Trends: Baby Boy Names

There can be a difference between reality and perception when it comes to name trends. When sensing a trend on the horizon, I’ll admit my predictions are often the result of a gut feeling.

I trust my gut feelings. When I like a name, sooner more often than later, the general public likes the name too. But what kind of credibility would I have if I relied only on my gut?

My gut tells me our modern times are the best times yet to name baby boys, despite complaints from expectant parents about the slim selection of good boy names and the exodus of these few good names “to the girls’ side.”

This may seem unfair since, historically, where naming is concerned, girls had all the fun. Or more accurately, parents had more fun naming baby girls. The top 5 names by decade from 1880s to the 2000s shows a constant shifts in girl name trends, while boy name trends remained steady by comparison.

This can be seen in the chart below. Any name that stays in the top 5 for at least 5 decades since the 1880’s (the earliest decade data is available) is given a color. On the boys’ side, notice all of the different colors showing how the same names were given to boys from decade to decade.

John, William, James, Robert, Michael are all names that have stood the test of time. On the girls’ side, the only name that comes close to these classics is Mary, with Margaret coming in a distance second pre-World War II. Note that post-World War II Margaret is nowhere to be found, but her day is coming, and I will discuss Margaret another time.

Boy names may not yet be as varied as the girl names. The findings in my last post about uncommon vs. unusual names alludes to this. The data shows that in 2010, approximately 50% of boys have names in the top 150, where as only 38% of girls have names in the top 150.

But when it comes to naming boys, parents are more willing to push the envelop than ever before. For evidence let’s look at the top 25 names over time. In 2010, only 18% of boys were given a top 25 name. This number is still higher than the 14% of girls given a top 25 name, but instead of comparing boys to the girls, lets compare boys over the decades. Only ten years ago, 26% of boys received a top 25 name; in 1980 that number was 41%; in 1960 it was only slightly higher at 46%.

One result of this phenomenon are several current popular boy names that fit a particular pattern, most notably repetitious endings. Well known by many parents of kids under five is the “Rhymes with Maiden” trend, spearheaded by Aidan/Aiden.

Sure there was the Ronald and Donald trend in the mid-20th century, but that trend didn’t spawn quite as many spin-offs as Aiden / Jaden / Hayden / Caden / Braeden, and other variations.

I’ve asked myself what is the next “Rhymes with Maiden” trend? After reading much about names in the media, and talking to other parents, I feel I have a good sense of this next trend. But as I said before, I would have no credibility if I couldn’t back up my gut feelings. So I did some research of US Social Security data for the past 10 years.

I had started to hear Hugo, Leo, Milo and Theo repeatedly, and began to suspect there was an up-coming o-ending trend.

Here are the rankings from the US Social Security data on o-enders for the past 10 years:

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Arlo ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Hugo 396 369 365 366 370 368 400 388 407 441
Leo 360 339 285 265 259 236 238 227 209 193
Milo 983 809 794 768 722 675 539 445 450 422
Theo ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 915

** Outside the Top 1000.

The findings revealed:

  • Leo has seen a consistent, steady climb.
  • Theo debuted in the Top 1000 just last year.
  • Milo has seen the most dramatic rise, increasing over 500 places in rank over the past decade.
  • Hugo has been the surprise, with a popularity that has slightly decreased in the past couple of years.

Small fluctuations in rank only represent a small number of babies. Hugo’s drop in rank in 2010 means Hugo was given to 111 fewer babies across the entire US from the previous year, a relatively slight dip. Overall Hugo’s usage has been holding steady.

Why hasn’t Hugo taken off? There are always other variables at play that are hard to measure. Perhaps the association with Hugo Chavez became too strong for some parents, keeping the name from meeting its potential. But this is all speculation.

If the trends hold, Arlo could enter the top 1000 for 2011 or 2012. Of course, like Hugo, there are other variables that could keep Arlo from meeting its potential. Arlo Gutherie could have a positive or negative impact on the name. While anecdotal, I’ve heard some parents lament seeing Arlo on girls, fueling fear that Arlo could “go to the girls.”

The similarity to Marlo does make this a possibility, but since Arlo hasn’t been in the Top 1000 lately, there isn’t a lot of data to confirm or refute that Arlo has “gone girl.” In 2010 Arlo was given to 181 boys and 5 girls, making it seems like primarily a male name for the moment. There’s hope Arlo won’t cross over or perhaps Arlo could become the next Jaiden /Jayden, and become equally acceptable on both genders.

Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an o-ending trend, and I would encourage it. These are great names!

But let’s look even further ahead. This is risky, especially since I’m putting this bold prediction in writing, but I see another up-coming boy name trend. I’ll delve into this trend next time.

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  1. […] truly live in enlightened times, folks. In my first post on baby boy name trends, I addressed that fewer boys are getting top 25 names, by sharing the fact that in 2010 the lowest […]

  2. […] to extrapolate name trends. Such findings were used in these posts: Baby Name Gender Equality, Trends: Baby Boy Names, and Uncommon Baby Names vs. Unusual Baby […]

  3. […] the top 1000 for three decades in the early 20th century, one might think could see new life as another o-ender, if it wasn’t a derogatory term a guy from New York or New […]

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