In 1705, English astronomer Edmond Halley theorized that three historic comets (which had appeared in 1531, 1607, and 1682) were actually a single periodic comet that would return again in 1758.
He was correct–the comet returned in 1758, just as Halley had predicted. So it was named Comet Halley in his honor in 1759.
Since then, Halley’s Comet has flown through the inner Milky Way three times: in 1835, 1910 and 1986. How did these appearances affect the usage of the baby name Halley? Let’s take a look…
Halley’s Comet in 1835
It seems that people were well aware of the comet in 1835. Its appearance was even commemorated with a new type of jewelry — the comet brooch, which had a distinct head and a tail, just like the comet. Here’s an example:
But the SSA didn’t start collecting baby name data until 1880, and I haven’t had much luck with the census and other historical data, so I don’t know how many babies (if any) were named after Halley’s Comet this year.
Halley’s Comet in 1910
Halley appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time, both for boys and for girls, in 1910. In fact, it was the top debut name for boys.
- 1913: 5 baby boys named Halley, unlisted for baby girls
- 1912: 6 baby boys named Halley, unlisted for baby girls
- 1911: 5 baby boys named Halley, unlisted for baby girls
- 1910: 11 baby girls and 12 baby boys named Halley [debut x2]
- 1909: unlisted for both genders
- 1908: unlisted for both genders
But the SSA data didn’t start reflecting real numbers until the ’30s. So I checked the SSDI, which indicated that the total number of babies with the first name Halley were actually much higher:
- 1913: 6 babies named Halley
- 1912: 15 babies named Halley
- 1911: 8 babies named Halley
- 1910: 119 babies named Halley
- 1909: 14 people named Halley born
- 1908: 3 people named Halley born
Some of the Halleys named specifically for the comet include:
- Halley Reed Palmer, boy, born on May 10, 1910, to Mr. and Mrs. John Palmer of Milton, Oregon.
- Halley Comett Johnston, boy, born on April 13, 1910, to Jessie Johnston and Addie Webb of North Carolina.
Parents also used different spellings and placements of Halley. Here’s what happened to the first name Hallie in 1910, for instance, according to the SSDI:
- 1913: 280 babies named Hallie born
- 1912: 328 babies named Hallie born
- 1911: 385 babies named Hallie born
- 1910: 520 babies named Hallie born
- 1909: 392 babies named Hallie born
- 1908: 353 babies named Hallie born
I also found 1910 babies named Halie Comet Wood (boy), Estyr Halley Abrams (girl), Comet Halley Briggs (boy), and Aerial Comet Roath (boy).
Speaking of Comet…the SSDI tells me at least 10 people were named Comet in 1910, and that one of these 10 happened to have the surname Halley. Also born in 1910: a Comette, a Cometniss, a Cometa, and two Comettas.
Halley’s Comet in 1986
Halley was given another big boost by the comet in 1986:
- 1989: 56 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
- 1988: 71 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
- 1987: 69 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
- 1986: 332 baby girls and 21 baby boys named Halley
- 1985: 147 baby girls and 10 baby boys named Halley
- 1984: 25 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
The surge in usage bumped Halley into the girls’ top 1,000 for the first (and only) time in 1986:
- 1987: Halley ranked 1,737th
- 1986: Halley ranked 581st
- 1985: Halley ranked 1,025th
The only Halley-baby I noticed in the newspapers this year was from Canada: Halley Marie Mullen, a baby girl born to Susan and Brendan Mullen of Ottawa on 4 January 1986.
And, again, there were plenty of alternative spellings. Here’s what happened to Hallie in 1986:
- 1989: 237 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
- 1988: 232 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
- 1987: 210 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
- 1986: 267 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
- 1985: 195 baby girls and 7 baby boys named Hallie
- 1984: 164 baby girls baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
Among the SSA debut names for 1986 we find Hayleigh (9 babies), Hailley (6) and Haylea (6).
Halley’s Comet in 2061
Halley’s Comet is due back in mid-2061. Do you think we’ll see a spike in the number of babies named Halley that year? Why or why not?
- “Names Baby After the Comet.” Spokesman-Review 22 May 1910: 1.
- “Parents hope Halley sees comet’s return.” Ottawa Citizen 7 Jan. 1986: B2.
- “Semi-Weekly News.” Deseret Evening News 20 May 1910: 12.
- “Squints Slip on the ‘Scope.” Los Angeles Times 20 May 1910: I2.
- U.S. SSDI (current as of February 28, 2014)