The Baby Name Wizard

The OKCupid statistics blog, by Christian Rudder, is amazing. Sadly, it hasn’t updated since 2011, around when OKCupid was bought by Match.com. (Rudder says the timing was a coincidence—he took time off for another project, and the blog may return soon!)

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend another unexpectedly engrossing blog: The Baby Name Wizard blog, by Laura Wattenberg (creator of the amazing Name Voyager graphing tool).

I find the Baby Name Wizard blog fascinating because, like the OK Cupid Blog, it combines two key ingredients:

  • Access to rich data about something that comes up all the time in our lives
  • The ability to find and tell the stories in that data

The reason I like the blog has nothing to do with naming babies. (I’m not allowed to name babies, anyway.)

I like it because we all encounter names every day, all the time, in every part of our life. We all have feelings and opinions about what names mean, but if you’re like me, they were mostly unconscious, unquestioned, and never subject to any statistical rigor. (Freakonomics has a well-known chapter about naming trends, which Wattenberg takes issue with).

Nevaeh (“Heaven” backward) is currently a more popular baby name than Sarah.  Brooklyn is more popular than either, and Sophia is more popular than all three combined. In 20 years, those names will conjure up images of college kids, and Brandon and Sarah will sound as much like Mom and Dad names as Gary and Debby do to my generation.

If you’re like most people, you probably had some opinions when you read the names in the last paragraph. But maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned from reading this blog is that the reactions and stereotypes that names provoke often reveal more interesting stories than the names themselves.

For example, you may have heard the urban legend about a mother who named her daughter Le-a, pronounced “Ledasha”. Wattenberg dissects this urban legend in an insightful essay (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), which explains how apocryphal names like Le-a serve, across a wide variety of communities, as proxies for talking about race.

Here are a few of the other things I’ve learned from the blog:

That’s just a tiny sampling; if you think any of it sounds interesting, I recommend browsing through the blog’s extensive archives.