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Charting the Historical Popularity of First Names

Parents aren’t naming kids “Osama” that often anymore.

As a kid who came dangerously close to being named Theophilus before his siblings intervened, I have to hand it to my parents for their prediction skills. That awful moniker (sorry, Theophili!) is enjoying a comeback, with a record 38 babies receiving the name in 2014:


This insight comes from the magazine Braid, which has crafted a nice tool for exploring the historical popularity of names. Using data from the Social Security Administration, it graphs trends from the 1940s (most common names: James, Mary) up to 2012 (Jacob, Sophia). It’s an eye-opening way to spend a few minutes, though it doesn’t get into the musty findings from the bottom of the records cabinet, like the fact there were 21,724 babies named Minnie in the 1880s.

Braid delves into the adulation of a few modern musicians, such as the rise of hundreds of mewling Kanyes the year the rapper dropped his first major album:


Here are a few other discoveries. The 1950s were a heyday for Biffs:

Adolph endured an unusually long time after World War II:

In 2011, there were 16 girls named Dim:

Madison peaked as a male name in the mid-1990s (269 babies) and a female one in 2001 (my lord, 22,158 babies):

2010 was a good … well, the only year for boys named Cadillac:

Emma, the most popular female name for 2014, has been going strong since its peak in 2003 at 22,701 babies:

And as one commenter points out, the practice of naming kids Osama “took a major hit after 2001”:

Top image: artellia/

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.