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 (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.

100 thoughts on “The Baby Name Wizard

  1. Yeah I remember when I first read that list on the comic I’d ban you from naming babies myself. Not that I can really talk much the eldest is named Tadd which is extremely uncommon.
    BTW as I recall most of those plate manufacturers leave a ring in option to get a customized one for your kids so I put it down to a combination of the change of name dynamics and business acumen.

  2. The name Le-a is not an urban legend, i know of at least one person who’s parents cursed their child to a life of being misaddressed. While working on the Help Desk for a local community college I was faced with fielding a call from a student with that name. She was outraged when i guessed at the pronunciation and asked her if name was “la uh”. To this day I think she was more angry with her parents for pronouncing the punctuation in her name than she was with me for mis-pronouncing it.

  3. I’m gonna throw in that I’ve also run into a La-A. And my mom also had one in her class (may be the same person). So while it may have started as an urban legend, it’s gaining popularity in urban reality. Incredibly stupid parents aren’t necessarily likely to use Snopes.

  4. This site is very great and indispensable to my thank you to expect continued success with the authorities there are millions of people come easy memlunkalan but I guess I did not bring the language

  5. I’m sorry to inform you that “Ledasha” is not an urban legend. I saw a picture in my friend’s high school yearbook. Also, it’s spelled La-a.

  6. While her work seems interesting and I certainly wouldn’t defend Freakonomics as 100% rigorous and accurate, I couldn’t help but laugh when she essentially said “Levitt clearly didn’t do the research, because ten minutes of googling would have definitively proven him wrong.”

  7. This is a nice content with lots of information. It’s a very excellent idea for raising money for charity. I think honest review is more important for authors. I like your whole discussion. Keep it up.

  8. The Le-a name is NOT a myth. My sister goes to school with a girl who’s very name on her birth certificate is La-a, pronounced La-dash-a. Not making this up, the subs stumble on her name every time they call her for roll.

  9. I think that interacting with data is a beautiful thing. Its sad how companies like OKCupid copyright ideas like these

  10. This site is very great and indispensable to my thank you to expect continued success with the authorities there are millions of people come easy memlunkalan but I guess I did not bring the language

  11. To all those who say the “le-a” is not a myth: I call shenanigans. Pics or it didn’t happen.

  12. Pingback: Naming characters in historical fiction | History Mine

  13. “Samantha” was getting popular before “Bewitched”. It was Grace Kelly’s name, and a Bing Crosby song (and later a big hit in England for Kenny Ball) from “High Society” 1956.

  14. I once met a Diana – written Diania because a nurse made a typo. I thought, you’ve put up with that for forty years? It’s not hard to change the spelling of your name!

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