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What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." – Romeo and Juliet

The US Social Security Adminstration exposes a database of registered first names, along with their popularity by year, going back to the year 1880. This is an wonderful source of information for data mining. It's fascinating how the popular names have changed through the decades.

Boys Names

Below is a table of the top 25 most popular boys names grouped every ten years. I've shaded the six most popular names as they were in 1880 so that we can see how these changed.

# 1880-1889 1890-1899 1900-1909 1910-1919 1920-1929 1930-1939 1940-1949 1950-1959 1960-1969 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-1999 2000-2009
  1   John John John John Robert Robert James James Michael Michael Michael Michael Jacob
  2   William William William William John James Robert Michael David Christopher Christopher Christopher Michael
  3   James James James James James John John Robert John Jason Matthew Matthew Joshua
  4   George George George Robert William William William John James David Joshua Joshua Matthew
  5   Charles Charles Charles Joseph Charles Richard Richard David Robert James David Jacob Daniel
  6   Frank Joseph Robert George George Charles David William Mark John James Nicholas Christopher
  7   Joseph Frank Joseph Charles Joseph Donald Charles Richard William Robert Daniel Andrew Andrew
  8   Henry Robert Frank Edward Richard George Thomas Thomas Richard Brian Robert Daniel Ethan
  9   Robert Edward Edward Frank Edward Thomas Michael Mark Thomas William John Tyler Joseph
  10   Thomas Henry Thomas Thomas Donald Joseph Ronald Charles Jeffrey Matthew Joseph Joseph William
  11   Edward Harry Henry Walter Thomas David Larry Steven Steven Joseph Jason Brandon Anthony
  12   Harry Thomas Walter Harold Frank Edward Donald Gary Joseph Daniel Justin David David
  13   Walter Walter Harry Henry Harold Ronald Joseph Joseph Timothy Kevin Andrew James Alexander
  14   Arthur Arthur Willie Paul Paul Paul Gary Donald Kevin Eric Ryan Ryan Nicholas
  15   Fred Fred Arthur Richard Raymond Kenneth George Ronald Scott Jeffrey William John Ryan
  16   Albert Albert Albert Raymond Walter Frank Kenneth Kenneth Brian Richard Brian Zachary Tyler
  17   Samuel Clarence Clarence Albert Jack Raymond Paul Paul Charles Scott Brandon Justin James
  18   Clarence Willie Fred Arthur Henry Jack Edward Larry Paul Mark Jonathan William John
  19   Louis Roy Harold Harry Kenneth Harold Jerry Daniel Daniel Steven Nicholas Anthony Jonathan
  20   David Louis Paul Donald Arthur Billy Dennis Stephen Christopher Thomas Anthony Robert Noah
  21   Joe Earl Raymond Ralph Albert Gerald Frank Dennis Kenneth Timothy Eric Jonathan Brandon
  22   Charlie Paul Richard Louis David Walter Daniel Timothy Anthony Anthony Adam Austin Christian
  23   Richard Carl Roy Jack Harry Jerry Raymond Edward Gregory Charles Kevin Alexander Dylan
  24   Ernest Ernest Joe Clarence Eugene Joe Roger Jeffrey Ronald Joshua Thomas Kyle Samuel
  25   Roy Samuel Louis Carl Ralph Eugene Stephen George Donald Ryan Steven Kevin Benjamin

Back in the late 19th century, as you can see, John was the most popular name to give newborn boys, followed by William, James, George, Charles and Frank. This ordering remained reasonably consistent for forty or fifty years, then these names started to slide in popularity.

William has made a comeback in the last decade, and James and John are both hanging in there. Charles, however, slipped out of the top 25 names back in the 70's (In 2009, it was down to position #64 in the ordinal ranking of names).

Before 1960, Christopher was not in the top list, but rapidly jump to #2 overall in the 70's, and stayed in the same position for over 30 years. It has only recently declined, to be overtaken by Jacob, Joshua, Daniel and Mathew.

It seems that parents, these days, are less likely to call their boys names like Clarence, Roy, Frank or Joe. We'll look into this in a later blog and how we can use it to gain intelligence on customers.

Girls Names

Below is a similar table for girls names.

