Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our names are in their Third Thirds, too

There I was at the teachers meeting for the Alaska Literacy Program. All of us are volunteers, most of us are women, and three of us are named Barbara.

Tell me, do you know any young Barbaras? I thought not.

Back when we were having babies, there was a resurgence of what I call grandparent names. Suddenly, there were baby Maxes and baby Emmas, Emilys, and Sophies. But Barbara has never made its comeback.

In fact, the median age of all Barbaras alive in 2014 was 64. Ruths and Frances were 68; Carols, Freds, and Bobs, 63. Which is a whole lot more modern than Gertrude, whose median age is 80. In fact, if you’re named Gertrude, 89.4% of you are dead. Right up there with Mabel, Myrtle, and Blanche. Or Elmer, Clarence, and Chester.
This all comes from matching social security birth names with actuarial tables, and it’s kind of fun if you’re noticing that there are three Barbaras in your Literacy Program teacher cohort. It’s part of “How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know Is Her Name,” and you can check it out here.

Yesterday the cashier at the supermarket reminded me that it was 55+ discount day. I have to assume that’s because he saw my name come up with my rewards card sign-in. Right?


  1. Then there are the exceptions.

    I know one thirty year old Barbara - named after her grandmother (who was born in 1916).

    Or... Our daughter, born in 1989, who is named Marcia. NO ONE under 50 (maybe under 60) is named Marcia! We knew when we named her that it was a name that had gone out of fashion.

    Luckily, it has always suited her to have an unusual name. And now she's a standup comic – and LOVES performing under her own, unusual name. If you'd like, check out her YouTube videos, Marcia Belsky.

    1. I hope this reply still reaches you. Somehow, I missed following up on this till a group of friends talked about names, and I went back to this, and now we're all laughing over "100 Tampons"! Is this the KateW I know in person or are you another KateW?

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  3. PS - I'm a big student of names. I think that there are only two female names that have never going out of style: Elizabeth and Katherine (and its variations – my given name is Kathleen). But even with these names, the NICKNAMES change – baby boomer women were typically called Kathy, but younger women are Katie or Kate. And the Elizabeths are Liz or Libby or maybe Beth. I don't think I've ever met a young woman named Betsy or Betty.

    And then there was the conversation I had in 1986 with a dear friend (born in 1951) who was going to name her first daughter Jessica. I said, with my typical tactlessness, "Why would you do that??? There will be a ZILLION girls named Jessica in her class!" My friend was her usual tactful self in reply: "Well… My name is Nancy and my husband is Bob. To say the least, we know what it's like to have very popular names for our age. And Jessica was the only name we both loved." Good point!


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