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.

The year in names: Katrina

May 12th 2006

As the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina wore on, a flurry of newspaper articles speculated on the storm's likely effect on the name Katrina. Most presumed the name would instantly plummet out of use. According to writers in Fall 2005: "that name will never be the same," "it probably will not make the list of most popular baby names for 2005," and indeed, "Katrinas might want to go by Kate now."

The readers of this site were of the same opinion. In my "Baby Name Pool" contest, only one entrant picked Katrina as a rising name while 18 picked it to fall hard.

It was a natural presumption, but history pointed otherwise. It happens that a month before the storm hit, I wrote a piece on the impact of hurricanes on baby names. The conclusion? Storms are much more likely to boost their given names than sink them. If a name is stylish, the media exposure more than outweighs the negative associations.

Katrina set up to be the ultimate test of this positive naming power. The scope of the destruction and suffering that the storm left behind shook the whole country. Yet the number of baby Katrinas did rise, up 11% to its highest level since 2000. Keep in mind that the hurricane hit on August 29, leaving only four month's worth of babies to be affected. That 11% increase most likely represents a major surge of Autumn Katrinas.

Surprising? Think of it this way: without the storm, only 1 out of every 2000 girls would have been named Katrina. Suppose that all the parents who intended to choose the name changed their minds because of the storm. That still left every single parent-to-be in America reading, speaking and thinking about the name Katrina. It only takes a tiny fraction of them choosing the name to make the overall effect positive.

The official top names of 2005

May 12th 2006

The Social Security Administration has announced the most popular American baby names of 2005. The top spots are unchanged: Emily and Jacob are still #1, followed by Emma and Michael. In fact, the top seven boys' names are exactly the same as 2004.

GIRLSBOYSEmily Jacob Emma Michael Madison Joshua Abigail Matthew Olivia Ethan Isabella Andrew Hannah Daniel Samantha AnthonyAvaChristopherAshleyJoseph

For comparison, the 2004 leader board:

GIRLSBOYSEmily Jacob Emma Michael Madison Joshua Olivia Matthew Hannah Ethan Abigail Andrew Isabella Daniel Ashley William SamanthaJoseph ElizabethChristopher

I'll be crunching the numbers and looking for interesting trends over the next few weeks. Look for announcements here of the NameVoyager update, and the results of the Baby Name Pool!