How did the presidential election of 1992 influence baby names?

Hillary Clinton (in 1992)
Hillary Clinton

A blog post about the 14 most “poisoned” baby names by data scientist Hilary Parker reminded me that I haven’t yet written about the demise of the baby name Hillary.

So let’s travel back to 1992 for a minute.

In mid-July, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was selected as the Democratic candidate for the presidency. His wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea were now in the national spotlight.

In early November, Bill managed to beat Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush to become the 42nd president of the United States. Hillary and Chelsea would now stay in the national spotlight.

And in late November, a few weeks after the election, the Miami Herald printed this:

Now that the Clinton women are set to move into the White House, both names are becoming more popular among new parents.

For the first time, Chelsea has cracked the top 10 list of the most popular girl names in Florida. Name expert Leonard R. N. Ashley, a Brooklyn College professor, said he expects Hillary to also catch on.


The popularity of Chelsea, on the rise long before the presidential pre-teen made her Democratic convention appearance, is likely to get a boost from the first family pedigree, Ashley said.

The “name expert” got it wrong, of course.

Hillary did not catch on. Nor did Chelsea. Both names had been on the rise, but usage declined significantly after 1992. Here’s the data…

Hillary (and Hilary)

The name Hillary saw a 58% drop in usage from 1992 to 1993:

  • 1995: 310 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 686th]
  • 1994: 408 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 566th]
  • 1993: 1,064 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 261st]
  • 1992: 2,521 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 132nd] (peak usage)
  • 1991: 1,789 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 166th]
  • 1990: 1,524 baby girls named Hillary [rank: 192nd]
Graph of the usage of the baby name Hillary in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Hillary

The spelling Hilary saw an even steeper drop of 71% of from 1992 to 1993:

  • 1995: 125 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 1,326th]
  • 1994: 145 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 1,210th]
  • 1993: 343 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 651st]
  • 1992: 1,170 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 234th]
  • 1991: 1,149 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 242nd]
  • 1990: 1,216 baby girls named Hilary [rank: 232nd]

Hilary Parker noted that her own name was “clearly the most poisoned.”

Graph of the usage of the baby name Hilary in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Hilary


The popular name Chelsea — which had been on track to reach the top ten — saw a 30% drop in usage from 1992 to 1993:

  • 1995: 6,760 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 47th]
  • 1994: 7,717 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 38th]
  • 1993: 11,288 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 25th]
  • 1992: 16,174 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 15th] (peak usage)
  • 1991: 13,511 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 18th]
  • 1990: 12,782 baby girls named Chelsea [rank: 24th]

It was out of the top 100 by the end of the decade.

Graph of the usage of the baby name Chelsea in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Chelsea


Why did the name Hillary slip after Hillary Clinton became a fixture in the White House?

Because she violated gender norms — that’s my guess.

Hillary Clinton was a new kind of First Lady. She was a lawyer, a businesswoman, a scholar and an activist. She was the first First Lady with an earned (vs. honorary) post-graduate degree, and the first to have her own professional career.

But, instead of being praised for her intelligence and ambition, she was criticized for it.

Just two months after the inauguration, Anna Quindlen of the New York Times made note of the double standard:

Maybe some of our daughters took notice of how Hillary Clinton was seen as abrasive, power-hungry and unfeminine when to some of us she seemed merely smart, outspoken and hard-working. Maybe they saw the masquerade and recognized intuitively the age-old message about how much more attractive women are when they are domestic, soft, contented, the message aimed over the years at Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt and many, many others.

To expectant parents, it didn’t matter that Hillary Clinton was smart and successful. They began avoiding the name Hillary in 1993 because the First Lady — the most high-profile Hillary in the nation — was making her name seem “unfeminine.”

Do you agree? Disagree?

P.S. What were the 13 other “poisoned” names in Parker’s analysis? The 9 to drop since the 1960s are Ashanti, Catina, Deneen, Farrah, Iesha, Infant, Katina, Khadijah, and Renata. The other four — Celestine, Clementine, Dewey, and Minna — are from the 1800s, a time when SSA data wasn’t very reliable.


Image: Adapted from Hillary Clinton in 1992 (public domain)

[Latest update: Jun. 2024]

5 thoughts on “How did the presidential election of 1992 influence baby names?

  1. You may be quite right, but I have always suspected that part of the problem was that Hillary instantly became a “one-person” name, like Madonna or Cher. To this day, when people hear the name Hillary, they think Clinton. And I think most parents avoid using names with a strong, single association, even if they admire the individual. If the First Lady had been Elizabeth, I don’t think that name would have dropped straight off the charts.

  2. At a recent funeral, my teen was amazed to learn the decedent’s BROTHER was named Hillary. That Hillary was once considered a masculine name completely threw her for a loop. But then she grew up with Hillary Duff on the Disney Channel… When you think about how the Disney Channel inspired parents to embrace Miley, Waverly, Harper and London, it’s kind of surprising that Hillary didn’t get any love… So maybe HRC has poisoned the name, even if she has the highest approval rating of any US politician. Or, at the end of the 90’s the name didn’t feel “unique’ anymore.

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