The Name of the Olympic Hockey Team
At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, 23 American professional hockey players are taking time off from the NHL to play for their national team. If you were to meet one of these men, what would you call him?
Your best bet: Ryan.
The name Ryan may not scream "hockey" to you, but the numbers don't lie. As reader Ian pointed out to me, 6 of the 23 players on the Team USA roster are named Ryan. That's a whopping 26% Ryan rate. For perspective, at its peak popularity the name Ryan accounted for only 1.5% of American boys born.
Of course, this sort of statistical anomaly can easily pop up with small sample sizes like 23 players. If you expand the pool to all of the American players in the NHL, though, you still come up with an impressive 7% Ryan rate. In fact, Ryan is the 2nd most common name in the NHL, trailing only the perennial powerhouse Michael. Many names that are more common for young men in the rest of the country, and the world -- Dave, Matt, Jason, Josh, Chris -- trail Ryan in the NHL.
Again, statistical anomalies happen, but there's a reason this particular distinction falls to Ryan. The key is that hockey players aren't a random sample of American athletes; they're Northerners. Of the 23 Olympic players, 21 hail from New England or Great Lakes states. Even within those states, the players skew Northern. The three New York natives, for instance, were born in Buffalo, Ithaca and Rochester.
Take a look at the NameMapper map of Ryan popularity from 1979, the year Team USA Left Wing Ryan Malone was born:
That's a hockey-country name for you: a high rank of #4 among all boys' names in Wisconsin and North Dakota, a low of #47-48 in Alabama and Mississippi. (In case you're wondering, Ryan does skew white as well, but not dramatically within a geographic area.) Now compare the Ryan map to the William map from the same year:
Sure enough, there are only 2 Williams, Willies, Bills or Billies in the National Hockey League, compared to 19 Ryans. In the National Football League, which draws more heavily from the Southern U.S., the ratio is 23:29.
So what can we expect the U.S. hockey team to look like at the 2034 Olympics? Keep an eye out for new Northern names like Owen, Evan and Jack. But don't expect 26% of any of them. No name in America is as popular today as Ryan was -- ranked #14 -- back in 1979.