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

The graph will take a few seconds to load, thanks for your patience. (Don't worry, it shouldn't take nine months.) If it's taking too long, try reloading the page.


Popularity of the Baby Name Rebecca

Number of Babies Named Rebecca

Born in the U.S. Since 1880

Posts that Mention the Name Rebecca

The “Elda Rema” Baby Name Formula

baby name formula, elda rema

In his book The American Language, H. L. Mencken mentioned a “woman professor in the Middle West [with] the given name of Eldarema, coined from those of her grandparents, Elkanah, Daniel, Rebecca and Mary.”

The woman he’s talking about did exist, but Mencken didn’t get her name quite right.

Elda Rema Walker was botany professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. And so was her sister — here they are, listed one after the other, in the University of Nebraska General Catalog for 1916-1917:

elda rema walker, leva belle walker

(Leva Belle’s names were also inspired by family — parents Levi and Isabel.)

So here’s the Elda Rema baby name formula:

  • First name =
    • First 2 letters of one grandfather’s name +
    • First 2 letters of the other grandfather’s name
  • Middle name =
    • First 2 letters of one grandmother’s name +
    • First 2 letters of the other grandmother’s name

Using the names of your parents and your partner’s parents, can you come up with any usable first + middle combos?

The best I can do is “Aujo Elhe.” Hopefully you can do better…

Source: H. L. Mencken. The American Language. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921.


Five-Name Friday – The Return of Suggestion Posts!

The people have spoken! Well, not all the people. Only those people who voted in the poll that was sitting in my sidebar for about a month.

In any case, those specific people spoke. That is, they voted. And what they voted for was a weekly baby name suggestion post.

But here’s the thing: I’m not going to do in-depth suggestion posts this time around. What I’ll do instead is focus on simplified baby name requests (up to 2 sentences each) and limited baby name suggestions (up to 5 from me, and up to 5 from every commenter). My hope is that these constraints will make participation easy and fun, like a game.

Ready to play? Here are the details…

Request Baby Names

Send me requests via the contact page or via social media. Here are some examples of requests you could send:

  • “I like the names Abigail, Rebecca and Catherine, but my spouse likes Allie, Ellie and Missy. What are girl names we’d both like?”
  • “What are some boy names that pay tribute to Dallas, Texas? They can’t start with the letter W please.”
  • “I want a girl name that makes people smile. Must sound good with the surname Jacobsen.”
  • “I love circuses! Please give me boy names associated with the circus.”
  • “I’m looking for a nature name for a baby boy that’s unlikely to be used for baby girls. Definitely cannot end in -a or -y.”
  • “What are some traditional but unexpected boy names that start with F, G, and H? His sisters are named Sarah and Tamar.”

You don’t have to be pregnant, or even planning to get pregnant, to place a request. And you can send as many requests as you like — either separately or all in the same email.

But I’ll only accept requests for first names that make note of gender in some way. And, as I said, no more than 2 sentences per request. (No run-ons, please.)

After you’ve sent a request (or several), subscribe to the blog. That way you can keep tabs on all future Five-Name Friday posts and see which requests get featured. Will one of them be yours?

Suggest Baby Names

We can’t start suggesting names until next Friday, so I’ll hold off on these guidelines for now.

But I will say that those who try to sneak extra names into their comments should expect to see said comments “fixed” in some embarrassing way by yours truly. (I’m very much looking forward to this…)

*

So what are you waiting for? Request away! (Or, send requests via Twitter or Facebook.)

*

Update, 8/30: Here’s the ever-growing Five-Name Friday archive!

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
Janice
Danny
Rebecca
Martin
Cindy
Scott
Lori
Kenneth
Brenda
Patrick
Theresa
Gerald
Angela
Eugene
Wanda
Vincent
Nancy
Howard
Francine
Ira
Olga
Jasmine
Dominic
Rylee
Matthew
Charlotte
Sebastian
Lucy
Kingston
Bella
Preston
Trinity
Grayson
Ava
Eli
Willow
Victor
Nora
Hunter
Fiona
Isaac
Olivia

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.

