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

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Popularity of the Baby Name Michelle

Number of Babies Named Michelle

Born in the U.S. Since 1880

Posts that Mention the Name Michelle

Good Advice for Choosing an English Name

Apple, Chlorophyll, Icarus, Kinky, Melon, Omicron, Smacker, Swallow, Winsome, Yoyo…the English names chosen by (or assigned to) native Chinese speakers are often not so great.

And, in many cases, they’re later regretted. Here’s what a Hong Kong business student Fragile Chan had to say about his English name:

“I started using ‘Fragile’ when I was 14,” he says. “I first encountered the word in my English class and I chose it as my name because I liked how it’s pronounced.”

Chan says his name makes it easy for others to remember him and it’s an easy conversation-starter when he meets new people. But in his experience, having an uncommon name isn’t always pleasant.

“I am tired of explaining my name to others when I need to introduce myself. Some people even mock me for having a ‘fragile heart’,” he says. Now Chan has decided to change his name to Nathan. “I would like to be less weird in formal situations,” he says.

One U.S. entrepreneur has created a site called Best English Name, which helps Chinese students choose more appropriate English names. Site-suggested names include “Davis, Max, Eli, and Riley” for males and “Elody, Ava, Jolie, and Ellie” for females. These are a lot better than Kinky and Melon, and style-wise they’re fairly appropriate for current teenagers.

But I think the best advice out there comes from Philip Guo’s blog post How to choose an English name, because it can be applied to any age group.

His main recommendation? Go to the SSA’s website, find the top 100 names for your birth year, and choose one from the list for your gender. He says:

You must choose your name from one of these 100 names. Even if you randomly choose a name (for your gender, of course), then congratulations, I guarantee that you have chosen a better name than most of your friends who tried to be creative!

So a 15-year-old student (b. 2001) can choose from names like:

  • Isabel, Katie, Mia, Sophia, Zoe
  • Aidan, Chase, Isaiah, Jack, Noah

But a 40-year-old business-person (b. 1976) can choose from names that might be a better fit for his/her generation, such as:

  • Amy, Dana, Monica, Tina, Wendy
  • Chad, Dennis, Peter, Shane, Tony

Best of all, every top 100 list includes names appropriate for people of various ages. For example, these names were on both the 1976 and the 2001 lists:

  • Anna, Elizabeth, Michelle, Natalie, Sarah
  • Adam, David, John, Nathan, Victor

Guo’s other recommendations include ignoring name definitions entirely and sticking to the exact version of the name found in the top 100. He also suggests choosing a name that sounds somewhat like one’s birth name, e.g., the English name Shawn would work well for a Chinese man named Sheng.

Do you have any other good advice for people (Chinese people in particular) seeking English names?

Sources: Students with unusual names: ‘at least no one forgets us’, Laowai Entrepreneur Wants to Rid China of English “Stripper Names”, Popular Baby Names – SSA

Should We Name Hurricanes to Maximize Donations?

hurricaneIn 2008, psychologists Jesse Chandler, Tiffany M. Griffin, and Nicholas Sorensen published a study showing that people who shared an initial with a hurricane name were over-represented among hurricane relief donors. So, for instance, people with R-names donated significantly more than other people to Hurricane Rita relief efforts. (This is an offshoot of the name-letter effect.)

A few years later, marketing professor Adam Alter came up with an interesting idea: Why not use this knowledge to try to maximize donations to hurricane relief efforts? He explained:

In the United States, for example, more than 10% of all males have names that begin with the letter J-names like James and John (the two most common male names), Joseph and Jose, Jason, and Jeffrey. Instead of beginning just one hurricane name with the letter J each year (in 2013, that name will be Jerry), the World Meteorological Organization could introduce several J names each year. Similarly, more American female names begin with M than any other letter–most of them Marys, Marias, Margarets, Michelles, and Melissas–so the Organization could introduce several more M names to each list.

I think his idea is a good one overall. It wouldn’t cost much to implement, but could potentially benefit many hurricane victims.

I would go about choosing the names differently, though.

Repeating initials multiple times within a single hurricane season would be unwise, for instance. It would cause confusion, which would undermine the reason we started naming hurricanes in the first place (“for people easily to understand and remember” them, according to the WMO).

But optimizing the name lists using data on real-life usage? That would be smart.

I might even try optimizing based on demographics. Baby boomers are particularly generous donors, so maybe we should choose letters (or even names) with that generation in mind?

