Names and fandom: The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

May 21st 2009

In September 2001, unheralded young football quarterback Tom Brady took over for the New England Patriots' injured star Drew Bledsoe. By the close of that season in February 2002, Brady had led his Cinderella team to a Superbowl championship.

Brady proved to be more than just a one-year wonder. He soon lead the Patriots to two more titles, and in 2007 to the greatest statistical season of any QB in history. Also, he was a nice-looking fella. But February 2008 brought a tough Superbowl defeat, then at the start of the Fall 2008 season Brady tore up his knee and was lost for the year.

Let's tell that story again, in baby-name terms:

Popularity of the name Brady over time

You can see the strong, steady rise that began with Brady's 2002 Superbowl triumph, the extra burst in record-setting 2007, then the six-year surge coming to an end with the 2008 injury. (Note that a baby Brady on "Sex and the City" makes no impact in comparison.) Of course, it's possible that the name had just run its course by 2008 and wasn't reflecting the quarterback's injured-reserve status. But the closer you zoom in, the more the pattern spells football.

Massachusetts, home of the Patriots, experienced an especially strong Brady surge -- and an especially strong post-injury dip. Nationwide, the number of baby Bradys fell by just 3% in 2008. In Massachusetts, the drop was 21%. Take into account that Tom Brady started the year as King of the World and wasn't injured until September, and it's likely that the rate of little Bradys in the Bay State fell off a cliff in the 4th quarter.

Is this the ultimate example of fair-weather fans? The guy leads your team to four Superbowls, then the minute he's hurt you abandon him? I may be biased (I'm a Patriots fan myself), but I don't think it's that simple. For a diehard football fan, a season-ending injury to your star quarterback is a punch to the gut. Thinking about Tom Brady during the "lost season" became painful, so the name Brady was a tough sell.

It's a risky business, tying your child's name to the vagaries of sport. Brady's a relatively safe bet; barring massive scandal, he's a guaranteed lifelong New England legend. But as 2008 proved, nobody's Superman. Worse yet, there's no saying that Brady or any other team-sport athlete won't wind up his career playing for a hated rival. To stay on the safe side of fan naming, stick to retired players, locations (Wrigley and Fenway are big with baseball fans), or other lasting symbols of the team you love.

The latest on the Age of Aidans

May 18th 2009

The more things change, the more they sound the same. Last year I checked in on the dominant sound of 21st-century boyhood, the names that rhyme with Aidan. At that time, the number of top-1000 boys' names rhyming with Aidan had risen to 40. That number held steady this year (though a few names changed: goodbye Adin and Haden, hello Aaden and Zaiden). The number of babies represented, though, continued to rise by a healthy 7%. It's fair to say that the Age of Aidans isn't over yet.

Looking more broadly, over a third of all boys continue to receive a name ending in -n, extending the extraordinary transformation of masculine naming.

For those keeping score at home, here's the current top-1000 rhyming roster. Note that it doesn't include girls' names, near rhymes like Payton, or Adan, which is also the Spanish form of Adam and often pronounced accordingly.



Hail to the Champion: the winner of the 2008 Baby Name Pool

May 13th 2009

Hundreds fought, but only one would emerge the Baby Naming Champion.

Meet  Dara S., who rose to the top by predicting the rise of Marley and Piper.  Dara is a 28-year-old lawyer from Montana, and she based her picks on naming trends she sees in her own community. She credits her Montana setting for keeping her up-to-the-minute: "Montana seems to be slightly ahead of the baby naming trend curve, for better or worse, so names seem to be popular here or fall out of fashion a little earlier than the rest of the country."

"I tried to pick names that I thought would have some national familiarity (Piper Palin and Marley and Me, for instance), that were 'hot' locally, and that fit in with naming trends.  For instance I had seen lots of Marleys, and that seemed to fit with Miley being so popular last year," Dara explained.

Our runner-up Jessa scored with a balanced ballot led by Isla on the rising side and the top set of falling predictions: Hannah, Emily and Samantha.

Congratulations, Dara and Jessa!

A few extra notes on the Pool...

- Want a sign of just how hard this contest is? Check this out: the negative scores ran higher than the positive.  If you judged the zeitgeist wrong and guessed that Miley was a one-year wonder, or that the dog Marley would turn parents off that name for girls, you could end up underwater. As it turns out, eight different entrants would have topped the winning score if they’d reversed their rising and falling predictions.

- You might recall that this year I decided to put it on the line and offer my own Pool ballot. So now, the moment of truth.

The winning score was 97. My score was…ahem…104. Guess I’ve earned my job for one more year?


Thanks again to everyone who joined in. See you next year!