LOS ANGELES, August 2, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
• Baby names reflect revolution in women's role (+ Darryl Hannah's mermaid in Splash)
• "Madison" (biggest riser since 1940) is the new "Betty" (biggest faller)
The most popular baby names for American girls at the time of the 1940 U.S. Census have changed since then seven times more than the top names for boys the same year, reveals a study by genealogy website, findmypast.com.
This striking difference between the fortunes of popular girls' and boys' names may reflect social changes over the last 72 years, says Brian Speckart, spokesperson for findmypast.com, which conducted the study to mark this year's release of the 1940 U.S. census records.
"Women's role in society has seen a revolution since 1940", says Speckart. "Men's role has changed too, though far less."
Findmypast.com researchers analyzed the records of the U.S. Social Security Administration, which has recorded American baby names since 1879.
The top 10 girls' names in 1940, they found, have fallen by an average of over 700  places in the popularity rankings since - seven times as far as the top 10 boys' names of 1940, which have dropped an average of barely 100  places.
None of the top 10 girls' names in 1940 even make today's top 100, while seven of the top 10 boys' names do so and three (James, David, William) make the top 20.
"Baby names are like period pieces", says Josh Taylor, genealogist for findmypast.com. "Some recall a particular era, which can make them clues when researching family history."
This is far truer, however, of girls' names than of boys'.
Only one of the 10 top girls' names from 1940 (Mary) is even in the top 500 today, while ALL of the top boys' names are.
Madison is today the eighth most popular baby name for American girls. Yet, it used to be a boys' name, until it faded from use in the 1950s.
Now, Madison is the new Betty. While Betty is the biggest faller in the girls' name league since 1940, Madison is the joint biggest riser.
In fact, what suddenly made Madison a popular name for girls was the 1984 movie, Splash, where Daryl Hannah played a mermaid who adopted the name "Madison" in human form after spotting a street sign for Madison Avenue.