Archive for November 7th, 2011

Naming Names

It’s odd to think that anyone was ever born with the name Bertha.  Or Mabel.  These are names that only apply to people later in their lives, women who step forth one day fully realized.  Yet if you were to look at the Social Security Administration’s list of the most popular baby names for given years, both were among the 50 most popular names for baby girls in the years 1911 and 1912.  By today both names have fallen out of even the top 1000, meaning you’re far more likely to find a Mabel celebrating her first century than a Mabel cooing in a nursery.  According to the list of the most popular names in 2010, those babies are far more likely to be named Khloe (#42) or either Zoe or Zoey (#31 and #47 respectively).  Even Mary, a name that was the #1 most popular name for a baby girl from the earliest SSA records in 1879 through 1946 and again from 1953-1961, has now fallen out of the top 100.

The most common name for baby girls now?  Isabella.  A name that wasn’t even in the top 1000 as recently as 1989.  For boys it’s Jacob, a Biblical first name that’s always been in the top 400, but has risen in popularity around the same time as Isabella.  Odd, that.  Edward is down in the 130s for the curious.

Among the top 10 most popular baby boy names in 2010, Jayden and Aiden.  Jayden wasn’t in the top 1000 until 1994, Aiden not until 1995.  Which means you may find nurseries or kindergartens with Jaydens and Aidens in them, but probably not a lot of high school or college graduating classes.

Names are odd fads to consider.  They grow in popularity, they decline in popularity.  Sometimes, as with the example of Mary’s recent decline, it’s because of overuse.  Sometimes, as with the decline of Adolph starting in the late 1930s, it’s a geopolitical thing.  Sometimes it’s even meteorological, as the name Katrina has gone from the 200s to the 800s very quickly.  New names can come from foreign languages, such as the adaptation of Aiden from Irish.  They can even be invented whole cloth in movies.  The first name Madison for girls did not exist on the SSA listings until the movie Splash came out in 1984.

Why am I talking about names?  Because Scrivener for Windows finally moves from Beta to Full today.  What’s the connection?  Because I have entirely too much fun playing with the Name Generator in Scrivener.  Tell it a nationality for a first name, a nationality for the last name, and suddenly you know what to call your Maori/Armenian main character when he first comes on page.  It even has lists of ancient names from bygone cultures.

The one flaw I saw in the whole of it was a lack of basic American first names.  Oh yes, there is an American option in the first name drop down, but it’s largely populated with the modern trendy names.  Fortunately there’s a nice way to import more names into the database, so rather than complaining about things I decided to do something myself.  That’s why I started putting together files based on the most popular US first names based on the same SSA lists I quoted above.  The files start in 1880 and are a snapshot of the 500 most popular boys and girls names every 10 years right up through 2010.  All the files are available in the Scrivener tab at the top of the page (or this link, for the scrolling adverse).  There are also lists based on the major families in Colonial Virginia, and the first and last names of every general on both sides of the Civil War.  Those were more for my own purposes, but I figured why do the work if I wasn’t going to share it.

I’m really thrilled to now have the SSA listings in the Scrivener Name Generator, as they’ve been my go-to lists for names for as long as I’ve been writing.  A note on usage, however.  Remember that the names are the most popular names for children born in a given year, not the general population living in a given year.  So when generating names, consider when the character was born.  What this means is that the 40 year-old titan of industry in your 2050s near future science fiction is, for better or worse, more likely to be named Jayden, Aiden, or Mason than John or Mark.  Last names, you’re currently on your own.  There’s plenty of fantastic lists included in Scrivener.  I’ll likely put together a few more files in the near future, but more likely focusing still on first names.  Make sure you’re following me on Twitter and Google+, as I’m more likely to announce new files there, or just keep an eye on the Scrivener page above.

So use.  Enjoy.  Share.  I’ve based the databases I’ve put online completely on open source material, so I feel it should be perpetuated forward in the same form.

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