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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Top 100 is Not Necessarily the Kiss of Death

Don't worry, Tessie: there is more talking to do about the 2007 Social Security Baby Name List! My teeny post from the other day was a heads-up, not the full thing.

If there is ONE THING I would like to shout from the mountaintops in re the Social Security's baby name information, it is that THE TOP 100 IS NOT (necessarily) THE KISS OF DEATH.

Some people, when they say "not in the Top 100" DO know what they mean by that, and they really do want to stay out of that level of use. But MOST people DON'T know what they mean by it: they think anything in the Top 100 is "5 of them in a classroom" common. When in fact, these are all names on the 2000 Top 100 list:



I chose names I've never heard on a real child, but of course your experience with the list will vary based on the particular children you've come in contact with in schools and daycares and playgroups and in your family/friends group. My point is not that any one name on the list is SO UNUSUAL, but rather that the Top 100 is not like "the name Jennifer in 1975": even the most common names are not all that common. (Even the name Jennifer---which was practically an epidemic---didn't often result in the "five in her class" problem so often cited as a reason to avoid Top 100 names.)

Some of the names may SOUND common: for example, you might be saying, "Wait---she doesn't know anyone named Jennifer???" No, no, I mean I don't know any CHILDREN named Jennifer. Jennifer is a Mommy Name right now, not a child's name. And so it goes on the list: I've never run into a child named Jennifer since I've been not-a-child---even though the name hasn't left the Top 100.

Notice, by the way, that I used the 2000 list for those names, not the 2007: the 2007 babies are so new, I probably haven't run into many of them. The 2000 babies, though, are in grade school now, so they're in the public consciousness.

Okay, it is TOO IMPOSSIBLE to keep typing about this: Elizabeth has moved from "coloring nearby" to "on my lap talking about things and messing with the keyboard." So that's enough for now, but WE WILL RETURN.

Subject for discussion right now: "The Top 100 is not (necessarily) the kiss of death."


Tamsyn said...

It's more interesting to look at trends in the top 100. For example, combining spellings gives you Aiden/Aidan in at #1, Jayden/Jaden/Jadon in at #2. Add in the Cadens, Kaydens, Braedens, Raidens and even the Paytons/Peytons, and that's an awful lot of kids with ridiculously similar names. I can see kindergarten teachers getting confused with the endless -ayden kids.

Funnily enough, there are far more kids called Neveah, Destiny etc than there are kids called Anne. Yet I bet if you suggested 'Anne' to most new parents, they'd dismiss it as 'too common'.

Tessie said...

I also like how you can see the list in terms of % of total births and raw number of births. To me, that really hits your point home. Even the most popular names are well under 1% of total births.

The most surprising name to me in the top 20 is Ashley at #13. I think of that name as pushing Mom Name status.

Tessie said...

ALSO, it's a good point about the 2007 babies not being on the radar yet. When people hear my daughter's name is popular, they often claim to not know anyone with that name. And while I appreciate that they are trying to cheer me, I usually also think to myself, "YOU WILL".

Sarah said...

Can your next post be "The Top 10 is Not. . . Kiss of Death"?

I really like a name in the top 10 and my husband and I are going back and forth on a "popular" name. My point is that the name is "timeless" enough that it won't be assosiated with a particular period in time. He's concerned that it will seem boring and overused, though he likes the name, too! For the record, we don't know of any babies or children with this name yet!

Saly said...

Sarah's comment made me laugh. Top 10 is not the kiss of!

Funny thing, my boss' boss approached me to tell me she read about the SSA's list being published and wanted to know my thoughts on Emily being #1 for so many years. Do you know that I do not know a single child named Emily? I have a 26-year-old cousin named Emily and so does Hub, but seriously, not even one child.

I guess for the first time in however many years, Samantha is out of the top 100--My BIL and my cousin both had girls named Samantha last year.

My rambling point is that top 100 or top 10 really doesn't mean 5 of them in every class.

Banana said...

As the holder of a top 100 name (it's been between 60-25 my whole life) I have never been in a class or workplace with anyone sharing my name. However, I have always wanted to name my daughter something a bit more unusual. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure why? I think because my name is so common I want to try something in another direction? I don't really know.

Rayne of Terror said...

I hadn't even seen that the 2007 list was out and my husband and I were lying in bed last night discussing how we don't know a single Emily under the age of 25 but there are 2 Emmas in my son's preschool class and several more in the preschool general population. Where are all the baby Emilys? Not in central Illinois.

Luna said...

The top 100 may have been the kiss of death 30 years ago, but it's not today because there are more names used overall, making each name less frequent.

Case in point: in the year I was born (1980), Michael and Jennifer were the most popular names, according to the Name Voyager there were about 15,000 Jennifers and 20,000 Michaels per million babies born. In 2007, even though they are number 1, there are under 6000 Jacobs and under 5000 Emilys per million babies.