# 1880-1889 1890-1899 1900-1909 1910-1919 1920-1929 1930-1939 1940-1949 1950-1959 1960-1969 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-1999 2000-2009
  1   Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary Lisa Jennifer Jessica Jessica Emily
  2   Anna Anna Helen Helen Dorothy Betty Linda Linda Mary Amy Jennifer Ashley Madison
  3   Emma Margaret Margaret Dorothy Helen Barbara Barbara Patricia Susan Melissa Amanda Emily Emma
  4   Elizabeth Helen Anna Margaret Betty Shirley Patricia Susan Karen Michelle Ashley Sarah Olivia
  5   Margaret Elizabeth Ruth Ruth Margaret Patricia Carol Deborah Kimberly Kimberly Sarah Samantha Hannah
  6   Minnie Ruth Elizabeth Mildred Ruth Dorothy Sandra Barbara Patricia Lisa Stephanie Amanda Abigail
  7   Ida Florence Dorothy Anna Virginia Joan Nancy Debra Linda Angela Melissa Brittany Isabella
  8   Bertha Ethel Marie Elizabeth Doris Margaret Sharon Karen Donna Heather Nicole Elizabeth Samantha
  9   Clara Emma Florence Frances Mildred Nancy Judith Nancy Michelle Stephanie Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth
  10   Alice Marie Mildred Virginia Frances Helen Susan Donna Cynthia Nicole Heather Megan Ashley
  11   Annie Clara Alice Marie Elizabeth Carol Betty Cynthia Sandra Jessica Tiffany Hannah Alexis
  12   Florence Bertha Ethel Evelyn Evelyn Joyce Carolyn Sandra Deborah Elizabeth Michelle Kayla Sarah
  13   Bessie Minnie Lillian Alice Anna Doris Margaret Pamela Tammy Rebecca Amber Lauren Sophia
  14   Grace Bessie Gladys Florence Marie Ruth Shirley Sharon Pamela Kelly Megan Stephanie Alyssa
  15   Ethel Alice Edna Lillian Alice Virginia Judy Kathleen Lori Mary Amy Rachel Grace
  16   Sarah Lillian Frances Rose Jean Marilyn Karen Carol Laura Christina Rachel Jennifer Ava
  17   Ella Edna Rose Irene Shirley Elizabeth Donna Diane Elizabeth Amanda Kimberly Nicole Taylor
  18   Martha Grace Annie Louise Barbara Jean Kathleen Brenda Julie Julie Christina Alexis Brianna
  19   Nellie Annie Grace Edna Irene Frances Joyce Cheryl Brenda Sarah Lauren Victoria Lauren
  20   Mabel Mabel Bertha Catherine Marjorie Beverly Dorothy Janet Jennifer Laura Crystal Amber Chloe
  21   Laura Ida Emma Gladys Florence Lois Janet Elizabeth Barbara Shannon Brittany Alyssa Natalie
  22   Carrie Rose Bessie Ethel Lois Alice Diane Kathy Angela Christine Rebecca Courtney Kayla
  23   Cora Hazel Clara Josephine Martha Donna Janice Margaret Sharon Tammy Laura Rebecca Jessica
  24   Helen Gertrude Hazel Ruby Rose Martha Joan Janice Debra Tracy Danielle Danielle Anna
  25   Maude Martha Irene Martha Lillian Dolores Elizabeth Carolyn Teresa Karen Emily Jasmine Victoria

For three-quarters of a century, Mary was the most popular name to give give a baby girl, though by the 70's it's popularity fell rapidly. In 2009, Mary has fallen to position #102 in the female name rankings.

The popularity of Anna and Margaret fell off slowly (though Anna has made a re-apperance in the last decade). Elizabeth has remained in the top 25 for the entire time span of this analysis, falling to a minimum in the 40's, but bouncing gracefully back into the top 10. Emma disappeared for a while, but has returned in a high position just a couple of years ago.

Whislt Minnie was the 6th most popular name in the the 1880's, hardly anyone registers girls with this name at the current time (nor Bertha, or Ethel, Maude or Mabel).

Scrabble® Score

Whilst the names of people are officially Proper Nouns and, as such, are officially excluded from being valid Scrabble words, it is still possible to score them in the same way.

1 A , E , I , O , U , L , N , R , S , T 
2 D , G 
3 B , C , M , P 
4 F , H , V , W , Y 
5 K 
8 J , X 
10 Q , Z 

The table to the left shows the official Scrabble Point Count for each letter. The scoring was originally based on the frequency that these letters occur in words in the English language (The scoring to the left has not changed since Alfred Butts invented the game in 1938).

Over time, Americans have become very 'creative' in their spellings of traditional names in an effort to assert some individuality. Often they abuse vowels … errrm … I mean transpose vowels, for instance using the letter 'Y' in place of the more traditional 'E'. Another example is the placement, of the letter 'Z' instead of the letter 'S'.

Since the Scrabble score for a letter 'Y' is 4 points cf. 1 point for any of the other vowels, and 'Z' is scored at 10 point cf. 'S' with 1 point, it is easy to see how a higher score is achieved with these more modern spellings. Some examples:

Izzabellah, for instance, scores at 33 points, whilst Issabella scores 11.

Kristyn scores at 14 points, whilst Kristin scores 11.

Jacquay scores at 28 points, whilst Jackie scores 19, or Jacky at 21.

Wyndy scores at 15 points, whilst Wendy scores 12.

Below is a chart of the Average Scrabble score for all names regisetered, broken down by year, from 1880 to 2009. As you can see, there has been a slow and steady increase from 9.23 in 1880 to 11.59 in 2009.

Out of all the 86,987 distinct names in the SSA database, the name with the highest Scrabble score is Jazzmyne with a score of 38 natural points (Just beating out Jazzmyn with 37sorry, without an 'e' at the end, you miss out on the extra point!) Also tied for 2nd place with the same 37 points are Jazzalynn and Jazzlynne.

Guys, don't feel left out, if you are named Krzysztof, or Jeffreyjames or Benjaminjoseph you also score 37 points.


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