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Friday, May 9, 2014

Top Name? Don't Despair!

The 2013 SSA baby name data has been released! This is very exciting news in the naming community. I of course ran to share the news on Facebook and other places. A few of my friends responded with either a sad tone of "oh, the name I like is more popular than I thought" or "is it really bad to choose a popular name?"

The point of this blog post is to say - don't despair if you love a popular name. For starters, popularity is only one fact about a name, a fact people should be aware of but doesn't necessarily dictate name choice, it is entirely up to the parents. But more significantly, baby names are much more diverse than they used to be. A name being ranked #1 doesn't have the same punch it used to have, because even though its the MOST popular, its less popular than #1 from decades past - significantly so.

I know other bloggers have looked at this, but it can be said again and again, and demonstrated in many ways, so here are some numbers.

In 2013, the number one girls name is Sophia. There were 21,075 babies born named Sophia in 2013, or 1.1% of all girls.

Lets compare that to the year 1980. In 1980, Jennifer was the #1 name, representing 58,385 births (3.2%). So, despite both being #1 names, Jennifer was effectively 3x more common than Sophia is.

If there were 21,075 Sophia's born in 1980, the name would have been ranked 6th overall. By percentage, it would have been ranked 8th. It would be about as popular as Amy. Yes,  a common 1980 name, but not an issue where you have a bunch in the same classroom usually.

The #20 name in 2013 was Evelyn, with 7616 births and .39%. That percentage in 1980 would make it be ranked 42nd (it would be about as popular as the name Brandy or Christine. Do you know a 34 yr old Christine or Brandy? Maybe, but I doubt you think of either name being overly popular.

This new distribution, with people choosing a wider variety of names, means it is also harder to have a truly "rare' name. The 500th name in 2013 is Emersyn, with .0312%. The 500th name in 1980 was Alaina and represented .0229% of the girls born. Alaina at 500 was less common than Emersyn at 500. If Emersyn had this frequency in 1980, it would have been ranked 402, about as popular as Penny.

The take away from all these numbers?
- Unless you rank popularity as very important in your personal naming criteria, don't worry too much if a name you love is popular. It doesn't mean your kid will be "Evelyn K." or "Evelyn J." in her classroom. Names are less common.
- Don't try too hard to be unique, its nearly impossible in the current naming atmosphere, and growing more difficulty every year as more parents try. The more parents want to be unique, the less unique options there are.

The Disclaimers
- All the above calculations? Doesn't account for name spellings and variations! If you are particularly concerned with how popular a name you use, you can't just count Sophia. You probably want to count Sofia, Sofie, and Sophie as well.
- And, as usual, don't forget shared nicknames. Evelyn might not be all that common (even at #20), but you might run into a lot of girls named "Evie" as this nickname can be derived from many other names as well.
- There is extreme local variance in name popularity. You might choose the #20 name only to find out its #1 in your state or community. State level data is available for download from the SSA baby name site (link on the right). 

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