Unisex baby names

The names we give our children can tell us something about the society we live in. I’ve posted about this a few months ago. This data is from the U.S. Census Bureau. Take a look at the following chart.

The name Leslie can be male or female. It seems that in the 1940’s and 1950’s it became popular for baby girls. About that same time, it became less popular for boys. I speculate that in those days it was important that boys not be saddled with a “girl’s name.” Now compare it to this one:

Drew is another unisex name. However, it became popular with both sexes at about the same time, mostly in the 1990’s. I suspect that issue is not so important now since the whole LGBT wave hit. It’s not hard finding other unisex names in the last twenty to thirty years to support this latter conjecture, e.g., Jamie, Shawn, Cameron. It’s not as easy to see other examples to support my earlier speculation about boys not wanting girls’ names. Jackie did decline as a boy’s name in the 1960’s as it became popular during Jackie Kennedy’s tenure as First Lady, but it had already begun a slide for boys.

In my previous posts I showed how pop culture made some names more popular. It was easy to spot when certain singing or movie stars began their rise by looking at baby charts. It was true even back in the 40’s and 50’s, too, although to a lesser extent. Dwight became popular when Eisenhower was winning the war or in the oval office. Stan became briefly popular during Musial’s reign at the ballpark.  Jamie’s rise for both boys and girls matched very closely with the popularity of The Bionic Woman TV show (main character Jamie) and M*A*S*H (Jamie Farr played Klinger). It’s a bit harder to pinpoint why some names made their surge. Drew, for example, got popular for girls mostly in the early to mid 1990’s. It started earlier for boys. It’s tapered off for both, but stayed fairly popular for boys. The girl’s part might be attributable to Drew Barrymore’s brief time in the spotlight, but she wasn’t that major a media star that I recall. Drew Carey had a successful long-running comedy show, but his character was nerdy, hardly the kind of star power to inspire naming your child after him, and in any event, the rise for boys’ names began before that show.

Consider the next chart:

Pamela is a made-up name from the famous novel Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson (1740) but I haven’t been able to find any reason for its resurgence in the middle of last century. Similarly, I don’t know why Beau is suddenly popular for boys. Fashion may explain a lot of this of course, but I find it odd that Beau’s newfound popularity seems to be centered in Montana, Idaho, and Utah when state records are examined. Is there a popular white supremacist named Beau that I haven’t heard about? I always thought Beau was short for Beauregard, a name I associated with the South, but that is the region where Beau is the least popular. Penny had a similar surge almost identical to Pamela’s, but unlike poor Pam, Penny has come back into popularity a bit in the last few years.

The charts can be compared to each other time-wise, but not on the height of the popularity bars because they are at different scales. To judge absolute popularity, look at the notation in the lower left giving the maximum popularity. That tells you the scale. Just find the tallest bar and the number tells you what percent of babies that year of that sex were given that name. Other bars on the same chart are to the same scale.

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