The Most Gender-Switched Names in US History

We use some names mostly for boys and some mostly for girls, but then there is a small percentage of names that, over time, switched mostly from one gender to another. Which names made the biggest switch?

It seems like a straightforward question, but it depends on how you define “biggest switch.” More on that in a bit.

I turned to our old friend: the baby names dataset from the Social Security Administration. Most citizens and residents in the United States have a Social Security number (printed on a piece of paper that you are somehow expected to keep safe from birth!), and the SSA releases a dataset of baby names annually. It provides the number of babies with a given name, split by sex and by year.

The first numbers were given in 1935, but the names in the dataset were retroactively counted pre-1935. So the data goes back to 1880. The people who were alive in 1935 were tallied by birth year. You can see the sharp increase post-1935 in the chart below.

Social Security Card Holders

Counts for boys and girls stabilized around 1930.

2.5 million

2.0

1.5

Boys

1.0

Girls

0.5

0

1880

1900

1920

1940

1960

1980

2000

2018

 

I used this dataset to look for the names that made the biggest switch. A couple of caveats:

  1. Not everyone in the United States has a social security number, and so this doesn’t represent all baby names every year.
  2. Only names with five or more occurrences during a given year are included, so more unique names are not in this dataset.

I don’t think either of these are an issue in this case though, because I looked for popular names that made significant shifts rather than unique names with only a few people.

Also, I limited the search to 1930 and on. The counts between boys and girls became more even around this time.

Most Basic Approach

To start, I looked for any name that switched sexes between 1930 and 2018. I defined that as any name that was at least 50 percent boys or girls and then switched majority to the opposite sex at some point. Out of the 95,137 names in the data, 2,987 switched, or about 3 percent. I quickly plotted the difference in counts over time for the 100 names with the highest counts.

Switching Between Boy and Girl

There were 2,987 names that switched between 1930 and 2018. These are the 100 with the highest annual peaks. Not much to look at here. That tall 50k+ peak in the 1990s is “Ashley.”

More Boys

More Girls

2018

2000

1980

1960

1940

1930

10k

Even

10k

20k

30k

40k

50k

 

This view wasn’t very useful, but at the least, you can see there’s a lot of fluctuation over time. Here’s a name-by-name view, which makes it easier to see individual trends for each name.

Switches Sorted by Greatest Span

Among the names that switched, which ones grew or declined the most?

Ashley

Taylor

Alexis

Madison

Tracy

Kelly

Joan

Lauren

Robin

Jamie

2018

More

girls

1930

Shannon

Courtney

Chelsea

Kim

Shawn

Angel

Jean

Addison

Morgan

Kelsey

More

boys

Avery

Riley

Harper

Stacy

Shelby

Sydney

Whitney

Lynn

Jaime

Lindsey

 

By the way, these are called difference charts. They show the difference between girl and boy counts over time. It goes from 2018 to 1930, top to bottom. Turquoise means there were more girls that year, and orange means there were more boys.

Looking at the difference charts above, maybe you noticed the names — with the exception of Riley and Jaime — don’t really look like there was a switch from one sex to another. It looks more like a name wasn’t very common for one sex and then became more popular for the opposite.

Interesting. I didn’t know Ashley used to be a mostly boys name. But I wasn’t looking for names that were so-so for one sex and then popular for another.

Looking for Even Swings

I was looking for names that were equally common for both sexes, or close to it at least. So unlike my first approach, where I found the peak count for both sexes and subtracted, I calculated the ratio of the peaks. If the peak count for boys is about the same as the peak count for girls, the ratio would be close to 1.

Here are the top thirty names with a ratio closest to 1.

Looking For Actual Switches

Take the ratio of peak girls to peak boys and look for the names closer to even.

Ryley

Landry

Azariah

Devyn

Britt

Stevie

Kerry

Jael

Germaine

Kirby

2018

More

girls

More

boys

1930

Lorin

Kenyatta

Carrol

Austyn

Rene

Kodi

Brighton

Sidney

Charlie

Casey

Jules

Jaedyn

Shay

Gentry

Codi

Santana

Torey

Tai

Skyler

Rian

 

Now we’re getting somewhere. This subset of names shows some swings instead of just waning peaks.

However, these calculations don’t account for the changing totals over time. They just use raw counts for the ratios. For example, there might have been more girl Ryleys one year, but maybe there were more girls born (or received Social Security numbers) that year also.

