In 1705, English astronomer Edmond Halley theorized that three historical comets that had appeared in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were actually the same comet returning over and over again. He calculated that the comet would return yet again in 1758.
And he was correct! The comet reappeared in 1758, just as Halley had predicted. So comet was named Halley in his honor in 1759.
Since then, Halley’s Comet has flown through the inner Milky Way three more times: in 1835, 1910 and 1986.
The U.S. Social Security Administration has been collecting baby name data since 1880, so let’s check out how the two most recent appearances have affected the usage of the baby name Halley…
Halley’s Comet in 1910
Halley appeared on the U.S. baby name data for the very first time, both for boys and for girls, in 1910. In fact, it was the top debut name for boys that year.
|Boys named Halley||Girls named Halley|
|1910||12 [debut]||11 [debut]|
But the SSA data didn’t start reflecting real numbers until the ’30s. So I checked the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which indicates that the total number of babies named Halley in 1910 was actually much higher:
- 1912: 15 people named Halley born
- 1911: 8 people named Halley born
- 1910: 119 people named Halley born
- 1909: 14 people named Halley born
- 1908: 3 people named Halley born
Some of the Halleys named specifically for the comet include:
- Halley Comett Johnston, boy, born on April 13, 1910, to Jessie Johnston and Addie Webb of North Carolina.
- Halley Reed Palmer, boy, born on May 10, 1910, to Mr. and Mrs. John Palmer of Milton, Oregon.
- Halley Couch, boy, born on May 21, 1910, in Stockbridge, Wisconsin. (The night of his birth, “his father and older brother watched Halley’s Comet fly over their home. They were so impressed with the sight that they named the baby Halley.”)
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 data reveals that 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
The name Halley was given another big boost by the comet in 1986:
|Boys named Halley||Girls named Halley|
|1986||22 [peak]||333 [peak]|
The name saw peak usage for both baby boys and baby girls that year. In fact, the surge in usage among girls bumped Halley well into the girls’ top 1,000 (with a rank of ranking of 580th!) for the first (and, so far, only) time. American parents of the ’80s clearly thought of Halley as more of a female name than a male name.
The only Halley-baby I noticed in the newspapers in 1986 was from Canada: Halley Marie Mullen, a baby girl born to Susan and Brendan Mullen of Ottawa on January 4.
It’s hard to know how much the comet’s return affected the usage of other spellings of the name (like Hailey and Hayley) because the entire name-group was starting to become trendy around that time. That said, the graphs for Hallie and Hali show that these particular variants saw a discernible increase usage in 1986, while, very interestingly, the graph for Haley reveals a dip in usage that year.
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?
P.S. Though many people pronounce Halley to rhyme with the word “daily,” the surname is traditionally pronounced to rhyme with the word “valley.”
- Halley’s Comet – Wikipedia
- “Names Baby After the Comet.” Spokesman-Review 22 May 1910: 1.
- “Parents hope Halley sees comet’s return.” Ottawa Citizen 7 Jan. 1986: B2.
- “A Rotarian named Halley.” Rotarian Apr. 1986: 9, 11.
- “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)