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How U.S. Presidents Have Influenced Baby Names

Saturday, February 13, 2016

 

presidential baby names

The commander in chief is the epitome of power and grace, so it’s only natural that parents throughout history have been inspired to name their little ones after the presidents of their time.

Using data from the Social Security Administration, MooseRoots studied the names of each president since 1880 to explore the impact of presidents' names on nationwide naming trends.

By comparing the average frequency per one million babies of a presidential name in the four years before his inauguration and during his term, MooseRoots uncovered a patriotic pattern: The nation’s commander-in-chief is responsible for popularizing uncommon names, such as Barack and Woodrow, but leaves little mark on already common names.

We sorted 23 U.S. presidents from most negative to most positive impact on baby names during their command. Perhaps these notable presidents will provide name inspiration for soon-to-be parents right in time for Presidents Day. Current name rank and popularity data is also provided.

Note: The names William and George repeat to reflect changes in popularity during William McKinley and William Howard Taft, and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush's presidencies, respectively. Presidents before 1880 are omitted because the U.S. Social Security Administration does not report data before that year.

#23. Ronald

Percent Change in Popularity: -26.96%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 3,383
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 2,471
President: Ronald Reagan
Years in Office: 1981-1989

Ronald was most prevalent in the 1940s, when it was the ninth most common male name nationwide. It has been on the decline over the past decade, however, ranking No. 397 in 2014, with 780 male newborns named Ronald.

#22. Gerald

Percent Change in Popularity: -24.29%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,941
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 1,469
President: Gerald Ford
Years in Office: 1974-1977

Gerald reached its peak in 1939 as the 19th most popular name, but has since experienced a significant decline: In 2014, Gerald ranked only No. 816, with 275 baby boys given the name.

#21. Richard

Percent Change in Popularity: -21.99%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 19,163
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 14,949
President: Richard Nixon
Years in Office: 1969-1974

The name Richard boasts a long history in the U.S., but has experienced a significant decline over the past 10 years. From its peak in the 1930s when it ranked No. 5 nationwide, Richard has fallen to No. 141 today, with only 2,857 baby boys given the name in 2014.

#20. Jimmy

Percent Change in Popularity: -16.37%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,611
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 1,347
President: Jimmy Carter
Years in Office: 1977-1981

Though the pet form of James or Jim is currently on the decline in the U.S., it was recognized in the 1940s as the 44th most common name nationally. Jimmy reached peak popularity in 1945 when it ranked No. 41. In 2014, the name ranked No. 523 — quite the fall from ubiquity.

#19. Harry

Percent Change in Popularity: -14.56%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 3,729
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 3,186
President: Harry S. Truman
Years in Office: 1945-1953

Harry hit its peak in the 1890s when it was the 10th most common name in the U.S. Over the past decade, it has experienced a significant decline in popularity, ranking No. 714 in the U.S. in 2014.

#18. George

Percent Change in Popularity: -12.34%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,553
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 1,361
President: George W. Bush
Years in Office: 2001-2009

This Old French and Latin name means "earth; farmer." The name, borne by early saints and monarchs was also the name of the first U.S. president George Washington, who is not part of this list.

#17. Bill

Percent Change in Popularity: -9.41%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 62
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 56
President: Bill Clinton
Years in Office: 1993-2001

This nickname for William was not commonly used until the 19th century. Only 46 newborns in 2014 received the name in the U.S., ranking it at No. 2,605.

During President Clinton's tenure, the name became less popular among parents by nearly 10 percent.

#16. Dwight

Percent Change in Popularity: -7.78%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,061
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 978
President: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Years in Office: 1953-1961

The name Dwight surged in popularity after World War II, as a nod to American general and eventual President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It peaked during his presidency in the 1950s, ranking No. 147. Over the last decade, however, the name dropped to No. 1,334 in 2014, with just 129 baby boys given the name.

#15. William

Percent Change in Popularity: -6.21%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 58,848
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 55,196
President: William McKinley
Years in Office: 1897-1901

The name William is widespread in the U.S. and means “desire, helmet, protection, will.” During the past decade it has seen steady popularity, ranking No. 5 in 2014, with 16,687 baby boys given the name.

William was most prevalent during the 1880s, when it was the second most common name for male newborns in America. By the time President William McKinley entered office, the name had dropped a bit in popularity.

#14. George

Percent Change in Popularity: -6.07%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 2,229
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 2,093
President: George H.W. Bush
Years in Office: 1989-1993

In 2014, a total of 2,988 male newborns in the U.S. carried the name George, earning it the rank of No. 134. Though it has experienced a decline over the past decade, it was the fourth most popular male baby name it the 1880s.

#13. William

Percent Change in Popularity: -2.90%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 44,929
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 43,628
President: William Howard Taft
Years in Office: 1909-1913

William has a long legacy of use in the U.S. and remains ubiquitous, ranking No. 5 and boasting a total of 16,687 baby boys with the name in 2014. It was at its most popular, however, in the 1880s when it was the second most common name nationwide.

William's decline in popularity during President McKinley's command continued, but to a lesser degree, during President Taft's tenure.

