The data from 2005 are in and once again, according to social security card applications for newborns, the most popular girl's name in America is Emily. Emily first appeared in the top ten list between 1985 and 1990 and has reigned supreme for nearly a decade. Our daughter Emily was born in 2000, though it was news to us that we had given her the most popular name for American girls. In a family that knows its roots and often maintains ancient family names - our son Elias is a case in point - there is not another known Emily in our pedigree. Nonetheless Emily is #1, and sharing the top spot and the most popular name for little boys since 1998 is...Jacob.
Really? I find that astonishing. I can't think of the last time I met a young person with that name, although there are countless Tylers, Connors, Trevors and the like. Perhaps, like politics, the most popular names come from the most populous regions, while little states like Connecticut or lightly settled states like Montana favor other names that don't have the numbers to crack the top ten. Maybe there are Emily states and Jacob states.
Putting this theory to the test, one finds that in 2005 Jacob ranks a measly 12th on the list of boys names in Connecticut, with Emily a strong second to Olivia. Connecticut is clearly an Emily State but Jacob fails to crack the top ten. In this way it is also like New Jersey, where Emily holds the #1 spot but Jacob is a distant 19th for boys, and New York where Jacob comes in at 14th and Emily is likewise 1st. In all other states Jacob is at least 8th (although in DC it drops to 23rd) and is at the top of the list in 40% of all states. Emily is a strong performer, #1 in sixteen states and 7th or better in all but Hawai'i, where the name is an anomalous 21st overall while Jacob comes in at 2nd. The only states that exactly mirror the national trend for both names are Colorado and Illinois.
There may be a regional trend at work here as well. States in which Jacob fails to make the top five for boys names - with the single exception of AL at 6th - form a contiguous northeastern cluster (MD, 7th; De, 6th; NJ, 19th; NY, 14th; CT 12th; MA 8th). That explains why I don't trip over Jacobs on the way to the town pool. The axis of Emily is stronger and shows no such regional pattern. Emily is in the top 4 in all states but the aforementioned Hawai'i, North Dakota (7th) and Wyoming (7th), and in each of these states there was a relatively small sample size.
I'm no statistician, but from where I'm sitting, here is a new way to take the pulse of the nation. Instead of red states or blue, we should instead look for areas that favor Emily or Jacob. Opinion polls should only take place in Colorado and Illinois, since they alone mirror the national naming trends. If you want to make a favorable impression in the powerful Northeast Corridor from MD to MA where Jacob fairs poorest, consider changing your name to Michael, Matthew or Ryan: almost uniformly the top three names for boys in this region. Or, if you want your son to stand out, I can guarantee that Elias does not register in any top 10 list.