What’s in a name? The facts, figures and trends behind Ireland’s gurgling babies

We often take our name for granted. What inspired the choice? How does it define you? Not everyone has a moving story to tell of how mam and dad looked longingly at their newborn baby, and the perfect name simply floated from the air like divine inspiration. Your name is what your mam roars when your dinner is ready. It’s a key foundational component of your identity.

There’s a Johnny Cash song about a boy named Sue who hunts down his father as vengeance – and rightfully so – for his questionable naming. At the song’s denouement, Sue’s dad explains that he gave him that name because it would make him strong in life. The lesson being that your name can play a key role in how you are perceived and how you define yourself.

But how do our names shift and change on a broader level, and over the course of time? Ireland, like any nation, is susceptible to the influences of cultural events, at home and abroad. It’s inevitable that we change as a people due to the impact of rapidly evolving technology, and the forces of globalisation. So it’s natural to assume that these steady shifts have the potential to impact our views, and ultimately what we name our babies.

The lonesome demise of John and Mary

For many years the iconic duo of John and Mary have dominated the ceremonial christening of a little one. However, time hasn’t been kind to the pair, with the likes of Tarquin and Blaze usurping the traditional and wholesome names of Ireland. According to the CSO.ie, John and Mary remained undisputed champions from the mid 1960s to the early 1990s, when their popularity began to waver, dwindling from a powerful rank – John fell from 5th to 13th and Mary fell from 16th to 34th between 1997 and 1998 (albeit to a still somewhat respectable standing).

Ultimately it’s a substantial fall from grace. When the CSO records began, John and Mary were sitting pretty with their namesakes spawning in the thousands. Now in recent years they’d be lucky to break the hundreds. Their throne is now the home of Jack and Emily. The male counterpart is a curious one, as Jack is the diminutive form of the name John. So its transition seems somewhat natural. The shift from Emily to Mary is bit more difficult to explain. Maybe Emily is just a nice name … we agree Emily is a nice name!

The troublesome threes

While it’s surprising to see the fall of John and Mary, if you take a stroll into the depths of the CSO’s data, you will find some more famous names that have fallen out of favour. It’s important to note that the CSO does not include names that number fewer than three for privacy reasons. But a brief skim over some of the stats reveal some notable inclusions.

Some vintage Irish names that you’d regularly hear around your local, are now at the rock bottom of the CSO’s database. Names like Sharon, Donna, and Kimberly as well as Walter, Roger and Christy are fighting for survival, just at the cusp of the relegation zone. Many of them are there due simply to anomalous spelling – Elisabeth rather than Elizabeth – or that the name is more prominently used in its full version, like Terence and Jennifer rather than Terry and Jenny which both number at 3 in 2017.

Globalisation (or are our babies being Americanised?)

Since the early 1990s, popular American names have started creeping into the naming bubble, with the likes of Taylor, Corey and Jacob having almost zero activity before then. But for names like Jacob, they began gaining traction once the naughties hit and are now a mainstay of the top 100. This influx of new names in the 1990s and 2000s could be considered a sign of Ireland’s increased globalisation. In that time we went from two channel terrestrial TV to the age of the internet. It’s only natural that there would be some overlap.

Comparing the Irish CSO figures to America’s Social Security data, it is clear there is a direct correlation between rankings – particularly women’s names.  

While there is a fluttering of crossovers in both, only Noah and James have managed to cement themselves in Irish culture. For the women, though, over half of the names feature on both lists – Amelia, Emma, Ava, Mia and Sophie. Though the men’s have a distinctly American slant, (Logan and Mason) the women’s sound more universal, unattributed to either nation. Often a trend is unexplainable, as the name Emma has shown. In Ireland she’s been the top dog – or thereabouts – since the beginning of the 1980s, and for America, it wasn’t until the early 2000s she began dominating the ranks. People just really like Emma.

Pop culture effects

Sometimes pop culture influences can cause a spike in an unloved name or generate a brand new one.

Arya: HBO’s critically acclaimed TV series, Game of Thrones sent many expecting couples into a tizzy when the fierce, courageous and brazen Arya Stark revealed herself in the opening season of the show. The name may be unconventional, at least its fans didn’t feel compelled to use names like Ygritte or Gendry.

Credit // Central Statistics Office

Adele: Following a three-year hiatus, Adele made a blistering return with her seminal album 21 in 2011. The name vanished in 2004, but a surge of Adeles appeared through 2011 to 2012 on the CSO database – a direct response to the musician’s newfound popularity. Emotionally gnawing tracks such as “Don’t You Remember,” and of course, “Someone Like You” yanked on listener’s heartstrings, to the point where a bevy of mothers and fathers wanted their little girls to share their namesake with the talented, introspective singer. 

Credit // Central Statistics Office

Zayn: One Direction was such an obsessive phenomenon that almost every young teen had the group of dashing boys plastered across their walls, school bags and notebooks. The older demographic of the fandom went one step better by naming their newborn after their favourite member, even though Harry and Niall were already present and correct in the top 100, with the first little Zayns toddling onto scene in 2012.

Credit // Central Statistics Office

Rihanna: The ultra-popstar now turned makeup influencer was one of, if not, the biggest names in music during the mid to late 2000s. Her whopping hit “Umbrella” turned a flurry of heads when it smashed through the charts. So much so, that a company of mini-Rihannas started pottering around the local supermarkets. She had a continual stream of hit albums – an average of one a year – between 2005 and 2012, and this was reflected in the amount of baby Rihannas in Ireland. Their numbers peaked in 2008 and 2009 on the CSO dataset.   

Credit // Central Statistics Office

While the aforementioned names represent an encroaching shift in popular Americanisation, a previously solid name can take a major blow when a not so pleasant human mobilises an army of partisan followers across the pond, or maybe it’s just coincidence Donald.

Credit // Central Statistics Office

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