Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Girl Named Madison

This post has nothing to do with Shaw, but I think it’s kind of interesting in a bizarre sort of way.

I happened to be poking around in the Social Security website (in anticipation of impending geezerhood), when I noticed they have a section that lists the most popular names given to babies in the US. I idly clicked on it and was surprised to see that the number 3 name for girls in 2006 was “Madison”.

Well, I have never known a girl child named Madison, and I started wondering how I could have missed such a phenomenon. I sort of knew that girls’ names are much more prone to change with fashion than boys’, which tend to stay pretty much the same (though the recent rise of “Jacob” and “Ethan” are perhaps exceptions). But even though girls’ names come and go in popularity, the rest of the Top 20 are all recognizable as traditional female names.

It turns out that “Madison” peaked in terms of national popularity when it hit #2 on the list in 2001 and 2002, (behind the all-conquering “Emily”). But it is tenaciously holding the #3 spot, and remains the #1 name for girls in every southern state from Louisiana to Delaware (except Florida) and has been for the last several years. (In DC, the top name is “Katherine”, BTW.) In 2002, “Madison” was the #1 girl’s name in 24 states.

But is this just a southern fad? Well, no. Actually, “Madison” didn’t even make the top 1000 list for the US until 1985, when it surfaced at #625. It gradually gained popularity through the nineties and finally cracked the Top 10 in 1997. But it first showed up as a truly popular name in Utah, of all places, when it suddenly appeared as the #2 girls’ name in that state in 1995. By the next year, it was #1 in Utah, Oklahoma, and Kansas, and then spread like wildfire throughout the West and Midwest., but didn’t really catch fire in the South until 2000. Since then, the Madison wave has receded in the square states, but seems to be well-entrenched in Dixie.

So where does the idea of naming a girl “Madison” come from? A bit of googling turned up the theory that it all started with the 1984 movie “Splash”, which featured a mermaid (played by Darryl Hannah, whose last name is also now super-popular among the pink layette set), who picked that name for herself off of a street sign. Well, okay, but then why would take 10 years for it to suddenly emerge in Utah as the new “Jennifer”? Was it a Mormon thing?

Who knows the answers to such mysteries, after all? But it could be worse; at least it wasn’t “Fillmore.”


At 8/09/2007 6:08 AM, Blogger Tad Rainwater said...

Have you read Freakonomics? The last chapter is devoted to the child name phenomenon, and they talk about "Madison." Very interesting stuff. Expect to see slight variations on the spelling of "Madison" soon: Madyson? Madisan? Just Matty?

At 8/09/2007 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't read Freakonomics, so this might be mentioned there. I'd wager that the ten year gap between the name "emerging" in the movie Splash and when it reached the height of popularity is due to the aging of the movie's main audience into adulthood and their childbearing years. Youths that liked the name when they first saw the movie weren't having babies in 1985, but they were later in the 1990's... and naming their daughters Madison.

At 8/09/2007 11:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I named my two dogs after towns in Massachusetts: Quincy and Everett

At 8/09/2007 12:22 PM, Blogger monkeyrotica said...

There's a pretty extensive list of odd baby names here.

I've met quite a few kids named Tyler who were named after the character from Fight Club. Not a good sign.

At 8/18/2007 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of alums from James Madison University name their kids (and pets!) Madison.

At 9/11/2007 11:50 PM, Anonymous ImpeachW said...

Obviously you don't hang around playgrounds or kindergardens much -for better or for worse.

You'd see the extent 'Madison/Maddison/Madyson', Mackenzie, McKenna has taken over.

It's the 'Jennifer' of the under 6 generation.

At 6/25/2010 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i named my daughter madison after splash..... it probably took so long for the name to come out as most people who have called their daughters after it now would of only been kids themselves at the time ( i was 4!)

At 9/23/2011 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rise in popualrity in 1995 could be due to the very popular movie, "The Bridges of Madison County". I named my daugher Madison because of it's meaning. It is an Old English male name that means son of the mighty warrior. While she is not a son, she is as strong and tenacious as any boy. Also, her father is named Marcus, which means warrior or warlike.


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