Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A name for everyone

Via Metafilter: Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager is oddly compelling. An interactive visualisation of names given to American babies in the last 100 years. The raw data is from the Social Security Administration.

Graph of popularity of name JAMES.
Graph of popularity of name MELINDA.
What's immediately striking is how much the old, solid names of the early century have declined: John, James, William, Robert; Mary, Dorothy, Helen. There are fewer common names now. Everyone wants their child to be, if not unique, at least unusual.

Some names are rooted in particular decades. Gary, David and Michael ruled the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Jenifer and Jessica the 80s and 90s. Melinda's definitely a product of her era.

There's a Kirk peak in the 1960s, but I'm not sure I agree with the Star Trek interpretation MetaFilter posters put on it: I suspect it's more Kirk Douglas than Kirk, James T. After all, there's no trace of Bones or Spock — although there are a few 1970 Scottys. And there's good evidence of recently of current actors' names being chosen: Jude (hot again after a post-Beatles slump); Ethan; Leonardo.

The Baby Name Wizard blog is surprisingly good; levelheaded and scholarly. Unusual, given the general sappiness of the baby name industry. If you're in need of an antidote after too many Makenzies and Peytons — or indeed Americas, Libertys, or Justices — Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing is cruel but funny reading.