Right on the heels of Cheryl, the baby name Deborah skyrocketed in usage during the late ’40s and early ’50s:
1952: 49,808 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
1951: 42,060 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
1950: 29,067 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 7th]
1949: 19,208 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 15th]
1948: 11,245 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 30th]
1947: 5,838 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 62nd]
1946: 2,470 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 119th]
1945: 1,464 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 161st]
1944: 1,293 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 168th]
It peaked at 2nd place (behind Mary) in 1955.
Deborah, based on the ancient Hebrew word for “bee,” had already been on a slow and steady rise. So what fueled the explosion?
I’d say the one-two punch of actresses Deborah Kerr and Debra Paget.
Scottish-born Deborah Kerr, who had been in films since the early 1940s, didn’t became one of the biggest names in Hollywood until later in the decade. (Her surname rhymes with car; MGM cleverly came up with the line, “Kerr rhymes with star.”)
Kerr ended up in some of the most financially successful movies of the era, such as King Solomon’s Mines (1950), Quo Vadis (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), and The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner.
Denver-born* Debra Paget, a starlet of the 1950s, also appeared in some big films such as the top-grossing movie of the decade, The Ten Commandments (1956). The same year she appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender (1956).
Though many variants of Deborah were being used around that time, Debra saw particular success, thanks to Paget. In fact, Debra surpassed Deborah in usage for five years in a row:
22,153 [rank: 13th]
24,095 [rank: 10th]
26,737 [rank: 8th]
25,265 [rank: 10th]
31,371 [rank: 7th]
19,553 [rank: 9th]
35,520 [rank: 6th]
32,940 [rank: 7th]
42,734 [rank: 4th]
40,062 [rank: 6th]
48,299 [rank: 2nd]
47,830 [rank: 4th]
50,541 [rank: 4th]
52,314 [rank: 2nd]
45,894 [rank: 6th]
54,685 [rank: 3rd]
36,856 [rank: 7th]
52,188 [rank: 3rd]
26,832 [rank: 9th]
49,808 [rank: 4th]
17,074 [rank: 18th]
42,060 [rank: 4th]
(Interesting fact: One of the babies named for Debra Paget was future actress Debra Winger, born in 1955.)
The occupational surname Paget, a diminutive form of the word page (a “youth employed as a personal attendant to a person of rank”), was also appearing in the SSA’s data as a girl around this time. It debuted in 1948, the year Debra Paget appeared in her first film, Cry of the City.
Which spelling do you prefer, the traditional Deborah or the streamlined Debra?
In generations past, was it advantageous for a black man to have a distinctively black name?
Yes, according to a study published recently in the journal Explorations in Economic History.
Researchers Lisa D. Cook, Trevon D. Logan, and John M. Parmanc analyzed over 3 million death certificates from Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina from 1802 to 1970. They looked specifically at the life expectancy of men with the following distinctively black names:
Perlie, Purlie, Pearlie
What did they find?
That black men with these names lived more than a full year longer (on average) than other black men. In fact, according to the abstract, “[a]s much as 10% of the historical between-race mortality gap would have been closed if every black man was given a black name.”
So what’s behind this beneficial effect?
It’s hard to say, but Lisa D. Cook believes that the black men with Biblical names specifically could have been “held to a higher standard in academic and other activities […] and had stronger family, church or community ties,” and that this could have played a part in their relative longevity.
2012: 168 baby boys named Ryker in Utah (ranked 12th)
2011: 154 baby boys named Ryker in Utah (ranked 19th)
2010: 136 baby boys named Ryker in Utah (ranked 26th)
2009: 151 baby boys named Ryker in Utah (ranked 24th)
2008: 129 baby boys named Ryker in Utah (ranked 37th)
And here are the numbers for Idaho:
2012: 51 baby boys named Ryker in Idaho (ranked 32nd)
2011: 49 baby boys named Ryker in Idaho (ranked 41st)
2010: 53 baby boys named Ryker in Idaho (ranked 33rd)
2009: 53 baby boys named Ryker in Idaho (ranked 36th)
2008: 34 baby boys named Ryker in Idaho (ranked 84th)
So far I don’t have a good theory about what made Ryker so popular in Utah/Idaho. Blogger Jessie Jensen tells me Ryker fits well with the region’s mix-n-match name trend, but I still wonder if some initiating event (sports? religion?) didn’t jump-start things for Ryker say in the 2003-2008 range. Anyone have a guess?
P.S. While we’re talking Utah mysteries, Claire is another name I’ve been wondering about. It ranked 10th there last year. (Also 12th in D.C. and 20th in MN.) Any ideas on Claire?
Several news outlets (e.g. NPR, LA Times) are reporting that Elvis has “left the building,” in a sense. The name is no longer in the U.S. top 1,000.
And that’s true. But I wouldn’t sound the death knell just yet.
It’s just barely out of the top 1,000. It’s ranked 1,009th. Elvis was given to 191 baby boys, and the 1,000th most popular name was given to 193 baby boys. Two babies difference.
Elvis isn’t a stylish name by today’s standards. Also, obviously, there’s the unshakable Presley association. So I don’t see it becoming a super-popular name anytime soon. But I do think there’s plenty of room for Elvis to bounce back into the top 1,000 within the next few years.