Artifacts on the SSA lists

Mentioning on the blog about 1910 names and the “cross-gender” ones on that list got me thinking about the various “names” that show up on the SSA list that are artifacts due to the SSA’s recordkeeping.

Here’s some I’ve noticed:

  1. Names that are obviously non-unisex showing up on the opposite gender’s list. I think (and I’ve been told somewhere that this is likely true) that this is due to the SSA making mistakes in recording a person’s gender. With the most popular names for each gender at a particular time the errors accumulate enough for the name to sometimes appear in the opposite gender’s top 1,000. Since the SSA is now computerized and has a better recordkeeping system, such errors likely now occur less often (and hence why you don’t see them much on the lists since the late 1980s/early 1990s or so).

  2. Nicknames or other short forms appearing more often in the past than now. I’m not sure if it’s an actual trend or not, but on the lists prior to when SSA numbers were usually obtained at birth or within a few years of that (for tax purposes) nicknames as given names appear to be more common. This could be from people obtaining their SSN with the nickname they had been using rather than the full name given at birth (back when people usually got their SSN when they first started working or when the SSA was first established in the 1930s). This could also explain abbreviated names appearing on the early SSA lists like [name]Geo[/name] (for [name]George[/name]) or [name]Wm[/name] (for [name]William[/name]).

  3. Placeholder names showing up. Entries like “[name]Infant[/name]” or “[name]Baby[/name]” are probably not parents who actually chose those names for their children, but rather put in when a number is needed right away but the parents haven’t decided on a name yet (when one has been decided the name on the SSA card would likely be changed then). Unlike the first two artifacts mentioned, this one is more common on the more recent lists (since this comes about from requiring SSNs for tax or other purposes soon after birth).

[name]Hi[/name] namefan,
This is really interesting and I’d love for it to reach our wider nameberry audience. Would you consider writing it as a guest blog?

I’d be happy to; just let me know when you have an open day and how I go about posting a guest blog. (The wording would probably be very similar to the post, except I’d revise the first paragraph some and maybe add an ending one.)

On most of the “faux-unisex” names that crossed over due to errors there is only a Nameberry entry for the correct gender, but one name that [name]Pam[/name] and [name]Linda[/name] mentioned was [name]Lisa[/name] for a boy (at the URL below; the name was in the boy’s top 1,000 during the 1960s and part of the 1970s).[name]Lisa[/name]

In the case of the UK for #3, a lot of the times you see children registered as “infant”, “baby”, “male”, “female” is because the baby died at only a few minutes/days/hours. The law stated that every living child born should be registered (even if they died within minutes) and so sometimes you get these placeholders where the parents haven’t given the baby a name at all. You particularly see this on burial records and when central indexing came in in 1837 you can see them on the official registers.

[name]Just[/name] thought I’d add that to your excellent observations :slight_smile:

When looking up past census records on my family, many times they are listed by their nicknames. So it’s very possible that there were fewer babies born with “official” nicknames than thought.