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!)
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.
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:
- The complaint that nobody has “normal” names anymore is surprisingly universal and timeless.
- The All-American name Samantha was virtually unknown before it was used in Bewitched—for 1960s viewers, it would have sounded as obscure as Permelia.
- The popularity of Ava and Olivia aren’t signs of a Victorian revival in naming—they’re 40 times more popular now than they ever were in Victorian times.
- There’s a reason you hate your parents’ taste in names (and they hate yours).
- These days, people in the UK prefer cute, diminutive nicknames, whereas Americans prefer more formal names.
- Fictional female politicians and real female politicians have very different types of names.
- There’s a reason you can’t find a license plate with your kid’s name on it.
That’s just a tiny sampling; if you think any of it sounds interesting, I recommend browsing through the blog’s extensive archives.