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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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10 Fab Facts About George Harrison
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You probably know George Harrison as a Beatle, the lead guitarist of the most famous band in the world. We’re guessing that there’s a lot you don’t know about the youngest of The Fab Four, who was born on this day in 1943.

1. HE WAS ONLY 27 WHEN THE BEATLES BROKE UP.


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George Harrison turned 27 on February 25, 1970, less than two months before Paul McCartney told the world he had no future plans to work with the Beatles. It had been 12 years since Harrison had joined John Lennon’s band, The Quarrymen—shortly after McCartney, his Liverpool schoolmate—in 1958.

2. HE INVENTED THE MEGASTAR ROCK BENEFIT CONCERT.

Before Harrison organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, there were performances for charity, of course. But when his friend, the great Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, told him about the plight of Bangladeshi refugees, victims of both war and a devastating cyclone who now faced starvation, Harrison felt compelled to devote himself to the cause. He recruited stars like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Badfinger, and Leon Russell, and together they played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. Harrison then arranged for the release of a concert album and film. The ventures had raised more than $12 million by 1985, and profits from sales of the movie and soundtrack continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

3. HE WROTE “CRACKERBOX PALACE” ABOUT HIS QUIRKY MANSION.

Harrison nicknamed his 120-room Friar Park mansion “Crackerbox Palace” after a friend’s description of Lord Buckley’s tiny Los Angeles home. The 66-acre property, about 37 miles west of London, was first owned by Sir Frank Crisp, a lawyer who lived there from 1889 to 1919. Harrison bought the estate in 1970—and quickly penned “The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp,” which appeared on his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, also in 1970.

Friar Park was a strange place, with gnomes, grottos, a miniature Matterhorn, and lavish gardens, which Harrison loved to tend. According to the Victoria County History website, the house itself “is an architectural fantasy in red brick, stone, and terracotta, mixing English, French and Flemish motifs in lavish, undisciplined profusion.”

4. HE LOVED HANGING OUT WITH BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND.

All four Beatles were Dylan fans, and first met him in 1964. But Harrison felt a special bond with him, and spent weeks at Dylan’s Woodstock, New York home in the fall of 1968. The Band was there, too, and Harrison loved the collaborative atmosphere. During this time Dylan and Harrison co-wrote “I’d Have You Anytime,” which appeared on 1970's All Things Must Pass. The two would become bandmates in the Traveling Wilburys, and maintained a close, lifelong friendship.

5. THE "QUIET BEATLE" WASN’T SO QUIET.

"He never shut up," friend and fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty once said of Harrison. "He was the best hang you could imagine."

6. WHEN HE LOST HIS VIRGINITY, THE OTHER BEATLES CHEERED.

The Beatles at the EMI studios in Abbey Road, as they prepare for 'Our World', a world-wide live television show broadcasting to 24 countries with a potential audience of 400 million.
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During the band’s early years, they had extended runs as a house band in Hamburg, Germany, and were paid so poorly (and had to be on stage for so many hours) that they shared a small room in the club’s basement. Hence the witnesses to George’s deflowering, at age 17. "We were in bunkbeds," Harrison recalled. "They couldn't really see anything because I was under the covers, but after I'd finished they all applauded and cheered. At least they kept quiet whilst I was doing it."

7. WITHOUT HIM, THERE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN A MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN.

EMI Films, Life of Brian’s original backer, withdrew funding for the Monty Python comedy classic just before filming began, scared that the religious subject matter would be too controversial. Harrison, a big fan and friend of the Pythons, set up his own production company—Handmade Films—to fund the project. Why? "Because I liked the script and I wanted to see the movie,” he explained. Harrison not only saw the film, he appeared in it, as Mr. Papadopolous, "owner of the Mount.” Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979, was a huge hit in both the UK and U.S., and was ranked as the 10th best comedy film of all time in 2010 by The Guardian.

8. HE WAS THE FIRST EX-BEATLE TO SIMULTANEOUSLY TOP BOTH THE SINGLES AND ALBUMS CHARTS.

Harrison began recording the songs that would comprise All Things Must Pass at Abbey Road on May 26, 1970, just weeks after the Beatles broke up. The triple album was released in late November, along with “My Sweet Lord,” the first single from the album. Both the record and the single spent weeks at the top of the Billboard and Melody Maker charts in early 1971, while receiving rave reviews.

9. THE FIRST SONG HE WROTE WAS INSPIRED BY A DESIRE TO TELL PEOPLE TO GET LOST.

Harrison wrote “Don’t Bother Me,” his first first solo composition, while sick in bed at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, England, in the summer of 1963. It “was an exercise to see if I could write a song,” Harrison said. “I don't think it's a particularly good song ... It mightn't even be a song at all, but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good." “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on With The Beatles, their second studio album.

10. HE WAS THE FIRST BEATLE TO VISIT, AND PLAY IN, THE U.S.

In the fall of 1963, Harrison traveled to Benton, Illinois to visit his sister, Louise, and her husband, George Caldwell. During his 18-day stay, Harrison also became the first Beatle to play in the U.S.—appearing on stage with The Four Vests at the VFW Hall in Eldorado. He played the second set with the band, taking over lead guitar and singing "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."

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