What am I trying to say? These days, popular doesn't necessarily equal common.

Swistle said...

Sarah- In fact, I have it half-composed already!

SaLy and Rayne- I, too, have wondered where the Emilys are. If Paul had liked the name more, I would have wanted it as a strong candidate for "girl who is not actually named Elizabeth": I love the name, I know no children named Emily, and neither of my older boys have had a single class with an Emily. And yet, like you, we've encountered plenty of Emmas.

Luna said...

Oops. Swistle's original post said what I was trying to say, only in a much better way.
I should read things more closely next time!

Swistle said...

Luna- YES! about the numbers of births thing! Exactly! I've got that in my next post, which is about the Top 10.

Jill said...

Two things.
Thing the first: I think a name *becomes* more common to you once you hear of someone who used the name. Case in point, my cousin named her son Lincoln a couple of months ago and the entire family was all "Lincoln? Huh?" I have now heard the name no less than four times (including the post yesterday) since she gave birth.

Thing the second: and this goes along with thing the first: As Swistle pointed out there is a lapse between people using the names and us actually hearing of them, such that if you have an infant now, you might not realize how many people used that name until 5 years from now when he is in school. Like Emma became super popular after Rachel used it in 'Friends' and now there are a ton of little Emma's running around, I think Emily became popular for infants only a couple of years ago. So 3 or 4 years from now I think we'll hear a lot more about Emilys, or suddenly Swistle's Elizabeth will have a bunch of Emily classmates, even if her older boys don't.
Which, I think makes it such a crapshoot. You use a name thinking you don't actually know of anyone with it, while everyone else having kids around that time does the same thing. That said, I am still not going to cave to my husband and name any of our future girl children Saffron.

Barb @ getupandplay said...

I think we're all too worried (including myself) about using a too-common name. I think Swistle mentioned this in an earlier post, but kids will not care if they are Emma R. in school, only parents care about that. My whole childhood I craved a "normal" name (like Jennifer or Lindsey), instead of an unusual for my generation (Barbara) name. If you really like a name, I wouldn't be discouraged by "popularity".

LoriD said...

Two of my kids have top 100 names, but we still haven't come across other kids with their names. Our criteria for naming was that we didn't personally know anyone with that name.

Also - all the Emily's are here! I know at least 10 of them between friends and kids' classmates.

ZestyJenny said...

Okay, I will be the obligatory Jennifer to pipe up and say BS on your assertion that there were rarely 5 in a class. There were. Every class, all the time. In particular, I recall the summer I worked at a camp and conference center and out of 20 staff members there were 4 Jennifers and I had to be "JJ". Barf. Or the many many times I had to be "Big Jenny" *shudder*. Or the WORST, on a team of 12 in highschool, there were 4 of us, promptimg me to briefly spell my name "Jeni".

Barbara, my dear, I love your name.

Swistle said...

ZestyJenny- That's a pretty bold assertion about every class. SERIOUSLY five in every class? Or FELT like five in every class? I grew up in the heart of the Jennifer era, and it was rare to have more than two in a class. Even in your worst examples, there are four.

Pixie said...

Swistle can we also discuss the names that are maybe not popular now but may become popular a couple years down the road. For example, my sister named her oldest son Jackson, at the time (he is 20 now) everyone said how odd the name was and the general consensus was that it was such a strange and unusual name. Now 20 years later I personally know at least 3 Jackson's (not counting my nephew) all of which are in the 5-10 year old range and I hear the name often.

Misty said...

Hmm, this gives me cause to think. I like the name Ava and it is what, #5 for 2007? That seems to popular, but it is a family name of a grandmother that I would like to incorporate if I ever have a daugther. And I can't think of any coupling that makes it sound like a good middle name with the Terrible Long Hyphenated Last-Name of ours. 10, not kiss of death, eh? This is something to consider.

Rayne of Terror said...

As a circa 1977 Jennifer who does not use her first name because there a million zillion of us, it caused me hassles from 6th grade on. In 6th grade there were two other Jennifers and since I was the new kid I went by JR. In jr high and high school there were always the same 2-3 Jennifers in my classes. My senior year of high school I was paired with another Jennifer for a roommate - this is when we started differentiating by middle name. Are you looking for Ruth or Rayne?

In college I made the name switch completely and ended up living with 3 more Jennifers in 4 years. My law school class was lousy with Jennifers, at least 6 in a class of 180. That's like 4% of the class, roughly.

Oh, oh, this one time I went to have my wisdom teeth out and they pulled the wrong Jennifer J's records and told me I didn't have wisdom teeth. And her dad was named Larry J, same as mine. Oh, and another time I got denied insurance based on that other Jennifer J's medical records because we failed to tell the insurance about her illnesses and accidents.

My poor parents, I have been completely ungrateful about this name for-eva.

