Names change in popularity. According to the data compiled annually by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the most popular names for children born in England & Wales during 2011 were as follows:
There are some patterns here.
First of all, astonishingly the second most popular boys’ name and the second most popular girls’ name are essentially the same – what is technically known as cognates – and these names have been in the top two for their gender for the last three years. Is this the case in any other nation?
Second, it is striking how traditional most of the names are for both boys and girls, although for the boys it is interesting that the familiar form of names rather than the original version is often preferred – Jack instead of John, Harry instead of Harold, Alfie instead of Alfred, Charlie instead of Charles.
Third, in the case of boys, five of the top 20 names begin with the letter ‘J’ while, in the case of girls, nine of the top 20 names end with the letter ‘a’, seven of the top 20 names end with the sound ‘ee’, and nine of the top 20 names contain one or more of the letter ‘l’.
On the other hand, the name David – which is the second most common name in Britain – slipped out of the top 50 of names chosen for baby boys born in 2004 and has stayed out (it is currently 57th). Similarly Margaret – the most common female name in the population as a whole – does not even appear in the top 100 names chosen for girls these days. These observations underline how much fashion shapes the popularity of different names.
It should be noted that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) produces its ranking of the popularity of names using the exact spelling of the name given at birth registration. If one combines the numbers for names with very similar spellings, a different picture is revealed.
For boys, combining the occurrence of Mohammed, Muhammad, Mohammad and Muhammed would put the name in second place – a reflection of the changing ethnicity of the British population. Similarly, if one combines the occurrence of Isabella, Isabelle, Isabel and Isobel, one would find the name top by far of the girls’ list.
I’m fascinated by the different names and naming practices around the world and I have written a major essay on the subject here.