Names from WHER, the First All-Female Radio Station

Dot Fisher of WHER radio station in the 1950s
Dot Fisher of WHER c. 1957 © Broadcast News
Memphis-based radio station WHER (1430 AM), which was run almost entirely by women, went on the air in October of 1955. It was billed as America’s “First All-Female Radio Station.”

The station was created and funded by legendary record producer Sam Phillips — the guy who discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, among others.

WHER’s original staff included Sam’s wife Rebecca (Becky) along with seven other women: Barbara Gurley, Donna Rae Johnson, Dorothy “Dot” Fisher, Dotty Abbott, Fay Bussell, Phyllis Stimbert, and Roberta Stout.

Six of these eight ladies were on-air personalities with their own programs, each of which emphasized “some particular subject of interest to housewives” according to a 1957 source.

Which of the original WHER names do you like best?

Which WHER name do you like best?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

(Dotty is usually a nickname for Dorothy, so I combined them in the poll.)

Vida Jane Butler, who joined WHER later in the ’50s, was known on-air as “Janie Joplin.” She’d been told that Vida “was considered too old-fashioned and too Southern for WHER,” and the data backs it up: the name Vida was indeed out of fashion and associated with the south at that time. These days, though, Vida is picking up steam — particularly in California. Janie, on the other hand, saw peak usage in the mid-20th century and has been in decline ever since.

Sources:

Popular Baby Names in Providence, RI, 1866

providenceLast month we looked at the top Providence names of 1867, so today let’s check out the rankings from the year before — 1866.

First, some stats:

  • 1,633 babies were babies were born in Providence in 1866, by my count. (The number given by the author of the document is 1,632.)
  • 1,457 of these babies (707 girls and 750 boys) had names that were registered with the government at the time of publication. The other 176 babies got blank spaces.
  • 234 unique names (123 girl names and 108 boy names) were shared among these 1,457 babies.

And here’s some extra information I forgot to mention in the last post: In 1860, the city of Providence was home to 29.0% of Rhode Island’s population. In 1870, it was home to 31.7% of the population. So each of these 3 sets of rankings (1866, 1867, 1868) ought to account for roughly 30% of the residents of the state.

Now, on to the names…

Top 5

The top 5 girl names and boy names of 1866 were, unsurprisingly, very similar to the top names of 1867.

Top Baby Girl Names Top Baby Boy Names
1. Mary
2. Catherine
3. Ellen
4. Margaret
5. Sarah
1. John
2. William
3. James
4. George
5. Thomas

The girls’ top 5 is identical, while the boys’ top 5 includes Thomas instead of George.

Girl Names

As expected, Mary was the front-runner by a huge margin. And, while there were dozens of Catherines, and a single Catharine, there weren’t any Katherines.

  1. Mary, 149 baby girls
  2. Catherine, 43
  3. Ellen, 40
  4. Margaret, 37
  5. Sarah, 36
  6. Elizabeth, 32
  7. Alice, 18
  8. Annie, 15
  9. Anna & Eliza, 14 each (2-way tie)
  10. Clara, 13
  11. Ann, 11
  12. Carrie, Emma, Jane & Susan, 10 each (4-way tie)
  13. Grace & Ida, 9 each (2-way tie)
  14. Esther, Martha & Minnie, 7 each (3-way tie)
  15. Anne & Julia, 6 each (2-way tie)
  16. Agnes, Charlotte, Cora, Harriet, Jennie, Joanna, Maria & Rosanna, 5 each (8-way tie)
  17. Amelia, Bridget, Ella, Frances, Hattie, Lydia, Nellie & Theresa, 4 each (8-way tie)
  18. Abby, Emily, Florence, Josephine, Laura, Lillian, Lizzie, Louise & Marion, 3 each (9-way tie)
  19. Ada, Amy, Augusta, Deborah, Edith, Etta, Eva, Fannie, Georgianna, Hannah, Henrietta, Honora, Isabel, Isabella, Lottie, Lucy, Mabel, Marietta, Maud & Teresa, 2 each (20-way tie)
  20. Almira, Annette, Bertha, Catharine, Cedelia, Celia, Christina, Delia, Diana, Dora, Dorcas, Eldora, Eleanor, Elsie, Emeline, Etherine, Eugenie, Evangeline, Fanny, Flora, Geneva, Georgia, Gracie, Helen, Helena, Imogene, Janette, Jessie, Kate, Lena, Louisa, Lucia, Lucinda, Madelina, Marian, Marsalin, May, Millie, Mina, Mini, Minna, Neatah, Nettie, Phebe, Rebecca, Rosa, Roselia, Rosetta, Ruth, Sophia, Stella, Susanna, Susannah, Tillie & Winnifred, 1 each (55-way tie)

