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The least popular American baby names (from 1880 to 1932)
Handy, Spurgeon, Icy, Flem, Sister, and more
 
Would you be happy about the name Flem?
Would you be happy about the name Flem? (Thinkstock)

Like a lot of people, I was entranced recently by this animated map of the most popular baby names for girls by state over the past 52 years. It shows how the country shifted from Mary to Lisa before giving over completely to Jennifer, after which the Jessica/Ashley and Emily/Emma battles eventually resolved into the current dominance of Sophia. The map was created by Reuben Fischer-Baum of Deadspin using baby name data from the Social Security Administration. The SSA website gives the top 1,000 boy and girl names (as reported on social security card applications) for each year from 1880 onward.

This brief historical tour of the most popular names got me curious about the least popular names. If you look at the low end of the top 1,000 names for 2012, you see boys' names like Dangelo, Foster, Jaidyn, Briggs, and Davon. For girls, you see names like Katalina, Hayleigh, Sloan, Karlie, and Meadow. These names are a bit different, but not all that unusual. Even the 1,000th most popular name represents a few hundred babies, or even a few thousand if added up over four or five years. However, in the early years of SSA data, the population was much smaller, so the low end of the list represents fewer babies. And there are some pretty fabulous names in there.

I went through first 52 years of the SSA records and pulled out some of the best boy and girl names from the 900 to 1,000 range for each year. Together, they make for great couples. I love imagining that among all the Johns and Marys who settled down together, Orange and Leafy (1893), or Henery and Florance (1897), or Lillian the boy and Lillyan the girl (1908) might have found each other too.

If you're looking for a baby name and want something truly original, but with historical precedent, here's your list:

*Not an error!

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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