Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John and Mary: Wherefore Art Thou?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an interesting piece on baby names in USA Today this morning. The newspaper cited census information in its listing of the fifty most popular baby names for boys and girls from 1890 through the present.

The popularity of first names seems to be partially cyclical, with classy old names occasionally coming back into fashion, and partially experimental with new names constantly surfacing based on unique sounds, things found in nature, bodily functions, political leaders, or even rock stars - often spelled in a stupid manner with an eye toward originality! I have a personal theory that if one was to study the first names of soap opera characters over the years, they would correlate strongly with actual names given to babies during those same periods.

John and Mary were the most popular baby names in 1890. Those two names continued to head the list in 1900, 1910, and 1920. In 1930 John slipped to number three (behind Robert and James), while Mary remained at number one. (I guess that naming your daughter after the mother of Jesus was always seen as a safe bet.) Mary continued to be the most popular girl’s name in 1940, and John hung in there at number three (with the top two being reversed to James and Robert).

Mary was finally knocked from the top spot in 1950, when that name placed second behind Linda. John continued to cling to third behind James and Robert. Mary regained the top spot in 1960, but John slipped to number four – behind David, Michael, and James. (Poor Robert was at an ignominious fifth!) John was still number four in 1970 behind Michael, James, and David, and Mary had plummeted to number nine.

John was down to number eight in 1980 and Mary had dropped to number twenty-six. Mary’s Hispanic cousin, Maria, entered the list that year at number thirty-six. John was at twelve in 1990, with Mary at number thirty-five and Maria at number forty-seven. John was down to fourteen in 2000, and his Hispanic cousin, Juan, came in at forty-eight. Maria was at forty-one in 2000, and Mary placed at forty-seven.

By 2008 John, Juan, Mary, and Maria had been completely eliminated from the listing of most popular names. One variant, Jonathan, did place at number twenty-six on the boys’ list.

The current top ten names for boys in America are: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Alexander, Anthony, William, Christopher, and Matthew. The most popular names for girls are: Emma, Isabella, Emily, Madison, Ava, Olivia, Sophia, Abigail, Elizabeth, and Chloe.

To see the complete lists for any of the years listed above, check out today’s on-line edition of USA Today.

1 comment:

molly files said...

The top boy & girl names have been pretty much the same for the past few years. It really irks me that Isabella is so popular. I really wanted that name for a girl, but I hear it all the time now! You give your baby that name & she will inevitably be one of 15 Isabellas in her class. Emily was the top name for what seemed like forever. Now Emma (what Jennifer Aniston named her baby on "Friends") has come out of nowhere. Reese Witherspoon has a little girl named Ava.. I hear that name a lot too. I have no clue why Jacob & Michael remain in the top spots, how boring & unbelievably common. The girls really seem to have the more creative names.

I do have a new favorite girl name, and it doesn't even show up on the popularity list! Hallelujah!