Boy Names

John had an even more commanding lead in 1866 than in 1867.

  1. John, 109 baby boys
  2. William, 78
  3. James, 62
  4. George, 44
  5. Thomas, 41
  6. Charles, 36
  7. Edward, 28
  8. Joseph, 27
  9. Frederick, 20
  10. Henry, 18
  11. Frank, 17
  12. Michael, 15
  13. Francis, 14
  14. Daniel, 13
  15. Albert, Patrick & Robert, 12 each (3-way tie)
  16. Walter, 11
  17. Arthur, Peter & Samuel, 8 each (3-way tie)
  18. Alfred, Harry, Louis & Stephen, 7 each (4-way tie)
  19. Martin, 6
  20. Matthew, 5
  21. Christopher, Clarence, Herbert, Howard & Hugh, 4 each (5-way tie)
  22. Benjamin, Eugene, Ira & Jeremiah, 3 each (4-way tie)
  23. Aaron, Alvin, Arnold, Earl, Edgar, Elisha, Freddie, Harrison, Lewis, Marcus, Nicholas, Philip, Richard & Timothy, 2 each (14-way tie)
  24. Abner, Adam, Adolph, Alanson, Alden, Ambrose, Antonio, August, Augustavus*, Augustus, Bartholomew, Bernard, Bradford, Byron, Chauncey, Clinton, David, Duncan, Eben, Ebenezer, Edwin, Elias, Elliott, Ethan, Everett, Ezra, Ferdinand, Frederic, Fullerton, Gilbert, Gwynn, Harold, Herman, Isaac, Jesse, Josiah, Lauriston, Luther, Manuel, Marks, Maurice, Miles, Mortimer, Oliver, Olney, Oscar, Otto, Rana, Rectol, Salisbury, Shamball, Simon, Terence, Theodore, Victor, Willard, Willie & Wilton, 1 each (58-way tie)

(I didn’t combine any variant spellings, but I did lump the abbreviated names Chas., Benj., and Fred’k in with Charles, Benjamin and Frederick.)

*Does Augustavus = Augustus + Gustav, I wonder?

Twins

I counted 19 pairs of twins born in Providence in 1866. I didn’t notice any triplets this year. (All of these names have already been accounted for above.)

Twins (b/b) Twins (b/g) Twins (g/g)
Edgar & Oscar
Edward & James
Francis & James
James & John
John & Thomas
(blank) & (blank)
Frederick & Alice
John & Alice
Samuel & Sarah
Stephen & Annie
(blank) & Catherine
Agnes & Anna
Eldora & Ellen
Eliza & Mary
Elizabeth & Julia
Frances & Mary
Josephine & Mary
Mary & Sarah
Theresa & (blank)

I’ll try to finish/post the final set of rankings before the end of the year.

Source: Snow, Edwin M. Alphabetical Lists of Persons Deceased, Born and Married in the City of Providence During the Year 1866. Providence: Hammond, Angell & Co., 1867.

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?

Feithfailge, Jossoway, Ulundi – Random List of Names

I recently read through a 19th-century book about personal names “either in every-day use or lingering in the literature of Great Britain and Ireland.” Here are a couple dozen names that caught my eye:

Aeneasina
“A female name of common occurrence in the Highlands of Scotland. Formed from Aeneas,” which itself was “not from the classical name, but from the Gaelic name Aonghas, i.e. Angus.”

