary in 1993 because the First Lady — the most high-profile Hillary in the nation — was making her name seem “unfeminine.”

Do you agree? Disagree?

P.S. What are the 13 other “poisoned” names? The 9 to drop since the 1960s are Ashanti, Catina, Deneen, Farrah, Iesha, Infant, Katina, Khadijah and Renata. The other four — Celestine, Clementine, Dewey and Minna — are from the 1800s, a time when SSA data wasn’t too reliable.


7 thoughts on “The demise of the baby name Hillary

  1. You may be quite right, but I have always suspected that part of the problem was that Hillary instantly became a “one-person” name, like Madonna or Cher. To this day, when people hear the name Hillary, they think Clinton. And I think most parents avoid using names with a strong, single association, even if they admire the individual. If the First Lady had been Elizabeth, I don’t think that name would have dropped straight off the charts.

  2. At a recent funeral, my teen was amazed to learn the decedent’s BROTHER was named Hillary. That Hillary was once considered a masculine name completely threw her for a loop. But then she grew up with Hillary Duff on the Disney Channel… When you think about how the Disney Channel inspired parents to embrace Miley, Waverly, Harper and London, it’s kind of surprising that Hillary didn’t get any love… So maybe HRC has poisoned the name, even if she has the highest approval rating of any US politician. Or, at the end of the 90’s the name didn’t feel “unique’ anymore.

  3. Maybe Hillary is such an evil woman, which most people figured out beginning in 1993, that NOBODY wanted their child named after her. I suspect this reason is far more plausible than the author’s hypothesis.

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