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

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Popularity of the Baby Name Nancy

Number of Babies Named Nancy

Born in the U.S. Since 1880

Posts that Mention the Name Nancy

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.

10th Blogiversary

A full decade of blogging! Why? Because clearly something is wrong with me.

Six-year-old Nancy Joyce Darken of Chicago, on the other hand, is perfect in all ways:

Nancy Joyce Darken in her Nancy box, Chicago, 1937

In fact, it was NJD who reminded me to write this post.

Not personally, of course. Her photo did the reminding.

I’ve had it saved on my computer since last year, and every time I saw it, I’d say to myself: “Don’t forget to add that to the 2016 blogiversary post.”

Which in turn reminded me to write the 2016 blogiversary post.


Double digits. Pretty cool. Not quite as cool as twenty years, which is what Behind the Name recently hit (congrats to Mike C!), but cool nonetheless.

On to decade #2!

Image: “She is tap-dancing on the ceiling.” LIFE 28 Jun. 1937: 68.

Girl Name Battle – Kathlyn, Helen, Pauline, Elaine, Myra, Ruth

Back in the 1910s, serial films with female protagonists were very trendy.

Many of these films had titles that followed the same formula: “The (Plural Noun) of (Female Name).”

Some examples:

the perils of pauline

  • The Adventures of Kathlyn* (1913-1914)
  • The Hazards of Helen (1914-1917)
  • The Perils of Pauline (1914)
  • The Exploits of Elaine* (1915)
  • The Mysteries of Myra (1916)
  • The Adventures of Ruth (1919)

First question: Using the same formula, can you create a serial title with your own name? (You don’t need to have a female name to play along, of course.) The Enigmas of Nancy, The Nuisances of Nancy, The Entanglements of Nancy, The Nail-Biters of Nancy…not that great, but I’m sure you guys can do better.

Second question: Of the six names listed above, which one do you like best?

I prefer:

View Results

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*The baby names Kathlyn and Elaine saw jumps in usage in 1914 and 1915, respectively.

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?

California “Parental Naming Rights” Bill Stalls Out

The aim of California’s Assembly Bill No. 2528, which was introduced Assemblymember Nancy Skinner in early 2014, was to force the state to add diacritical marks to birth certificates and other state-issued identity documents:

From the text of the bill:

This bill would require the State Registrar to ensure that diacritical marks on English letters are properly recorded on all certificates of live birth, fetal death, or death, and all marriage licenses, including, but not limited to, accents, tildes, graves, umlauts, and cedillas.

The bill was supported by many, including Professor Carlton F. W. Larson of UC Davis School of Law, who wrote about the constitutional dimensions of parental naming rights back in early 2011.

But the bill stalled out in April of this year.

Why? Money:

As Skinner’s bill progressed through the assembly it came time for different agencies to chime in with estimates on the cost of updating their systems. The final tally: $10m. “Coming out of the recession, when an agency or department put the cost on a bill that was their way of trying to prevent action from being taken,” Skinner said. “We’ve pushed through some of that, but there is still resistance. I questioned how much it would really cost.”

“Updating their systems”? What is this, 1989?

Skinner is no longer in the California State Assembly, but I hope someone reintroduces this issue soon.

Sources: California birth certificates and accents: O’Connor alright, Ramón and José is not, Professor Larson Testifies for California Assembly on Parental Naming Rights

Nine Years of Nancy’s Baby Names

Happy blogiversary, Nancy’s Baby Names!

Nancy Joyce Darken, upside-down and tap dancing, Chicago, 1937

I’m a day late, but that’s ok — at least I remembered it this year. :)

I launched Nancy’s Baby Names on March 6, 2006, so yesterday the blog officially turned nine years old.

Many thanks to everyone who reads along, and especially to those who comment and send emails. You guys are awesome. You make this worthwhile.

That image above comes from an old issue of LIFE. I bookmarked it, not knowing how I’d ever work it into a post, but now I know.

It’s 6-year-old Nancy Joyce Darken of Chicago, standing on her head, tap-dancing on the ceiling of a wooden box-like apparatus with her name (and my name!) at the top. “She did this for a Chicago radio broadcast June 13, took both the studio and her audience by storm.”

My hope for year 10 is that I can continue to entertain you guys just like Nancy Joyce entertained those radio listeners nearly 80 years ago. :)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Image: “She is tap-dancing on the ceiling.” LIFE 28 Jun. 1937: 68.

Stickers with Names from the ’60s

In 1969, dozens of “Mod Generation” stickers — each of which featured a drawing of a young person and a name — were distributed inside packs of Topps chewing gum.

(The outfits and hairstyles seem a lot more hippie than mod to me, but oh well.)

Female names used on the stickers include Alice, Ann, Barbara, Betty, Connie, Diane, Donna, Dotty, Ellen, Esther, Fay, Frances, Gloria, Helen, Jackie, Joan, Judy, Lois, Marie, Mary, Millie, Minda, Nancy, Natalie, Phyllis, Rose, Shelly and Susan.

Mod Generation Sticker BettyMod Generation Sticker DonnaMod Generation Sticker Minda

Male names used on the stickers include Barry, Bert, Bill, Charlie, Chris, Dave, Don, Fred, George, Herb, Irv, Jerry, Joe, John, Larry, Louis, Michael, Paul, Pete, Ray, Richard, Roy, Teddy and Tony.

Mod Generation Sticker IrvMod Generation Sticker LarryMod Generation Sticker Terry

While of these female and male names do you like most? How about least?

Source: 1969: “Mod Generation” Stickers, Mod Generation – 1969