Fewer Girls Named ‘Hillary’ or ‘Hilary’ Was an Omen of Clinton’s Defeat: Stefano Ghirlanda

Baby girlCould we have predicted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election? Naming patterns may suggest as much, says Professor Stefano Ghirlanda (GC/Brooklyn, Psychology/Biology).

In a new study, “Trend in First Names Foreshadowed Hillary Clinton’s Electoral Defeat,” Ghirlanda argues that the precipitous drop in children being named “Hillary” and “Hilary” after 1992 presaged the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

He adds that “to the extent that we name our children after people we admire,” we can infer that “Hillary Clinton had a very negative public image since at least 1992” — the year she became first lady.
Using data from the U.S. Social Security Administration, Ghirlanda first analyzed selection trends for both iterations of “Hillary” between 1880 (the first year SSA data was available) and 2015 (the most recent data). He found both versions of the name had been growing in popularity among newborn females for two decades, but then experienced a tenfold drop in selection between 1992 and 1997.
Next, Ghirlanda compared the popularity cycle for both iterations of “Hillary” to other top female names — 630 in total. He found that the decline of “Hillary” and “Hilary” was not only significantly steeper, but also in reverse of the typical popularity pattern in which names rise more quickly than they fall from use.
Ghirlanda also compared popularity trends for both iterations of “Hillary” to those for the names of the 25 first ladies who served between 1884 and 2012. He found that names associated with first ladies did exhibit some unique fluctuations around election periods.
Names associated with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy saw both an uptick and downtick — with a 20 percent increase for “Jacqueline” and a 20 percent decrease for “Jackie” — around the time President John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960. The name “Rosalynn,” associated with First Lady Rosalynn Carter — a self-identified nontraditional first lady — experienced a downtick of about 40 percent following President Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976.
None of the other fluctuations, however, was as significant as what was observed with either versions of “Hillary.” Additionally, the data showed that “Hillary” became less popular among both Democrats and Republicans in all 50 states.
“I can’t be certain the decline is a direct result of the 1992 presidential election, but when I looked at records around the same period, I couldn’t find any other ‘Hilary’ or ‘Hillary’ that was in the news,” Ghirlanda says. “I believe this research ultimately shows that naming trends can be influenced by cultural events, and the trends themselves can provide insight into cultural moments that may have long-term effects.”
Ghirlanda coordinates the Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology training area within the Ph.D. Program in Psychology and is a founder and fellow of the Stockholm University Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution. A behavior theorist, he is interested in data-driven, theoretical accounts of all aspects of human and non-human behavior and cultural evolution.
He published the naming study in Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Revolution (Volume 8, Issue 2, 2017).


Submitted on: MAR 29, 2017

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