#12. John

Percent Change in Popularity: 4.19%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 36,036
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 37,546
President: John F. Kennedy
Years in Office: 1961-1963

John is a contracted form of the Hebrew name Johanan, meaning “God is gracious,” and is historically one of the most widely held Christian names.

During the 1880s, it was the single most popular name for baby boys in the U.S. Over the past decade, however, it’s fallen from its top status, ranking No. 26 in 2014, with 10,600 baby boys given the name.

#11. Benjamin

Percent Change in Popularity: 4.68%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 4,558
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 4,771
President: Benjamin Harrison
Years in Office: 1889-1893

The name Benjamin has recently experienced a surge in popularity, ranking No. 12 in 2014, with a total of 13,687 baby boys in the U.S. receiving the name. The Biblical name, meaning “year,” has Bosnian and French roots.

#10. Herbert

Percent Change in Popularity: 8.15%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 4,120
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 4,455
President: Herbert Hoover
Years in Office: 1929-1933

Herbert experienced significant popularity in the 1900s when it boasted a rank of No. 36, but the name was at its pinnacle in 1929 — the year he was elected president — when it ranked No. 25 nationwide. Today, the name remains obscure, ranking No. 1,936 in 2014 with just 74 baby boys given the name.

#9. Lyndon

Percent Change in Popularity: 24.71%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 94
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 117
President: Lyndon B. Johnson
Years in Office: 1963-1969

The most notable bearer of this Old English name Lyndon, meaning “hill, lime tree, linden,” was President Lyndon B. Johnson. The name reached peak popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s while he was president, when it had an average rank of 600. Its use has declined since then, but 146 male newborns still received the name Lyndon in 2014, earning it a rank of 1,235.

#8. Grover

Average Percent Change in Popularity: 26.38% (+94.20% in first term; -43.33% in second term)
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 2,104 in first term; 2,047 in second term
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 4,086 in first term; 1,160 in second term
President: Grover Cleveland
Years in Office: 1885-1889; 1893-1897

Originally a local name for someone who lived near a group of trees, Grover grew in popularity during President Grover Cleveland's first term. However, while in his second term — which wasn't served consecutively — the name experienced a drop in popularity.

Today the name Grover rests in obscurity, ranking only No. 5,780 with just 15 male newborns receiving the name in 2014.

Calculation and data presentation varied due to the nature of President Grover Cleveland's terms, which weren't served consecutively.

#7. Barack

Percent Change in Popularity: 46.46%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 7
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 10
President: Barack Obama
Years in Office: 2009-present

Despite its presidential fame, the name Barack remains uncommon among baby boys. In 2014, it earned the rank of No. 7,071, with only 11 baby boys given the name out of more than 2 million born that year.

#6. Franklin

Percent Change in Popularity: 78.73%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,193
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 2,133
President: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Years in Office: 1933-1945

Franklin, a name meaning “free,” hit its peak while President Roosevelt was in office during the 1930s, when it had an average rank of 85. It enjoyed steady popularity over the last decade, ranking No. 453 in 2014 with 649 baby boys bearing the name.

#5. Chester

Percent Change in Popularity: 81.82%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,419
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 2,580
President: Chester Arthur
Years in Office: 1881-1885

Chester, meaning “legionary camp,” was most common during the 1910s when it had an average rank of 55. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly uncommon; just 83 baby boys named Chester in 2014, earning it the lowly rank of No. 1,782.

#4. Warren

Percent Change in Popularity: 109.32%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 1,963
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 4,108
President: Warren G. Harding
Years in Office: 1921-1923

Warren, meaning “guard,” is on the rise among male newborns, ranking No. 432 in 2014 with 693 babies carrying the name. However, it’s quite a fall from its pinnacle in 1921 — the year President Harding was elected into office — when it earned the No. 24 rank.

#3. Theodore

Percent Change in Popularity: 122.54%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 2,181
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 4,854
President: Theodore Roosevelt
Years in Office: 1901-1909

Theodore, a name derived from the Greek name Theodōros, hit its peak during the prime of his presidency in 1904, when it was the 30th most common name for male newborns in the U.S. After years of steady decline, it has experienced a surge, ranking No. 126 in 2014 with 3,191 baby boys given the name.

#2. Calvin

Percent Change in Popularity: 193.48%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 770
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 2,258
President: Calvin Coolidge
Years in Office: 1923-1929

Originally a French surname meaning “little bald one,” Calvin has a legacy of use in the United States for baby boys. Most popular in the 1920s while he was president — when it ranked No. 91 on average that decade — the name has become increasingly common, ranking No. 182 in 2014.

#1. Woodrow

Percent Change in Popularity: 308.91%
Average Frequency per Million During the Four Years Before Presidency: 359
Average Frequency per Million During Presidency: 1,466
President: Woodrow Wilson
Years in Office: 1913-1921

Woodrow was originally a local name for someone who lived in a row of houses by a woods, but became popular as a given name after Wilson’s rise to the White House. The name Woodrow peaked in 1913 — the year he was elected president — when it was the 44th most common male baby name in the U.S. Today, however, it ranks No. 2,034, with only 57 babies bearing the name.

Compare Thousands of Baby Name Options on MooseRoots

 

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