ZestyJenny said...

Yes, Swistle, in my worst examples there are 4. But 4 out of 20? And worse, 4 out of 12? If by "class" you mean the 30 student or so class size I was accustomed to, I believe these examples are worse.

Rayne, you are lucky you have a good middle name to use instead. Mine is Lee. Also, re: the wrong Jennifer's records? I also have a common last name and was given the wrong Jennifer L. CommonLastName's grade in college, a C instead of an A. It was a HUGE pain in the ass to get it fixed. The other Jennifer, understandably, was not quite as motivated to correct the mistake.

Yes, maybe there were not always 5, but lord it always felt like it. Now, as an adult, it is most annoying when you meet a new person and quite often its, "Jenny, this is Jenny." Then we both sigh.

Swistle said...

ZestyJenny- Yes, those two examples are a worse percentage. But they were flukes: at its absolute peak, the number of Jennifers was just over 4 per 100 girls. If you had 4 or 5 in every single class, you were not typical.

The VERY THING I WAS TAKING ISSUE WITH is people saying "5 in every class!" when there were NOT 5 in every class---when in fact they encountered a couple of flukes. There were THREE Williams in my son's kindergarten class, but that doesn't mean there have been three in EVERY class (none of his other classes have had more than one).

Swistle said...

Rayne- Ha! You're exactly right: at its highest, the percentage of Jennifers was 4%. That would result in most classrooms of 30 children (assuming 15 girls) having 1 or sometimes 2 Jennifers---which is a very high number of Jennifers. The occasional class would have 3 or even 4---but then would be balanced by classes with 0. It is easy to remember the classes with 3 or 4, and hard to remember the classes with 0.

Bird said...

My goal was always Top 100, but not Top 10. I didn't want my child to have a name that actually made people's heads swivel-I wanted something recognizable. But, I did want to avoid the five in a class syndrome. For the record, my fourth grade class had four Jennifers and a Jennie. Ditto in fifth grade.

The research has shown, however, that being in the top 10 doesn't usually stop people from achieving. It's just a parent pet peeve.

And I only know about ten kids under the age of ten and one is named Emily. I swear I know four Abigails, though. Apparently it's all about the Abigail around here.

And just to round out my random comments: My college roommate was named Ella. NO ONE had that name and she was teased all through grade school. Now, it's all the rage. Let's face it, we might not want our kids to have "popular" names, but few people have been teased for being named Michael.

Bird said...

OH, and I forgot: Tessie, thank you! I have wondered about Ashley for years now. Who is still naming their kids Ashley? For me, that is a name of my generation and I'm shocked at all the parents still using it.

Swistle said...

Bird- I'm not saying it NEVER happens that there are 5 in a classroom, but I am saying it doesn't ALWAYS happen. For there to ALWAYS be 5 Jennifers in a class, the naming rate would have to be 1 in 3 baby girls being named Jennifer. That didn't happen. There was the occasional clustering, but that means there were other classes that had zero Jennifers that year. People remember vividly the examples where there were lots of duplicates, but they remember far less vividly the examples where there were none. And also, no name currently being used is being used anywhere near as often as Jennifer.

Mary said...

Well, my name is very common (Mary) and has never left the top 100 as far as I can tell (though it has dropped significantly in recent years), but growing up I didn't know ANY other girls named Mary and don't really know any now either. So no, top 100 is definitely not the kiss of death (or the kiss of knowing others who share your name).
Then again, my bf's name is Michael and he was always one of many. But that still didn't affect his life in any significant manner.
I think it's better to be one of many with a normal name than the only one with a name that other kids will just make fun of.

Anonymous said...

Saly - Samantha is not out the top 100. It was #12 in 2007.

Shelby said...

Ancient post, I know, but I felt the need to pitch in my two cents. I'm just a freshman in college, and finding an identity in a new stage of life. My name is Shelby, which was #36 the year I was born. As Swistle has pointed out, being in the top 100 didn't mean I had 5 in every class; in fact, I was the only Shelby I knew growing up. The problem is, almost every town had a Shelby or two, and now kids from hundreds of towns are all going to the same college. The problem is not so much getting confused with other Shelbys as the fact that everybody knows a Shelby. I can see people's eyes glaze over when they hear my name, just letting the information slide out of their head. Of course, the importance of having an uncommon name is still a matter of opinion. I just know that I personally would have liked to have a name that made people pay attention.

K said...

Sorry! I know that this is a really old post and there's a good chance no one will read this comment, but I just had to say this on the name popularity phenomenon (and Swistle, I think you've talked about this here at least once or twice): the social security records by state are much more telling than the national records. For example: the name Isabella is number one in the country right now, but it's not even in the top ten in my state. It's probably why some people know more Jennifers than others, or at a higher percentage than the national average--because it happened to be more popular in their state than others.