What Is the Trendiest Baby Name in American History?

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What is the trendiest baby name in American history? Jayden? Madison? Khaleesi?

The answer might not sound so trendy to you: Linda.

Quantifying trendiness is tricky, since there's no universally accepted way to calculate how much of a fad a name was. But according to researcher David Taylor, Linda may very well be the trendiest name ever. Taylor devised a metric for trendiness that takes into account overall popularity as well as steepness of a name’s rise and fall. So while Mary was very, very popular, it was popular over a long time period, and therefore not trendy. And while Deneen had a huge quick spike in popularity over a few years in the 1960s, it never accounted for a very high percentage of names even at its peak.

In 2015, just .022 percent of all female births in the U.S. were Lindas. But in 1947, it had the largest yearly rise ever, accounting for 5.48 percent of all baby girls’ names. This sudden meteoric rise was due to the wild success of one hit single: a 1946 Jack Lawrence song named, appropriately, "Linda."

"Linda" was written in 1942, but only released in 1946, later nearing the top of the Billboard Juke Box Record Plays charts in 1947. The song was written about then-1-year-old Linda Louise Eastman, later known as Linda McCartney.

Linda peaked in popularity as a baby name a year later in 1948, and it would remain in the top 5 names for girls through 1963. However, by 1954, Linda had already declined to be around half as popular as it was at its peak, having been overtaken at number 1 by Mary, the name it had replaced at the top.

For the historically curious, it can be a fun exercise to go through baby name fads to try and discover what led to a name's rise in popularity. Another high profile example from pop culture is the name Shirley, spurred on by the child actress Shirley Temple. Shirley peaked as a baby name in 1935. Like Linda, it didn’t take long for it to decline in popularity.

Going by Taylor’s metric, all but one of the top 10 trendiest names of all time were girl's names. The only top 10 name from male births is Dewey, with peak years at the end of the 19th century. By whatever measure, it does seem to be the case that popular names given to female babies tend to be more ephemeral. A recent compilation of 30 baby name fads by MooseRoots was also mainly names given to girls.

According to a 2009 PNAS study by marketing professor Jonah Berger, this rise-and-fall behavior may actually be the norm and not the exception: "Most names show a period of almost consistent increase in popularity, followed by a decline that leads to abandonment." Berger’s analysis found that what made names differ is "how quickly their popularity rises and declines." Berger examined rates of rise and decline, and found that names which became popular faster tended to be abandoned faster as well. Berger also surveyed expectant parents on their attitudes about baby names. Names that gained quick popularity tended to give parents pause. They were "seen as more likely to be short-lived fads," thereby making parents less likely to adopt them.

Will there be another name like Linda? No and yes. The days when any one name could achieve 5 percent popularity for baby girls seem to be long gone. Top names for girls now hover at around 1 percent, indicative of a much greater overall diversity—and a hesitation to get on a really popular naming bandwagon.

But will parents seek out new names en masse only for those to fall out of favor shortly thereafter? Absolutely. Just as Britney and Miley have declined in recent years, so now Arya and Aria are seeing a bit of Game of Thrones-fueled growth (helped along by the show Pretty Little Liars). What new name will emerge from 2016? Don’t be surprised if a good amount of parents watching Stranger Things this year decide to name their baby girls Eleven.

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December 5, 2016 - 12:30pm
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