How popular is the baby name Denise in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, check out all the blog posts that mention the name Denise.

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Popularity of the Baby Name Denise


Posts that Mention the Name Denise

The Inception of Sway

sway, gone in 60 seconds, movie, character
Angelina Jolie as Sara “Sway” Wayland

The word Sway popped up for the first time in the U.S. baby name data in 2001:

  • 2003: 14 baby girls and 5 baby boys named Sway
  • 2002: 12 baby girls named Sway
  • 2001: 8 baby girls named Sway [debut]
  • 2000: unlisted
  • 1999: unlisted

For a long time I assumed the main influence was MTV personality Sway Calloway. But, while I still think Sway had an influence on male usage, I’ve since discovered a much better explanation for the 2001 debut as a female name.

One of the main characters in the 2000 car heist film Gone in 60 Seconds was mechanic-slash-bartender Sara “Sway” Wayland (played by Angelina Jolie). She was the love interest of protagonist Randall “Memphis” Raines (played by Nicolas Cage), who was tasked with stealing 50 specific, expensive cars inside of 72 hours.

The film didn’t get great reviews, but I do remember appreciating the fact that each of the 50 cars was assigned a feminine code-name:

Mary, Barbara, Lindsey, Laura, Alma, Madeline, Patricia, Carol, Daniela, Stefanie, Erin, Pamela, Olga, Anne, Kate, Vanessa, Denise, Diane, Lisa, Nadine, Angelina, Rose, Susan, Tracey, Rachel, Bernadene, Deborah, Stacey, Josephine, Hillary, Kimberley, Renee, Dorothy, Donna, Samantha, Ellen, Gabriela, Shannon, Jessica, Sharon, Tina, Marsha, Natalie, Virginia, Tanya, Grace, Ashley, Cathy, Lynn, Eleanor

So, how do you feel about the name Sway? If you were having a baby girl, would you be more likely to name her something modern, like Sway, or something traditional, like Sara or Susan?

Sources: Gone in 60 Seconds (2000 film) – Wikipedia, Talk:Gone in 60 Seconds (2000 film) – Wikipedia

The Height of Coretta

Coretta Scott King © 1969 LIFE

The baby name Coretta was the fastest-rising baby name of 1968:

  • 1970: 146 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1969: 194 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1968: 336 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1967: 13 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1966: 16 baby girls named Coretta

The name also saw it’s highest-ever usage that year, as did the variant spelling Corretta. And another spelling, Koretta, appeared for the very first time in the data in 1968.

What was bringing all this attention to the baby name Coretta in 1968?

Coretta Scott King. She was the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., until his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. This event put Coretta and her children (Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice*) in the national spotlight.

Not long after the death of her husband, Coretta took Martin’s place as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was instrumental in establishing the national holiday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — which happens to be today.

Coretta Scott King was named in honor of her paternal grandmother, Cora. The name Cora is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name Kore (“maiden”), one of the epithets of the goddess Persephone.

*Usage of the names Yolanda and Dexter increased markedly in 1968. The usage of Martin, which had been declining, saw an uptick that year. (Peak usage was in 1963, the year of MLK’s legendary “I have a dream” speech.) The usage of Bernice was seemingly unaffected by the assassination.

Incidentally, in her 1969 book My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King talked about the naming of her daughters Yolanda (nicknamed Yoki) and Bernice:

I chose the name Yolanda Denise, but my husband had reservations about it. He questioned whether people would call her Yolanda or would mispronounce the name. He was right. Her name is so frequently mispronounced that it bothered her when she was growing up.

There is a tendency among middle-class African Americans to give their children unusual names. Perhaps they are seeking elegance or some special identification. I fell victim to this custom, rather than following the sensible practice of naming the baby after a member of the family. Later Martin said, “If we ever have another baby girl, I’m going to give her a simple name like Mary Jane.”

When we did have another daughter, we called her Bernice Albertine, after her two grandmothers. Her name was not quite Mary Jane, but at least she was named for members of the family.

Sources: Coretta Scott King – Wikipedia, Cora – Behind the Name

The Baby Name “Raven”

comic, terry and the pirates, 1941, raven sherman, baby name
The death of Raven Sherman (1941)

The name Raven has been given to babies of both genders for decades, but I find its female usage particularly interesting because girl-name Raven has gotten three distinct boosts from popular culture so far.

The first boost happened in 1941, when Raven debuted as a girl name in the data. (It had already popped up a few times as a boy name.)

Year Female usage Male usage
1943 5 babies 7 babies
1942 5 babies 5 babies
1941 6 babies [debut] .
1940 . .

In October of that year, in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff, a female character named Raven Sherman died in a dramatic and memorable sequence.

