Updated, 6:15 p.m. | After half a century, New York still loves Michael very, very much.
For the 49th consecutive year, Michael topped the list of male baby names in New York State in 2012, the Social Security Administration announced on Thursday, followed by Jacob, Jayden, Ethan and Mason.
Sophia brought home girls’ honors for the third straight year, followed by Isabella, Emma, Olivia and Ava. (Full results are here.)
There was a bit of movement in the boys’ rankings, with Mason jumping from No. 8 to No. 5 and Ethan from No. 6 to No. 4. In the girls’ rankings, Emma and Olivia swapped places.
But about this Michael thing. Were it not for 1964, when John ascended after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Michael would have been the New York chart-topper every year since 1956, when it upended Robert.
You might think that with that kind of stranglehold on the local name rankings, Michael would rule the roost nationwide. During the last half of the 20th century, you would have been right. But in 1999, Jacob wrestled the title from Michael and has held it ever since. Michael has now fallen to eighth in the national baby-name rankings.
That statistic, though, does not get at how deeply disparate the results are. In a large handful of states, Michael barely cracked the top 40. In Nebraska it was No. 37, right behind Bentley. The name was 36th in Iowa, 35th in Vermont and 31st in North Dakota, well behind the very New Yorkish pairing of Henry (No. 23) and Hudson (No. 24). In Utah, where Samuel and Jackson placed 6th and 7th, Michael was 28th.
Aside from New York, only New Jersey and Delaware have maintained their enthusiasm for Michael.
The reasons behind these divergent regional trends are numerous and pretty interesting. For one thing, they reflect what the self-proclaimed baby-name expert Laura Wattenberg called an “inverted political map.”
“The more progressively an area votes, the more conservatively it names its babies,” said Ms. Wattenberg, the author of a book and blog called “The Baby Name Wizard.”
Ms. Wattenberg has no formal training in the field of baby-name studies, but she does have a graduate degree in research psychology. More to the point, she has done a state-by-state analysis of baby-name representation and found that over the last generation, “There’s been such a fracturing of baby-naming styles that there’s been a huge amount of geographic difference.”
The inverse correlation between politics and baby-naming behavior, Ms. Wattenberg said, reflects the fact that women in progressive states tend to be older when they have their children, and therefore less likely to name their children after a drink or a tattoo or a pop star. Indeed, a federal map showing age of mothers at first birth puts New York and New Jersey in the oldest-moms category, with Southern states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, having the youngest moms.
Further, Ms. Wattenberg said, Michael is a name whose appeal cuts across racial and ethnic lines, and so would tend to do better in a diverse state like New York, compared with Jacob, which she said “is disproportionately white.”
But Michael, look over your shoulder: for the second year in a row, Michael’s margin of victory over Jacob in New York was fewer than 50 babies (in 2012, the count was 1,384 to 1,335). Michael’s margins, once in the thousands, back when the birthrate was a lot higher, have been steadily shrinking for decades.
The Michael era may be nearing an end.