The baby boomers were born from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, so here are the top initials for babies born in 1956 (60 years ago):

Top first letters of baby names, 1956, U.S.

Here are two possible lists of hurricane names using the above letters. I stuck with the WMO’s conventions: 21 names total, alternating genders, and no retired names.

Mid-century style Modern style

And here’s another point: we wouldn’t want to assign these names in order. While the official hurricane season lasts a full six months — June to November — most hurricane activity happens in August, September and October:

Number of Tropical Cyclones per 100 Years (NOAA)

To really optimize, we’d want to reserve the top initials/names for the stronger mid-season hurricanes, which tend to do the most damage. So we could start the season using mid-list names, then jump to the top of the list when August comes around and go in order from that point forward (skipping over any mid-list names that had already been used).

What are your thoughts on assigning hurricane names with disaster relief in mind? Do you think it could work? What strategy/formula would you use to select relief-optimized hurricane names?

Sources: In the “I” of the storm: Shared initials increase disaster donations, Smart Hurricane Names: A Policy Intervention that Costs Almost Nothing but Should Attract Billions of Dollars in Aid, Tropical Cyclone Programme – WMO
Image: Tropical Cyclone Climatology – National Hurricane Center – NOAA

P.S. While J, D and R were the top initials 60 years ago, today’s top initials are A, J and M.

Popular Girl Names: Biblical vs. Non-Biblical

The ratio of Biblical names to non-Biblical names in the girl’s top 20 is about the same today as it was 100 years ago, though the ratio did change a bit mid-century.

(In contrast, there’s been a steady increase in the number of Biblical-origin names among the top boy names.)

Here’s the color-coded table — Biblical names are in the yellow cells, non-Biblical names are in the green cells, and several borderline names (which I counted as non-Biblical) are in the orange cells:

Popular girl names: Biblical vs. non-Biblical, from Nancy's Baby Names.
Popular girl names over time: Biblical (yellow) vs. non-Biblical. Click to enlarge.
  • Biblical names: Abigail, Anna, Betty (via Elizabeth), Chloe, Danielle, Deborah, Debra, Elizabeth, Hannah, Isabella (via Elizabeth), Janet, Jean, Joan, Judith, Judy, Julie, Lillian (via Elizabeth), Lisa (via Elizabeth), Lois, Marie, Marilyn, Mary, Mia (via Maria), Michelle, Nancy (via Anne), Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, Sandra (via Alexander), Sarah, Sharon, Stephanie, Susan, Tammy (via Tamar/Tamara)
  • Non-Biblical names: Alexis, Alice, Alyssa, Amanda, Amber, Amelia, Amy, Angela, Ashley, Aubrey, Avery, Barbara, Brenda, Brianna, Brittany, Carol, Carolyn, Catherine, Charlotte, Christina, Christine, Crystal, Cynthia, Diane, Donna, Doris, Dorothy, Edna, Ella, Emily, Emma, Evelyn, Florence, Frances, Gladys, Grace, Harper, Heather, Helen, Irene, Jennifer, Joyce, Karen, Kathleen, Kayla, Kelly, Kimberly, Laura, Lauren, Linda, Lori, Louise, Madison, Margaret, Marjorie, Megan, Melissa, Mildred, Natalie, Nicole, Olivia, Pamela, Patricia, Rose, Shannon, Shirley, Sofia, Sophia, Taylor, Tiffany, Victoria, Virginia
  • Borderline names:
    • Ava (could be based on the Germanic root avi or the Biblical name Eve)
    • Jessica (literary invention, but Shakespeare may have based it on the Biblical name Iscah)
    • Samantha (possibly inspired by the Biblical name Samuel)

Again, feels pretty weird to put overtly Christian names like Christina and Christine in the non-Biblical category, but oh well.

Here are the year-by-year tallies:

Year Top 20 names
given to…
# Biblical # Non-Biblical
1914 31% of baby girls 6 (30%) 14 (70%)
1924 31% of baby girls 7 (35%) 13 (65%)
1934 32% of baby girls 9 (45%) 11 (55%)
1944 35% of baby girls 8 (40%) 12 (60%)
1954 34% of baby girls 9 (45%) 11 (55%)
1964 24% of baby girls 9 (45%) 11 (55%)
1974 24% of baby girls 8 (40%) 12 (60%)
1984 26% of baby girls 6 (30%) 14 (70%)
1994 19% of baby girls 6 (30%) 14 (70%)
2004 14% of baby girls 6 (30%) 14 (70%)
2014 12% of baby girls 5 (25%) 15 (75%)

Just like with the boy names, though, there’s a big difference between the 1914 and 2014 sample sizes — 31% and 12%. So let’s also look at the 2014 top 100, which covers 31% of female births.

