It's How You Finish

June 11, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Flaneuse at Graphic Sociology reprints a neat graph by Baptiste Coulmont showing trends in the endings of girls' names in France.
(Click on the graph to see a larger version.)

The final “e” has long been characteristic of French female names, though with some variation (the “ette” suffix is so 1930s). The most remarkable trend in recent decades is the rise of the final “a” to the point that it is now more common than the final “e.” The three top names in 2006 (the most recent year I could find data for), were Emma, Lea, and Clara. (I also noted that Oceane has now dropped out of the top ten. Apparently, in terms of fashion cycles, Oceane is to France what Madison is to the US.)

Final letters of boys’ names in the US have also seen a dramatic shift, as documented nearly two years ago by Laura Wattenberg at babynamewizard. The half century from 1906 to 1956 saw little change. D,E, S, N, and Y shared the closing spotlight, probably thanks to David, George, and James/Charles/Thomas, John and several Y names.

Final Letter of Boys' Names 1906

Final Letter of Boys' Names 1956

But by 2006, N had conquered the field and stood pretty much alone.

Final Letter of Boys' Names 2006
It won not by having a single blockbuster – only one of the top ten boys’ names, Ethan, had a final N – but with more of a long-tail effect. Of the names ranked 14th to 27th, nine of the fourteen ended in N. (The list is here).


Paul said...

I did an informal analysis of boys' names ending in N several years ago. (I got obsessed with the topic of naming after reading Lieberson's _A Matter of Taste_). Without going into the details, my results tended to indicate that the popularity of these names started increasing (though very slowly) a long time ago, at least by the early 1900s. It's true that they exploded very recently, but this probably didn't come out of nowhere. Or at least that's what I concluded. If I was wrong it wouldn't be the first time.

Jay Livingston said...

People might be conscious of first letters when choosing a name, but they probably aren’t thinking in any conscious way about final letters, except vowels that are sounded. (Boys names don’t end in “a”; girls names don’t end in “o.” ) So a trend caused by several names rather than the popularity of a single name is especially interesting – people following a fashion without trying, without even realizing that they are doing so.

But if this started a long time ago, it would be interesting to trace its diffusion (geography, social class, etc.)