Raven, “a WASP clearly modeled on Katharine Hepburn” according to one source, was an American heiress who was working at a camp for war refugees in China. She was pushed off a moving truck, died of her injuries, and was buried on an isolated Chinese hillside. “Caniff was flooded with flower deliveries, mock memorial services, petitions of condolence signed by disparate groups as factory workers and entire colleges, as well as a lot of irate letters.”

(Terry and the Pirates also influenced the names Normandie and Merrily.)

The second pop culture boost happened in the 1970s:

Year Female usage Male usage
1978 342 babies
[rank: 533rd]
25 babies
1977 299 babies
[rank: 579th]
20 babies
1976 100 babies 10 babies
1975 17 babies 9 babies
1974 15 babies 12 babies

In 1976, the soap opera The Edge of Night introduced a female character named Raven Swift (first played by Juanin Clay, then played by Sharon Gabet). She was described as “the show’s delightful young vixen-heroine” in The Soap Opera Encyclopedia. The character remained on the show until it was canceled in 1984.

(The soap also influenced the names Teal and Laurieann.)

And the most recent (and biggest) pop culture boost happened in the early 1990s:

Year Female usage Male usage
1992 2,016 babies
[rank: 152nd]
89 babies
1991 2,026 babies
[rank: 150th]
53 babies
1990 1,758 babies
[rank: 166th]
62 babies
1989 476 babies
[rank: 495th]
27 babies
1988 327 babies
[rank: 612th]
19 babies

It went on to peak at 139th in 1993.

The reason? Actress Raven-Symon√©, who first found fame as a four year old when she started playing Olivia (Denise’s step-daughter) on the The Cosby Show in 1989. The compound name Ravensymone debuted in the data in 1990, and the spelling variant Ravensimone followed in 1991. (Her Disney Channel show That’s So Raven didn’t come along until much later.)

What are your thoughts on the name Raven? Would you use it?

Sources:

The Rise of Kelly as a Girl Name

kelly and me. movie, 1957, dog

During the first half of the 20th century, the name Kelly was more of a boy name than a girl name. That is, it was given far more often to baby boys than to baby girls.

But things changed in the 1950s, when the overall usage of Kelly began to rise quickly — and rise faster for girls than for boys. The first year that more girls than boys were named Kelly was 1957:

Year # Girls Named Kelly # Boys Named Kelly
1959 6,379 (rank: 74th) 2,436 (rank: 142nd)
1958 4,471 (rank: 108th) 2,299 (rank: 148th)
1957 1,907 (rank: 187th) 1,868 (rank: 167th)
1956 831 (rank: 310th) 1,472 (rank: 189th)
1955 540 (rank: 380th) 1,251 (rank: 204th)
1954 455 (rank: 406th) 960 (rank: 225th)
1953 226 (rank: 590th) 845 (rank: 232nd)

Even though the gender switch happened in 1957, usage for boys continued to rise for several more years. Only in 1962 then did the two trajectories finally start to diverge.

So what’s behind both the popularization and feminization of the name Kelly in the 1950s? There seem to be at least three different influences (and possibly others that I haven’t discovered yet). Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Grace Kelly: actress, most popular around 1955/1956
  • Kelly and Me: movie, released in 1957
  • Bachelor Father: television show, aired from 1957 to 1962

I have a big post about Grace Kelly-inspired baby names scheduled for tomorrow, so for now I’ll just say that, if she was an influence here, she wouldn’t be the first famous actress to inspire parents to start using her surname as a girl name. Before her was Janet Gaynor, June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Debra Paget, Denise Darcel, Pier Angeli, etc.

The movie Kelly and Me, which co-starred Piper Laurie, is weirdly reminiscent of the 2008 movie Marley and Me. Both films feature a male dog as a main character, and both titular names saw increased usage as baby names — particularly girl names — the years the movies were released. Apparently neither the species nor the gender of the character mattered much to parents. (Here’s the popularity graph for Marley.)

The TV show Bachelor Father focused on a wealthy Beverly Hills attorney named Bentley Gregg who is raising his orphaned teenage niece, a female Kelly. The show clearly gave the name Bentley a boost in the late ’50s and early ’60s, nudging it into the top 1,000 for the first time in 1961, so no doubt it also helped American audiences see Kelly as a nice name for a daughter.

Do you like the name Kelly? Do you like it more as a girl name or as a boy name? (Or does it not matter to you?)

The Top Baby Name Rises, 1881 to Today

top baby name rises by year

Many years ago, I published a list of the top debut baby names. A few years after that, I posted a list of the top one-hit wonder baby names.

So today let’s check out another fun set of “top” names: the top rises. The names below are those that increased the most in usage, percentage-wise, from one year to the next according to the SSA data.

