Hello, my name is...

To what extent do the names that we are given by our parents at birth influence our sense of being special, unique, popular, wanted or loved?

My name is Rachel.  According to baby names hub, at least 547,035 girls born in the United States since 1880 have been named Rachel, but in 1965, when I was born, it was only the 175th most popular girls' name, nowhere near as popular as it would later become in the mid-1980s, where it hit 15th in 1986.  In 2008, it was back down, at 75th (see chart).

Rachel as a girl's name

Which is odd, because as I was growing up, I always felt like Rachel was a more common name than, say, Rebecca, my sister's name, because I was named after our grandmother Rachel, and Rebecca was not (at least in living generations) a family name.  And yet, Rebecca was the 39th most popular girls' name in 1967, the year my sister was born. Rebecca peaked a few years before Rachel, hitting 15th in 1982.  It was at 119th in 2008.

Rebecca as a girl's name

Curiously, both of us have regularly had the experience of being called by the other's name, so the two seem to travel together in people's minds. Nevertheless, there have been more Rebeccas in the U.S. since 1880 (733,639) than Rachels, so if you're guessing, it's probably better to go with Rebecca.

Contrast this frequency with that of our brother's name, Robert. There have been 4,765,144 boys named Robert in the U.S. since 1880. In 1969, the year our brother was born, Robert was the 5th most popular boys' name.  It was also our father's name, which burdened our brother with being a Junior as well as a commonly named "Rob."  Add this to the fact that our last name was Fulton, and you have a recipe for confusion, genealogically, at least.

Robert as a boy's name

Trends in boys' names being somewhat more stable than girls', Robert, despite its gradual decline in popularity since the 1950s, still ranked at 49th in 2008.

Meanwhile, there was our middle name, Lee, which all three of us got from our grandfather Lee William Fulton (known as "Bill").  As a name, it has not been nearly as popular as either Rebecca or Rachel (only 60,489 girls since 1880), although it is rather more so as a boy's name (228,024 boys since 1880).

Lee as a girl's name
Lee as a boy's name

Nevertheless, that we all three had the same middle name--not to mention, the same three initials--tended, well, to homogenize us, at least nominally. We were not only the Fulton kids, but, like our father, RLFs. Meanwhile, our mother's name is Nona.

You'd be surprised (I was). I had always thought of Nona as a wholly unusual name; certainly, our mom seemed to be the only one we ever met. And yet, there have been 14,780 girls named Nona in the U.S. since 1880, and the name had a moderate surge around the time our mother was born.  She, in her turn, was named after her grandmother, who was born just about the time baby name hub's records begin.

Nona as a girl's name

So what does it all mean? Hah. You're not getting me that way. Could it, however, be a coincidence that the names that my brother and I gave our children, Evelina and Rush*, respectively, last peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, with only 291 girls and 167 boys with those names recorded ever?

Evelina as a girl's name
Rush as a boy's name
*After our grandfather on our mother's side.


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