By my count, last year’s top 100 girl names were about a quarter Biblical, three-quarters non-Biblical:

Biblical names (27) Non-Biblical/Borderline names (73)
Isabella (via Elizabeth), Mia (via Maria), Abigail, Elizabeth, Chloe, Addison (via Adam), Lillian (via Elizabeth), Hannah, Anna, Leah, Gabriella, Sadie (via Sarah), Sarah, Annabelle, Madelyn (via Magdalene), Lucy (via Lucius), Alexa (via Alexander), Genesis, Naomi, Eva, Lydia, Julia, Khloe, Madeline (via Magdalene), Alexandra, Gianna (via Joanna), Isabelle (via Elizabeth) Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava, Emily, Madison, Charlotte, Harper, Sofia, Avery, Amelia, Evelyn, Ella, Victoria, Aubrey, Grace, Zoey, Natalie, Brooklyn, Lily, Layla, Scarlett, Aria, Zoe, Samantha, Audrey, Ariana, Allison, Savannah, Arianna, Camila, Penelope, Claire, Aaliyah, Riley, Skylar, Nora, Hailey, Kaylee, Paisley, Kennedy, Ellie, Peyton, Caroline, Serenity, Aubree, Alexis, Nevaeh, Stella, Violet, Mackenzie, Bella, Autumn, Mila, Kylie, Maya, Piper, Alyssa, Taylor, Eleanor, Melanie, Faith, Katherine, Brianna, Ashley, Ruby, Sophie, London, Lauren, Alice, Vivian, Hadley, Jasmine

Faith, Grace, Angela, Nevaeh, Natalie…all technically non-Biblical.

27%-73% is remarkably similar to both 25%-75% (smaller 2014 sample) and 30%-70% (1914 sample).

So here’s the question of the day: If you had to choose all of your children’s names from either one group or the other — Biblical names or non-Biblical names — which group would you stick to, and why?

What Popularized the Baby Name Deneen?

mystery name deneen

Deneen is the million-dollar baby name mystery. It saw a massive spike in usage in 1964, and I had no idea why for years. Only recently have I stumbled upon a plausible explanation.

But first let’s check out the numbers. Here’s how many U.S. baby girls were named Deneen (or a variant) from 1963 to 1966, sorted by 1964 levels of usage:

Name 1963 1964 1965 1966
Deneen 22 1,604 421 223
Denine 17 133 101 71
Daneen 29 132 85 70
Dineen 10 68 43 35
Denene 7 66 38 31
Denean 7 58 61 40
Danine 7 29 23 31
Danene 12 24 18 11
Deneane 24* 11 9
Deneene 24* 13 14
Danean 14* 14 6
Deeneen 12**
Doneen 7 11 9
Dennine 10* 7 7
Deneena 7**
Deniene 7*
Dennen 7**
Donene 7
Deaneen 5**
Deneem 5**
Dinene 7**
TOTALS 118 2,247 842 557

*Debut, **One-hit wonder

According to the state-by-state data, Deneen usage tended to be highest in the most populous states. This isn’t much of a clue, but it does tell us that the influence was national (e.g., movie, music) and not regional (e.g., college sports, local politician).

For a long time my only guess on Deneen was the same guess Hilary Parker made in her poisoned baby names post: musical duo August & Deneen. But their hit single “We Go Together” came out in 1968 — long after the 1964 baby name spike. So August & Deneen clearly isn’t the answer.

About a month ago I tried another Deneen search. This time around I found a recent thread on Deneen at the Baby Name Wizard forum. According to intel gathered by forum members, Deneen could have been popularized by a ’60s commercial for Ivory dishwashing liquid.

At first I wasn’t so sure. The only vintage Ivory commercials I could find online were for Ivory Snow laundry detergent and, while many of these did feature names (e.g., Allison, Betsy, Bonnie, Debbie, Esther, Joy, Kerry, Kimberly, Michelle, Terry) the names were never on-screen. You don’t get a spelling-specific name spike if the influence is audio-only.

Then I noticed, lower down in the thread, that someone included a link to a single Ivory dishwashing liquid commercial from 1962. The spot featured a mother-daughter pair, “Mrs. Bernard Pugar and Dana,” and their names were indeed shown on-screen for several seconds. Now this looked promising.