Here’s the format: girl names are on the left, boy names are on the right, and the percentages represent single-year jumps in usage. (For example, from 1880 to 1881, usage of the girl name Isa grew 240% and usage of the boy name Noble grew 333%.)

  • 1881: Isa, 240%; Noble, 333%
  • 1882: Clementine, 300%; Clarance, 300%
  • 1883: Malissa, 243%; Alf, 150%
  • 1884: Belva, 1220%; Grover, 532%
  • 1885: Phebe, 220%; Bryant, 200%
  • 1886: Felicia, 180%; Thornton, 240%
  • 1887: Ossie, 240%; Aubrey, 240%
  • 1888: Bennie, 250%; Thurman, 414%
  • 1889: Diana, 233%; Grady, 267%
  • 1890: Easter, 238%; Isaiah, 215%
  • 1891: Lutie, 200%; Colonel, 217%
  • 1892: Lollie, 271%; Pierce, 340%
  • 1893: Annabell, 240%; Lindsay, 320%
  • 1894: Versie, 320%; Alvie, 233%
  • 1895: Glenn, 283%; Alma, 220%
  • 1896: Vernice, 217%; Hobart, 744%
  • 1897: Sigrid, 200%; Roswell, 183%
  • 1898: Manila, 1386%; Dewey, 606%
  • 1899: Tula, 280%; Rogers, 220%
  • 1900: Rosia, 480%; Wilber, 417%
  • 1901: Dellie, 180%; Kermit, 183%
  • 1902: Lolita, 420%; Judge, 260%
  • 1903: Rafaela, 280%; Jordan, 250%
  • 1904: Amber, 314%; Adelbert, 260%
  • 1905: Orma, 300%; Armand, 222%
  • 1906: Ena, 456%; Sheldon, 240%
  • 1907: Lota & Tula, 240%; Quincy, 183%
  • 1908: Bernetta & Nila, 260%; Taft, 288%
  • 1909: Laverna & Nevada, 267%; Toney, 300%
  • 1910: Cleopatra, 240%; Arturo & Sammy, 283%
  • 1911: Maryellen, 280%; Vincenzo & Wyman, 320%
  • 1912: Marina, 420%; Woodrow, 1423%
  • 1913: Carroll, 263%; Rosendo, 320%
  • 1914: Lucyle, 280%; Irvine, 333%
  • 1915: Zudora, 460%; Charlton, 320%
  • 1916: Aldena, 291%; Tatsuo, 850%
  • 1917: Liberty, 617%; Masami, 338%
  • 1918: Kazuko, 320%; Quentin, 567%
  • 1919: Verbie, 300%; Belvin, 360%
  • 1920: Marcene, 386%; Harding, 718%
  • 1921: Elwanda, 1860%; Gareth, 560%
  • 1922: Carley, 320%; Colie, 340%
  • 1923: Eris, 1313%; Coolidge, 820%
  • 1924: Janeth, 517%; Phyllis, 260%
  • 1925: Murlene & Normalee, 260%; Estell & Unknown, 214%
  • 1926: Ileana, 633%; Jarrell & Lenoard, 240%
  • 1927: Charmaine, 825%; Lindbergh, 867%
  • 1928: Jeannine, 1147%; Hoover, 522%
  • 1929: Dorla, 800%; Davey, 889%
  • 1930: Arlayne, 317%; Derl, 1060%
  • 1931: Marlene, 745%; Colbert, 280%
  • 1932: Harlene, 270%; Delano, 1057%
  • 1933: Sharleen, 425%; Delano, 289%
  • 1934: Adriana, 283%; Kelvin, 360%
  • 1935: Norita, 1171%; Darwyn, 458%
  • 1936: Shelba, 2667%; Lonzie, 320%
  • 1937: Deanna, 2009%; Tyrone, 788%

The SSA data isn’t perfect, but it does get a lot better in the late 1930s, because “many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card, so their names are not included in our data” (SSA). Now, back to the list…

