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Naming Patterns & Trends Found in Census Records
Column published: 04 March 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Census records can be very helpful when you are looking for naming patterns and trends.

You may be truly amazed with the variety of names when you start searching the census records for your families. Many families decided that they wanted some names with flavor.

In the 1880 census I found the following names:
  • Carmel - 593 individuals
  • Caraway - 12 individuals
  • Cherry - 2,574 individuals
  • Chocolate - 6 individuals
  • Cloves - 18 individuals
  • Ginger - 35 individuals
  • Grape - 2 individuals
  • Lemon - 975 individuals
  • Mango - 19 individuals
  • Mint - 104 individuals
  • Orange - 2,330 individuals
  • Peach - 61 individuals and about 344 with some variation of Peachy, Peachie, or Peachey
  • Vanilla - 24 individuals
Some families opted for food names. I found 12 individuals with the name of "Jelly". I found several Michigan families who decided that they wanted to add a little spice when naming their children. I found the following individuals in the 1880 census:
  • Annis Barrage was age 6 and lived in Bethel, Branch Co., MI.
  • Basil Allard was 48 and lived in Breitung, Menominee Co., MI.
  • Cinnamon Ardis was 6 and lived in Evart, Osceola Co, Michigan
  • Ginger Johnston was 19 and lived in Wisner, Tuscola Co., MI.
  • Vanila Horner was 1 and lived in Newburg, Cass Co., MI.
If you find names like this in your family it is interesting to try and go back and see when the were first used by the family. Often times you will find them repeated generation after generation.

It is interesting to see how quickly a name can rise and fall from popularity. There are many women my age named Shirley after Shirley Temple. I think almost every girl in my class at school had Jean as their middle name. (Perhaps for Jean Harlow).

Things can change quite rapidly. In 1924 for the first time the name Shirley made the top 10. Shirley Temple was born in 1928. She was in her first movie at the age of three. The name Shirley peaked in popularity in 1935 & 1936. By 1941 it was no longer in the top 10.

In the 1920 census there were 53,454 individuals named Shirley living in Michigan. In 1930 there were 161,093 individuals named Shirley in Michigan. The 1940 census will be released in two years. I am sure it will have really declined. I think that I know one young lady under 40 who is named Shirley. Also, in the Southern States, Shirley was a man's name.

It is difficult to construct our family's histories with the brief entries that we find. When I look at the census I am always humbled by how little I will actually ever know about the lives categorized in the census records of long ago. It is always a challenge to try and find out more about those lives, and where these little snippets found within the census itself or in other sources will lead me.

Start thinking about using the census for all kinds of searches. In future articles we will examine some of the ways that we can learn about our ancestor's lifestyles and living conditions.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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