Last time, we talked about how just because a name is in the Top 100 doesn’t mean it’s too common to use. Today, we take it further.
I would declare this: that EVEN A TOP 10 NAME is not too common to use. I know, right? Pretty bold, yes?
Check out the name Emily. It has been the #1 most popular girl name in the U.S. for the last twelve years. It was no slacker before then, either: it’s been in the Top 50 since 1975. That is a long time to be popular—and yet I don’t know ONE SINGLE CHILD with the name Emily. Between them, my first two children have been in nine classrooms and three summer camps, and not one single Emily. You’d think you’d be stepping on a heap of Emilys every time you turned around, and yet at least some of us are not.
Aside from the occasional fluke (in one of William’s classes—but only one—there were two Isabellas, two Abigails, two Emmas, two Jacobs, and three Williams), this is true of all the Top 10 names: even though they’re the most popular names, they’re still not born so often that there are “five in every classroom.” The expression “five in every classroom” is an exaggeration I would love to see die out, because it is scaring the people who think it means they have to name their daughter Xzathianna unless they basically want her to be Jennifer.
Waiting for a parent-teacher conference with a teacher who was way behind schedule, I walked up one side of the school hallway and down the other. Outside of each door was a decoration made from the students’ first names. Just about every single classroom had a Jacob: Jacob has been the most popular name for boys in the U.S. for the last nine years, and it’s been in the Top 50 since 1978. But none of the classrooms had TWO Jacobs. I saw quite a few Emmas and Madisons and Laurens—but not TWO per classroom. Just one.
Even my assertion that there was a Jacob in every classroom is highly suspect: just over 1.5% of boys were given that name in 2001. That’s roughly 3 Jacobs per 200 boys. If classrooms are about half boys, and there are about 20 kids in a class, that’s 3 Jacobs per TWENTY classes. And that is the most popular boy name. Let’s just pause a moment so this can sink in. Number ONE most popular boy name. Three of them per twenty classrooms. Not per class.
In 2001 when my son was born, 32,493 U.S. boys were named Jacob; 25,043 U.S. girls were named Emily. Jacob was the most popular name for boys, and Emily the most popular name for girls. In 1973, the most popular name for boys was Michael, and there were 67,799 new ones born that year. The most popular name for girls was Jennifer, and there were 62,434 new ones born that year.
See that? Significantly more than DOUBLE the number of children had the top name in 1973 than in 2001. Since class size has also been decreasing in some areas (classes were often 25 to 30 in my childhood schools, but my kids’ classes have been around 20), you can see how that would dramatically impact the “five in every class” problem. If there were 2-1/2 times more Jennifers than Emilys, in a class 1-1/2 times as large, then a classroom with 1 Emily born in 2001 would have had 3 to 4 Jennifers born in 1973.
Well, goodness! That does explain the near paranoia the current parents have about using an overly-popular name! Although, my numbers are unrealistic: there ISN’T one Emily per classroom, but more like…[IMPENDING MATH ALERT! Feel free to duck out for a few lines]…let’s see…1.27 Emilys per 100 female births is 1 Emily per 79 female births. Those 79 girls would divide into about 8 classrooms of 20 children (approximately half of them girls). So that’s 1 Emily per 8 classes, on average across the United States. At their highest peak in 1973-1974, there were 4.03 Jennifers per 100 female births: about 4 Jennifers for every 10 classes of 20 kids, or about 4 Jennifers for 6.66 classrooms of the 30-kid classes I remember in the ’70s. Still fewer than 1 Jennifer on average per class, even for a name so legendary in its overuse it is STILL mentioned as the prime example of name people don’t want to give their kids. “I don’t want her to be, like, a JENNIFER,” they say.
Well, don’t worry about it, because there aren’t any names as overused as Jennifer right now. In 2007, the #1 girl name was not even 1% of all female births; compare that once again to Jennifer, which in its prime was more than 4% of all female births.
If you like a Top 10 name, and it is your favorite, and you love it—then go ahead and use it. Take the rising and falling of names into account, take the ranking of names into account—but if the name you want is a Top 10 name, you really don’t have to worry that there will be five in every classroom.