Thursday, January 8, 2009

Apostolic Names in the US

One out of every twelve male children born in America in 1880 bore the name of one of the Apostles.
Nowadays, barely one baby boy in forty bears that honor.

The following chart, using data which I gathered from this site shows how trends in Apostolic names (plus Jesus) has changed in the last century and a quarter. The rank is pretty simple; John was the most popular name in 1880, etc. The number columns show how many babies bore that name per million.

Totals: 77890 baby boys per million bore one of these names in 1880.
60,405 in 1950.
25,400 in 2007.

An important caveat: this list does NOT include non-English versions of these names. The only spelling variant is for Philip, which may be spelled with one L or two. But Juans, Jeans, Johanns, Ioannises etc. are excluded. So if you'd like you can consider this Apostolic Names among WASPS rather than in the USA as a whole.

Also note that Nathaniel only appears in the Gospel of John; he is usually equated to Bartholomew.

I won't analyze what these changes say about the changing nature of the US--I suspect that demographic changes are the most important factor anyway--but consider the other trends this brief survey reveals.

1. 50% more boys bore the name John in 1880 than bear the name of all the Apostles combined in 2007.

2. A handful of apostles are doing better now, notably Andrew, which has jumped 17 ranks, and Matthew, which has jumped over 100 into the very top tier. Jesus has also gotten more popular; this is almost certainly because of the Hispanic version of the name. Nathaniel has done OK too.

3. Andrew was the 10th most popular name of 2007, with 4200 boys. Thomas was the 10th most popular name of 1880, with 11000 boys. Think about that for a second. The 1880 U.S. Census established the U.S. population at a hair above 5o million. Now it's over 300 million. You would think that the number of children bearing the 10th most popular name would increase, not drop by more than half. In a nutshell, this shows how much more diverse America has become... even in the fairly trivial matter of names. The name pool is much, much larger nowadays.

4. Bartholomew has completely dropped off the list... it has not appeared in the top 1000 most popular boys names in over 100 years.

5. James stayed just about the same for the first 70s years of the study (Note again, confirming #3, that the absolute number of babies with the name dropped by 2k/million even as the rank jumped from 3 to 1), but then dropped off sharply in the modern era. How curious.

6. Unsurprisingly, basically nobody is EVER named Judas.

On the female side, the name 'Mary' was the single most popular name for girls from 1880 through 1950. It has sharply dropped in popularity since the 1970s. At the name's peak in the 1880s, over 3% of newborn girls were named Mary. Only John was a more popular name, but it didn't last quite so long.

It is worth mentioning that although Apostolic names have declined dramatically in popularity, Biblical names as a whole still maintain their currency. The #1 boys' name in 2007 was Jacob; Michael was #2. Girls seemed to have escaped their Biblical roots, for the nonce: the second most popular name, Isabel, is Biblical, but much more indirectly; it comes from Elisheva, who was Aaron's wife. The most popular girl's name, Emily, is Roman in origin.

What do you think these trends signify, if anything?


  1. Ugh, bad statistics. In short: it's only the names of WASPs but out of a general population of non-WASPs? I feel like hispanic variations would really boost the numbers, plus, isn't Joshua another anglicized derivative of Jesus? A much more common name as well.

    I'm totally naming my kid Judas now. Couldn't be any worse than Adolf Hitler Campbell:

  2. Part of the point was to show to what extent we used to BE a general population of WASPS (Or at least a population of Christians of British origins). Hispanic variations would boost the numbers now, but they wouldn't've then. The increasing diversity of names comes not just from a larger pool of acceptable names but from a widening ethnic pool as well.

    Joshua may be a derivative of Jesus, but the name is probably in almost all cases not a reference to Jesus but to Joshua himself, the direct successor to Moses. So if I included that name it would throw off the timing: all the other names became popular because of a certain thirty year or so period in the early Roman Empire. All the names existed before; they became popular outside of Judaism over time because of those years (starting 3-4 years before the Crucifixion). So Joshua doesn't fit with the overall purpose.

    And I think Judas is a rather nice name, so I'm with you on that one.

    Toss up a post discussing the Hitler cake? I knew the story already but I'd like to see your take on it, and it fits in with some other stuff I've been meaning to post.

    Anyway don't hate on my statistics. :(