Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The frequency of names from 1880s to 2004

Ever thought about the frequency of names? I was just reading an article about 10 obscure facts about Jesus. I can't vouch for the veracity of any of the claims made in that article but it did get me to thinking about the frequency of names and how it has changed over the years. Apparently in Jesus' time the name Judas was pretty common. There was Judas Iscariot, Judas Maccabeus, and others, and apparently there are some that claim Jesus had a twin brother named Judas! After doing some prefunctory googling I found this fascinating link that gives us a graphical frequency rank of any mostly anglicized name used between 1880s and 2004. You will not be surprised that Judas Iscariot one of Jesus' apostles has forever ruined the name Judas as a choice for a baby boy's name. There are no Judas names used from 1880 to 2004 in the top 1000 names chosen. One will probably not be surprised to find no single instance of Judas at all in this period. Odd because the name Judas is greek for Judah and that is a name that is still used and means Yehudah which is Hebrew for "praised" - a perfectly acceptable meaning. However the related name Jude has made a real comeback ranking 375th (approximately 170 plus names per million babies). Perhaps the actor Jude Law has something to do with it (I was named after an actor that my mother thought terribly handsome). Apparently Jude is no longer obscure, with apologies to Thomas Hardy. Christ's other apostles are much better represented as a choice for a boy's name. John was the top boy's name in 1880 ranking number 1 and even in 2004 ranked a respectable 18th in the rankings. Likewise, Peter (39th in the 1950s), Mark (ranked 6th in the 1960s), Luke (42nd in 2003) etc. all scored respectably. Some truly awful sounding names (to our modern ears) were really quite popular in days gone by. Gladys was ranked 14th in the 1900s. Imagine almost 5000 per million innocent little baby girls named Gladys in 1900 by well meaning parents. Marvin was very popular in the 1930s for some reason (1800 names per million) and ranked 50th. Plain old Jane was terribly popular in the 1940s with almost 11000 girls being named Jane per million babies. Curiously, the phrase Plain Jane comes from 1912 and apparently in this context Jane is just a generic American slang term for girl or girlfriend (see Jane) So what's in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet but if you were named Rose your name's popularity peaked in the 1910s where it was the 16th most popular name given to girls. Something to think about...

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