The View from Abroad: A Look Back at the Future

Feb 25th 2010

Not long ago, I wrote about hot names in Europe that might be up-and-coming in the United States.

Hold on a second...maybe it was long ago. Could it have been five years ago?

Yep, it's been five years since the first Baby Name Wizard book came out, and I've been writing this column ever since. Back in 2005, I wouldn't have believed I'd be able to come up with that much material on baby names. Now I know better -- that names are a limitless topic, reaching into every corner of our culture, our history and our world. And they're ever-changing, so it's time to take a fresh look at some of those old trends and predictions.

In the original "View from Abroad" post, I wrote:

Europe tends to be a few years ahead in the name curve...for a new angle on up-and-coming names, I've made a roundup of half a dozen international-styled countries: Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. My targets were names that rank in top 20 in at least two different countries, but haven't cracked the American top 100 in the past decade.

GIRLS
Amelia
Charlotte
Clara

BOYS
Hugo
Louis
Oliver
Philip
Simon


Five years later, the girls' predictions have proved to be spot-on. Here's the 5-year U.S. usage trend for Amelia, Charlotte and Clara:



All three girls' names have risen by at least a third, and Amelia and Charlotte now rank among America's top 100. But the boys are a different story:


To get the real picture, try to look past the Oliver explosion. Four of the five names are flat or declining (and even Oliver hasn't cracked the top 100).

Why did the boys' and girls' predictions perform so differently? Thoughts on this tomorrow.

The Name of the Olympic Hockey Team

Feb 18th 2010


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.

<p><strong>#1: <a href="/baby-name/girl/simone"><strong>Simone</strong></a>.</strong>

Around the world with Facebook names

Feb 11th 2010

A clever website from a market researcher has put the world of Facebook on the map. Millions of Facebookers' personal tastes, connections, and names are tallied up and presented as geographic profiles -- a kind of  Match.com entry for a country, U.S. State or U.S. City. The results give you plenty of random tidbits to waste a morning on. (The #1 "Like" in Macau is  is Avril Lavigne?)  But let's cut to the chase: the names.

30 seconds into exploring the tool, I was ready to give up on it. The U.S. state and city name info is frankly a washout. The problem is that the site simply delivers the 10 most common names of Facebook users for each region. It's not relative to other places, just a straight count. News flash: everybody in the U.S. is named Mike and Jen! Unless they're Chris and David. Yawn.

The closest thing to a revelation in the U.S. data is that the upper Mountain West (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming) is the only part of the country where Jennifer tops the male names. Perhaps that's the one place that men still go outside rather than updating their Facebook status all day.

The real rewards of the tool, though, became clear to me when I clicked on the state of Georgia. Neighbors like South Carolina were safely in the Mike & Jen camp, but the top 10 names in Georgia read:

Nino
Giorgi
Natia
David
Keti
Irakli
Mariam
Salome
Levan
George

Apparently their data feed got the Peach State confused with that other Georgia. A silly mistake, but an intriguing name collection. Sure enough, the global view is the treasure trove for name enthusiasts. Click over to pockets of the world where they don't keep first-name statistics, and where the naming cultures are less familiar to English speakers, and there's a lot to discover. Here are the top 10 Facebook names from 6 places around the world. Can you guess which they are?

A
Aziz
Alisher
Olga
Sardor
Ulugbek
Zafar
Muzaffar
Jamshid
Sanjar
Malika

B
Uyanga
Nomin
Dulguun
Bilguun
Bolor
Zaya
Solongo
Tsolmon
Onon
Anar

C
Alain
Nadia
Willy
Patrick
Kaneza
Olivier
Sandra
Yvan
Ines
Sandrine

D
Cheikh
Papa
Abdoulaye
Ousmane
Amadou
Pape
Abdou
Moustapha
Mamadou
Mohamed

E
Siti
Nurul
Dk
Mohd
Nur
Hjh
Hj
Muhammad
Ak
Abdul

F
Daniel
Brian
James
David
Alex
Steve
Andrew
Pope
Mark
Ryan

(answers will be posted in comments tomorrow)