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March May Be Women’s History Month but Why Aren’t We Naming Our Daughters Mildred or Florence or Gladys or Gertrude Anymore?

In 1909, Mary was far and away the most favorite name for baby girls, outdistancing its runner-up Helen by a two-to-one ratio.  The rest of the Top 5 included Margaret, Ruth and Dorothy.  While you still run across some of these names – the 2009 rankings were Mary (102), Helen (389), Margaret (187) and Ruth (357) – while Dorothy couldn’t crack the Top 1,000 despite the hoopla accompanying the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz – many of the 1909 Top 20 remain only as memories of great grandparents now gone.  How many elementary teachers, when taking attendance, call out Mildred or Florence or Ethel or Gladys or Irene?

What name takes honors for 2009?  The winner is Isabella, followed by 4 names, each ending with the letter “a” – Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava.  I look at this list and can’t help thinking about some of the actresses that got me a little excited as a young boy.  Names beginning with an “A” are also plentiful in the Top 20 of 2009.  There is Abigail, Addison, Alexis, Alyssa and Ashley.  And, of course, there is Madison (#7) – a name whose popularity I have blamed Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah for ever since the movie Splash (though I did like Madison in the movie) was released in 1984.  It took until 1997 for Madison to crack the Top 10, rising from there until it reached its highest place on the charts at #2 in 2002.

Michigan made Madison its #1 name for baby girls in both 2001 and 2002, and still held it in high esteem in 2009, with a ranking of #5.  Michigan followed the nation in putting Olivia and Isabella at the top, though switching their ranks, and followed with Ava and Emma.  Sophia did her best to mirror the nation but, alas, Madison beat her out by just 7 babies.

But enough with naming your daughter.  March is Women’s History Month.

As recently as the 1970’s, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration for 1978.  The week March 8th, International Women’s Day, was chosen as the focal point of the observance.

By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rationale to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.

Watch this blog and www.datadrivendetroit.org for the latest research coming from the White House on the status of women in America.  We will also be developing a series of Fact Sheets on gender, race and ethnicity in Michigan and Metro Detroit over the coming months.  Stay tuned.