Misadventures of Baby Naming


If you have one of those George Costanza jobs, where not much more is required than rearranging papers in an accordion-style folder and using a private bathroom that was acquired under false pretenses, then do I have a time-waster for you: the Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names website, which tracks the 1,000 most popular male and female names since 1880.

Before that website came into my life, I thought that cuckoo-bananas names were rarities.

Truthfully, the battiest ones really aren’t very common. Winner, Loser, ESPN, Kal-El, Metallica, Plaxico, Apple and Moxie Crimefighter are a long way from making the top 1,000. But with Liberty, Justice and Elvis making the government’s list, I’d say there are mobs, perhaps even hordes, of parents who approach the baby-naming task with the creative verve of a yam-smearing performance artist.

Other facts, cuckoo and non-cuckoo, that got my attention:

– I think 2004 is the year the world went insane. Not because Bush beat Kerry or the Red Sox beat the Yankees, but because for the first time ever, girls named “Heather” were outnumbered by girls named “Heaven.”

– “Michael” is the Michael Jordan of male names: It’s been in the top 60 since 1880, the top ten since 1943, and number one or two every year since 1954. “Joseph” has done pretty well too: it’s been in the top 15 from 1880 to the present, and “John” was #1 from 1880 all the way till 1923, and it’s still in the top twenty.

– “Emily” had a streak of twelve straight #1 rankings from 1996 to 2007, while “Jennifer” pulled off fifteen straight #1’s from 1970 to 1984, and Mary retained the top spot from 1880 to 1946! Mother Mary on a motorboat, that’s impressive. “Emma” has had its ups and downs, but it was #3 in 1880 and #2 in 2006.

– The top ten most common names for twins are all alliterative: Jacob and Joshua, Matthew and Michael, Madison and Morgan, etc. I guess Beavis and Butthead have been more influential than Heckle and Jeckle.

– My vote for worst male name would go to Messiah (#798). However, I am happy to know that even if America faces a dearth of scientists and mathematicians, we will have plenty of messiahs, who I’ve heard can be helpful. Of course, “Jesus” has been doing quite well as a name for the past hundred years, only dropping out of the top 1,000 once since 1880 and staying in the top 100 since 1990. That’s a lot of Jesuses – or “Jesi,” as Stephen Colbert puts it.

My vote for worst male name would go to Messiah (#798).

– My runner-ups for worst male name are “Ace” (which sounds like an insult to me: “Nice job peeing the bed, Ace”) and “Maxim” (an homage to the mega-boobed magazine?).

I have only one suggestion for the Social Security braintrust: please, can we wager? I was too terrified to click the link for “Future Financial Status of Social Security,” but even concussed ferrets are aware that trouble’s a-comin’. So get with the fundraising, oh government of ours: let us bet on next year’s name rankings. Given the mountains of data to analyze, the fun of betting on your own name (and those of your family), plus the success of non-sporty sports like poker and spelling bees, I don’t think this name game can miss.

In fact, I’d wager that this milestone in demographic gaming would even interest ESPN – the network, not the kid.