From John to Jack: how baby names in Ireland have changed since 1965

By Mary Nagle
September 2 2020, 21.25

While old names are still favourites for Irish boys, girls’ names are a contemporary snapshot.

An academic study summarised on an LSE blog in June puts paid to the idea of a Coronavirus baby boom.

The study of five European countries (including the UK) found that the reaction to the uncertainty of recession will result in a fall in the birth-rate.

How many post-pandemic Irish babies will be be called Emily or Jack?

Rising from just 11 births in 1968, Emily has been the most popular girls’ name in Ireland since 2011.

Emily’s male counterpart, Jack, in the top three since 1998, used to be just as rare with no more than 20 Jacks born annually up until 1985.

Boys’ names saw a changing of the guard around 1995 as John, Michael and David followed Patrick into decline.

Conor, Sean and stalwart James absorbed the surplus.

Prior to Emily, Sarah, now in decline, was in the top three for over two decades (1983-2008) and was the last biblical girls’ name to fall off the top 10 list.

Biblical names have fared better with boys with Adam, Luke and Noah now more popular than ever.

Earlier data explains why almost everyone in Ireland has an aunty Mary.

The name was more than twice as popular as any of the other top 4 names (Anne, Catherine and Margaret) from 1864-70 (a trend that likely extends prior to this timeframe).

No boys’ name has ever matched the absolute hegemony of Mary.

Even John was never double its nearest rival on this timescale.  But John was slower to fall, disappearing from the top 10 in 1990 – a decade after Mary – and never dipping as low: Mary now ranks 92nd where John is placed 30th.

It is a general pattern that boys’ names endure longer and a greater percentage of male babies are given names in the top 10 or 20.

James and Michael have been in the top ten for 55 years whereas the longest standing top 10 girls’ name on this timescale, Aoife, was only on the chart for 25 years.

While old-school boys’ names still feature in the top 10, girls’ names have seen a revolution.

The trend is towards soft-sounding names which don’t have a long history in Ireland: Emily, Ella, Ava, Grace, Mia. Which of these will pass out Emily and when?

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