NOTE: You can find a more technical version of this post with R code here.
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).
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 common baby names), but that’s probably no big deal considering few, if any, parents name their child Athaliah.
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.
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.
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.
Exploring Popular Names over Time Using gganimate
Finally, we can incorporate Thomas Lin Pedersen’s gganimate package to explore the popularity of specific Bible names over time. This was inspired by Kieran Healy’s similar visualization depicting changes in the structure of babies’ names over time. Using gganimate and the geom_tile function in ggplot, we are able to create visualizations depicting changes in popularity of apparently Biblical names over time.
We're able to explore this trend among boys: