Monday, February 1, 2016

As First Lady, Popularity of Babies Named "Hillary" Dropped by an Unprecedented 90%


In this article I examine the dramatic drop in the popularity of naming babies "Hillary" beginning at the start of President Bill Clinton's term. In order to understand the context of that drop, I look at the popularity of the first names of other First Ladies starting with Thelma (Pat) Nixon back in 1969.

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In an article "Poor, Poor Hillary", the author makes note that the popularity of naming babies Hillary fell dramatically during her tenure as First Lady. I found this an interesting idea and decided to expand upon it to see if a fall in popularity was typical of First Ladies. Looking back at the last eight I found that all of them were associated with a drop in popularity of the first name.

Table 1: Drop in popularity of first name as a ratio of frequency at end of term divided by frequency the year before beginning of term.

First
Last
Tenure
Drop
Thelma
Nixon
1969-1974
0.40
Betty
Ford
1974-1977
0.39
Rosalynn
Carter
1977-1981
0.31
Nancy
Regan
1981-1989
0.16
Barbara
Bush
1989-1993
0.37
Hillary
Clinton
1993-2001
0.90
Laura
Bush
2001-2009
0.62
Michelle
Obama
2009-present
0.48

From Table 1, we can see that the name "Hillary" dropped the most in popularity over her term as First Lady by a whopping 90%, followed by Laura (Bush) 62%, and distantly Michelle (Obama) 48%. Nancy retained the most popularity by only falling by 16% while First Lady.

Figure 1: Change in popularity of baby names super imposed over terms. The popularity has been scaled so that 1 is the peak of popularity of the baby name over the years as First Lady (or the one year prior). Any values above 1 have been scaled to 3% of their original size.

When we look at Figure 1 we can see that naming popularity seems to be heavily affected by First Ladies. Most names experienced a steady downward trend in popularity. The name "Rosalynn" is an exception as it peaked in popularity during the Carter administration before falling by the end to have risen in popularity once again.

The name "Hillary" is very unique in this pattern as unlike most names, it was growing rapidly in popularity prior to the Clinton administration. However, early into the Clinton administration the popularity dropped rapidly falling to pre-1980s levels for the name. Except for a small rally in during the 2007/2008 primary campaign against Obama, it has not recovered.

This massive drop in popularity is not only exceptional for its magnitude but because it completely reversed the trend in naming going on up to that point. This is in stark contrast to the other names Betty, Nancy, Laura, and Michelle which were generally loosing popularity since the 1970s. It is somewhat difficult to see how much popularity they have lost since I scaled down everything above 1 to 3% in scale.
Figure 2: This is the same information as Figure 1 except values above 1 are on the same scale as values below 1.


From Figure 2 we can see that many of the downward trends in popularity of names preexisted before First Lady status. Looking at this graph is it easy to suspect that names such as Michelle and Laura have fallen in popularity not because of the lack of popularity of them as First Ladies but because of an ongoing general trend for those names.


This analysis is very easy to do. All of the names are taken from the Social Security baby names list released each year. The code (without comments, apologies) can be found on GitHub.

13 comments:

  1. The second graph tells us that what your first graph is trying to prove is mostly wrong.

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    1. You are mistaken. The first graph shows a rising trend in the name Hillary leading up to time as First Lady, after which it is dramatically reversed. The second graph just shows that there is a general falling off of most first lady names typically leading up to their term as first lady. Hillary's name is the only one in which a strong positive trend was completely reversed.

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    2. It seems to me that most adult names would be dropping, since they were most likely born around the time their name was peaking. You would need a prior model of name popularity vs. time in order to properly assess whether or how much the First Lady is affecting popularity.

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  2. Well i see a lot of drops but wow she did take the list with that large drop

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  3. Wasn't Richard Nixon's wife known by Pat instead of Thelma? Take a look at that name instead.

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    1. Good point. It is difficult because while she was known as Pat, would you have named your baby "Pat" or "Thelma"? Pat seems a little strange.

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    2. Most people would likely see "Pat" as the shortened form of "Patricia." It might be worth looking to see if there are any out-of-the-ordinary trends in either name.

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  4. I'd ask how much of that is to be expected just based on popularity of names over time/by generation, but the sudden drop-off in Michelle names is pretty stark.

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  5. There should be a clear link between the rise in popularity and subsequent decline of the name Michelle and the Beetles song that came out in 1965.

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  6. "When we look at Figure 1 we can see that naming popularity seems to be heavily affected by First Ladies." And when we look at Figure 2, we can see that this is completely false in almost every case.

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  7. Excellent work. Hillary or Laura is the name of my future daughter))

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  8. FYI, Hilary Parker's analysis from 2013 (crediting another writer back in 2003): http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/01/hillary-most-poisoned-baby-name-in-us-history.html

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