  • 1938: Danielle, 878%; Dion, 355%
  • 1939: Brenda, 308%; Hall, 280%
  • 1940: Scarlett, 743%; Clemmie, 257%
  • 1941: Jerilyn, 1250%; Rulon, 250%
  • 1942: Michal, 1520%; Macarthur, 2740%
  • 1943: Shaaron, 456%; Suzanne, 240%
  • 1944: Dorinda, 568%; Kennedy, 280%
  • 1945: Lauren, 709%; Dorian, 220%
  • 1946: Jacalyn, 740%; Cornel, 533%
  • 1947: Jolinda, 388%; Brock, 364%
  • 1948: Sharman, 275%; Kevan, 260%
  • 1949: Lorry, 360%; Hanson, 240%
  • 1950: Vallorie, 717%; Brion, 400%
  • 1951: Krystal, 588%; Denise, 350%
  • 1952: Pandora, 1100%; Corby & Wilhelm, 240%
  • 1953: Angelique, 1157%; Shane, 392%
  • 1954: Sheree, 756%; Dain, 360%
  • 1955: Sabrina, 711%; Davy, 509%
  • 1956: Venetia, 543%; Cheyenne, 680%
  • 1957: Tammy, 1591%; Tammy, 467%
  • 1958: Keely, 1100%; Bret, 680%
  • 1959: Torri, 411%; Efrem, 963%
  • 1960: Lisha, 1096%; Stephon, 1200%
  • 1961: Marisol, 481%; Parrish, 1460%
  • 1962: Penne, 447%; Chance, 350%
  • 1963: Tamiko, 1440%; Tal, 617%
  • 1964: Deneen, 7191%; Temple, 420%
  • 1965: Fontella, 880%; Branden, 340%
  • 1966: Tabatha, 9900%; Heath, 1070%
  • 1967: Anisa, 1600%; Garrison, 320%
  • 1968: Coretta, 2485%; Dustin, 778%
  • 1969: Lalena, 640%; Jeromy, 514%
  • 1970: Shiloh, 540%; Jermaine, 3320%
  • 1971: Ashli, 1900%; Jermaine, 494%
  • 1972: Catina, 9033%; Demond, 3920%
  • 1973: Cicely, 1827%; Caine, 780%
  • 1974: Nakia, 16100%; Rashad, 1100%
  • 1975: Rasheda, 988%; Jamaal, 688%
  • 1976: Rhiannon, 1713%; Seneca, 1429%
  • 1977: Shawntae, 686%; Lavar, 5480%
  • 1978: Aja, 3407%; Dequan, 988%
  • 1979: Renada, 780%; Yoel, 525%
  • 1980: Genese, 1920%; Rayshaun, 440%
  • 1981: Krystle, 1623%; Cavin, 833%
  • 1982: Jere, 1000%; Colt, 1620%
  • 1983: Ciji, 2950%; Remington, 657%
  • 1984: Santana, 3467%; Ryne, 424%
  • 1985: Kayleigh, 2914%; Jaymes, 769%
  • 1986: Kyrie, 3180%; Orry, 789%
  • 1987: Janay, 1168%; Jareth, 400%
  • 1988: Whitley, 916%; Nico, 860%
  • 1989: Audriana, 3467%; Alexande, 4917%
  • 1990: Alannah, 1583%; Tevin, 4569%
  • 1991: Tanairi, 820%; Devante, 1356%
  • 1992: Darian, 703%; Jalen, 3980%
  • 1993: Coraima, 4320%; Savon, 2457%
  • 1994: Aaliyah, 6495%; Romario, 1940%
  • 1995: Iridian, 1845%; Tristin, 747%
  • 1996: Alanis, 1047%; Json, 880%
  • 1997: Yulisa, 2729%, Ennis, 620%
  • 1998: Jazsmin, 960%; Denilson, 900%
  • 1999: Tionne, 1100%; Sincere, 647%
  • 2000: Litzy, 1189%; Elian, 2413%
  • 2001: Nevaeh, 1111%; Jaheim, 5440%
  • 2002: Lashanti, 2060%; Omarion, 8260%
  • 2003: Azeneth, 1913%; Andon, 2200%
  • 2004: Betzaida, 1233%; Jakwon, 1260%
  • 2005: Mikalah, 1906%; Talan, 2130%
  • 2006: Bethzy; 2636%; Dereon, 1217%
  • 2007: Jaslene, 9920%; Leonidas & Renner, 700%
  • 2008: Dayami, 3464%; Barack, 940%
  • 2009: Baya, 1020%; Dhani, 520%
  • 2010: Collins, 1557%; Bentlee, 733%
  • 2011: Thaily, 1400%; Neymar, 900%
  • 2012: Cataleya, 2182%; Long, 740%
  • 2013: Daleyza, 1055%; Jaiceon, 1057%
  • 2014: Aranza, 1297%; Jameis, 720%
  • 2015: Vail, 700%; Rhydian, 667%
  • 2016: Kehlani, 571%; Kylo, 580%
  • 2017: Westlynn, 600%; Oseias, 1080%
  • 2018: Maleni, 950%; Atreus, 1888%
  • 2019: Yalitza, 1490%; Ermias, 3360%

(Did you catch all the doubles? Tula, Delano, Tammy, Jermaine, and Davey/Davy.)

I’ve already written about some of the names above (click the links to see the posts) and I plan to write about many of the others. In the meanwhile, though, feel free to beat me to it! Leave a comment and let us know what popularized Dorla in 1929, or Lauren in 1945, or Dustin in 1968, or Kayleigh in 1985, or Talan in 2005…