For the longest time, I was mystified by the popularity graph for the baby name Tiger. It shows two distinct spikes in usage: one in 1997/1998, the other in 2010.
The initial spike aligns with the rise of golfer Tiger Woods, who “shot to fame after winning the U.S. Masters at Augusta in 1997 — with a record score of 270 — at the age of 21.” He was both the youngest-ever winner and the first African American winner.
If we stick with the Tiger Woods theory, though, the 2010 spike aligns best with Tiger’s infidelity scandal, which was making headlines from late 2009 until mid-2010. And that certainly could be the explanation…though it seems like a disproportionately steep rise, given the nature of the news.
When I noticed recently that Dragon-related names were more popular during Dragon years, it occurred to me that another animal of the Chinese zodiac — the Tiger — might be influencing the baby name Tiger in a similar way.
The most recent Tiger years were 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, and 2010. Turns out that the two big spikes, plus the debut (in 1962), match up perfectly with Tiger years:
- In 1962, 7 U.S. baby boys were named Tiger.
- In 1998, 97 U.S. baby boys were named Tiger.
- 23 [24%] were born in California, 8 in Texas, 6 in Pennsylvania, 5 in Illinois.
- In 2010, 130 U.S. baby boys were named Tiger.
- 39 [30%] in California, 10 in Texas, 9 in New York, 8 in Washington, 7 in Florida, 6 in Minnesota, 5 in Pennsylvania.
It’s intriguing that the name was absent from the data in 1974 and 1986. Perhaps Tiger Woods’ rise to fame in 1997 not only gave the name an early boost, but primed expectant parents to see “Tiger” as a feasible option — making those big spikes in 1998 and 2010 possible.
What do you think the usage of “Tiger” will look like in the next Tiger year, 2022?
P.S. Tiger Woods’ birth name is actually Eldrick. His mother invented it, starting it with an “E” because her husband’s name was Earl and ending it with a “K” because her own name is Kultida. Earl Woods nicknamed his son “Tiger” in honor of Col. Vuong Dang “Tiger” Phong, whom he’d known while serving in Vietnam. (The story of the search for Phong is fascinating…)