Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

MORE CHEAP KERRY BASHING! An interesting discovery via the Social Security Administration's baby names site: tracking the popularity of the name Kerry through the decades. In the 1930s, Kerry, a name just recently imported from Australia (see here for all things "Kerry") was the 905th most popular boy's name, and was unranked as a girls name. By the 40s, it had risen to the 340th-ranked boy's name, and charted for the first time as the 633rd most popular girl's name. In the 50s, Kerry was the 205th most popular boy's name and the 322nd most popular girl's name. In the 60s, Kerry's popularity as a boy's name increased peaked, at 178th, while it's popularity as a girl's name dropped to 477th. In the 70s, these numbers reversed: Kerry shot up to 172nd in popularity as a girl's name, while its popularity as a boy's name plummeted to 309th. The name went into overall decline in the 80s, falling to 305th for girls and 417th for boys, and this decline continued into the 90s, when the names were ranked 657th for boys and 750th for girls.

What lessons can we draw from this? Well, for one: the popularity of Kerry as a boy's name went into free-fall sometime in the 1970s. The name had finally begun to catch on in the United States by the 1960s, peaking at a level of modest popularity. And then, suddenly, it collapsed. Dare I suggest that the Senator's 1971 testimony, which surely made him the country's most famous "Kerry," had some role in the change in the fortunes of this name? Was there something about seeing the long-faced Bostonian testify about American war crimes in the Senate that made the name no longer seem "manly" to the American public? Might that also explain why the name briefly surged in popularity as a girl's name in the decade following his testimony? (Although I'd have to say that I don't think of John Forbes Kerry as especially feminine. Haughty and French-looking, certainly. But not feminine.) Might that also be the reason that the name continued its decline in the 80s and 90s, the period of John Kerry's rise to national prominence as Massachusetts lieutenant governor, and then senator? Is there just something about John Kerry that makes people uncomfortable naming their kid Kerry?

And now the big rhetorical flourish: No single individual has done more to damage the fortunes of the name Kerry in the United States than John Forbes Kerry. That name might have been duking it out with Logan or Taylor by now, maybe even preparing to make a run at single digits. But thanks to the Senator, it spent the 90s sandwiched squarely between perennial all-stars "Axel" and "Loren," trailing "Malachi" and narrowly beating out "Infant".

(In case anyone's curious, my own illustrious name peaked sometime early in the Taft administration, at 582nd. It then went into decline before disappearing off the rankings at the end of the 40s. I think it's just about time for a comeback, don't you?)