Monday, January 11, 2010

Hot Baby Names for 1710

Over the past few weeks, the onomasts on the internet have been publishing their lists of the top baby names of the past decade and their predictions for 2010's hot trends.

Reading these lists got me wondering about the top names of 1710. I'm usually on the lookout for unusual names (Orange Wedge, Belcher Noyes, Fanny Forward, etc.) and pass over the Johns and Marys without comment. But what better way to engage the  modern interest in classic (and faux-classic) European baby names than to run the numbers for the 18th century?

Without further ado, the top baby names of 1710 Boston*:

1. Mary
2. Elizabeth
3. Sarah
4. Abigail
5. Susanna
6. Hannah
7. Ann/Anna
8. Rebecca

10. Jane
12. Johanna

1. John
2. William
3. Thomas
4. James
5. Samuel
7. Nathaniel
8. Jonathan
9. Richard
10. Abraham


The sample size is pretty small, hence the multiple ties. I should crunch numbers for a whole decade to eliminate ties.

You probably didn't need me to tell you that John and Mary were popular names, but there are a few surprises. Most of the names on these lists top-200 names in America today, but a few are rare. Can you spot them? The girls' list has five names currently ranked in the top 1,000, but not the top 200, and two that aren't in the top 1,000. The boys' list has one in the top 1,000, but not the top 200, and one that isn't in the top 1,000. Answers at the bottom of the page.**

One thing that struck me about these lists is how heavily secular they are. It may seem silly to call a list that includes Ebenezer and Abraham "secular," but this Boston list looks a bit different from the names given to children born in Windsor, Connecticut between 1635 and 1680:***

1. Mary
2. Sarah
3. Elizabeth
4. Abigail
5. Hanna
6. Rebecca
7. Ann/Anna
9. Joanna
11. Esther/Hester
13. Hepzibah

1. John
2. Samuel
3. Thomas
4. Nathaniel
5. Joseph
6. Josiah
7. Benjamin
8. Jonathan
9. Isaac
10. Daniel
12. Timothy
13. James

The girls' list looks fairly similar to the Boston list. It's got more of a Biblical feel to it, though: the only girls' name that is not found in the Bible is Mindwell, whereas Bostonians were using names like Jane, Lucy, Katherine, Margaret, etc. When 18th-century Bostonians chose virtue names, they went for Mercy, not Mindwell.

The secular/Biblical divide is even more stark for the boys' list. While 18th-century Bostonians embraced names like William, Richard, Robert, Edward, and Francis, 17th-century Connecticutians did not. William is the only non-Bible name on the Windsor list, and it's pretty far down. Of the 533 boys born in Windsor between 1635 and 1680, 2 were named Robert, 2 Richard, 2 Edward, and 2 Francis. What other names were unpopular enough to be given to only 2 Windsor boys during that time period? Try Obadiah, Tahan, Moses, and Jehoiada. Put it another way: Edward and Robert were less popular than Zerubbabel and much less popular than Hezekiah in 17th-c. Windsor.

One last thing: let no one praise 18th-century Bostonians for their classic English names while moaning about the outlandish names given to modern American children. There are plenty of unusual names in the 1710 Boston Birth Records. My favorite is Cumby Mires, with honorable mention honors going to Pool Varney, Beamsly Perkins, Palsgrove Hunt, and Gammon Stevens.

*This list is based on the Boston Birth Records for 1710, so it is not applicable to the colonies as a whole. The Boston Birth Records generally include children of all races born within the city limits, but it is possible that births to enslaved Africans and Indians may have been underreported. The sample includes 140 girls and 129 boys.
**For girls: Joanna (#283), Ruth (362), Jane (#390), Martha (#617), Ann (#830, though Anna is #26), Susanna (not in top 1,000), Mercy (not in top 1,000). For boys: Francis (#656), Ebenezer (not in the top 1,000 - I think Charles Dickens really killed that one). Abraham is #187, in case you were wondering.
*** Names taken from the Windsor Church Records, sample size: 478 girls, 533 boys.


J. L. Bell said...

I recall one of the striking findings of Daniel Scott Smith’s study of given names in rural Massachusetts about 1740 is how many more people shared the top ten names than we see today. And among women, the top ten were even more predominant. Almost everyone really was named Mary, Elizabeth, Hannah, or Sarah. Are you looking at that variable in your surveys?

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Absolutely. For example, in the sample from Windsor, the top 5 women's names (Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth, Hannah, Abigail) account for 65% of all names. For the men, the top 5 (John, Samuel, Thomas, Nathaniel, Joseph) account for 51% of all names. That's actually a reversal of modern trends — today, the top girls names are given to fewer babies than the top boys' names. I suppose there are a lot more masculine names when you are looking to the Bible, English royalty, and family surnames for your baby naming ideas.

I'm just sort of poking at these names for fun. Maybe after I get a whole decade's worth of data, I'll be able to make some more concrete conclusions. It doesn't make sense to do that with just one year of data — the sample is too small.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Also, available data suggests that, in each of the last few years, fewer babies have been given the top ten names. Perhaps the availability of naming data on the internet has pushed people away from popular names now that they're comparing their name choices nationally, not just locally.