How has the ratio of Biblical names to non-Biblical names changed over time (if at all) among the most popular baby names in the U.S.?
This question popped into my head recently, so I thought I’d take a look at the data. We’ll do boy names today and girl names tomorrow.
First, let’s set some parameters. For these posts, “Biblical” names are personal names (belonging to either humans or archangels) mentioned in the Bible, plus all derivatives of these names, plus any other name with a specifically Biblical origin (e.g., Jordan, Sharon, Genesis). The “most popular” names are the top 20, and “over time” is the span of a century.
For boy names, the ratio of Biblical names to non-Biblical names has basically flipped over the last 100 years. Here’s a visual — Biblical names are in the yellow cells, non-Biblical names are in the green cells, and a borderline name (which I counted as non-Biblical) is in the orange cell:
- Biblical names: Adam, Alexander, Andrew, Austin (via Augustus), Benjamin, Daniel, David, Elijah, Ethan, Jack (via John), Jackson (via John), Jacob, James, Jason, John, Jonathan, Joseph, Joshua, Justin (via Justus), Lucas, Mark, Matthew, Michael, Nathan, Nicholas, Noah, Paul, Stephen, Steven, Thomas, Timothy, Zachary
- Non-Biblical names: Aiden, Albert, Anthony, Arthur, Billy, Brandon, Brian, Charles, Christopher, Dennis, Donald, Dylan, Edward, Eric, Frank, Gary, George, Harold, Harry, Henry, Jayden, Jeffrey, Kenneth, Kevin, Larry, Liam, Logan, Louis, Mason, Raymond, Richard, Robert, Ronald, Ryan, Scott, Tyler, Walter, William
- Borderline name: Jerry (can be based on the Biblical name Jeremy/Jeremiah or on the non-Biblical names Jerome, Gerald, Gerard)
It felt strange putting an overtly Christian name like Christopher in the non-Biblical category, but it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, so…that’s where it goes.
Here are the year-by-year tallies:
|Year||Top 20 names
|# Biblical||# Non-Biblical|
|1914||40% of baby boys||5 (25%)||15 (75%)|
|1924||43% of baby boys||6 (30%)||14 (70%)|
|1934||43% of baby boys||7 (35%)||13 (65%)|
|1944||47% of baby boys||7 (35%)||13 (65%)|
|1954||46% of baby boys||11 (55%)||9 (45%)|
|1964||42% of baby boys||11 (55%)||9 (45%)|
|1974||38% of baby boys||11 (55%)||9 (45%)|
|1984||36% of baby boys||14 (70%)||6 (30%)|
|1994||27% of baby boys||14 (70%)||6 (30%)|
|2004||19% of baby boys||14 (70%)||6 (30%)|
|2014||14% of baby boys||14 (70%)||6 (30%)|
But there’s a huge difference between sample sizes of 40% and 14%, so let’s also take a look at the 2014 top 100, which covers 42% of male births.
By my count, last year’s top 100 boy names were half Biblical, half non-Biblical:
|Biblical names (49)||Non-Biblical names (51)|
|Noah, Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, James, Daniel, Elijah, Benjamin, Matthew, Jackson (via John), David, Lucas, Joseph, Andrew, Samuel, Gabriel, Joshua, John, Luke, Isaac, Caleb, Nathan, Jack (via John), Jonathan, Levi, Jaxon (via John), Julian (via Julius), Isaiah, Eli, Aaron, Thomas, Jordan, Jeremiah, Nicholas, Evan, Josiah, Austin (via Augustus), Jace (via Jason), Jason, Jose, Ian, Adam, Zachary, Jaxson (via John), Asher, Nathaniel, Justin (via Justus), Juan||Liam, Mason, William, Logan, Aiden, Jayden, Anthony, Carter, Dylan, Christopher, Oliver, Henry, Sebastian, Owen, Ryan, Wyatt, Hunter, Christian, Landon, Charles, Connor, Cameron, Adrian, Gavin, Robert, Brayden, Grayson, Colton, Angel, Dominic, Kevin, Brandon, Tyler, Parker, Ayden, Chase, Hudson, Nolan, Easton, Blake, Cooper, Lincoln, Xavier, Bentley, Kayden, Carson, Brody, Ryder, Leo, Luis, Camden|
(Christian, Angel, Xavier, Dominic…all technically non-Biblical, despite having strong ties to Christianity.)
50%-50% isn’t quite as extreme as 70%-30%, but it’s still noticeably more Biblical than 1914’s 25%-75%.
Do any of these results surprise you?