My wife and I are expecting our first child at the end of the year. As you might expect, we have been agonising over potential baby names. We’re looking to hit that sweet spot of traditional, but not boring, but no overly fashionable and definitely a name that works well with our surname Brown! After consulting multiple websites and Office for National Statistics (ONS) data for inspiration, I thought it would make an interesting blog topic, particularly with the 2015 top baby names being released the other day.
How have baby names changed over the last 100 years? Are there any patterns in the data? And could all of this analysis help me select a name for my baby-to-be?
The 2015 top 10…
I created the chart below to present the 2015 top 10 names for boys and girls along with the journey each name has taken over the last 100 years.
Top 100 boys’ & girls’ names in the UK 2015 and their historical trend
These top 10 names for boys and girls in 2015 are a mixture of traditional (George, William, Thomas), renaissance names that have come back into fashion (Amelia, Isabella, Harry) and new kids on the block (Isla, Ava, Noah).
Choosing a name in the current top 10 would be a little too fashionable for my baby-to-be, so I decided to look at the data more broadly. I was able to source the top 100 boy and girl names in the UK all the way back to 1904, with this top 100 replicated in 1914, 1924, 1934 and so on.
A century of names
What is immediately apparent is that there has been far more stability in boys’ names compared to girls’ over the last 100 years. From 1904 through to 2014 there have been 284 unique boys’ names featured in each decades’ top 100, compared to 360 girls’ names.
A word cloud is a neat way of visualising all these names, the larger the name more often it has appeared over the decades since 1904. Can you find your name?!
Top 100 boys’ names in the UK 1904-2014
Top 100 girls’ names in the UK 1904-2014
Withstanding the test of time...
So what are the classic names that have appeared in the top 100 in every decade since 1904? Interestingly there are more of these for boys than for girls. These are the names that appear largest in our word clouds. For boys there are 12 names that have appeared in the top 100 in every decade since 1904:
And for girls there are only two names:
If I was to pick any of these names for my future child I would be picking a very traditional name.
There seems to be a general consensus that ‘old fashioned names’, names popular in decades gone by, have been making a re-emergence in baby names today. Is this observed in the data?
To answer this, I considered the top 100 names from each decade and then worked out what proportion of those names were present one decade later, two decades later and so on. The graph below presents the mean average of all this data for boys’ and girls’ names.
Turnover of names in top 100 lists 1904-2014
The graph shows a clear difference between boys and girls. Once a boys’ name has featured in a top 100 list ,over the following decades they steadily fall out, with a plateau at just under 30%. This seems consistent with the previous observation that there are many boys’ names that have been in the top 100 consistently since 1904, such as William, George and Thomas.
On the other hand, the turnover in girls’ names is more dramatic, but then these names make a resurgence from 7 decades onwards. This seems to be the result of ‘old fashioned’ girls’ names coming back into prominence, such as Elsie, Ivy and Beatrice, all of which were popular in the 20s and 30s but only came back into the top 100 in 2014.
This effect can be seen even clearer with another visualisation. I took the top 100 names in 2014 and highlighted and ranked them depending on whether the name had made the top 100 in previous decades.
2014 top 100 names and their performance in previous decades
For boys’ names there is more consistency at the top (more names present in every decade), a few names that have made a comeback shown by red in early decades, a white gap, then red in later decades (such as Stanley, Albert & Louis), followed by a large number of names that have only ever appeared in recent decades.
Whereas for the girls’ names there are far fewer at the top, lots more that have made a comeback shown by grey in early decades a white gap, then grey in later decades.
One hit wonders
Finally, I wanted to know what were the ‘one hit wonder’ names? Which names appeared in the top 100 in one decade, then disappeared without a trace?
There were some notable ‘one hit wonders’ with the boys’ names: Melvyn in the 1940s, Graeme & Guy in the 1960s, and more recently Ricky and Damien in the 1980s.
However, there were far fewer of these ‘one hit wonder names’ than with the girls. Notable girl ‘one hit wonders’ have been Marina in the 1930s, Glynis in the 1950s and Mandy, Maxine and Michelle in the 1960s. But what is more striking is the turnover of names from the 1980s onwards. For girls there have been many “fashionable” names that have come and gone very quickly, such as Charlene, Chantelle & Ashleigh.
Picking a name for my child…
Having analysed 100 years of baby name data I really feel like I’ve considered every option for the name of my first child! I can confirm that my wife and I have decided on a name for a boy and girl…but we’re not telling anyone until after it is born! Perhaps I’ll write an update blog to break the news.