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How American baby names have
changed over the last 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 U.S. 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 storyhours 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 Lauras 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 ? 
By 2004 Madison had become 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 1930s, '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 U.S. 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.
When naming a baby there are, of course, many other points to consider besides
how popular or unique a name is. There are hundreds of names waiting for you out
there, so good luck on your search for the perfect name and, if you're expecting,
don't forget to involve your other children in the process of naming the new baby.
This will help to get them excited about the new arrival and give them a positive
attitude towards the new baby.
Barbara Freedman-De Vito, 2006.

For more baby name help, please check
out these pages of our website:

BABY NAME TIPS - for helpful ideas to make choosing baby names fun for children
BABY NAMES - to see some lists of popular baby names
BABY CLOTHES & BABY GIFTS SHOP - to see the bibs, Teddy bears, new
baby poem keepsakes, clothes and other items that we have for babies
Visit the Baby Bird Productions shop STOREFRONT to see all
of our colorfully decorated baby clothes, children's clothing,
matching parents' clothing, gift items, stories, and special
themed shops, like our ALPHABET LEARNING CLOTHES shop.
Return to our PARENTS' PAGES.
Baby Names logo. Drawing of a baby with a rattle.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this article. The baby name statistics on this page came
from the United States Social Security Office and we thank them. Their website has lots of
longer lists that you might enjoy at:
© Children's clothing, baby clothes and children's stories, plus clothing and unique gifts for the whole
family from Baby Bird Productions shops. Copyright: Barbara Freedman-De Vito, since 2003. This
site is protected by copyright internationally. All rights reserved.
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