You Likely Know a Michael, but Not a Cuthbert

By Ron Jensen

Published October 14, 2021 in The Burg

You don’t meet many young men or boys these days named Ambrose. And who knows a young woman or girl who answers to Blanche?

Some names, it seems, have a shelf life. Velma and Myrtle, for example, are rare nowadays. Do you know a man named Horace under the age of 50? Or 70?

But other names have the staying power of crabgrass. John. Mary. James. Linda. Robert. Susan. Those names have been popular for more than 100 years.

I’ve known of only one man named Thatcher. He was of my grandparents’ generation. That might be my favorite name of all time. I’m sorry it vanished.

The only Ila I’ve known was my aunt, Mom’s sister. Great name. Fun to say. And a wonderful lady, by the way.

The Social Security website lists the most popular baby names going back to the late 19th century, when, not surprisingly, John and Mary were the most popular names.


Also popular then were Reuben and Beulah, which seem to have died out. There was a Beulah in our extended family, but I don’t recall knowing a Reuben.

Researchers claim a person’s name influences their personality and even their success. People with common names such as Dan do better than those with unusual names, such as Cuthbert, they say.

OK, but I’ve known plenty of contradictions to those results.

Some names become trendy. A cartoon in The New Yorker in the early 1980s depicted a grade school teacher taking attendance: “Jennifer. Jason. Jennifer. Jennifer. Jason. Jason. Jennifer. Jason. Jennifer. . .”

From 2014 through 2020, the two most popular names for boys were Liam and Noah. For girls, the winners during that time were Emma and Olivia.

The most popular boy’s name from 1999 through 2012 was Jacob. Emily was No. 1 for girls from 1996 through 2007. The streak ended when it was nudged aside by Emma.

Jennifer topped the list from 1970 to 1985, finally losing out to Jessica, which ruled for the next six years.

This is impressive: From 1961 through 1998, the most popular boy’s name each year was Michael. It was knocked off its perch by Jacob in 1999, but remained No. 2 until 2008.

Also, Mary was the top name for girls from 1921 to 1946 and again from 1953 to 1961. It was No. 2 between those years at the top.

Here’s an oddity: Abigail was the fourth most popular name for girls in 2005, the only time in the last 100 years it appeared in the top five.

Celebrities, of course, eschew common names for their offspring. Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost recently named their son Cosmo.

Musician Frank Zappa’s children are named Moon Unit, Dweezil and Diva Thin Muffin. Why, Frank? Why?

Other names for celebrity children are Gravity, Pilot Inspektor (note the intentional misspelling made, I suppose, to draw attention), Sparrow, Bear Blaze, Apple, North and Mars.

Some foreign names are gems. I knew a woman in Bosnia named Ieta, pronounced like it looks. Eye-ee-tuh, which is lovely. So was she.

Perhaps my favorite girls’ name is the one my Danish cousin gave her daughter: Ea. Easy to spell and pronounced Ee-uh.

I’m surprised Ron or Ronald didn’t show up on any lists. I was classmates with two other Rons from first grade through high school graduation.

Sadly, there wasn’t a Thatcher in the bunch.


(The author was raised near Gerlaw and went to school in Alexis. He has worked for The Review Atlas, The Register-Mail and other publications.)

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