So instead of using raw counts, it’s better to look at rates so that values are comparable over time.

Most Switched Names, Relatively

Look for names with nearly-even female-to-male maximums. But this time use rates instead of counts.

1. Kenyatta

2. Rene

3. Brighton

4. Devyn

5. Austyn

6. Ryley

7. Kodi

8. Casey

9. Azariah

10. Jael

2018

More

girls

More

boys

1930

11. Lorin

12. Landry

13. Arden

14. Raleigh

15. Jackie

16. Stevie

17. Monroe

18. Skyler

19. Shea

20. Sol

21. Ashtin

22. Remy

23. Aven

24. Tristyn

25. Isa

26. Jaedyn

27. Carrol

28. Codi

29. Gentry

30. Daylin

 

Ryley is still in the top ten, but Kenyatta takes the top spot with a couple of switches from mostly boys to mostly girls and then back to mostly boys.

It’s still missing something though. While the ratio for Kenyatta was the closest to 1, it doesn’t seem correct to call it the most switched name when there are at the most a few hundred Kenyattas in a year.

That is to say, the name switched from a few hundred boy names to a few hundred girl names during the 1930 to 2018 timespan. On the other hand, Kerry, which was also close to 1 (but not as close) showed a swing in the thousands.

So, instead of ranking by ratio alone, I considered the maximum as well. Below, the top 100 most switched names in US history. Casey, Jackie, Kerry, Jody, and Finley lead the way in the top five.

Most Switched Names, by Rate and Count

Account for more even switches as well as how big the swings were too.

1. Casey

2. Jackie

3. Kerry

4. Jody

5. Finley

6. Skyler

7. Justice

8. Rene

9. Darian

10. Frankie

Max span: 7,713

6,305

4,380

3,930

3,154

2,842

1,878

1,785

1,543

1,468

2018

More

girls

More

boys

1930

11. Oakley

12. Robbie

13. Remy

14. Milan

15. Jaylin

16. Devan

17. Armani

18. Charley

19. Stevie

20. Channing

1,428

1,370

1,300

1,231

1,214

1,095

1,089

928

890

841

21. Gerry

22. Monroe

23. Kirby

24. Azariah

25. Santana

26. Landry

27. Devyn

28. Shea

29. Austyn

30. Arden

774

761

724

720

709

703

668

628

534

446

31. Kenyatta

32. Jaedyn

33. Jael

34. Carrol

35. Ryley

36. Ricki

37. Codi

38. Shay

39. Rian

40. Aven

443

411

408

391

372

343

336

334

332

316

41. Brighton

42. Tru

43. Raleigh

44. Tai

45. Ever

46. Britt

47. Ocean

48. Gentry

49. Merritt

50. Storm

299

297

296

293

288

283

282

280

279

268

51. Rosario

52. Ashtin

53. Teegan

54. Tristyn

55. Sol

56. Isa

57. Kodi

58. Torey

59. Lorin

60. Maxie

259

258

257

251

231

228

227

226

218

215

61. Ridley

62. Shia

63. Yuri

64. Linden

65. Kaedyn

66. Daylin

67. Tylar

68. Dru

69. Indiana

70. Kalin

212

203

193

186

186

185

180

179

178

178

71. Barrie

72. True

73. Jodeci

74. Tramaine

75. Shai

76. Cree

77. Allyn

78. Arion

79. Jaydyn

80. Lexington

175

174

171

168

165

161

160

160

160

159

81. Aris

82. Jaelin

83. Kylin

84. Jaidan

85. Clarke

86. Talyn

87. Ashten

88. Claudie

89. Amen

90. Krishna

158

158

157

157

156

155

153

151

151

150

91. Lakota

92. Vernie

93. Kit

94. Tenzin

95. Arin

96. Riyan

97. Jaziah

98. Parris

99. Tobey

100. Catlin

148

147

147

147

146

144

144

140

138

136

 

Looking closer at Casey, I’m not entirely sure if it’s so much a switched name than it became a unisex name. Well, I guess it switched to unisex. It was mostly a boy name and while remaining a boy name, it also grew popular as a girl name. I guess I can get on board with that.

Notes

The data comes from the Social Security Administration, and it continues to be a fun time series dataset to poke at. I analyzed and visualized the data in R.

See also:

  1. The Most Unisex Names in US History
  2. The Most Regional Names in US History
  3. The Most Trendy Names in US History
  4. The Most Poisoned Name in US History

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