American parents are a lot more flexible (or is it creative?) when naming their daughters as opposed to naming their sons. A survey of names since the 1940s found that the most popular names for girls changed seven times more than the most popular names for boys.
So while you won’t find any of the most popular girl names from 72 years ago on this year’s most popular list, at least three boy names are on both lists, according to genealogy website FindMyPast.com.
Even those of us who went with old-fashioned names went a little further back, skipping Betty, Carol and Shirley, which don’t even make the top 1,000 names for girls these days. But for boys, we still welcome plenty of Williams, Jameses and Davids, all of which have been in the top 20 names for boys for decades.
The eighth most popular girl name, Madison, wasn’t even heard of as a first name for girls back then. A researcher for Find My Past says that wildly popular name embedded into little girls’ consciences back in the ’80s in the mermaid movie “Splash.” Once they started having kids, they started naming their girls Madison.
Another difference in name lists for girls and boys besides how rapidly (or not) the names change is the sheer variety in girls’ names compared to boys’. According to the researchers, top 10 girl names represent a smaller overall share of girls than the top 10 names for boys. So if your son’s name is in the top 10, chances are he’ll know a number of other boys with the same name. If your girls’ name is in the top 10, there’s less of a chance that she’ll be on a soccer team full of like-named girls.
Other research into the reasons for the modern girl-boy names list gap may have to do with some very old-fashioned impulses. Namely, marrying off our daughters (ew!). From the Charlotte Observer:
Gender differences in naming may, even now, reflect different parental goals for sons and daughters, remarked Nicholas Christenfeld and Britta Larsen of UC San Diego, in a recent paper in The Psychologist. “By avoiding the most common and old-fashioned names, parents may enhance their daughters’ claims to be young and exotic, and thereby increase their mate value”, suggest Christenfeld and Larsen. “In choosing more common and historically popular names for their boys, parents may signal that their sons are mature and established, and so help them to attract young, exotic mates.”
When picking names for my three kids, each time I remember thinking how it seemed there were more girl names to choose from than boy. I guess this study confirms it. Of course, I’m a little freaked out that I might have been trying to enhance my daughters’ claims to be young and exotic. Probably, I was hoping for the opposite. Yikes! What about you? Surprised by these results?
And isn’t it funny to think that our kids might name our granddaughters Carol? I’m all for it. You?