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How naming children has changed since 1964

Have you ever wondered why some names have come in and out of fashion or what factors influence parents in choosing a baby’s name?

Collecting data on the most popular baby names “provides a unique snapshot of Irish society”, according to the Central Statistics Office.

Data on names given to newborn babies in Ireland goes back as far as 1964, with the latest data from 2023 published today.

CSO Statistician Sean O’Connor says baby name data “allows us to see changing tastes and trends in the names”.

Since 1964, the number of individual names that have been recorded per year has increased from around 1,800 to almost 9,000.

However, before digitisation, the data was manually typed from paper forms and would not be as comprehensive as the data the CSO has over the last number of years.

There are also multiple spellings of some names, such as Ann and Anne or Eoin, Eoghan and Owen, and each spelling is recorded individually in the data.

How have names changed over the past 60 years?

The data on baby names indicates “how parents are imagining their kids in the future”, according to Associate Professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University Dr Dylan Connor.

He says in the past there was a trend of “continuity” in names especially in rural areas.

For example, sons were named after fathers or grandfathers and families had names that transcended through the different generations.

During the 1960s and 1990s, Dr Connor says, parents started to move away from “traditional names” to ones that were “new or different”.

For confidentiality reasons, the CSO says names must be recorded three or more times in any year to be included in the figures

Dr Connor says the greater variety of names presently could be a sign of parents “thinking of children in a more individual way” and also society being more “accepting of different names”.

In 1964, the most popular baby names were Mary and John, which have fallen to 130th and 31st in the rankings respectively in 2023.

Other examples of names that have declined over this time are Geraldine and Raymond.

Geraldine was the 9th most popular girl in 1964, while Raymond ranked 30th for boy names.

However, Geraldine has not featured in the rankings since 2021 and Raymond has fallen to 660th.

For confidentiality reasons, the CSO says names must be recorded three or more times in any year to be included in the figures.

This means that less than three babies have been called Geraldine for the past two years.

While Raymond did not make the rankings in 2022, four babies were given the name last year.

Names Doris and Dudley have not featured in the CSO’s findings since the 1970s while other names, such as Cecil and Gertrude, have not been included since the 1980s and 1990s.

Religious names

Names associated with the Bible or saints have fluctuated since 1964.

Names Paul and Ann were both in 4th place that year but have fallen to 219th and 296th in 2023.

Anne was just below Ann in the 1964 rankings at 5th and is now in 316th place.

The name Mark was ranked 28th in 1964 and grew in popularity before peaking in 1986 at 7th, but has failed to make the top 50 since 2013.

Noah has had a meteoric rise since 1996

Dr Dylan Connor says a decline in some names associated with religion could be due to a rise in secularism but also could be people moving away from “patronyms and matronyms” – the practice of naming children after fathers and mothers.

Other biblical Luke and Hannah were popular names during the 2000s.

The name Noah has had a meteoric rise. The name first appeared in the rankings in 1996, in 295th place, and rose to 2nd in 2022 and 2023.

Noah has also featured in the top ten US baby names since 2009 and was the most popular American boy name between 2013 and 2016.

Another name mentioned in the Old Testament, Eve, also increased in popularity rising from the 447th rank in 1970 to 64th in 2022.

According to the CSO, the most common spelling in Ireland for a boy who is named after the founder of Islam is Muhammad. It first appeared in 1991 and reached the 63rd rank last year.

However, the first variation of the name, Mohamed, first appeared in 1980 statistics.

Muhammad was also the most common name given to a boy who has two parents born outside Ireland, the rest of the EU and the UK in 2022.

Irish language names

CSO statistics also show that a number of Irish language names have increased in popularity, claiming a number of spots in the top ten names in recent years.

Dr Dylan Connor says that part of the appeal of Irish language names could be parents wanting “something new and different but also locally authentic”.

However, a lot of the “Irish names people are picking today are quite different from the Irish names people picked in the past”, he adds.

Names such as Rían, Oisín, Tadhg, Fiadh and Éabha have featured in the top ten in recent years, with Fiadh being the most popular name for a girl in 2021.

The only Irish language name to feature in the top 40 for boys in 1964 was Sean, which took the 38th spot that year.

Irish language names made up six of the top 40 for girls in 1964, with Deirdre being highest, reaching 14th in the rankings but has only featured twice in the data since 2014.

Some Irish language names have increased ten-fold over the last half-century. In 1972, Tadhg was ranked 254th and climbed up to the 7th most popular name in 2023.

Nine babies were given the name Sonia in 2000, the year Sonia O’Sullivan won silver in the 5000m at the Sydney Olympics

Caoimhe and Sadhbh experienced similar trajectories, rising from 300th and 428th in 1972 to 24th and 32nd respectively in 50 years.

2018 was the first year the CSO started to record names with a síneadh fada and other accents.

This means spellings of the same name, like Seán and Sean, have been recorded as separate names since 2018.

For example, Seán, the 14th most popular name in 2023, placed 110 places higher than Sean last year, however adding the number of babies given both names together would put it at the 9th spot.

While Rían, placing 4th last year, has eclipsed its anglicised counterpart Ryan and is now 29 places higher in the rankings, the re-gaelicisation trend is not across the board.

The name Séamus has struggled against its English equivalent James, with the latter holding a top-three spot for the last decade.

Séamus (or Seamus) has not made the top 100 since 1996.

Have pop culture and sport influenced baby names?

The CSO’s Sean O’Connor says the data can also “provide a glimpse” of how sports and pop culture can influence how parents choose the name for their baby.

The name Sonia made the rankings every year from 1964 to 1997 but did not feature in either 1998 or 1999. However, nine babies were given the name in the year 2000, the year Sonia O’Sullivan won silver in the 5000m at the Sydney Olympics.

The name Ronaldo has appeared four times in the rankings since 2010

The name Eric was at its height of popularity in the mid-90s, peaking at 62th in 1996, before declining.

Although the CSO cannot be certain, former France and Manchester United striker Eric Cantona may have been a driving influence on the name.

The name Ronaldo has appeared four times in the rankings since 2010 and in 2022 three baby boys were called Lionel, the same year Lionel Messi captained Argentina to the Fifa World Cup.

In 2012, when the television fantasy drama Game of Thrones released its second season, the name Arya first appeared in the rankings.

The name peaked to rank 165th in 2021 and fell to 254th the following year.

Six girls were also named Khaleesi in 2014, one of the many names given to the character Daenerys Targaryen played by Emilia Clarke.

Also in that year, 120 girls were named Emilia.

CSO data also shows the name Harry became more popular throughout the 2000s.

The name ranked as the 105th most popular name in 1997, the year the first Harry Potter book was published.

Since 2011, the year the last of the Harry Potter films was released, the name has maintained a top 20 spot.

Music may have also been an influence for some parents.

Elton starts to appear in the 1970s, with 11 boys given the name in 1973 and the name appears in the data most years in the decade.

The data also shows a few occurrences of three or more Madonnas in 1980 and 1986 and a few Kylies in the late 1980s.

Britney first appeared in 1999, the same year Britney Spears’ debut album was released. Twenty girls were given the name in 2000 but the name has been sporadic ever since.

Sean O’Connor adds that CSO data also shows a “sprinkling of Shakiras” during the same decade but never more than 18 that was recorded in 2002.

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