8 Names That Bridge Generations

Four-GenerationsMy Mom has friends named Barbara. I have friends named Amy. My Mom and I both have friends named Deb. Deb (or Deborah, Debra, Debora, etc.) seems imaginable on anyone between 35-60. This is a large age range for a feminine name, since feminine names are known to date more quickly than masculine names. I double-checked the Social Security name stats to see if this was all in my head.

As expected, Deborah was a top name for my Mom’s generation, peaking at #2 in 1955. Deborah’s popularity started to fall throughout the 1960s and 70s, but the name remained in the top 100 until 1977.

Deborah entered the top 100 in 1947. Three short years later, it hit the top 10 in 1950. This is a name that climbed quickly, and was slow to decline. But the name did decline, and in 2011 (the most recent year data is available) only ranked at #807.

Granted, Deborah didn’t rank nearly as high for my generation as it did for my Mom’s generation, but I expected Deborah to rank higher than it actually did in the mid-1970s. In the early part of the 1970s the name was no longer in the top 20, but was still in the 30s, but after 1974 the name left the top 50 and begun its decline, leaving the top 100 before the decade was through.

In 1975 Deborah ranked at #86. But the name felt more common than a #86 ranking suggests. And for my generation, a name that ranked around Deborah’s vicinity didn’t normally seem that common.

A ranking of #86 may seem common by today’s standards, now that parents prioritize unique names, but in a time when unique names weren’t prioritized, a #86 ranking normally would have seemed reasonably uncommon.

To give further perspective, in high school I had a friend named Anna, which ranked at #79 in 1975. Her name felt somewhat uncommon (certainly not unfamiliar, being a name that was popular on earlier generations, but unexpected on my generation) yet her name ranked slightly higher than Deborah that year. And Deborah felt like the more expected name on someone my age.

Why is that? If you are a big-time name fanatic like me you probably already know the answer, but for the benefit of everyone else, the answer lies in nicknames and alternative spellings. Most Deborah’s automatically became Deb, and so did most Debra’s.

For all practical purposes, Debra was almost as popular as Deborah, peaking at #2 in 1956 (the year after Deborah peaked at #2), and remained popular for almost as long, not leaving the top 100 until 1975. In 1975 Deborah ranked at #86 and was given to 3,417 newborn girls; Debra ranked at #115 and was given to 2,443 girls for a total of 5,860 girls. Most of these girls would become “Deb”. While proving exactly how many Deborah’s and Debra’s became “Deb” is difficult, the numbers suggest “Deb” was more popular than Anna as a call name for someone born in 1975, despite the similar rankings for Deborah, Debra, and Anna.

There was another name that had a ranking similar to Deborah that same year, Allison. I also knew an Allison in high school. I remember her name didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but was just different enough. In 1975 Allison ranked at #89 and was given to 3,352 newborn girls. 1975 could have been a pivotal year, the year Deborah was in decline while Allison was on its way up.

The 1970s was when Deborah passed the torch to Allison. By 2011, Allison ranked at #40. It has been in the top 50 since the 1980s, and has stayed in the 30s and 40s for nearly three decades.

Allison may be the more successful name. Allison didn’t have the high peak and trough of Deborah. Allison appears to have hit a plateau, and Allison may have more staying power and eventually become a modern classic while Deborah has since become dated.

There are a few things that could upset Allison’s winning streak, and cause Allison to eventually join Deborah in the dated ranks: the growing popularity of the similar Alice (at #142 and trending upwards), and the similar, and already popular Addison (at #13 and slightly past its peak of #11 in 2007 & 2010). On the other hand, the fashion clout of Alice and Addison could suggest Allison still has an appealing style. We will have to wait and see.

But besides a different downward trajectory, Deborah and Allison have some things in common:

  1. Both rose to popularity quickly.
  2. Both have multiple spellings (Deborah has Debra, Debora, etc., and Allison has Alison, Alisyn, etc.).
  3. But most importantly, both names are imaginable on a large age group.

While Deborah is imaginable on any female between 35 – 60, Allison is imaginable on any female between newborn and 40. Anyone can imagine an Allison with a Grandma Deb, and the Mom could be Allison or Deb.  My generation is where the two names overlap.

I like to all these “cross-generational” names. Often these names become modern classics, names that aren’t imaginable on the grandparents, but equally imaginable on parents and their children. But sometimes, such as with Deborah, the names do hit their decline and eventually become dated.

Here are some other cross-generational names. Maybe you and your parents (or you and your kids) have friends with these names:

Allison (or Alison, Allisyn, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1974 – 2011
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 40

Brian (or Bryan)

  • Years in the top 100: 1947 – 2009
  • Imaginable ages: 15 to 50*

Cynthia

  • Years in the top 100: 1945 – 1993
  • Imaginable ages: 30 – 60

Deborah (or Debra, Debora, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1947 – 1976
  • Imaginable ages: 35 – 60

Eric (or Erik, Erick, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1950 – 2010
  • Imaginable ages: 10 to 50*

Jenna

  • Years in the top 100: 1984 – 2006
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 30

Kyle

  • Years in the top 100: 1974 – 2008
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 40

Megan (or Meghan, Megyn, etc.)

  • Years in the top 100: 1975 – 2007
  • Imaginable ages: Newborn to 40

* I feel I owe an explanation for why I can’t imagine Brian on anyone under 15 or Eric on anyone under 10 despite these names being in the top 100 as recently as 2009 and 2010. I can’t really give a good explanation. The imaginable age ranges are based solely on my perceptions, and you may disagree with them. Feel free to disagree with the age ranges.

Readers: Can you think of any other cross generational names?

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Comments

  1. I cannot imagine a baby Allison simply because all Allison’s I know are teens and up, Eric, however I can see on newborn to middle aged men/boys.

    Some others I thought of
    Jason- Teen to 40 (I know it’s still in the top 100, but it’s kinda like you and Eric. I just cannot imagine it on a little kid. Anyone 12 and under is just more likely to be a Jayden instead)
    Joshua- Newborn to 40
    Sean- Elementary schooler to 40
    The most obvious one of course would be Natalie.

  2. I’m always amazed how often I see in BAs entire sibsets that sound as if they could be the same age as their parents. Even though people complain about “trendy, modern” names, there seem to be a lot of parents who are happy choosing the same names they went to school with.

    Ones I see ALL the time include Emma, Emily, Erin, Amy, Leah, Rachel, Rebecca, Megan and Katie for girls, and Andrew, Benjamin, Christopher, Michael and Damien for boys.

  3. Michelle comes to mind. I’ve met Michelles of all ages — from preschool age to (just shy of?) retirement age.

    • To me Michelle has a timeless style but I have only heard of one (in a magazine, not real life) that was a baby. In real life I have never met one under 30. Michelle might be a name I would consider for our “unfairly dated names” series.

  4. Regan -baby to 30s
    Jonas -baby to 30s
    Lisa -30s to 60s

  5. Ellen-I know a 30-ish mom, a teenager and an infant named Ellen. Baby Ellen’s mom is named Hayley, which is another cross-generational name (or at least has the potential to become one).

  6. Laura could also fit here, or is it more of an evergreen name?

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