Fast forward to 2014. Those of us born in the 1970s and early 1980s, whose kindergarten classroom rosters were chock full of Jennys, are still having children. But we aren’t naming them Jenny. Of the top 20 names given to girls in 1970, only Elizabeth remains in the top 100 names given to girls in 2014.
But the rest of those names—our names—have fallen into the dustbin of history. Lisa, Christina, Susan and Heather all failed to place in the top 500 names given to girls last year. In 1970, three names—Tracy, Tammy and Dawn—were given to more than 53,000 newborn girls. Those same three names failed to place among the top 1,000 names given to girls in 2014.
What’s fascinating, given this wholesale rejection of “our” names, is that we do the opposite when we name our sons. Michael, David and James—among the top 10 names for boys in 1970—are still among the top 20 most popular names given to babies born last year. In fact, 12 of the top 20 most popular names from 1970—including William, John, Kevin, Christopher, Joseph and Daniel—remain in the top 100 most popular names given to boys in 2014. Every single boy that made the top 20 in 1970 remains among the top 200 names given to boys last year.
The Social Security Administration, which last week released a list of the most popular baby names of 2014, compiles records on names going all the way back to 1879. (Be forewarned: This is a black hole of Internet name-porn. You can literally spend days digging through it.) In sifting through the records, a few things become obvious. The first is that it’s always been this way. When you look at the top five names per year, going all the way back to 1915, the same names for boys—John, William, James, David, Robert, Michael—appear over and over again, decade after decade. But the girls names seem to change entirely every 10–15 years. The tradition of giving a son the name of his father undoubtedly accounts for a degree of staying power among boys names. It’s equally clear that this trend has never existed among girls names.
Yet, this pattern of each generation of women rejecting their own names strikes me as unbelievably sad. I can’t help but wonder if it’s not one more example of the ways in which women hold themselves in a near perpetual state of disdain. I’ve never met a man who has complained to me that he doesn’t like his name, or that he doesn’t care for its spelling, or that he feels his name is “dated.” And yet I hear this gripe among my women friends constantly.
Have our names, like our bodies and our hair and the front foyers of our homes, become one more thing about ourselves that we don’t like?
The irony is that through our desperation to give our daughters “contemporary” names, we are dooming them to our very same fate. Because just as Jennifer is a time-stamp on a 1970s childhood, so too will Mia be the name that screams “I was born in 2014.”
May it receive a better fate than Tracy.