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More on the tragedy of the Jennifers

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 13, 2011 07:04 PM

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Writing on today's Globe editorial page, Jennifer Graham laments the rapid disappearance of the first name Jennifer, which only a few decades ago reigned supreme as the nation's most popular name for baby girls.
Indeed, statistics kept by the Social Security Administration show that Jennifer plummeted to number 109 on the list of most popular names in 2009, wedged between Ruby and Isabel.
This represents a startling decline from the glory days of 1979, when Jennifers, much like "My Sharona," ruled the charts at number 1. Even in 1999, when, as Graham writes, the nation was already "littered with Jennifers," the name still ranked 21st.
As Graham points out, though, the original rise of the Jennifers was as rapid as their subsequent decline. In 1949, just before its meteoric ascent began, Jennifer had only ranked number 121 on the charts — about where it is now.
The rise and fall of the Jennifers is, undoubtedly, a calamity for Jennifer-kind. Now, as they get older, their name will gradually become more and more of a historical curiosity; once synonymous with youth, Jennifer may instead become, like Agnes or Mildred, synonymous with old age.
But the plight of the Jennifers also highlights a trend that seems to have no obvious explanation. Over all, the names parents choose for girls show far more volatility than names given to boys.
Jennifer is hardly the only girl's name to rocket to immense popularity and then, just as quickly, virtually disappear. In 1936, the number two name for all girls was Shirley. In 2008, it ranked number 912.
Isabella, the number one name in 2009, did not even register in the top 1000 in 1989. (You can see a graphical representation of naming trends here.)
Boys names, meanwhile, show staggering consistency. Michael has been one of the three most popular boys names every year since 1953. William has been in the top 20 every year for the last century (though, interestingly, it has never hit number one in that time).
One exception: Jennifer, whose popularity as a boy's name roughly paralleled its popularity for girls. It entered the top 1000 in 1967; by 1990, it had disappeared from the list.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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