Sociology professor Philip Cohen wrote about the decline of the baby name Mary recently in The Atlantic. Here’s how the article begins:
Each year I mark the continued calamitous decline of Mary as a girls’ name in the United States. Not to be over-dramatic, but in the recorded history of names, nothing this catastrophic has ever happened before.
He’s right, though. Usage of Mary — the dominant girl in the nation from the 1880s to the 1950s — plummeted during the 1960s:
At one time, Mary was regularly given to more than 70,000 baby girls per year. It’s now given to fewer than 3,000. (And the population is much higher today that it was back then, so that difference is even more extreme than it seems.)
We’re well aware that Mary is on its way out, so let’s get right to Cohen’s two-part explanation of what the “Mary trend” means:
First, it’s the growing cultural value of individuality, which leads to increasing diversity. People value names that are uncommon. When Mary last held the number-one spot, in 1961, there were 47,655 girls given that name. Now, out of about the same number of total births, the number-one name (Sophia) was given only 21,695 times. Conformity to tradition has been replaced by conformity to individuality. Being number one for so long ruined Mary for this era.
The decreasing dominance of the top names is something we’ve discussed before.
Second, America’s Christian family standard-bearers are not standing up for Mary anymore. It’s not just that there may be fewer devout Christians, it’s that even they don’t want to sacrifice individuality for a (sorry, it’s not my opinion) boring name like Mary. In 2011 there were more than twice as many Nevaehs (“Heaven” spelled backwards) born as there were Marys. (If there is anything more specific going on within Christianity, please fill me in.)
He says there’s still hope for a resurgence, similar to the one Emma experienced, “as long as Christianity keeps hanging around.”
What do you think — will Mary make a comeback one day like Emma did?
If so, when? How many years from now: 20, 50, 100, more?