Names that time forgot: ‘Donald’, ‘Betty’ biggest losers in names league since 1940 Census

Don and Betty Draper return in ‘Mad Men’ Series 5 on 27th March; but their namesakes now endangered – study by

From Donald (“Don”) Draper to Donald Trump, Donald Duck and Donald Rumsfeld… Donald’s once thrived, now threatened

From Betty Draper to Betty White, Betty Boop, Betty Grable and Betty Crocker … Betty’s once flourished, now few

Betty and Donald are the baby names that have fallen farthest in popularity since the time of the 1940 Census, reveals a new study.

Both ranked among the 10 most popular U.S. baby names in 1940, finds the study conducted by family history website to mark the release of the 1940 Census records 2nd April. Today they top the endangered list.

Yet, they are also now suddenly again both the names of the moment, since Donald (“Don”) and Betty Draper have just returned to our screens in Mad Men, Series 5, on Tuesday 26th March.

Plus, Donald Sutherland plays the villain in ‘The Hunger Games’, (released on 23rd March), while Betty White has just been named America’s favorite Hollywood star and the latest recruit into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Their namesakes, however, are now dying breeds. Donald was the ninth most popular name for American boys born in 1940 but now ranks just 377th. Betty was the fifth most popular name for American girls born the same year but no longer even makes the top 1,000.

“Baby names are like period pieces”, says Josh Taylor, a leading genealogist and spokesperson for

“Some recall a particular era, which can make them useful clues for researching family history.

“Indeed, you can sometimes guess roughly when someone was born simply by their first name. In such cases, names can be to genealogy what carbon-dating is to archaeology.”

Carol, Shirley and Ronald are other names from the 1940 top ten now on the endangered list. researchers trawled the records of the US Social Security Administration , which has recorded baby names, based on Social Security applications for births, since 1879.

At the time of the 1940 Census, Mary and James topped the U.S. rankings for baby names. But Betty and Donald were both close behind, while Donald Duck, Betty Boop and Betty Crocker were all American cultural icons.

In the years since 1940, however, Betty has fallen farther and faster from favor than any other name, male or female. Ranked the fifth most popular girl’s name in 1940, it was the first of the 1940 top 10 to drop entirely from the top 1,000, which it did in 1997. Carol followed in 2007 and Shirley in 2009.

Yet, in the Forties themselves, Betty’s flourished.

Betty White spent the decade working in radio, eventually getting her own show. This was despite the disruption to her career from World War II, when she joined the American Women’s Voluntary Service. Now 90, she is more popular than ever – the last of the red hot Betty’s.

1940 was also the heyday of Betty Grable, who was about to become America’s favourite pin-up girl in World War II, between starring in a string of hit musicals.

Meanwhile, the cartoon character Betty Boop made her debut in 1930, going on to enjoy a glorious decade.

“In 1945”, says Wikipedia, “Fortune magazine named Betty Crocker the second most popular American woman.” Eleanor Roosevelt was first, but then she had the advantage of actually existing, while Betty Crocker was an invented character, whose first name was originally chosen in 1921 because it had seemed to its parent company “a cheery, all-American name” (while Crocker was the surname of one of the firm’s directors).

In fact, Betty was already in decline by 1940. It ranked second only to Mary during the first half of the 1930s, slipping to fourth for most of the late 30s and then fifth in 1940.

Over 23,000 American babies born in 1940 were named Donald. Donald Trump was a forties baby (born 1946), who these days styles himself “The Donald”. Yet, as a boy he would merely have been “a Donald” – one of several in his school, all growing up hooked on the antics of their near contemporary, Donald Duck (born 1934).

These days, on the other hand, a boy named Donald would be an oddity.

The best-known “Donalds’ in American life were born in the decades either side of 1940: Donald Rumsfeld in 1932, Donald Duck in 1934, actor Donald Sutherland in 1935 (albeit in Canada) and Donald Trump in 1946.

Almost the only exception is Donald (“Don”) Draper, fictional hero of Mad Men, who was born in 1926. But then Donald Draper is, of course, only an alias. His given name at birth was ‘Richard’ (as in Richard Whitman), which has also plummeted in popularity. In 1940, it was the fifth most popular name for baby boys. In 2010, it ranked 127.

The high profile of both Donald Trump and Don Draper in recent years has failed to stem the declining popularity of their first name. Its downward spiral has continued every year this millennium.

Famous Donald’s (And Their Birth Year)

Donald Rumsfeld (1932)

Donald Duck (1934)

Donald Sutherland (1935)

Donald Trump (1946)

Donald “Don” Draper (1926)

Famous Betty’s (And Their Birth Year)

Betty Draper (1932)

Betty Boop (1930)

Betty White (1922)

Betty Friedan (1921)

Betty Crocker (1921)

Betty Grable (1916)

Top U.S. Baby Names in 1940

Rank Boys Girls

1 James Mary

2 Robert Barbara

3 John Patricia

4 William Judith

5 Richard Betty

6 Charles Carol

7 David Nancy

8 Thomas Linda

9 Donald Shirley

10 Ronald Sandra

Top U.S. Baby Names in 2010

Rank Boys Girls

1 Jacob Isabella

2 Ethan Sophia

3 Michael Emma

4 Jayden Olivia

5 William Ava

6 Alexander Emily

7 Noah Abigail

8 Daniel Madison

9 Aiden Chloe

10 Anthony Mia

Source: Social Security Online

• Note: Mary and James topped the U.S. rankings for baby names in 1940. In our time, Jacob and Isabella rank top. Jayden and Aiden both make the top 10 boys’ names, while Madison, Chloe and Mia are all in the girls’ top 10.

Table: Most Popular Boys’ Names In 1940, Ranked By Size Of Fall Since


1. Donald 9 377 368

2. Ronald 10 342 332

3. Richard 5 127 122

4. Charles 6 63 57

5. Thomas 8 62 54

6. Robert 2 54 52

7. John 3 26 23

8. James 1 19 18

9. David 7 15 8

10. William 4 5 1

Source: Social Security Online

Table: Most Popular Girls’ Names In 1940, Ranked By Size Of Fall Since


1. Betty 5 Not in top 1000* 996+

2. Carol 6 Not in top 1000* 995+

3. Shirley 9 Not in top 1000* 992+

4. Judith 4 879 875

5. Barbara 2 710 708

6. Linda 8 624 616

7. Patricia 3 615 612

8. Nancy 7 521 514

9. Sandra 10 517 511

10. Mary 1 109 108

* Betty was the first name to drop out of the top 1000 and the one to do some from the highest ranking. It last made the top 1000 in 1996; Carol in 2006; Shirley in 2008.

Source: Social Security Online

Note: William is the only one of the 10 most popular names for either boys or girls in 1940 that still ranks among the top 10 today. Mary is the only one of the top 10 girls’ names in 1940 that is any longer even in the top 500.

About the name “Betty”

English, Dutch and Hebrew in origin, it means “God’s promise”, “God is my oath” or “My God is a vow”. It is also a diminutive or pet form of Elizabeth.

About the name ‘Donald’

Gaelic and Scottish in origin, it means “world rule”. It derives from the clan name Domhnall. St Donald (Domhnall) was a Scottish saint who lived in the 700’s.

MAD MEN starts on Tuesday 27 March, 9pm, Sky Atlantic HD

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