Laura Wattenberg

Name

Laura Wattenberg

About Me

I'm the creator of BabyNameWizard.com and author of The Baby Name Wizard, the in-depth "field guide to baby names." I've spent the past decade studying the names we give our children -- to help parents find their perfect names, and to understand what name trends tell us about our society. If you've come to this page looking for a way to contact me, please use the "contact" link at the very bottom of the page. Thanks!

My Favorite Names
My Recent Blog Comments
1
March 22, 2017 10:55 AM

Definitely -- there are lots of ways that a person's appearance can reflect their culture and background without subconscious self-transformation is required.

I'm thinking more and more that I should write this column!

2
March 22, 2017 08:05 AM

That's interesting about JPSP -- I guess nobody's immune to the desire to make headlines.

The good news is that the two proposed mechanisms to explain the result should be testable. Scrub the faces of hair, clothes etc. and try again? Or how about this: repeat the experiment using faces of military personnel who are issued regulation clothing and haircuts. That would let you retain natural photos as stimuli but eliminate the confounding variables. 

 

 

3
March 20, 2017 11:35 AM

I was thinking of writing about that study! The mechanism the researchers propose as an explanation -- that we subconsciously transform our very faces to conform to stereotypes about our names -- strikes me as rather a stretch.

If you look at the sample image in their paper, it's a full headshot packed with cultural signifiers: hairstyle, facial hair, clothing. Similarly, every name is packed with social signifiers. IMO it's likelier that we're matching that meta-information than that we're, say, gaining weight to conform to our "round" names.

(FWIW, the authors heavily reference this study I wrote about some years ago: http://www.babynamewizard.com/archives/2007/6/funny-he-doesnt-look-like-a-methuselah )

4
January 26, 2017 04:28 PM

Zaxton does double up the power, but it has a long way to go. Here's the full tally of -axton boys born last year:

Braxton3,278
Paxton1,662
Daxton847
Jaxton755
Axton358
Maxton283
Saxton28
Zaxton17
Traxton14
Thaxton10
Baxton5
Praxton5

5
December 15, 2016 08:17 AM

First off, thank you for the kind words!

On the spam filter, I believe the tech folks did just implement a stricter filter to try to deal with a recent flood of spam comments. I don't think political content should be a problem (I sometimes post on political name issues, after all) but there might have been another trigger -- a blacklisted word, or a link?

If you have a chance, please do try again to post a comment to the blog. I'd hate to think that we're blocking our real readers, and we should figure out what's going on.

Thanks again!

6
December 1, 2016 03:48 PM

Wow. I am so grateful to all of you for this amazing discussion. Your arguments have persuaded me that there are several thoroughly worthy contenders. (I'd be tempted to put it up for a vote, but Boaty McBoatface argues otherwise.)

7
December 1, 2016 07:42 AM

Hi, this is Laura. I really appreciate the thoughtful commentary here, and I wanted to clarify something about the criteria.

"Name" can be a broad term in different contexts, and the NOTY hasn't always been a traditional personal name. "The Situation," for instance, was a nickname; Siri was the name of a non-person. But it's always a proper noun, and one that in some way reflects personal naming. (I'll edit the post to make this clearer.)

In the past we've ruled out nominees like Arab Spring on this basis, as more of a "term of the year." I believe that alt-right pretty clearly falls into this category as well. Brexit is right on the edge -- thoughts?

8
September 1, 2016 09:50 AM

Yep -- naming for live politicians is incredibly rare today. Some more background: http://www.babynamewizard.com/archives/2011/6/when-names-were-heroes

9
August 19, 2016 10:34 AM

Karyn, you definitely see the "Jean phenomenon" for names from a variety of languages (e.g. Jaime, Ali). Arguably they should even be considered different names since the male and female versions are commonly pronounced differently, but it's hard to confirm that statistically.

On Kendall, that's a great point -- the girl's name took two separate leaps post-1990, first from the All My Children character and only later from Kardashian fever.

10
August 13, 2016 02:54 PM

I'm not happy about the lack of female scientists on the list either. Believe me, I did look hard for examples.

Remember, this isn't just a list of ideas for scientist-inspired names -- it's tracking a trend, names **that are measurably rising in popularity** and are strongly linked to scientists. Franklin and Ada aren't specific enough to Rosalind Franklin and Ada Lovelace. Meitner, Margulis, and (remarkably) Curie have never shown up in the stats. I came close to including Hopper for Grace Hopper, but when I asked people what comes to mind when they hear that name, most said "painter" and the rest said "frog."

