The Social Security Administration should release the 2008 US Top 1000 in a few days. It’s sort of like Christmas-meets-the-Fourth-of-July here at AppMtn.
Plenty of parents turn to the rankings as part of choosing a baby name. You’ll often hear expectant moms and dads mention that they’re avoiding the Top Ten. Or Top 100. The question is, though, are the statistics a meaningful guide for determining a name’s popularity?
In 2007, Jacob was the #1 choice for boys, representing a staggering 23,886 newborns given the name. At the opposite extreme, Trystan came in at #1000, representing just 191 babies. But is Jacob so horribly overused that you’d regret choosing it? Is Trystan so rare that you’d never meet another?
Here are ten things to keep in mind as you consider Jacob, Trystan and every name in between and beyond:
10. Variant spellings change everything.
In the US, the Social Security Administration ranks every spelling separately. You might find Trystan an appealing choice – and at #1000, imagine that he’s quite rare. Trouble is Tristan – the most common spelling – is a Top 100 pick, given to over 5,000 boys in 2007. Tristen adds nearly another 1,000; Triston and Tristin another 500 each and Tristian 300 more. All of a sudden your unusual name is closer to the Top 50.
9. Sound alikes can make an uncommon name feel Top Ten.
Nameberry’s article on MegaName said it best: any name that’s got lots of close relatives is bound to feel far trendier than you’d guess by gauging the popularity of that name alone. Jaylon might rank #556 for boys and Kayley #838 for girls – but shout ’em out on a playground, and chances are that Jayden, Kaylee, Hailey, Kayla, Mikayla, Braylen, Braden and Caiden will answer, too – along with maybe Kadence and Brady.
8. Popularity over time matters, too.
Let’s say you’re trying to find a name that is familiar, but that your daughter won’t share with other girls in her class. You settle on Megan. At #78 in 2007, odds are that she’ll meet other Megans – but unlike Madison or Emma, she probably won’t have a same-named classmate. Except that in 2004, Megan was the 36th most popular choice for girls born in the US. In 1997, she was #11. And she’d been on the edge of the Top Ten since the 1980s.
Megan’s name could actually feel increasingly common as your daughter enters college and the working world – and has more friends and colleagues five, ten and fifteen years her senior. Likewise, your daughter might be the only kindergartener called Megan, but her babysitter and your boss’ teenager might share the name.
7. A crystal ball would be nice.
The flip side of #8 is that names that are gaining in popularity can be just as frustrating. Let’s say your darling daughter is turning ten. You went searching for a familiar-but-seldom-heard name back in 1998 and landed on Ava – then ranked #350. That would be the year before Reese Witherspoon named her starbaby Ava.
While we can’t guess the moniker of every future celeb sprog or fictional character, it is worth paying attention to a name’s pattern. After all, Ava had already leapt from #618 to #350. In 1999, she’d climbed to #259 and by 2000, she was at #180. That’s a pretty clear sign that a name is hot – and could be a chart-topper in a few years. Of course, for every Ava, there are dozens of names that climb, but never become nearly as common.
But add together #8 and #7 and here’s what you get: Don’t just look at a name’s rank in the most recent year. Look at the name’s pattern over time – it’s easy to search on the Social Security Administration’s site.
6. Consider nicknames, even if you don’t plan to use them.
Maybe you want to avoid the most popular choices and land on a nickname-proof appellation, too. Bella, you think, would be perfect. She ranked #159 in 2007. Trouble is, she’s also among the most common nicknames for chart-topping Isabella. And plenty of parents have opted for Annabel, Arabella or another -bel name and use the nickname, too.
5. Location, location, location.
Sure, Jacob was the #1 name in the US. But it can be useful to check out the statistics in your home state. In 2007, Aiden was the #1 name in Alaska. Michael still topped the charts in Connecticut. Iowans love Ethan; Texans are all about Jose. And in North Carolina, William is tops.
4. Did I mention location?
Not only are do popularity stats vary by state, but there’s a big difference between naming preferences in, say, Detroit and Alpena. Both are in Michigan, but one is the very definition of an urban center, while the other borders a marine sanctuary.
This one is difficult to track via statistics, but I’ve always thought of it this way: if it is easier to hop on a bus or train than face parking in the local city center, odds are you may have more leeway in terms of the names you choose. Of course, you could leave Park Slope for small town Vermont when Atticus and Casilda hit grade school. But you get the idea.
3. Friends are important, too.
How often have you heard two friends squabble over a favorite baby name? Or someone kvetch that her sister-in-law stole Natalie? It’s undeniable that people we love – and live near, and work with – tend to have similar taste in baby names. That can amplify the most popular baby names – we know a few Emmas, an Ava and an Emily – but sometimes less common picks feel Top Ten in our circles. My boys’ Top Ten would include Charles, Theodore, Zachary and James.
2. Any ranked name is relatively common.
Ever checked out the footnote on the Social Security Administration’s website? About 74% of all children born in a given year receive a Top 1000 name. The percentages are consistently higher for boys and lower for girls – but with every passing year, a smaller percentage receives a ranked name. Back in 1998, nearly 80% of all children could’ve found their name listed.
It’s also true that “not currently in the Top 1000” doesn’t mean it was never in the Top 1000. Even on a site like this one, relatively few names are completely missing. Pomeline, Rosamel, Adlai and Alvar are a few that do fit the bill.
1. Virtually every name shows up in census records.
Unless you’re going to name your child Urgablatzigria – and you aren’t, are you? – you will probably find that someone, somewhere has shared the name.
I love the rankings. I’ve crunched the numbers, compared them to timelines, sought out trends. But as we await the coming wave of data, glorious data, it is worth remembering that all those numbers don’t always add up to much.