I’ve since tracked down a similar Ivory commercial featuring “Mrs. Blake Clark” and her daughter Nicky, though Nicky’s name was never shown on-screen. No luck finding a Deneen version yet.

So I’ll just sit tight and hope that, one day, someone uploads the commercial in question and puts this whole Deneen baby name mystery to rest. :)

In the meanwhile, some questions:

  • If you were watching TV in the ’60s, do you happen recall an Ivory dishwashing liquid commercial featuring the name Deneen? (Long shot, I know.)
  • What do you think of the name Deneen? Which spelling do you like best?

P.S. Djuna popped up on the baby name charts in 1964 as well. I’m declaring 1964 the year of the mysteriously trendy D-names.

Popular Baby Names in Malta, 2013

Malta’s top baby names of 2013 came out a few weeks ago.

According to data from the National Statistics Office, the most popular name-groups last year were Elena/Elenia/Helena/Ella and Luke/Luca/Lucas.

Here are Malta’s top 20 girl name-groups and top 20 boy name-groups of 2013:

Girl Names Boy Names
  1. Elena/Elenia/Helena/Ella, 106 baby girls (5.5% of all girls)
  2. Eliza/Elisa/Elizabeth/Elise, 78 (4.0%)
  3. Julia/Yulia/Julianne, 69 (3.6%)
  4. Emma/Emmanuela/Ema, 51 (2.6%)
  5. Maya/Mia/Myah, 47 (2.4%)
  6. Maria/Marija/Mariah/Marie, 42 (2.2%)
  7. Lea/Leah/Leia, 37 (1.9%)
  8. Martina/Martine, 36 (1.9%)
  9. Christina/Christa/Christabel/Krystle, 35 (1.8%)
    • Kailey/Kai/Kaleigh, 34 (1.8%)
    • Catherine/Katrina/Kate/Katya, 34 (1.8%)
    • Emilia/Emily/Emelie, 34 (1.8%)
  10. Amy/Aimee, 32 (1.6%)
  11. Anna/Hannah/Ann, 31 (1.6%)
    • Mikela/Makaila/Michelle, 27 (1.4%)
    • Alison/Alice/Alicia/Alyssa/Aly, 27 (1.4%)
  12. Sophia/Sophie, 26 (1.3%)
    • Jade/Giada, 22 (1.1%)
    • Alexandra/Alessia/Alexia/Lexi, 22 (1.1%)
  13. Aaliyah/Alaya, 21 (1.1%)
    • Chloe/Khloe, 20 (1.0%)
    • Amber/Amberley, 20 (1.0%)
    • Karla/Carla/Carly, 20 (1.0%)
    • Jasmine/Yasmine/Yasmeen, 17 (0.9%)
    • Nina, 17 (0.9%)
    • Faith, 17 (0.9%)
  14. Hailey/Hailee/Hayleigh, 16 (0.8%)
    • Nicole/Nicola/Nicky, 14 (0.7%)
    • Rachel/Raquel, 14 (0.7%)
    • Keira/Kyra, 14 (0.7%)
    • Claire/Clara/Clarisse, 14 (0.7%)
  1. Luke/Luca/Lucas, 106 baby boys (5% of all boys)
  2. Matthew/Matthias/Matteo, 93 (4.4%)
  3. Jacob/Jake, 70 (3.3%)
  4. Zachary/Zak/Zack, 56 (2.6%)
    • John/Jean/Jonathan/Juan/Gan, 53 (2.5%)
    • Michael/Miguel/Mikhail, 53 (2.5%)
  5. Andrew/Andreas/Andre/Andy, 46 (2.2%)
    • Kaiden/Kayden/Kai, 45 (2.1%)
    • Alexander/Alessandro/Alec, 45 (2.1%)
  6. Aiden/Ayden, 43 (2.0%)
  7. Liam/William, 42 (2.0%)
  8. Nicholas/Nick/Nicolai, 41 (1.9%)
  9. Benjamin/Ben, 40 (1.9%)
  10. Daniel/Dan/Danil, 33 (1.5%)
    • Isaac/Izaak, 32 (1.5%)
    • Mason/Maison, 32 (1.5%)
  11. Jack/Jackson/Jacques, 30 (1.4%)
    • Jaden/Jayden/Jadon, 29 (1.4%)
    • Thomas/Tommas/Tommy, 29 (1.4%)
  12. Nathan/Nathaniel, 28 (1.3%)
  13. Julian/Julien/Guiliano, 27 (1.3%)
    • Gabriel/Gabrijel/Gabryl, 24 (1.1%)
    • Adam, 24 (1.1%)
    • Joseph/Beppe/Giuseppe/Josef, 23 (1.1%)
    • Noah, 23 (1.1%)
    • James/Jamie/Jayme, 22 (1.0%)
    • Samuel/Sam, 22 (1.0%)
    • Keiran/Kyran, 22 (1.0%)

