What's in a Name?

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>). NameRank

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, how the pill works 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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9. August 2007 03:52 by admin | Comments (7) | Permalink


John John
My name peaked at #2 the year I was born, and has fallen ever since, and is now at #20. Maybe I'm just intimidating.

Kelly's name peaked a couple years after she was born at #12 and has dropped to #212.

SSA's web page is a fun way to get a few cents of value back from my taxes. Smile
8/14/2007 10:18:08 AM #
And heaven knows we need to extract every few cents we can...
8/15/2007 11:42:43 AM #
Kelly Kelly
Well, you just woke the chart monster in me.  WOW talk about a time sink!  When I was in high school I had a chart I had made of the year and when people's birthdays landed in that year.  Ya, I did this in my 'free' time...just cause.  I had a LOT of friends with December birthdays.

I grew up knowing several Kellys. Some had other spellings, but my parents gave me the normal bland spelling of Kelly.  So, if you wonder why I do things to be different...ya this is why.

So, now you have me doing this [ranking chart like yours] for Kelly (my middle name), for Susan (my first name), for John and his middle name (Mark) and compared them with each other.

Excel is my FRIEND.  YOU Have no idea.  AAAAH!!!  
8/16/2007 3:14:01 AM #
I share your pain.  
8/31/2007 5:43:46 PM #
You could always change to your middle name.  That's what I did.  See, my family moved when I was in 2nd grade from SLC to Hyrum, UT.  At my prior school, there were at least 3 other Bryan's my age.  I didn't like it.

So, when I was sitting in the prinicpal's office in my new school, he offhandedly asked me if I went by Bryan or Shaffer, I said Shaffer.  Changing my name had never occured to me until the principal asked me, it was pure spontenaity.  May dad, sitting next to me, was pretty surprised.

Since that day, I've gone by my middle name, Shaffer.  I never get confused with others, I always know when someone is calling me, my name is never taken when I register for various online services, people always remember my name. Best of all, we always know when a telemarketer is on the phone as they always mispronounce my name (shah-fer Bootahrs).

Of course, if I remember right, your middle name is Dean so I guess your out of luck.

Glad I found your new blog!


9/7/2007 2:26:12 AM #
Shafe! Yeah, the Dean makes that option problematic in a different way. I just never saw myself as a "Dean". It was my mother's father's name and while I admire him immensely, it just doesn't fit right for me.
9/7/2007 12:31:52 PM #
Hey, there's a really good reason I go by Fen...  my first name and its derivatives were HIGHLY popular when I was born.  And you've also hit on the reason Mitch goes by the name he does...  I think he told me there were six Michaels in his class the year he picked up that nickname and the teacher was getting desperate.

As for your problems at the pharmacy... it's only tangentially related, but one year for my birthday I ordered a really cool Star Wars cake from a local grocery store bakery.  When I was at the checkout, the clerk looked at the "Happy Birthday Fen!" and asked "Oh, how old is he? She?" (obviously confused by the name) and I just sort of looked at her...  She got quiet for a moment and then said "it's you, isn't it?"  Hee!
9/14/2007 11:04:09 AM #


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