Girls’ names are more inventive

by on May 25, 2004 at 7:46 am in Data Source | Permalink

Her parents called her Apple Blythe Alison Martin, hardly a common moniker. The trend, however, is more general:

…the “mutation rate” in names is higher for girls than for boys. Parents, in other words, are more liable to be inventive when choosing a name for a baby girl. The researchers have found that for every 10,000 daughters born in America there is an average of 2.3 new names. For sons, the figure is 1.6.

Why might this be?

One possibility is that in a society where family names are inherited patrilineally, parents feel constrained by tradition when it comes to choosing first names for their sons. As a result, boys often end up with the names of their ancestors. But when those same parents come to choose names for their daughters, they feel less constrained and more able to choose based on style and beauty.

Here is the full story. Here is another summary, with a link to the original research. African-Americans appear to be much more creative in naming than others, see Alex’s discussion.

The bottom line:

Most new parents copy existing names when naming their babies, say Bentley and his colleague Matthew Hahn of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Nonetheless, the overall distribution looks like a product of random copying, they demonstrate. Bentley and Hahn modelled the allotment of baby names in the United States during the twentieth century. The names follow a pattern called a power law: most names are present at a very low frequency, while a small handful are very common.

That being said, it remains a mystery why parents take more chances with the names of their baby girls. But here is the best part of the article, a paean to the leadership abilities of my parents:

But that does not explain the rise of Tyler, which first appeared in the top 1,000 in the 1950s, and reached the top ten in 1992.

I can remember a time when the only other “Tyler” in my mental universe was Henry Kissinger’s dog.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: