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The Most Distinctive Baby Names for Each of the Past 7 Generations

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Some names seem to have been around forever, and yet seem perfectly contemporary to name your child even today. Think James for boys or Mary for girls, which have seen high levels of use since the beginning of record-keeping. Other names, however, are just evocative of a specific era and can sometimes give strong clues to the person’s year of birth. Girls named Linda were most likely born in 1947, while odds are good that the average kindergarten boy you run into these days will have a name that ends in n.

Calculating the names that are most popular in a year or years is fairly straightforward, and can be done by looking at the Social Security Administration’s baby name database. However, if you want to find out the girls and boys names that are most distinctive to an era, looking at the absolute most popular names will not be enough to reveal those really generation-specific names like Maude or Elmer. To do this, I developed a measure of generational distinctiveness. This is calculated by dividing how often a name appears per sex within a generation (as defined within the Strauss-Howe generational theory) and dividing how often it appears per sex throughout the entire period from 1883 to 2015. The higher the score, the more generationally distinctive a name is. Below are the top three most distinctive girls and boys names of every generation based on this measure.

1. LOST GENERATION // 1883-1900

Girls: Maude, Effie, Minnie
Boys: Will, Harry, Charlie

Members of this generation were defined by coming of age during World War I and the 1920s. Gertrude Stein used the term in a conversation with Ernest Hemingway (“you are all a lost generation”). It was originally used to describe Hemingway and other writers of that era including F. Scott Fitzgerald and ee cummings.

The popularity of Maude is usually attributed to the 1855 poem "Maud" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Effie, a diminutive for Euphemia, was likely inspired by Effie Gray, who was at the center of a publicized Victorian love triangle. Minnie (short for Wilhelmina) was more popular still in the 1880s, but stayed in use for longer, making it less distinctive to the Lost Generation. The most Shakespearean of names—William—was the #2 name for boys until 1909. However, its shortened form of Will was most unique to the Lost Generation. Harry peaked in 1889 at #8 for boys and had a steady but not rapid decline in subsequent decades. Charlie similarly piggy-backed off Charles, which was the #5 name for boys but stuck around for longer than the diminutive form.

2. G.I. GENERATION // 1901-1924

Girls: Gertrude, Mildred, Viola
Boys: Elmer, Chester, Clarence

Members of this generation came of age during the Great Depression and World War II.

Gertrude is the quintessential late 1800s/early 1900s girls name, used both in popular fiction and by well-known socialites. Mildred was the more popular overall, staying at #6 from 1912 to 1920, but remained in use for longer after the end of the generation than Gertrude did. Also from literature (specifically Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), Viola was big in the early 1900s before sharply retreating. Looney Tunes character Elmer Fudd premiered in 1940, and odds are he’d be in his 40s by then if he was real, as the name peaked in the late 1800s but kept being given to boys into the early 1900s. Chester stayed in the top 50 most popular boys names throughout the 20th century’s first two decades, likely buoyed by the presidency of Chester A. Arthur. Clarence peaked in 1901 at #17 for boys and stayed in the top 30 for the whole generation, so was more popular than Elmer or Chester but didn’t decline as rapidly in subsequent decades.

3. SILENT GENERATION // 1925-1942

Girls: Dolores, Betty, Joan
Boys: Gene, Billy, Norman

Members of this generation are defined by the post World War II McCarthyist period. "Silent" is a reference to “working within the system” and not wanting to disturb the social order. The term was coined in a TIME magazine essay in 1951.

Few American-born girls are named Dolores today, but in the 1920s, the name became synonymous with beauty and glamor, first with model Kathleen Rose (stage name Dolores) and then with Mexican actress Dolores del Río. Like Dolores, Betty also peaked in 1930 but was much more popular overall that year at #2. However, Betty stuck around longer, making it less distinctive to the era. Joan peaked in 1932, likely driven by the success of actress Joan Crawford. Gene (short for Eugene) never truly broke out but was consistently around #70 for boys names for the entire generation. Billy did break out in 1930 likely due to the release of film Billy the Kid. Child actor Norman Chaney’s short movie career peaked around the time that the name Norman reached the height of its popularity.

4. BABY BOOMERS // 1943-1960

Girls: Linda, Judy, Gail
Boys: Gary, Larry, Dennis

Members of this generation were born in the “baby boom” years when the U.S. birth rate grew rapidly after World War II.

Inspired by a Buddy Clark song of the same name, Linda may well be the trendiest baby name of all time, and it was an immensely popular girls name for Baby Boomers. Judy—a diminutive of Judith—peaked and dipped around the same time as Linda, but was not as popular overall. Gail, short for Abigail, peaked in 1951. For boys, Gary peaked at #9 in 1954 after a decade or so of Oscar wins by actor Gary Cooper. Larry and Dennis attained their maximum popularity a few years prior to that.

5. GENERATION X // 1961-1981

Girls: Tammy, Tracy, Tonya
Boys: Todd, Scott, Chad

Members of this generation get their name from the 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland. A Pew Research report refers to Generation X as "America’s neglected 'middle child'" due to its position between the much larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations.

Todd and Scott are two of the earliest popular examples of the use of what were once exclusively last names as first names. Chad peaked in 1972 as the #25 most popular boy name, and the vast majority of Chads were born during Generation X. Likewise with girls named Tammy, Tracy, and Tonya.

6. MILLENNIALS (GENERATION Y) // 1982-2004

Girls: Brittany, Kelsea, Chelsea
Boys: Cody, Zachary, Kyle

Members of this generation are often the children of Baby Boomers, and have overtaken them as the largest population group. The name was popularized by the book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe.

Babynamewizard’s Laura Wattenberg has pointed out that we have seen an increase in alternate spellings of names, but not necessarily an increase in names in recent years. Kelsea and Chelsea are examples of this. Brittany peaked as the third most popular girl’s name in 1989, and just about all the Brittanys are Millennials. Cody and Kyle are also first names that were originally last names. Zachary peaked as 12th most popular boy’s name in 1994 and probably owes its increased popularity to celebrities Robin Williams and John Denver, who picked this name for their kids starting in the early 1980s.

7. HOMELAND GENERATION (GENERATION Z) // 2005-present

Girls: Addison, Nevaeh, Zoey
Boys: Ayden, Aiden, Jayden

Babies being born today would be counted as members of this generation. “Homeland” was picked as the name for the post-Millennial generation in a website contest hosted by Neil Howe. The term is in reference to the post-9/11 American political climate.

Robbie Gonzalez at io9 called the habit of ending boys names in n “one of the weirdest naming trends in American history," and names that rhyme with Aidan are a popular subset of these. This is evidenced by the top three boys names. Nevaeh is the word heaven spelled backwards and was popularized by musician Sonny Sandoval naming his daughter that in 2000. Zoey is a phonetic variant of the Greek name Zoe, which was popularized through use in several TV shows. Addison’s popularity stems from its rhyming with Madison, which became popular as a girl’s name after the movie Splash featured a mermaid that picked it as her own. It also continues the trend of last names becoming first names. In a nod to the Lost Generation, Madison’s original male meaning is “son of Maud.”

Source and Methodology: The source is the Social Security Administration’s baby names database and includes births through 2015 (most recent available). For this analysis, no births before 1883 were included. Name totals were grouped by sex for all names (two groups), as well as by sex within each of the seven most recent Strauss-Howe generations (14 sub-groups). These totals were then used to calculate the total incidence within each sex as well as the incidence within each sex by generation. Generational distinctiveness was calculated by dividing incidence by sex and generation by total incidence by sex. To ensure a level of relative popularity, the minimum threshold for a name’s inclusion in a sub-group is that it has to comprise at least .25 percent of total births within that sub-group.

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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