The name Silver — which regularly appears in the U.S. baby name data these days — first popped up way back in the 1890s, when it suddenly debuted with an impressive 10 baby boys:
- 1898: unlisted
- 1897: unlisted
- 1896: 10 baby boys named Silver [debut]
- 1895: unlisted
- 1894: unlisted
If we look at the SSDI data, we see a similar spike in the number of people named Silver in 1896:
- 1898: 8 people named Silver
- 1897: 6 people named Silver
- 1896: 18 people named Silver
- 1895: 6 people named Silver
- 1894: 8 people named Silver
Can you guess the cause?
I’ll give you two hints. First, look what happens to the name Bryan that year:
- 1898: 57 baby boys named Bryan
- 1897: 97 baby boys named Bryan
- 1896: 157 baby boys named Bryan
- 1895: 27 baby boys named Bryan
- 1894: 9 baby boys named Bryan
Now check out how the name Jennings peaks a year later:
- 1898: 28 baby boys named Jennings
- 1897: 50 baby boys named Jennings
- 1896: 40 baby boys named Jennings
- 1895: 9 baby boys named Jennings
- 1894: 5 baby boys named Jennings
No doubt you’ve pieced it together: 1896 was the year William Jennings Bryan ran for president, and the central issue for Democrats that year was Free Silver.
The U.S. was in the middle of a depression, and Free Silver supporters (the “Silverites”) thought the depression could be alleviated via the coinage of silver.
“For true believers,” the Encyclopedia Britannica states, “silver became the symbol of economic justice for the mass of the American people.”
And those “true believers” were very likely the ones naming their kids Silver back in 1896.
But Bryan’s opponent, William McKinley, was able to convince voters that Free Silver was a bad thing — that the resultant inflation would harm the economy — and won the election.
What do you think of the baby name Silver?