The fall of Mary

Forget the war on Christmas. What about the fall of Mary?

I’m posting this a little before Easter to give The Media time to work up the story by the weekend. Here it is: For the first time in the history of the United States of America, the name Mary is not in the top 100 given to newborn girls.

That’s according to the 2009 Social Security name database. And it’s not just the rankings but the raw numbers. The number of Marys born in 2009 was down 93% from 1961, the last year she was at #1 — a drop from 47,645 that year to just 3,105 now.

Mary was the #1 name every year in the database from 1880 — it’s first year — to 1961 (except for dropping to #2 to Linda, 1947-1952). The database is not perfect or 100% complete. But there is no reason to suspect it was over-counting Marys. And I’m pretty sure she was #1 before 1880, too. Naming your daughter Mary was as traditional as girls wearing blue.

This is not about immigration or ethnic diversity. Although the number of immigrants has increased, so has the number of White Christian Americans. In fact, as Stanley Lieberson has reported in his seminal analysis of American naming patterns, in the old days Mary was common among Blacks as well as Whites, and in the mid-20th century even some Jews were naming their girls Mary. The fact is: few people want to have girls named Mary. (Maria did a little better than Mary,  #71.)

To put this in perspective, there were almost twice as many girls named Nevaeh in 2009; she came in at #34. The Nevaeh trend (which appears to have peaked) is a tipoff to what’s going on: the long-term increase in naming diversity. Americans want kids with less popular names than they used to. For example, the top 20 girls names were 34% of the total in 1940s, but they now represent just 12%. Isabella, today’s #1, was given to just 1.1% of girls in 2009. In 1961 Mary was given to more than twice that proportion, 2.3%.

If Americans like tradition, maybe they just want other people to name their daughters Mary. So, this Easter, who will stand up for Mary?

6 thoughts on “The fall of Mary

  1. Long before the fashions came, it was Mary. And in some places, it still is (mutatis mutandis). In Italy, Maria is a grand old — and new — name. It’s number one for girls. And #1 for boys is Giussepe.


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