If You’d Been Born in a Different Decade…

This is pointless and, as many pointless things are, pretty entertaining. And it tickles all my most ticklish geek-bones…. yay!

Time has taken the updated Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names and created a most elucidating widget. You plug in your name, birth year, and gender. It figures out what rank your name had in that year (for example, my name was the 35th most popular girl’s name given in the year I was born). Then it references the popularity lists for all available decades and tells you what your name would have been, if you had been born then, and if your parents had chosen the name in the same rank spot. Because, obviously, parents pick baby names based on which “place” they’re in, not the way they look or sound or what they mean or who else has them. 🙂

That doesn’t make a lot of sense when I write it out, does it. I should just show you.

So basically, my name was the 35th most popular girl’s name in 1980. If I were born today, and my parents gave me the 35th most popular girl’s name, my name would be Leah.

Applying similar standards to the entire decade, going back a century:

  • If I had been born in the 2000s, my name would have been Bailey (haha; that was my grandmother’s male doggy’s name)
  • If I had been born in the 1990s, my name would have been Christine
  • If I had been born in the 1980s, my name would have been Susan (really? I don’t know anyone my age named Susan…)
  • If I had been born in the 1970s, my name would have been Renee
  • If I had been born in the 1960s, my name would have been Lynn
  • If I had been born in the 1950s, my name would have been Elaine
  • If I had been born in the 1940s, my name would have been Ruby (and how cute would that have been, with red hair?)
  • If I had been born in the 1930s, my name would have been Bernice
  • If I had been born in the 1920s, my name would have been Eva
  • If I had been born in the 1910s, my name would have been Marion
  • If I had been born in the 1900s, my name would have been Jennie (interesting; I don’t think of this as being a “vintage” name)
  • If I had been born in the 1890s, my name would have been Nora

I decided to do the same trick to Ryan. Turns out his name was the 14th most popular name in his birth year. If he were born today, his name would be Aiden and I would have never dated him based on that alone. 🙂

  • 2000s: Christian
  • 1990s: Kyle
  • 1980s: Kevin
  • 1970s: Paul
  • 1960s: Ronald
  • 1950s: Stephen
  • 1940s: Gerald
  • 1930s: Raymond
  • 1920s: Arthur
  • 1910s: Fred
  • 1900s: Arthur
  • 1890s: Albert

So if you like names as much as I do, you should go find out what your other names would be, and share your favorite (and its decade) in the comments. I think if I had to choose one of my alternative names, I’d throw way back to the 1890s (Nora, which is an increasingly popular name right now on its own) or possibly try Elaine (1950s) on for size. Not sure why but those are the two that are appealing to me right this moment. And obviously Ryan would have to be Arthur.


This is Pablo.

This is Pablo. He is my little monkey but will one day soon be passed on to my firstborn. This is funny, you see, because some people like to refer to their babies as being little monkeys.*

I’ve had to stop thinking of Kermie as Pablo because I was actually getting attached to the name, and I don’t think it’s necessarily the most appropriate fit of all time! (Ryan says if the baby is born on May 5, we can name him Pablo; I don’t necessarily think of the name as being from Mexico so much as from Spain, though. Like Picasso! Of course, Pablo Neruda — whose poetry I love — was from Chile. So there you have it.)

(The first Neruda poem I ever read, coincidentally, was about socks.)

Anyway, Pablo is from a grocery store in McCall, Idaho. That is, perhaps, an odd place to find a blue sock monkey with specially-embroidered eyes so that tiny humans with oral fixations don’t chew off the buttons and choke. Nevertheless, that is where Pablo came from. He had a friend who was rainbow colored with a mohawk; if you want a monkey friend, you can probably go to McCall and adopt one for yourself. Or, y’know, since he’s made by TY, you could probably find one somewhere else as well.

Pablo has been trying to help Ryan and I figure out what — if not actually Pablo or Kermit — to name our impending progeny.

