If you like baby names, you will love this

Despite the fact that the designer of this software doesn’t like our treatment of names in Freakonomics (see here and here, it is so much fun to play with that we have no choice but to link to it:

http://www.babynamewizard.com/namevoyager/lnv0105.html

It let’s you type in the first letters of a name and see in a flash the rise and fall of such names by decade. The visuals are amazing. (Try typing in “MAD” and you will see the sudden rise of Madison, Madeleine, etc.)

The person who does the web site, Laura Wattenberg, has a book on baby names called “The Baby Name Wizard.” I haven’t read it, but given the software, I’m guessing it is a better-than-average baby names book and every expecting couple has to own at least one of these.

(Thanks to my former student Sean Harper for pointing me to the website.)

Daldianus

I really like your book and the approach your taking to analyse all this 'hidden' data. And I'm convinced you're onto something.

But out of curiosity, how would you defend your methodology and conclusion (regarding baby names) against her criticism?

Owen

Mr. Levitt writes: "It let's you type in the first letters of a name and see in a flash the rise and fall of such names by decade."

To paraphrase your smug commentary in chapter 6 of your book: People who can't be bothered to spell correctly aren't likely to be the best authors either.

Steven D. Levitt

She actually didn't have many concrete criticisms. She doesn't like OrangeJello and LemonJello, which we are very upfront in our citations about.

Note that she doesn't suggest that our argument about names moving down the social ladder has been well-established before us (although it is pretty obvious, so it would be surprising if it hadn't been, although I haven't ever seen empirical evidence).

She doesn't like the way we conjectured about what the top ten names of 2015 would be, saying some were already in the top 100. Well, as we already know from the chapter, even being in the top 10 now is a weak predictor of being in the top 10 a decade from now.

And in the post about Black names, she disparages us, but again without much in the way of concrete points we could respond to.

Stephen J. Dubner

Owen said:

Mr. Levitt writes: "It let's you type in the first letters of a name and see in a flash the rise and fall of such names by decade."
To paraphrase your smug commentary in chapter 6 of your book: People who can't be bothered to spell correctly aren't likely to be the best authors either.

Owen: why the hell do you think Levitt needs me? For the grammar, obviously. You've discovered our secret. But, seriously: get a life. SJD

Anonymous

What do you think David Figlio's research? Using siblings as a method for holding all other factors constant seems pretty solid. I'm not sure how "teacher's expectations" were measure though.

Andrew

That is fun stuff. I tried several androgynous names to see if there was some type of trend. Did the names start out at similar popularities, and fight it out with one gender ultimately keeping the name?

I didn't see this trend as I had expected.

For example, Brair was a male name up until the 70's, at which point use as a female name came from nowhere and far exceeded the original popularity. Anyone know why?

In other cases (Pat, Robin, Shannon), popularity among both sexes peaked and fell in unison, with no clear "winner".

Another interesting finding: In the common androgynous names that I tried, female usage exceeded that of male usage in decades that the name was seen as androgynous. Perhaps parents were reluctant to give their boys a name that could seem femanine, while to give a girl a name that could be perceived as male was not seen as a problem.

Any comments?

Read more...

Connie F.

An article on androgynous names published in the March 2000 issue of American Journal of Sociology may provide some insight, Andrew.

I noticed there appears to be a trend for names beginning with vowels, as a group (although it generally doesn't hold for individual names within the group). The U-shape is fairly pronounced for A, E, I, and O on the wizard Web site. Overall, the trend seems to be very different for names beginning with consonants. Perhaps vowel names are on the ascent because they are/were more unique or old-fashioned--two traits that seem to be in high demand among baby namers.

Let's call this the Wheel of Fortune effect!

Anonymous

>She doesn't like the way we conjectured about what the top ten names of 2015 would be, saying some were already in the top 100. Well, as we already know from the chapter, even being in the top 10 now is a weak predictor of being in the top 10 a decade from now. before us (although it is pretty obvious, so it would be surprising if it hadn't been, although I haven't ever seen empirical evidence).

That is a pretty weak argument. I also thought your list wasn't very suprising. A name shouldn't seem "unlikely" to be popular when it is already popular.

Her predictions are more aggressive. Otto - now that is an unlikely name to be popular.

Tyler Simons

>Her predictions are more aggressive. Otto - now that is >an unlikely name to be popular.

I'm not so sure about that. There are a lot of people who smoke a lot of pot and watch a lot of the Simpsons. Very few things would surprise me less about this demographic than the whole lot of them up and deciding to name their firstborn son otto.

tcs

Max

re: reply to owen.

"..get a life."

People who can't be bothered to reply politely aren't likely to be the best bloggers either.

Anonymous

I think Stanley Lieberson--in A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change--tested and rejected the hypothesis that names move down the social ladder. I'm curious why you and he reached different conclusions... any thoughts on his analysis?

Thomas

In today's day and age, we also have to look at other names that people will have besides just their given name at birth:
http://goodmorninghouston.blogspot.com/2005/06/is-there-computer-program-that-creates.html

Conchis

Max,

To continue the spirit of childishness that seems to be overtaking the comments thread...

... he started it.

FWIW, I assumed Dubner's comment was intended playfully rather than antagonistically. That's not to say it was a productive comment, and I could, of course, be wrong. But benefit-of-the-doubt seems a reasonable policy in the absence of non-verbal cues, and when comments can be so easily misconstrued.

Max

OK, I'll keep that in mind ;)

Steven D. Levitt

Laton Lastof,

If you had read my post more carefully, you would have noticed that we link directly to her *two* criticisms of us, including the one you note here.

We are not above drawing attention to our critics. The fact is she has a nice website, whatever she thinks of us.

Anonymous

Something interesting I noticed from the originally linked site. In general, the number of names outside of the top 1000 most popular names has increased over time, so that the first graph with all of the names is gently sloping down, which is expectged as more people use "unusual" names. However, while most letter's slopes (seen by simply typing in one letter) also are trending down, the number of names that start with a vowel have increased in frequency the last 50 years, after nadiring in the 50's. This is after being very popular at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, names that start with a vowel account now for about 23% of the names in the top 1000 in 2004, while they accounted for only about 6.6% in the 1950's. at the end of the 19th century, vowel names accounted for about 21%. Wonder if there is a piggyback phenomenom going on. Thought you might find it interesting.

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Evie Copeland

Ornagejello and Lemonjello do exist. I went to high school with them in Columbia, South Carolina, a couple of years above me. They are a pair of male twins.

Daldianus

I really like your book and the approach your taking to analyse all this 'hidden' data. And I'm convinced you're onto something.

But out of curiosity, how would you defend your methodology and conclusion (regarding baby names) against her criticism?

Owen

Mr. Levitt writes: "It let's you type in the first letters of a name and see in a flash the rise and fall of such names by decade."

To paraphrase your smug commentary in chapter 6 of your book: People who can't be bothered to spell correctly aren't likely to be the best authors either.