Trends in baby names in Scotland

It’s fascinating to see how the names people choose for their babies can tell us about changes in our society.

In Scotland, parents have the freedom to get creative when choosing the name of their new baby.

Unlike in some countries, there is no formalised list of names to choose from, although some names are discouraged. This could include names which refer to a title or status (such as sir or lord), which are objectionable, or otherwise offensive.

So how does National Records Scotland (NRS) compile and publish statistics on baby names?

It begins with the registrars of Scotland registering the details of over 50,000 births annually. These are transmitted to the central database of NRS where regional codes for health board, council, and other types of area of residence are linked to the birth data.

This lets the statisticians produce interesting analysis such as trends over time and regional differences, which are published on the NRS website.

Isla and Jack were the most popular baby names in Scotland in 2020, but there have been lots of changes in baby names and trends over the years.

In the 70s and 80s, the number one name each year would be given to a lot of babies. During its peak in the early 1980s, over 1,000 babies were given the name Laura each year.

In contrast, Olivia had been the top girls’ name for 4 years running up to 2019, but only an average of 470 babies each year received it.

We can also see signs of more parents looking for unusual names in the number of unique names used each year.

Of the 23,968 girls registered in Scotland last year, there were 4,347 different names, whilst more boys shared the same name. Of the 22,387 boys registered, there were only 3,375 different names. Children nowadays are much less likely to share a name with classmates than their grandparents were.

It’s interesting to see how popular culture often affects how people name their babies.

The name Billie rose in popularity by 79% in the past two years with 34 baby girls being given this name in 2020. In the same time, Google searches in the UK for “Billie” and “Billie Eilish” spiked, with the singer having her first number one single in the UK in early 2020.

You can download a copy of our infographic here

Tommy, a name occurring in the popular TV shows Peaky Blinders and Love Island, has doubled in popularity in the last two years, with 148 boys being given this name. NRS data shows it’s more popular with younger mothers than with older mothers.

Throughout the last 45 years, the balance between the sexes has changed markedly for some names. For example, the name Alex, which was given almost exclusively to boys in the early 80s, changed to an almost equal split in the early 2000s and has been back to mainly boys since 2007.

Jan was mainly girls at first in 1975-79; but exclusively male since 2006. Morgan began as all boys in 1975-79 but has been mainly girls since the mid-1980s.

These kinds of fluctuations make exploring baby names through the years fun, and it’s something you can do easily with the NRS baby names app. You can type in any name and see how its popularity has changed over time.

It’s fascinating to see how the top names have changed over the years, and there’s lots of data on how the names rise and fall in popularity on the NRS website here.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

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