What’s in a name? Trends come and go

Tracy Grant / The Washington Post /


Published Sep 2, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

William Shakespeare, that really famous writer of stories including “Romeo and Juliet,” didn’t think that names should matter very much.

He had Juliet say:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

“By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But many of us would disagree with old Shakespeare on how much a name matters.

For example, do you like being one of four Andrews in your class? Or do you tease the girl named Amelia by calling her Amelia Bedelia, after the character in the books?

The government keeps track of baby names, noting which ones are popular when. (A record of every birth, complete with the child’s name, gets filed with the government.) A new website called Findmypast .com looked at the records and made a fascinating discovery: The most popular girl names change a whole lot more than the most popular boy names.

Look at the lists below. They show the five most popular girl and boy names in 1940 and where those names rank today.

1940 Top Girl Names (followed by their 2011 rank)

1. Mary, 112

2. Barbara, 774

3. Patricia, 667

4. Judith, 883

5. Betty, not in the top 1,000

1940 Top Boy Names (followed by their 2011 rank)

1. James, 17

2. Robert, 61

3. John, 27

4. William, 3 (this name actually moved up in rank!)

5. Richard, 127

We could be wrong, but we’re guessing that more of you have a James, William or Robert in your classroom than have a Judith, Barbara or Betty.

What are the names you’re most likely to be calling classmates this year? Here are the most popular names for babies born in 2002, who will be turning 10 this year. Is your name here?

Most popular names 2002

Girls

Emily

Madison

Hannah

Emma

Alexis

Boys

Jacob

Michael

Joshua

Matthew

Ethan

So what does it all mean? Not much. Kids have to live with the names their parents give them. And it’s easy for Shakespeare to say names don’t matter. “William” is still pretty popular.