Thursday, June 12, 2014

How Much Does Popularity Matter? + My Confession

Ever since I began The Art of Naming, I've had a pretty firm stance against using popular names. My objective was to help parents find obscure and unusual names to use instead of going with the most common choices that everyone else is using.  While I still completely love unique names, I have a big confession to make.

As many of you may know, my husband and I are expecting a daughter in August. We have chosen three names for her, a first and two middles. The kicker is, despite all of my pro-unusual name posts, two of my chosen names are within the Top 50.  [Cue the collective gasp].

We were originally planning on using a first name that ranked in the mid-200s but now we've bumped it to the middle name.  We will be using one of the more popular names as her first name because it *feels right*.  If any of you have had a child, I'm sure you can relate to the feeling of a name just being "the one". I realized it when I saw her little face in an ultrasound picture.  You can't hate me too much for falling in love with a popular name, right? You still love me?

All of this has got me thinking about popularity. How important is it? Really?

I began obsessing over baby names when I was 17. I was more on the clueless side of things and only looked at the name based on how it sounded. Over time I began to appreciate meanings and history and eventually popularity. Today I feel as though I've been so darn picky about everything in recent years that I've finally had to give in to what names I really love and relax on the technicalities behind them.  The names I've chosen are more popular than I thought I would have ever chosen but they're also full of great meanings and some family honor. This triumphs over popularity for me.

I have done my research and know how popular my choices are. I'm to the point where it finally doesn't bother me. However, a year ago, I would have never actually gone through with using a Top 50 name as the first name just on principle alone. Perhaps I'm experiencing character development? That, or I've taken comfort in the fact that popular names of today just aren't as popular as they once were in the past.

Take for example the most popular girl's name ever: Mary.  She peaked in 1921 with (are you ready for this?) 73,983 births. Can you wrap your brain around that figure for a moment? And then remember that she lingered around those types of figures for years!  She was the #1 or #2 name every year from 1880-1965 and still remained in the Top 50 until 2001. Today she's fallen to #121 but still received over 2,600 births for the year. If that isn't popular, nothing is.

Compare Mary's stats to those of the other #1 baby girl names since 1880. It took me a while but I did all the math for you. Notice how the numbers in the 3rd column get progressively smaller as time goes by. With all of the variety in spelling and the pool of acceptable names rapidly growing, the top names are actually being used by fewer babies per year. This is why I like to share the number of births when I feature names rather than the rank. Rank means very little when the number of births for the year varies as drastically as Linda and Sophia's stats do.  Take a look:

What do these stats tell us? The true popularity of a name is deceiving. There are people every year who now combine all of the various spellings together to find out what the "True Top Names" are. And I was only comparing the #1 names in the above image. When you climb down the chart a bit and realize that the names in the #30-#40 range (where my daughter's name sits) only get about 5,000-6,000 births per year, it suddenly doesn't seem that bad. Think about how huge this country is and how many babies are born every year. Sure, she may know a couple other girls in her school with the name, but I'm currently not worried about it.

If you have a very common last name and give your child a very common first name, chances are they'll run into an issue at some point in their life with having the same exact name as someone else they are near, so popularity may be a priority for you and that's great! Choose something odd! However, many parents worry about their child being 1 of 4 in a classroom with the same name. If you're one of those, I'd suggest searching for something more obscure if it really bothers you.

There are so many names out there, thoroughly search for the right one. With the stats we see today, names are nowhere near as popular as they have been in the past. (Did you see how many Marys there have been?) If the name you choose ends up being popular, ask any Jen, Jenny or Jennifer of the 1970s how they dealt with it. If they could handle it, I'm sure your child will survive too. :)

So what do you think? Does popularity really matter? Does your child have a common name? How has it worked for them? Was your name popular in school? How did you deal? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook! 

...What? You wanted me to tell you my daughter's name?... How about I make you work for it? In the year 1920, they ranked as such: #103, #744, #280. The third is after my husband's sister. :)


Kathryn said...

I had a similar process. I thought I'd never choose top 500 names, but I have now. One of my sons has a middle name that's probably the most popular boys middle name. What can I say, they are popular for many reasons. :)

And now that my oldest kids are in school, I have noticed very few of their classmates and schoolmates have any of the super popular names. No Aidens or Jacobs or Sophias. The names vary from classics like Elizabeth to very unusual names like Addis.

Kelli@NameFreak! said...

this topic is the main reason i started the research (last summer) for the book i hope to release in the next couple of months. fascinating stuff!

i knew i really loved the name Rachel for my daughter because it didn't bother me that it was ranked #48 the year she was born (actually it was in the 30s when i was contemplating her name). and like you said, how "popular" is popular? ;)

i can't wait to hear what you are naming your baby girl!

Unknown said...

I couldn't help myself - I had to look up your daughters name :)

Such gorgeous choices - they're so charming and classic, I understand why love won out over popularity concerns. The first in particular is a love of mine too :)


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