Pablo with name book

As of today, Pablo (and Kermit) notwithstanding, there are eight names still on the list. Eight is better than twelve but still not as good as 2-3, so we took advantage of a very nice overnight getaway to see if our brains functioned any better at 5,000 ft than they did at 2,700 ft. We put each of the eight names onto its own little sheet of paper, and independently ranked them and compared the results, only to find that we had almost exactly opposite rankings — except for the #1 choice which, as soon as I began thinking of it as a real possibility, began to lose its appeal. BECAUSE I AM A FREAK LIKE THAT AND DO THAT TO EVERY SINGLE NAME YAAARGH WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.

Ryan then seized the opportunity to do some magic math, and combined our two rankings into one composite ranking. You can see Ryan and Pablo hard at work in the extremely well-lit photo here.

Ryan and Pablo do magic math

I then proceeded to drive him crazy by questioning his technique, criticizing his list, and rejecting his results. He responded by throwing me out into the snow and locking the door behind me calmly trying things the way I suggested, coming up with almost the exact same results, and being very nice to me even though I was a nutcase.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Just because we came up with a ranked list this past weekend doesn’t mean that we actually have an answer, a top-three list, or anything that we’re ready to share with anyone. I’m sorry if that hurts anyone’s feelings, but that’s what we need right now as we continue to get our bearings on this.

Some of the names that had been early frontrunners are very traditional, fairly common names; three of the eight names, in fact, are among the top 20 nationwide from 2011. I didn’t necessarily have an enormous problem with that, especially given that these three names aren’t quite as popular in Idaho as they are across the country… until I got to thinking about the fact that our last name is so incredibly common. Ryan has had trouble getting a unique email address for this reason, and even in our relatively small city I’ve had my medical records mixed up with another woman with my name. I had begun thinking that it might be in Kermie’s best interest to have a little bit less common first name so that he wasn’t one of a thousand Google hits.

Of the other five names, only one is in the top 100 in the United States; the other four didn’t make the cut, although three of them are in the top 300 and the last is in the top 600.

The name that ended up in the #1 spot has two obvious diminuative forms (think Kate for Katherine or Sue for Susanna), one of which — the one we’d prefer — has some definite cultural associations. These are positive but slightly nerdy connotations, and I’m not really uncomfortable with them, even though I’m sure some people would think we named our child “after” one of the famous bearers of said name (which wouldn’t be the case). Oh well!

Two of the names in the top 8 have no apparent nicknames, which is something that kind of bugs me… but maybe not as much as it used to.

Of course, both Ryan and I had favorites that were the other person’s least favorites. It’s too much to ask that, despite always scoring exactly the same on personality tests, etc., we’d like exactly the same names! His #3 is my name #8, and his #4 is my #7; I had a tie for #2, and the two names on my list in that spot are his #6 and #8 choices.

Hmm. Well, we’ll see. I guess it’s at least saying something that, at that particular moment in time, we both liked the same name for choice #1…

Pablo face

* The sentence immediately preceding the asterisk is hilarious. It’s okay if you don’t know why, though. It’s a location joke. Nothing to see here. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, etc.


Then and Now

I was not the little girl who planned out all of the details of her wedding before she turned 12.

I planned everything else, though. One of my favorite pastimes was to go through catalogs and magazines, clipping things (furniture, jewelry, muscle cars, horses) that I wanted to have in my adult life, and pasting them into spiral notebooks. I’d devote pages, not only to nurseries and baby toys, but to carefully curated photographs of infant models that looked like they could, hypothetically, be the product of my loins. The only thing I conspicuously left out was a man.

The Best Baby Name Book in the whole wide world by Bruce LanskyFrom a very early age, I was obsessed with names. My sister was born when I was five and a half, and I clearly remember gradually taking possession of my parents’ dogeared blue baby name book until it took up full-time residency in my room. Man, I love that book. I think I still have the original copy, now probably held together by no more than sheer willpower, but I also have at least a few copies of the updated version that I’ve picked up at library sales. One of them is in my classroom library, where I used it with my creative writing class and, more recently, with my freshmen when they wanted to know whether their own names would smell as sweet after they found out what they meant. The 2004 edition has 30,001 names to the 1984 edition’s 13,001, but I personally prefer the original; most of those 17,000 new names are “American inventions” — names like Shaquanda and Deshawn that don’t have meanings (my favorite part) and aren’t really applicable to me.

