30th name reunion: where are they now?

Dec 16th 2005

I'm going to look deep into your eyes, dear reader, and tell your fortune:

Your name is going out of style.

Oooh, uncanny, isn't it? Ok, it's not really such a bold prediction. Chances are, if you're old enough to be interested in articles on baby name statistics you're old enough to have seen a few fashion waves come and go. Most of us grownups have tried out some different hairstyles along the way, and worn some clothes we'd rather forget. But long after the MC Hammer pants are forgotten, we still carry one frozen moment of style with us every day: our names.

This single most lasting fashion statement isn't even one we picked out ourselves. Your momma may not pick out your clothes any more, but she still lays claim to your name. As a momma myself now, I'm not about to call this a bad thing. It's good to have an anchor of continuity as we move through our changing lives. But it does have some disconcerting side effects. Most of us, day by day, are watching ourselves fall deeper and deeper out of style. (A select few, of course, are experiencing the opposite phenomenon. After a lifetime of having to spell "Aidan" for everyone you meet, suddenly you find your head whipping around every time a mom calls the name out in the grocery store. But that's a story for another day.)

Just how deep is the style trench? It depends on your sex. Let's take a look at the valedictorians of the name class of 1975. Here are the top 10 baby boys' names of that year:

It appears that a typical 30-year-old man's name has lost 2/3 of its popularity over his lifespan. But it's hardly a dire situation -- every one of those names still ranks among the top 60 boys' names today, and four of them remain in the top 10. As a group, they were classics long before 1975 and remain so to a lesser extent today.

Now, the top 10 girls of 1975:

Gulp. The current highest-ranking name of the group is Jennifer at #38, the lowest Lisa at #431. Freefall. The reason, presumably, is found in the the sharp up-slope on the graph 50 years ago. While parents' conservatism in boys' names has given those names a gentle landing, their fashionable creativity with girls' names has left the trendiest choices zooming back to earth.

In a previous post, I discussed how parents of boys are starting to abandon their conservatism and follow fashion more with their name choices. That's creating a much more diverse name pool for the class of 2005. But 30 years from now, we may see more men spiralling out of style the same way that women do today.

Now it's your turn: The Baby Name Pool

Dec 10th 2005

You've read the blog, you've pored over the book, you have your finger on the pulse of baby name style -- and you could teach me a thing or two. Now's the time. Pick the names you think rose the fastest or fell the hardest this year, and submit them to the inaugural 2005 Baby Name Pool.

First, the ground rules. You choose six names: three you think have risen sharply in in popularity in the USA over the past year, three you think have fallen sharply . You submit your entry by February 1 2006, and await the results after the Social Security Administration releases the official figures on the top 1000 names for boys and girls. Now you're a winner, and receive a fawning tribute to your baby naming acumen in this very space. Huzzah!

If you're ready, head on over to fill out your ballot at babynamepool.com. Or, if you need a few more weeks to obsess over your selections, here's the background and details.

Why a pool? Baby names rise and fall in popularity, and it's possible to make educated guesses about where they're headed. This scenario, and the graphs I use to illustrate name trends, have reminded a number of readers of the stock market. Why not set up a pseudo-market in names? Values would rise and fall with popularity; canny investors would try to predict fashion trends or ride a celebrity's rising visibility. In fact, similar markets have been set up based on sports stars' stats, movie stars' box office clout, etc. With baby names, though, the problem is liquidity. Results (popularity stats) are reported only once a year. And of the thousands and thousands of potential investments (names), only a handful experience dramatic change during the year. Hot, nonstop action this ain't.

The more natural format for predicting a once-a-year event is the classic office pool. As it happens, though, I'm a bit short on office. (You'll find me and my laptop at a corner table in your local cafe. Feel free to buy us a scone.) So I'm turning to you all as my virtual officemates to pick the baby name champions of the year. No entry fee is required, though recommending my book to pregnant strangers is always a lovely gesture.

I'm honing my selections. What exactly do you mean by rose "sharply"? Identifying the hottest names of the year can by surprisingly dicey. Last year, the number of Isabellas born in the U.S. rose by over 1000, for an 8% increase. The number of Sanaas rose by 89 for a 29% increase. So which is the hotter name? To even the playing field for popular and unpopular names, change will be calculated as a function of of both absolute and percentage change. Scores for all 6 names will be summed together for a final score.

What about names that don't show up in the top 1000 list? To reward bold, visionary guesswork, bonus points will be awarded to picks of hot names that didn't appear in the 2004 top 1000 lists at all (assuming they do show up in '05.) In general, for calculation purposes a name that's off the charts will be counted at a usage frequency of 2/3 the number 1000 name.

How many times can I enter? Once, please! Be kind to your host. But if you absolutely must change your mind and enter again, I'll just use the latest dated entry.

Can I go for broke and put the same name on every line? Nah. Gotta work for your glory, kids.

Now, to the pool!

The year's hot baby names. Maybe.

Dec 1st 2005

Baby naming is the kind of business where you write your "year in review" articles in May. It takes a while for national statistics bureaus to receive the full year's birth records, tabulate name frequencies, and put it all together for public consumption. By the time we really learn about 2005's top names the year will be far behind us.

In fact, it was just six months ago that I looked at at the people and events that sparked 2004's fast-rising names. But this year I'm going out on a limb. I've scanned the media horizon for fresh names that hit the sweet spot of style and celebrity. Here, for the first time anywhere, are advance predictions of the brand-new hot American names of 2005. Hold onto your seats, it's baby naming without a net!

Top picks:

Ciara (Current popularity rank: #330 among U.S. girls' names) - This name has been modestly common for 20 years now, but a breakthrough year for the R&B star Ciara should push it higher.

Danica (Unranked) - IndyCar racing's rookie of the year was *gasp* a woman and *double gasp* good looking and *triple gasp* had a catchy, gently unusual name.

Close contenders:

Amerie (Unranked) - An upstart R&B name to give Ciara a run for its money.

Dane (#468) - This has been a big year for comedian Dane Cook, whose name currently trails Shane, Zane and Lane.

Evangeline (Unranked) - "Lost" tv star Evangeline Lilly makes this romantic leap beyond Madeline more accessible.

Lincoln (#549) - In my column on presidential names, I tapped Lincoln as my dark-horse candidate. A main character on tv's "Prison Break" could spark an overdue surge.

Meredith (#331) - Too familiar to be a hot naming sensation, but still fashionable...the high-profile Meredith on "Grey's Anatomy" should give it a boost.

Preston (#152) - Another Grey's Anatomist and the middle name of the most publicized baby of the year, Sean Preston Federline.

Rex (#947) - The "Desperate Housewives" husband Rex might not have been a great role model, and did meet an untimely end. But his demise has only made him a bigger topic of conversation.

Sania (Unranked) - Tennis player Sania Mirza is a hot topic in India, and Indian name fashions leap to the U.S. in a hurry.

Long shots--names that don't quite fit the style zeitgeist, but have cultural momentum:

Clive (Unranked) - Oscar-nominated actor Clive Owen

Carl (#369) - Back-flipping NASCAR driver Carl Edwards

Fantasia (Unranked) - American Idol singer Fantasia Barrino

Matilde (Unranked) - Heroine of the telenovela "Amor Real"

Obie (Unranked) - Crooner Obie Bermùdez (and rapper Obie Trice)

And, finally, the wild card:

Katrina (#281) - A month before that devastating storm hit, I wrote a piece on hurricanes' historical influence on baby names. Unlikely as it may seem, the name Katrina could very well rise in popularity in the wake of its namesake storm.

And come next May, you can call me on it.