Usage of Christa Spiked after Challenger Disaster

Christa McAuliffeOn January 28, 1986 — thirty years ago today — the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart moments after takeoff.

All seven of the people on board were killed.

One of those people was Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year-old social studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire.

She was selected from more than 11,000 U.S. teachers to participate in the Challenger mission, and she would have been the first teacher in space had the mission succeeded. She’d even planned to teach two short lessons from space.

Because of Christa, millions of Americans — particularly children — were paying close attention to the Challenger mission and were devastated when the accident happened.

Mental health experts say…many children experienced the death of Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher-astronaut, as the symbolic loss of a mother and that they may have been more deeply disturbed by this loss than they let on otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, usage of the baby name Christa more than doubled that year:

  • 1988: 925 baby girls named Christa [rank: 272nd]
  • 1987: 1,018 baby girls named Christa [rank: 251st]
  • 1986: 1,513 baby girls named Christa [rank: 178th]
  • 1985: 683 baby girls named Christa [rank: 343rd]
  • 1984: 740 baby girls named Christa [rank: 319th]

In fact, 178th is the highest Christa has ever ranked on the U.S. baby name charts.

Now I’m wondering…what proportion of these extra baby Christas were named to commemorate Christa McAuliffe specifically (and how many of these commemoration-names were first suggested by sad older siblings), and what proportion got the name simply because Americans were hearing the name Christa over and over again that year (the same thing that happens to hurricane names)?

What do you think?

Finally, I did find two U.S. baby girls with the first-middle combo “Christa McAuliffe.” Neither was born in 1986 specifically, but they weren’t born longer after (in 1987 and 1990, respectively).

Source: “Children’s Letters Voice Sorrow about Astronauts who Died.” New York Times 29 Mar. 1986.

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