If any of you can come up with an example that fills the bill, I'll be delighted to edit the post and include it!

Thanks,
Laura

11
July 10, 2016 08:23 AM

"By Camilla
July 7, 2016 9:31 AM

They are still around, it's just a different set of them:

Ben

Max

Jack

Jake

Sam"

Camilla, I really don't believe that the stats bear out the "changing of the guard" theory. Those nicknames may be the most popular today, but they don't come close to past generations.

For instance, Jake is the current #1 nickname by far. But even if you assume that 100% of Jacobs answer to Jake, which is not nearly the case, it's only one-fifth as popular as Mike and Dave both were -- and far behind Tom, Jim, Bill, etc. etc as well. (And you may be surprised to hear that Ben/Benjamin was actually far more common in 1960 than it is today!)

12
May 6, 2016 11:50 AM

Miriam, in this case liquid doesn't refer to the linguistic category of consonants-- it's a stylistic descriptor of a name fashion group with no hard edges. In the past, I've defined "raindrop names" as containing two or more syllables in just four or fewer letters, with no consonant sounds other than M, L, N, R and Y.

13

The official Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula is square root of the absolute change in frequency, times the percentage change. I.e.

(sqrt |2015N-2014N|) * (2015N-2014N)/2014N

Note that in calculating each Pool participant's final score the falling predictions are weighted, since rising totals are typically much higher. (A name can rise by vast percentages, but it can't fall by more than 100%.)

14

Good questions! Yes, to make sure we're looking at significant trends, all names should rank in the top 1000 for 2014 and/or 2015. (I've clarified the rules page.) And here are the current rankings:

http://www.babynamewizard.com/the-top-1000-baby-names-of-2014-united-states-of-america

15
January 19, 2016 05:14 PM

lucubratrix, I absolutely agree that it's a slippery slope which names to include! For a cutoff I tried to stick to the most exalted/supreme titles, thus Kings and Princes but no Earls or Dukes; Generals but not Captains or Majors.

FWIW, I don't believe that restriction significantly skewed the results. E.g. of the four names above, Earl is down (two consecutive voiced consonants!) but Duke, Captain and Major are all soaring.

16
December 18, 2015 11:44 AM

Optatus Cleary, thank you for the interesting perspective! It wouldn't have occurred to me to consider how the book is "taught" to readers, because in my house it's only been read for pleasure, never assigned in school. (My kids both spontaeously picked it up around age 12-13, as did I once upon a time.)

I've certainly noticed, though, how the book changes and becomes subtler rereading it as an adult. I'm glad to have had both experiences.

17
December 16, 2015 10:18 AM

Thanks Elizabeth! I made the correction.

18
November 24, 2015 05:40 AM

Hi all, I appreciate your thoughtful comments as always, and I wanted to join in on the discussion of the name ISIS.

Last year's Name of the Year was an uncomfortable decision. I had two finalists:

1. A name of a major terrorist organization on a horrific murder spree. Would it be insensitive or inappropriate to declare that the "name of the year" on a baby names website?

2. A funny little pop culture/social media phenomenon. Would it be insensitive or inappropriate to declare THAT the "name of the year" when so many of the other candidates were matters of life and death?

In the end I turned back to the core criteria. The deciding factor was that the ISIS name story wasn't fundamentally about *personal names*. 

Even when the Baby Name Wizard NOTY is attached to a product, like Siri, or isn't exactly a name, like The Situation, the story here is always about personal names. Note that this is different from the American Name Society, which has cited names like Salish Sea, Fiscal Cliff and H1N1.

With ISIS, the fact that there are some people named Isis didn't seem like the heart of the story. And this year, as the debate about what to call the organization has taken on complex new layers, the issue has moved even farther from personal naming -- and farther from BNW's domain.

Of course, you may not agree. Feel free to tell me so! :)

Thanks again,

Laura

 

19
October 9, 2015 07:15 AM

Elizabeth, we must be the same age because my earliest political memory is of a bunch of grownups talking about "Watergate" while I tried to imagine what a gate for water would look like! So no, no Nixon for me, either.

I'm pretty confident that the use of the baby name is totally apolitical, just like the way the name Kennedy is most popular in red states. It's familiar 2-syllable -n name with an x in it, that's enough for many parents.

20
October 8, 2015 05:39 PM

Megan, that makes sense to me too but surprisingly Nixon is the most popular name on the list!