Madison is More Popular Than Betty

Madison sign What’s in a name? More than you might think! Genealogists at FindMyPast have reviewed data about names that were taken from the U.S. Social Security Administration and compared the popularity of names from 1940 to the names of children today. A popular name, that is no longer as common, could reflect social changes.

Parents who are seeking a name for their newborn frequently take inspiration from one of two sources. They might select a name that has been passed down through their family for generations, or name their child after his or her grandparent. Or, parents might look to popular culture and choose to bestow a name upon their child that is currently “hot”. This tendency is something that has been going on for generations.

Researchers at FindMyPast.com have analyzed the records of the U.S. Social Security Administration. The SSA has been recording American baby names since 1879. The researchers specifically focused on baby names from 1940, both for boys and for girls.

In 1940, the most popular girls names were: Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Judith, Betty, Carol, Nancy, Linda, Shirley, and Sandra. Not even one of those names made it to the top ten most popular list for girls in 2010. The top of that list starts with Isabella. It continues with Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Emily, Abigail, Madison, Chloe, and Mia.

None of the names that were in the top ten for girls in 1940 appear in the top 100 girls names in 2010. The name Mary can be found in the list of the top 500 names for girls in 2010. This is quite a big difference from 1940, when it was the most popular name!

The name Madison, for girls, has gotten a surge in popularity between 1940 and now. Today, it is the eighth most popular name for girls. Back in 1940, the name Madison would have been bestowed upon a son, not a daughter. The researchers attribute this gender change, and the gain in popularity to a movie called “Splash” which was released in 1984. Daryl Hannah played a mermaid who chose the name Madison. Her inspiration came from a street sign.

The name, Betty, on the other hand, no longer shows up in the top ten. To find it, you have to dig beyond the top 1,000 names for girls in 2010. Madison is way more popular than Betty is!

In 1940, the ten most popular names for boys were: James, Robert, John, William, Richard, Charles, David, Thomas, Donald, and Ronald. Only one, William, is still on the top ten list of names for boys in 2010. That list starts with Jacob, and continues with Ethan, Michael, and Jayden before William appears. From there, the names are Alexander, Noah, Daniel, Aiden, and Anthony.

William is still on both top ten lists, but his popularity has dropped from 4th to 5th. That’s not too bad, especially when you compare the popularity of William with that of Donald and Ronald. They went from 9th and 10th in 1940 to 337th and 342nd today.

Image by Michael Beck on Flickr