Bible Babies: Exploring Biblically-Inspired Baby Names over Time

The goal of this post is to explore how baby names have changed over time.

More specifically, I’m focusing on the decision to name one’s baby after a Biblical figure. I’m curious if the popularity of Biblically-inspired baby names has changed over time. We’re able to explore this question using the babynames package in R, which contains historical data from the U.S. Social Security Administration ranging back to 1880. It contains information on the number of babies born with a certain name in a given year, the sex of those babies, the year they were born, and their name (obviously).

library(babynames)
library(knitr)
library(readxl)
library(tidyverse)
library(ggplot2)
library(cr)
conflicted::conflict_prefer("filter", "dplyr")

set_cr_theme(font = "lato")
kable(head(babynames))
year sex name n prop
1880 F Mary 7065 0.0723836
1880 F Anna 2604 0.0266790
1880 F Emma 2003 0.0205215
1880 F Elizabeth 1939 0.0198658
1880 F Minnie 1746 0.0178884
1880 F Margaret 1578 0.0161672

In order to determine the popularity of “Bible babies,” we need a list of names found in the Bible in order to search the babynames dataset. I pulled a random list of Bible baby names from babycentre.co.uk. The list likely doesn’t include all names found in the Bible (only popular baby names), but that’s probably no big deal considering few, if any, parents name their child Athaliah.

biblenames <- read_excel("data/biblebabynames.xlsx")

boybible <- biblenames %>% 
  select(boynames) %>% 
  rename(names = boynames)

girlbible <- biblenames %>% 
  filter(!is.na(girlnames)) %>% 
  select(girlnames) %>% 
  rename(names = girlnames)

biblenamesbind <- rbind(boybible, girlbible)

# use the %in% operator to match names with those in biblenamesbind
babynames <- babynames %>%
  mutate(biblepercent = ifelse(name %in% biblenamesbind$names, prop, 0)) 

Popularity of Biblical Baby Names over Time

One initial question is whether the popularity of “Bible babies” has declined over time. Given that Christian identity and religiosity more generally have experienced declines in recent years, one may assume that the decision to name one’s baby after a Biblical figure has also become less popular.

babynames %>% 
  group_by(year) %>% 
  summarise(sum = sum(biblepercent)) %>% 
  ggplot(aes(x=year, y=sum)) +
    geom_line() +
  scale_y_continuous(labels = scales::percent_format(accuracy = 1)) +
  labs(title = "Bible Babies over Time",
       subtitle="Percent of babies born with names found in the Bible",
       x="Year",
       y="Percent",
       caption = "Source: U.S. Social Security Administration
       \n Design: www.connorrothschild.com")

Biblical names have become significantly less popular over time. We can split up the trend by sex to see if it is primarily driven by one group of babies.

babynames %>% 
  group_by(year, sex) %>% 
  summarise(sum = sum(biblepercent)) %>% 
  ungroup %>% 
  group_by(sex) %>% 
  ggplot(aes(x=year, y=sum, col=sex)) +
  geom_line() +
  scale_y_continuous(labels = scales::percent_format(accuracy = 1)) +
  labs(title = "Bible Babies over Time",
       subtitle="Percent of babies born with names found in the Bible",
       x="Year",
       y="Percent",
       color="Sex",
       caption = "Source: U.S. Social Security Administration
       \n Design: www.connorrothschild.com")

Indeed, much of the departure from Biblically-inspired baby names has been driven by girls. While 13% of boys born in 2017 shared a name with some biblical figure, the same was true of only 4% of girls.

Connor Rothschild
Connor Rothschild
Undergraduate at Rice University

I’m a senior at Rice University interested in public policy, data science and their intersection. I’m most passionate about translating complex data into informative and entertaining visualizations.

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