When I was born, the most popular baby name in the United States* was Michael. Indeed, with the exception of 1960 (when David briefly took the number one spot), Michael was the number one baby name from 1954 to 1998.
When I was born, my own name, Jacob, was pretty rare. That year, it broke into the top 300 at number 297 (with a bullet, as it turns out). I bring this up because it meant that I rarely met anyone else named Jacob. As a result, I never gained any real filter for my name—no double check to make sure someone was actually trying to refer to me. Unlike all the Michaels, I pretty much assumed that anyone calling "Jacob" was addressing me.
Then an interesting thing happened. As this graph shows, "Jacob" gained ground steadily in popularity entering the big leagues in the 80s when it broke into the top 50 (my wife’s name is here for added contrast <g>).
Since the 80s is also the beginning of a mini baby-boom, it didn’t take long for the number of Jacobs wandering around to become noticeable. By the 90s, I started twitching in public spaces as I began hearing things like "Jacob, stop that!" and "Jacob, come back here right now!" at random moments.
Indeed, it was the name Jacob that unseated Michael’s 45 year dominance of the number one baby name spot in 1999 (a spot that it’s held onto ever since). I sometimes take credit for this rise in popularity, but I’m sure there were additional reasons for the sudden rise.
As annoying as having to learn to double-check random "Jacob’s" in public was,
I think I’ve finally digested it. Now I’m starting to see another effect of this jump in popularity—given just my name, people tend to assume that I am much younger than I am.
I’m always torn about how to respond when this happens because people assuming you are younger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It tends to even out capability assumptions in youth-dominated IT fields for one. Still, the chance of a minor explosion rises every time a pharmacist asks me how old "Jacob" is when I’m filling my own prescriptions.
* All baby name ranking information for this post is taken from the U.S. Social Security Administration. Hey, they have to be good for something, right?
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