Meet Nymbler

May 31st 2007

How do you start your search for a baby name? Wait, I've got it! You think "I'm looking for a name starting with H that's derived from ancient Phoenician." If so, you're in luck. Lots of baby name sites let you search that way.

But suppose that description doesn't happen to fit. Suppose that your thoughts run more like this: "I've always wanted to name a baby Sophie or Max. But now I know three little Sophies, and we named our beagle Max! Now what?"

That's the kind of baby-naming situation that inspired the Baby Name Wizard book. I've spent years building a storehouse of name information, coding thousands of names by their cultural attributes to find matches in the subtle realm of style. Wouldn't it be nice if a name-search tool thought the same way?

That idea had been in my mind for a long time. Conveniently, some other folks were thinking about it too and had the technical prowess to make it happen. So one day I got a call from a company called Icosystem. They had developed an interesting kind of search technology: "a way of doing search when you don't really know what you are looking for, but you'll know it when you find it." Their Hunch Engine was designed to help people sift through a huge range of options, guiding them in promising directions until they found the right fit. Could my data collection help the Hunch Engine to understand baby names? Could we teach the system about style, make it smart enough to respond to each user's unique tastes? Could it become a kind of virtual baby naming expert?

The result is Nymbler. (Pronounce it "nimbler," it likes that.) Nymbler may not be a full virtual Laura, but it is certainly like no baby naming tool that's ever been. You just choose some names that intrigue you and Nymbler points you down other trails worth following. It may take a little getting used to, but I'm pretty excited about it...and if I were naming a baby right now, I suspect I'd be addicted. Take it for a spin:

2006 Baby Name Pool: Meet the Champions

May 24th 2007

More than 600 name-loving people tried their hands at divining America's hottest and nottest names for the 2006 Baby Name Pool. The two top scorers turn out to be young women who have yet to name babies themselves. What they have done is kept their ears tuned to the frequencies of pop culture (and their noses buried in baby-name books). Allow me to present America's Top Namies.

Grand Champion: Angela "Aiea" S. of Chicago, Illinois. Angela is a 22-year-old actor and name afficionado who is a regular on baby name websites. Her winning lineup of predictions:

Rising - Addison, Shiloh, Angelina
Falling - Katrina, Ty, Jessica

The strength of Angela's entry is in her falling predictions which blew all competitors away. Incredibly, all three of her choices ranked among the 10 sharpest declines of the year. Angela was the only contestant to tab Ty, in a canny headline-watching move: "I based that on the decline in attention that Extreme Home Makeover has been getting." She also resisted giving in to sentiment: "I definitely didn't pick names based on my personal taste, or else I would've predicted that Zelda and Friedrich were going to rise this year. ;)"

A round of applause for Angela!

The trophy for best rising predictions goes to Melissa C., a 21-year-old student from Oshawa, Ontario. Melissa describes herself in terms plenty of us here can relate to: "I am a baby name addict and have been since I was a little girl." Her winning lineup of Addison, Sawyer and Cash were pop-culture inspired: "Addison came from Grey's Anatomy, Sawyer came from the show Lost, and Cash came from the movie Walk the Line after Johnny Cash."

Lest you think that such Hollywood predictions come easily, keep in mind one name that didn't score high this year. 23 entrants picked Shiloh as a rising name. In fact, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's baby name didn't crack the top 1000. It's a crooked path from fame to names...congratulations to the name detectives who followed the trail.

NameVoyager updated!

May 17th 2007

Just a heads up that the NameVoyager is now up-to-date with the new 2006 name popularity data. You might also notice minor shifts in the 2005 figures since the Social Security Administration updated them to reflect late filings. (My name, Laura, has been downgraded from #145 to #147 for 2005. Isn't it funny how nobody wants their children's names to be high on the charts, but we all feel slighted when our own names sink?)

Happy NameVoyaging!