On the cover of a tabloid or briefly captured on the news, the first ladies of the United States attract a certain level of media fascination. The markers of first ladies’ legacies vary, ranging from the lasting humanitarian efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt to the cultural phenomenon that was Jacqueline Lee Kennedy.
While each presidential wife to occupy the White House leverages her influence toward the causes of her choosing, the team at MooseRoots used data from the U.S. Social Security Administration to identify one interesting — and unintentional — aftereffect of their tenure: a general decline in the popularity of their first names. A trend that becoming first lady had little effect on.
By using the popularity of a first lady’s name the year she entered the White House as the base year, the MooseRoots team was able to compare the frequency of babies given the name in the 10 years preceding and following her arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
To be fair, these instances appear to be on the more extreme end of the spectrum. To gain a more holistic picture of the trend, we combined the popularity data for the last 15 first ladies’ names.
Ten years before calling the White House home, first ladies’ names were 57 percent more popular than upon their arrival. While the average drop in popularity is steepest several years before candidacies are declared and first wives receive country-wide notoriety, the downward trend continues over time.
On average, the names of first ladies dropped 29 percentage points in frequency 10 years after their arrival at the White House.
When segmenting the first ladies by party affiliation, we see a slightly different story for Republicans versus Democrats. The names of Republicans started off higher but ended up being less popular in the long run. The opposite occurred for first ladies of the Democratic party.
Against expectations, the notoriety of first ladies doesn’t positively influence the popularity of their names. Perhaps changing tastes is the predominant factor at play. The prestige of a first lady doesn’t seem to change the path of a name that’s deemed out of vogue, no matter how popular she and her husband are among Americans.