Anyway, as a child obsessed with names, I naturally christened my baby dolls (and the hypothetical children in my notebooks) with great care. My girl babies were Olivia, Julie, and Jill (there may have been an Opal in there at some point as well) and my boy babies were James, Alexander, Piers, and Philip. I am not ashamed to admit that that last name was a favorite simply because it meant, according to my blue book, “lover of horses.”

Looking back through those notebooks, it’s clear that taste changes as you grow up. I had invented a lifestyle straight out of the opulent late 1980s/early 1990s, replete in ornate furniture, gaudy animal-themed jewelry, and impossible housepets (think “safari”). Everything was dark wood, tapestry, gold, jewel-toned, big, ruffled, brassy. I must have been picking the most expensive, over-the-top items I could find out of that J.C. Penny’s Christmas catalog. This was not the future lifestyle of a high school teacher, but then again, I had no intention of being a teacher at that point in my life. I was going to be President, perhaps, or a best-selling author, or a world-famous paleontologist/stormchaser. Or Queen; perhaps the reason no man ever made an appearance in my notebooks was that I was saving myself for Prince William, who would eventually marry an entirely different Katherine Elizabeth. The bastard. (I do know that a significant part of my early aesthetic was influenced by the 1981 royal wedding; Grammy had a commemorative picture book that played a big role in my young imagination.)

My taste in names has evolved as well. Julie, Opal, and Philip no longer hold any appeal to me as baby names, and the connotations I once associated with Olivia and Jill have been overwritten by real-life acquaintances. I still like James (and Jim) but have come to the conclusion that I’d really prefer not to use any family names. Piers — a name I liked because I liked the author Piers Anthony — has picked up too much pretention and foreign-ness, a la Piers Morgan, for my taste. And while Alexander is a perpetual favorite, the “er” ending goes poorly with our last name, and I’ve just known too many Alexes at this point to really want to use it for a child.

Today, my “possible baby name” list shows that I tend to prefer traditional names, often with a literary connection. I veer more traditional for boys than I do for girls. There are many more girl names that I like than there are boy names, and I’ve discovered that while I have some strong prejudices in the masculine moniker department (I don’t like one-syllable names with hard consonant endings, and I don’t like names that sound too “cute” for a grown man) there’s no real pattern to what I like or don’t like for girls. For girls in particular, I like names that have a dignified long form and a cute short form (preferably ending in an -y sound); I’m a big fan of shortening and playing with names, so it’s important to me that a name be not only truncate-able but that the short form is pleasant to me as well. (This has caused problems with a former favorite, Sydney, because I really don’t like Syd/Sid.) With boys, that’s still important but not quite as much so — and no, I can’t tell you why. While none of my favorite names are really what you’d call exotic (unless you count Anjuli, which I’ve always loved but wouldn’t seriously use, at least not as a first name), the girl names are more so; I think a (vaguely chauvinistic?) part of me feels like men need nice, solid, conservative names while women’s can be more adventuresome.

Now, when I think about names, it’s less important to me whether they mean “lover of horses” and more important that it’s a name that will serve them well throughout their lives. I think about what that name will say about my adult child, how it will look on a business card, but I also think about what it will sound like shouted in mocking tones in the seventh grade hallway. I love traditional Irish names with their enigmatic spelling, but think twice about how many times a child would have to explain the spelling and pronunciation of Siobhán or Diarmuid.

Most of all, though, because parenthood is nothing if not a collision of selflessness and vanity, it has to be a name I like. 🙂

So what about you? Have your favorite names changed since you were younger? What do or did you consider when naming progeny? Were you as geeky/obsessed as I am (and if so, is The Baby Name Wizard your favorite website, too)? What do you like or dislike in a name?

(BTW — if you’ve had problems posting comments on this site, try not typing in an email address. I’m troubleshooting the problem and think that might be a band-aid.)