Saturday, October 19, 2013

Baby Names and the Reign of Jennifer

The Jezebel site published a series of maps showing the popularity of girls' names by state over the past 50-plus years.

There are no surprises here for people who keep up with naming trends, but it's pretty cool to see it as an animated GIF.

The most striking thing is the utter dominance of Jennifer in the 1970s and '80s.

Jennifer (once extremely obscure) gradually gained popularity in the decades after World War II. Its supremacy was achieved in 1970 when the movie "Love Story" came out.

Apparently Americans' reaction to watching a Leukemia-stricken girl fall in love and then die was, "Hey, cool name."

It's equally amazing that Jennifer was still No. 1 in 1984. You would think soon-to-be parents would have noticed that the nation's schools were already overrun with kids named that, forcing girls to go by things like "Jennifer C.," "Sporty Jen" and "Jenny from the Block."

Note: I have no issue with the name and have had mostly positive experiences with girls called Jennifer (though one in elementary school sent me a card that said, "Happy Valentine's Day. I don't like you.").

For a while it looked like Emily might threaten Jennifer's record. It was No. 1 for 12 years (and if you include its cousin Emma, 13 years). But it never had the state-by-state dominance of Jennifer. Through most of the 1970s, Jennifer was ranked first in almost every state. Emily never came close to that.

I also like the current No. 1: Sophia. As I've said before, Americans are mostly exhibiting great taste in girls' name these days (aside from Madison).

We know quite a few Sophias under the age of 6, but I have a hard time seeing the name duplicate Jennifer's 15-year run. For one, people have the Internet now and can easily see data such as the maps above. In the Jennifer days, parents would just pick up a baby-naming book or maybe poll friends and family.

I would love to see a similar animated GIF for boys' names over the decades — spoiler: Jacob will feature prominently — but that's unlikely to come from Jezebel, a site for women. (The name Jezebel, by the way, is not in the Social Security Administration's top 1,000. But that's probably due to its unfair association with prostitutes.)

Is there a men's version of Jezebel that can create this?

UPDATE: Now that I think of it, Jennifer may have been the last thing that we all agreed upon as a country. I mean, every state thought Jennifer was awesome. Red state, blue state — they all loved it.

Rather than bemoaning its absurd level of popularity, maybe we should cherish our Jennifers as a symbol of national unity.

To any Jennifers who may be reading this, I salute you.