The Statistical Cultural Linguistics of Name Fads


Between 1965 and 1985, everyone named their daughter Jennifer, and now, no one does. What this means for all the Jennifers of the world is that while they’ve enjoyed spending most of their life so far with a cute, hip, young girl name, they are on their way to having a Your Mom’s Friend’s Name. A Your Mom’s Friend’s Name happens when lots of middle-aged people have a name that no young or old people have.

A few decades after that, Jennifer can look forward to having an Old Lady Name, which happens when a name belongs to lots of old ladies, but no one under 75.

Jennifer isn’t the only victim of this, of course – it’s just the Generation X female name fad of choice. Other decades and other generations, and you have different names.

So what is today’s baby names that will be tomorrow’s old lady/old man names? For girls, it’s Sophia, followed closely by Emma. For boys, it’s Jacob (really?), followed very closely by Mason.

This sort of trend can also happen due to naming children after grandparents, as shown by today’s popularity of “Emma”.


Names can also vary by geographical (and political) region. Witness the migration of “Charlotte” from Red State favorite to Blue State favorite:


Other fascinating migrations include “Brooke”, which the rest of the United States stole from Utah, or “Evelyn”, which the rest of the United States stole from California.

Other names jump from gender to gender, such as “Lynn” (used to be a male name) or “Aubrey” (also used to exclusively be a male name) or “Robin”. Or even weirder, yes, there were periods where “John”, “William”, “James” and “George” were popular names for girls, and “Mary”, “Elizabeth”, “Sarah” and “Margaret” were popular names for boys.

(As a side note, this kind of cultural migration also happens with the gender associated colors – pink, for example, used to be the color associated with boys, not girls).

Via Wait But Why and NameVoyager. Check out both for so much more delicious statistical linguistic porn.

This entry was posted in Culture, Science by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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