The Consonantization of America

Update:

One of the readers at www.Languagehat.com  noted that many of the trends I report reversed themselves after 1960 or 1970, and that the present naming pattern is significantly different than the 1960 pattern. This is true, and perhaps change has been cyclic to a degree.

The decline of f , o, and e and the replacement of h by k were apparently permanent, but a and i have recovered and p has declined to approximately where it was before.

The fact that the 2000 and 2005 numbers don't seem to add up to 100% is a sign that we shouldn't take all this very seriously.

 

This site, based on census records, graphically depicts the rise and fall of American baby names since the 1880s. Most of it is pretty ho-hum: more Ashley, less Mabel. However, I applied my powerful scientific mind to the database and asked myself: "How are the letters of the alphabet doing?"

What I found was that some letters have been doing very well indeed, while others have been doing badly.  Specifically the group a, e, i, o, h, f, w has plummeted, whereas the group d, p, s, t, k has soared. In 1900 31.2% of all baby names began with letters in the first group, but by 1960 only 9.4% did (fewer than a third as many). As for the second group, in 1900 only 9.3% of the baby names belonged to this group, but by 1960 30.7% did (more than three times as many).

One noticeable trend is a move away from names beginning in vowels.  In 1900 18% of the baby names began with vowels, but in 1960 only 6.9% did (fewer than half as many). A second noticeable trend is a reversal of Grimm's law. P names have replaced F names, and K names have replaced H names.  F and H went from a total of 9.3% to 1.8%, while P and K went from 2.6% to 9.7%. Goodbye, Frank and Harold and Florence and Harriet; hello, Kevin and Peter and Karen and Pam! .

I don't have any idea what the significance of all this is either, but could it possibly be a good thing? Something certainly should be done! -- but first, further research is required. 

 

  1900 1960 Change    1900 1960 Change
A 06.8% 03.8%   D 02.3% 09.5%  
E 08.5% 02.6%   P 01.8% 04.2%  
I 01.5% 00.2%   S 02.5% 06.5%  
O 01.2% 00.1%   T 01.9% 05.0%  
H 05.5% 01.0%   K 00.8% 05.5%  
F 03.8% 00.8%          
W 03.9% 00.9%

 

         
Total 31.2% 9.4% (3x) -21.8% Total 9.3% 30.7% +21.4% (3x )

Methodology:

I eyeballed the graphs and did the arithmetic with a pencil on the back of the proverbial envelope. I chose the years 1900 and 1960 and the letters a, e, i, o, h, f, v, d, p, s, t, and k because I got the most significant results that way. I didn't include the vowel u because u-names have always been vanishingly rare.

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I am emersonj at gmail dot com.

Original materials copyright John J Emerson

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