Sunday, March 11, 2007

First Names, Redux

How Popular is your First Name? reported on first names based on the 1990 US census.

The Social Security web site also has a database of US first name popularity.

At first glance, the website seems a place for new mothers to find baby names because at the top of the page is the most popular baby names list for 2005. But look a little lower on the page, and you can get a list of up to 1000 of the most popular names for any particular year of birth starting with 1880. You can also follow the popularity of a birth name over the years. I entered 127 years - the maximum - into the box labeled Years.

Look up your own first name on the US Social Security site. Where you born in the time frame when your first name was the most popular?

How can this be used in our genealogy? Could we use name popularity as a clue to a starting place when searching for a time period of someone's birth? A first place to look based on probability?

A female named Mildred was most likely born around 1910 when the name Mildred was in the top 10 list. In 1927 the name Mildred gradually starting losing its popularity. In 1910, 1 in 8 newborn baby girls was given the name Mildred. Today, 1 in 972.

A female named Madison was probably born after 1985. In 1984 Madison as a female first name wasn't even on the radar. It all started with the lovely mermaid in the movie Splash who took her name from a street sign in NYC. Today Madison is in the top 10 most popular list.

Location distribution is also important, but the Social Security site only has data for 1960 and later. Still, I find my own name very popular in North Eastern states (where I was born), but not anywhere on the lists in the South or Western States. Could name popularity by location also give us some clues to look for areas of birth?

If nothing else, it is fun to look up family names in the database. Yet I can't help but think that we may not see clusters of popular names in the future with the advent of the Internet. Wanting a name that is unique and original, some new mothers today look at the baby name databases online to make sure they pick a name that is NOT on the most popular list.

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