How Is ‘Donald’ Doing? The Poll of Baby Names Tells All

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- How is Donald Trump doing as president? The usual way of answering this question is to look at opinion polls. But back at the very beginning of his administration, I speculated — half jokingly, half seriously — that there might be a better way to assess how ordinary Americans view him: baby names. 

The Social Security Administration recently released the data on baby names for 2017, which means we can assess the popularity of “Donald” with new parents.

The idea behind this measure is rooted in history. In the past, parents have named their children after popular presidents and avoided those names associated with mediocre or disastrous leaders. The textbook case of this phenomenon is the male name “Herbert,” which experienced a significant uptick in popularity after the election of Herbert Hoover, then sank like a stone with the onset of the Great Depression.

First, the bad news for Trump supporters: Despite the election of the nation’s first “very stable genius,” Donald is no “Liam,” “Noah” or “William” (boy names that took the top three slots in 2017). It’s ranked at — brace yourselves — No. 488. Ouch.

But here’s the good news for Trump devotees: This is precisely the same rank as the name had in 2016. Given that “Donald” has generally exhibited a steady decline in popularity over the past few decades, the fact that it has plateaued may indicate that while new parents may not collectively believe the president has made America Great Again, he hasn’t made it worse.

More revealing is the state-level data, which tells a different story. In states that leaned heavily toward Trump, “Donald” saw a statistically significant uptick in popularity. For example, in red Alabama “Donald” ranked at a pathetic No. 401 in 2016. But in 2017, it shot up to No. 342. Very impressive. Same goes for the Trump bastion of Louisiana: Donald ranked No. 376 in 2016, then rose to No. 285 last year.

But we are a very divided country. If you move to the blue states, where Trump is persona non grata, it’s apparent that his name is growing more toxic. In liberal California, Donald was already ranked a dismal No. 560 in 2016, but it fell still further to No. 640 in 2017. In left-leaning Maryland, Donald dropped from No. 987 to No. 1,099 over the same period.

Before you think this partisan payback cuts only one way, consider the fate of the first name “Hillary.” In 2015, its national ranking was already at the low slot of No. 2,673. It ticked upward, briefly, in 2016 to No. 2,452. Perhaps some new parents expected a different outcome to the election. But after Clinton’s devastating loss, they fled from her name: In 2017, it dropped precipitously — to No. 3,802.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.