The baby names list is one of my favourite datasets. Everyone has a name, so everyone can find something interesting in a list of names. Is your name at the top? Great, you’re popular. Is your name not even on the list? Wow, you’re unique. Or unique-ish, anyway, as names that were given to only 1 or 2 babies are excluded from the list for privacy reasons.
My particular areas of interest are, of course, my name, and also gender-neutral names*.
My name is Charlie, as you can see, but I’d show up in these stats as a Charlotte. Charlotte was not in the top 100 for most of the last century, shows up in the mid 70s, peaking at the millennium, and showing a downward trend until the birth of a certain royal Charlotte in the mid-2010s**.
Charlie as a girls’ name made a brief showing in the late 90s/early 00s, and Lottie (another common shortening of Charlotte) from 2014 – a year before the aforementioned Princess was born. Alternative spellings Charley and Lotty have never been in the top 100.
(note I’m fairly certain we only have data every ten years up until a certain point – I don’t think Charlotte jumped into the top 100 in 1974, 1984, 1994 only to disappear completely in between)
When meeting or speaking to people for the first time after previously communicating only by email, I’ve more than once had people exclaim “I thought you were Charlie short for Charles!”, and the stats support that this is not an unreasonable assumption to make. Charles has been in the top 100 boys’ names for the whole of the period we have data for. It shows the same millennium-peak as Charlotte, but when it starts to decline form its peak the name Charlie (as a full name) takes over.
There are now more boys being called Charlie as their whole name than there are boys being called Charles, and Charlie has been in the top 10 for the last decade.
Gender-neutral names are often, in my experience, shortenings of longer names. I am Charlie, my brother is Sam, I have friends called Jess and Alex. When my parents told people “this is Charlie and Sam” and gestured towards a girl child and a boy child, there was no real reason why they’d be able to guess which was which***.
I would have expected there to be not much to see in the baby name stats on gender-neutral names – after all, I’m in there as Charlotte and my brother (if there were stats for his year) would be Samuel. But there seems to be much more now a trend to name children names that previously would only have been a nickname or shortening. One of my friends named her child Teddy and she’s not even embarrassed about it.
So what names can we see if we combine both sets of stats? A quick glance shows us that:
- More boys were born than girls: 348k vs 331k
- The top 10 boys’ names accounted for 13% of the total, whereas the top 10 girls’ names made up only 10% of the total for girls (or put another way: 1 in 7 boys has a top-10 name, but only 1 in 10 girls does)
- There were 1,751 uncommon girls’ names (names given to only 3 baby girls, the minimum required to be included in the stats) but only 1,353 uncommon boys’ names
- 10% of girls had a name that was given to only one or two girls, compared to 7% of boys – these names are not included in the stats
All that can be summed up as “girls are more likely to be given unusual names than boys”.
When we combine the lists and take the overall top 10, we can truthfully repeat the headline that the “top two names are Oliver and Olivia” (this is not necessarily the case – in 2016 the top two names were Oliver and Harry, with Olivia in fourth place, after George). The top 10 is made up of two girls’ names, six boys’ names, and two names that the data say can be used for boys or girls. Charlie is there of course, but so is Noah. That’s not one I would have expected, and there are 700x as many boy Noahs as girl Noahs, so we may still be safe in thinking of Noah as a (mainly) “boys’ name”.
Are there names that are more equal? The most popular name with exactly equal numbers of boys and girls is Avery, with 65 of each. Lamar and Darby both have 11 girls and 11 boys. The most evenly-split name given to over a thousand babies is Frankie, which is 2.6 times more popular for boys than girls. There’s no comparable girl-skewed quite-popular quite-evenly-split name: Harper comes closest, with over a thousand babies, but only 1 in 32 of them is a boy.
If we think of names as approaching neutrality from one side or the other, is it more acceptable to give a girl a “boys’ name”, and so is it more usual to have a large minority of girls with traditionally-male names? Only very brave parents will give their boys traditionally-female names.That’s my guess, but that’s definitely me applying my existing thoughts to the data. The data tells us what people are calling their babies, but not why.
*I’m going to talk about “boys’ names” and “girls’ names” all the way through here because that’s what they are called by the ONS, but we know that you CAN of course give any name to any baby
**What are we calling this decade by the way? I think the previous one is the “Noughties”, but what are we in right now?
***Other than that you always say the name of the older child first, right?