Quick hits from the 2005 name popularity stats

Jun 1st 2006

Most unexpected name on the top-1000 charts: Even with the recent popularity of exalted names, both earthly (Princess, Diamond) and divine (Heaven, Miracle), this one stands out. #903 for boys: Messiah.

Most unexpected name off the top-1000 charts: With gentle elegance, cute nicknames, and a prime-time tv star in its corner, Evangeline seemed like a shoo-in for a breakthrough year. Instead, it joins old standbys like Lavinia and Gemma on the list of the unaccountably unpopular.

Best series of names when the top-1000 charts are listed in alphabetical order: Precious Presley Princess Priscilla.

The envelope, please...The 2005 Baby Name Pool Results

May 25th 2006

Back in December, I invited the nation's name lovers to predict the hottest and coldest names of 2005 in a Baby Name Pool. Almost 500 of you took up the challenge, and the results were excellent. The #1 hot-name choice, Ava, was indeed one of the fastest rising names of the year. And the #1 falling choice, Madison, did fall...though not as dramatically as many expected. (Madison for boys, however, slid right off the charts.)

Scoring was based on the "hotness formula" I described last week, plus a 25% bonus added to any rising prediction that didn't appear in the 2004 top 1000 lists. Scores for the six predictions were summed for the final score.

And now, your winner!

Michelle B. of San Diego, California claimed the crown thanks to the one-two punch of miniature powerhouses Ava and Mia. Her full winning slate:

Rising: Ava, Mia, Claire
Falling: Lauren, Elizabeth, Samantha

Michelle is an investment banker and mother to Paige (2 years) and Georgia (2 months). She credits her sense of name trends to friends and family, and immersion in the toddler whirl -- play groups, music classes, Gymboree. A hearty round of applause for Michelle, please!

Runner-up Suzanne J. of San Jose had the distinction of choosing a hot boy's name. Her top two scoring choice were Ava and Maddox. She too has "field experience" thanks to Eleanor (6), Henry (4) and Susannah (1). She says her interest in names "swings between being a hobby and an obsession."

And some final notes:

- For a tiebreaker question, I asked you all to predict the popularity rank of Britney. Congratulations to Anita B. of Vancouver who somehow intuited that Britney would rank precisely 429th among all American girls' names in 2005.

- Proof that you all are independent-minded: not one ballot included the pair of names I suggested in my pop-culture name prediction column, Ciara and Danica. (In case you were wondering, the contest-winning score was 69. Ciara + Danica = 90.)

- Proof that we all need a better crystal ball: not one person--me included--tabbed the #1 hot name of the year, Talan.

So, see you all next year?

2005's Hottest, Nottest

May 19th 2006

The fastest rising and falling baby names make up a time capsule of a given year. They show off changing fashions, cultural trends, and even world events. The biggest movers of 2005:


1. Ciara
2. Ava
3. Estrella
4. Danica
5. Sienna
6. Emerson

1. Talan
2. Braylon
3. Leland
4. Amare
5. Landon
6. Johnpaul


1. Hunter
2. Laisha
3. Sheila
4. Jessica
5. Celeste
6. Christian

1. Kanye
2. Ashton
3. Alexis
4. Kyle
5. Colby
6. Justin

Some signs of the times in the rising names: Hot years for R&B star Ciara and auto racer Danica Patrick (as predicted here, I must modestly mention.) Talan, the #1 debut of the year, comes straight from MTV's "Laguna Beach." Pope John Paul II was mourned and remembered.

Falling names seldom have that ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy. Some readers have speculated that Kanye's decline could be linked to rapper Kanye West's tongue-lashing of President Bush. It's possible, but I don't think so -- it's more a case of easy come, easy go. The name Kanye rose out of nowhere in 2004 thanks to West's sudden fame, and it simply settled back down a bit the next year when it (and he) no longer sounded so fresh. Ashton is a similar tale, while names like Alexis and Colby are running away from androgyny and Justin and Jessica have hit the downslope after 30 years of steady popularity.

And now, for the hard-core data hounds out there, the nitty gritty. Where did these lists come from? Warning: statistical discussion to follow. If you couldn't care less about the calculations, feel free to surf on. See you next time for the Baby Name Pool results!

Here were two reasonable candidates for the fastest falling names of the year:

Dropped from 504 born to 200, falling from #488 on the popularity charts to #889.

Dropped from 27,727 born to 25,347, falling from #1 on the popularity charts to...#1.

Kanye's drop in rank was precipitous, but the real effect on the world was relatively modest -- a difference of 304 babies, compared to the whopping 2,380 fewer babies named Jacob. Yet the popularity of Jacob fell by only 9%, and it's still the top dog. What's a fair measure of change that lets you compare common and uncommon names?

After some testing and consultation, I've settled on an official Baby Name Wizard formula for measuring "hotness" of names. It's a simple calculation designed to balance the different measures of change. (If you have a better solution, I'm all ears.)

Hotness formula:

Square root of the absolute change in frequency, times the percentage change
(sqrt |2005N-2004N|) * (2005N-2004N)/2004N

Note: names not present on the top-1000 charts are treated as 2/3 the frequency of the #1000 name of the same sex.

Jacob, incidentally, ranks #11 on the falling boys list, even while retaining its crown as America's favorite name.