Baby Names - Trendy or Traditional ?
by Barbara Freedman-De Vito
Baby Bird Productions Children's Stories
How American Baby Names Have Changed Over the Past Century
Lists of baby names are always fun to look at, whether you're seeking a name for your soon-to-be-born baby boy, or baby girl, wondering about the popularity of your own first name, or just curious about what baby names are currently hot.
What I find particularly interesting is tracking the popularity of baby names over the decades. In looking through US government baby name lists from 1880 to the present some amusing patterns emerge, particularly in regards to baby names for girls.
For example, in Victorian times Biblical names, such as Mary, Sarah and Ruth were very popular for baby girls. There were also many baby names that sounded very old-fashioned to me, as a kid growing up in the 1960s, including names like Martha, Alice, Bertha and Minnie.
From the 1920s to the 1950s certain baby names rose in popularity. For example, I went to school with many Susans, Debbies, Patricias, and Lindas. All of these baby names have since waned, to be replaced, by the 1980s, with fancier names such as Jennifer, Jessica and Nicole. When I was a children's librarian in the 1980s my preschool
story hours were populated with little girls named Lauren and Jenny, and little boys named Alex and Matthew.
More recently there's been a lot of renewed interest in more "old-fashioned" baby names like Hannah, Abigail and Ethan, plus many Biblical names such as Sarah, Rachel, Joshua, Jacob, and Samuel. There's also been a surge in nontraditional baby names including Madison, Ashley and Brianna for baby girls and Brandon and Logan for baby boys.
It's interesting to consider the whys and wherefores of such developments. Sometimes, I suspect, the popularity of a specific actor or fictional character might result in many babies with a particular name. For example, were some of the
Laura's born in the 1970s and 1980s given a name suggested by older brothers and sisters who were growing up watching "Little House on the Prairie" ? Were some attributable to the super popular Laura of "General Hospital" fame ?
Today Madison is a very highly ranked baby name for girls ( ranking number 3 in 2003), but when the film "Splash" came out in 1984 Tom Hanks' character told Daryl Hannah's character that Madison was not a bona fide first name.
While baby girls' names seem quite subject to the whims of fashion and the top ten lists can change radically over time, I've noticed that, in general, the top baby names for boys remain far more stable. Names like John, William and James are perennials, perhaps because baby boys are often named for their fathers, perpetuating the popularity of certain baby names from generation to generation. The "junior" factor aside, baby boys are also less apt to be given fanciful names.
A comparison of the changing fortunes of my own first name, Barbara, with those of my husband's name, Robert, gives a good illustration of the difference in stability between baby girl names and baby boy names over time.
My name grew in popularity in the 1930's, '40s and '50s, peaking at the number 2 position in baby name popularity, which it tenaciously held from 1937 to 1944. When I attended grad school, of a class of approximately forty students, there were no less than three baby boomers named Barbara. Should I thank the actress Barbara Stanwyck for this ? Alas, my first name later suffered a slow, steady decline and placed at a pitiful number 628 position on the baby names popularity list for the US in 2003.
Robert, on the other hand, has survived the vicissitudes of baby name popularity. It held a coveted spot on the top ten most popular baby names list every year from 1896 to the late 1980s, often peaking at number 1 between the 1920s and the 1950s. It has gradually slipped since the 1990s, but still managed to hold the respectable slot of number 35 in 2003.
If you're expecting a baby and would like to get your other children involved in the process of naming the new baby, or you'd like to see some top ten baby names lists over the generations, please check out the "free fun" pages of my website.
Barbara Freedman-De Vito, children's librarian, teacher, professional storyteller, and artist, writes and illustrates animated children's stories which are available at
which also has free games and educational activities for children, teachers and parents. Clothing and gift items decorated with artwork from the stories are also available.
This article provided by the Family Content Archives at: http://www.Family-Content.com
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