Some of the unusual names registered in Malta last year were Aizley, Amporn, Breeze, Chinenye, Coco, Delson, Diyas, Enonima, Freedom, Gundula, Jaceyrhaer, Kobbun, Limoni, Love, Netsrik, Summer, Symphony, Zarkareia and Zveyrone.

Malta’s 2012 list was topped by Eliza/Lisa/Elsie/Elyse/Bettina and Matthew/Matthias/Matteo.

Sources: NSO – Naming Babies: 2013, Quality and Amporn top the list of unusual names

Growing Up with the Name Bich

What was it like to grow up in the U.S. in the ’70s and ’80s with a Vietnamese name like Bich?

Here’s an excerpt from Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen, who moved to Michigan with her family as a 1-year-old in 1975.

In Vietnamese [Bich] meant jade, which was all well and fine in Vietnam but meant nothing in Michigan. It was pronounced with an accent tilting up, the tone leading almost toward a question, with a silent h. Bic! I hated the sound–too harsh, too hard, and the c so slight that it evaporated in the air. I preferred to hear it as Bit. The sound seemed tidier, quieter. So that’s what I made my name over to be, and it was fine until my classmates learned to read and swear. By second grade I was being regularly informed that I was a bitch. I started fantasizing then about being Beth, or maybe Vanessa or Polly. I longed to be Jenny Adams with the perfect simple name to match her perfect honeyed curls. […] I felt I could judge the nature and compassion of teachers, especially substitutes, by the way they read my name. The good ones hesitated and gently spelled it, avoiding a phonetic pronunciation. The evil ones simply called out, Bitch? Bitch Nu-guy-in?

Bich wasn’t allowed to use an American name, but other kids she knew were allowed to:

Their parents were anxious for them to fit into Grant Rapids and found the three quickest avenues: food, money, and names. Food meant American burgers and fries. Money meant Jordache jeans and Izod shirts. Names meant a whole new self. Overnight, Thanh’s children, Truoc and Doan, became Tiffany and David, and other families followed. Huong to Heather, Quoc to Kevin, Lien to Lynette. Most of the kids chose their own names and I listened while they debated the merits of Jennifer versus Michelle, Stephanie versus Crystal. They created two lives for themselves: the American one and the Vietnamese one–Oriental, as we all said back then. Out in the world they were Tiffany and David; at home they were Truoc and Doan. They mothers cooked two meals–pho and sautes for the elders, Campbell’s soup and Chef Boyardee for the kids.

In primary school, Bich knew one other Vietnamese girl, Loan, who also continued to use her original name. They became friends.

Bitch and Loan, some of the kids said on the playground. Hey, bitch, can you loan me some money?

Nowadays, Bich Minh Nguyen tends to go by the name Beth.

I wonder what proportion of the Vietnamese-American kids in Bich’s generation went by an “American” name outside the home. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any data on this, have any of you guys?

Source: Nguyen, Bich Minh. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir. New York, Penguin: 2008.

Related: Hebrew Names Lost In Translation

3 Baby Names in the News

Three quick stories from the news:

1. In February, paramedics in Oceanside, California, helped save the life of a baby boy born seven weeks early and without a heartbeat. The baby was given the first name Zavier and the two middle names Stephan and Morgan, in honor of paramedic Steven Choi and fire Capt. Glen Morgan.

2. In April, police officer Nelson Hearns of Canford, New Jersey, responded to a call regarding a sick pregnant woman. He ended up delivering a baby boy in the woman’s living room. The baby was given the first name Kase and the middle name Nelson.

3. Also in April, doctor Michelle Kennedy was walking through Hackney (part of London) when she happened to come across a woman in labor inside a car parked on the roadside. She ended up delivering the baby in the front seat of the woman’s VW Polo. The baby was given the first name Oriana and the middle name Kennedy.

Sources: Baby named in honor of paramedics who saved him, New Jersey Police Officer Delivers Baby, Honored With Name, Baby named after passing GP who helped emergency delivery in VW Polo