Bancho
“The Gaelic original of Banquo. Some translate this name ‘white’ (Gaelic ban, white, also pale, fair, fair-haired); but it is rather from ban-cu, the white dog; figuratively white hero. In Irish, cu, among other meanings, is a dog, greyhound, champion, hero, warrior.” Banquo was a character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Dousabel, Dowsabel
“A female name, said to be derived from Fr. douce et belle, sweet and fair.” Most books define these as variants of Dulcibella (Latin dulcis “sweet” + bella “beautiful”).

Drumad
“A Gaelic name of local origin, viz. from Drymen, co. Stirling, from druim monadh, back of the hill.”

Dubhdeasa, Dudeasa
“An old Irish female name, signifying ‘a dark-haired beauty’ (dubh, and deas beautiful).” According to Wiktionary, deas does mean “pretty,” and also “nice,” “honest,” “straight” and “right (as opposed to wrong).”

Eachmarcach
“An old Irish name derived from each a steed, marcach a rider.”

Eachmilidh
“An old Irish name derived from each a steed, milidh a knight.”

Eniawn
“A Welsh name. From uniaum, upright, perfect, just; lit. right, straight, direct, like iniawn.”

Eochaidh, “pronounced Eochy or Eohy”
“An old Irish name signifying a horseman or knight; from each or eoch, a steed. According to the Annals of Ireland it has been Anglicised Achy, and Latinised Eochadius, Achadius, and Achaius.”

Feithfailge
“An old Irish female name, signifying a honeysuckle of ringlets (feith-failge).” That meaning doesn’t make a lot of sense to me…I wonder if it shouldn’t read “ringlets of honeysuckle” instead?

Gesana
“A female baptismal name. One writer says Gesana, or rather Gesina, is a very common female name in Friesland, and not unknown in other parts of the Netherlands. According to others Gesana is a Spanish name, and of Scriptural origin. It is scarcely Scriptural, and is probably derived from the ending of some feminine diminutive.”

Helengenwagh
“If of Celtic origin this name might translate ‘willow marsh.'”

Hengist
“Found as a male name at the present day. From A. S. hengest, which Lye renders ‘cantherius, caballus,’ i.e. gelding, horse.” According to Encyclopedia Britannica (the book, not the baby) Hengist and Horsa were “brothers and legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain.”

Idonea
“An old baptismal name derived from L. idoneus, fit, […] proper.” According to Behind the Name, Idonea is based on the Scandinavian name Iðunn, but was influenced by the Latin word idonea.

Jossoway
“A male name corrupted from Joshua.”

Kabedigia
“A female name which some think to have been corrupted from Rabege, another form of Rebecca.”

Mungo
“A name derived from Mwyngu or Munghu, the subsequent name of the Pictish saint Kentigern. It may be derived from mwyn, tender, kind, mild, gentle, courteous, affable, with the addition of og, as a diminutive.”

Napkin
“A baptismal name signifying little Nap–that is, Napoleon.”

Perthany
“A baptismal name often found in Hertfordshire. One writer suggests that it may be from L. pertenuia, very slender. It has been more probably corrupted from the Scripture place-name Bethany.”

Shepherdess
“A female name. The Tyne Mercury of 3rd November, 1829, gives a ‘Shepherdess Speedy.’ The name was no doubt derived from the occupation, like the male names Pastor and Le Pastur, found in the Hundred Rolls.”

Theaster
“Found as an old baptismal name, said to mean God’s star.” Presumably based on the Latin words theos, “god,” and aster, “star.”

Tomaltach
“An old Irish name signifying ‘a man of hospitality,’ derived from tomailt, provisions.”

Uther, Uthyr
“A Welsh name derived from uthr, signifying awful, wonderful, astonishing, terrific, horrible.”

The book also mentioned the battle-inspired baby names Crimea and Ulundi. (The Battle of Ulundi, fought in 1879, was the last major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War.)

Source: Charnock, Richard Stephen. Prænomina; or, The Etymology of the Principal Christian Names of Great Britain and Ireland. London: Trubner & Co., 1882.