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Where 36% of all boys end up nowadays

My Take a Number feature appears in today’s Times. And here are the graphs that I wish they’d had space to include!



Original story here.


  1. zbicyclist says:

    Interesting that the literature on (English language) baby names begins in the 1960’s, where you start to see the decline in the use of the top 10 names.

    While I lament the use of creative spelling, which I think just confuses everyone, I think more name variety is good. I’ve gotten very tired of having a name that’s SO common (Michael).

  2. Andrew says:

    It’s also interesting to see from the lower graph that conformity increased from 1920-1950, before declining sharply thereafter.

  3. I’m not very comfortable with your proposed mechanism: “With so much choice, parents go with popular soundalikes (for example, Aidan/Jaden/Hayden), which leads to clustering in the final letter. […] In short, the distribution of names is more diffuse but the distribution of sounds is more concentrated. We have new freedom in naming our children, and we use that freedom to conform.” That seems to me like a just-so story that you’d normally be suspicious of, or outright critical.

    I’d prefer both a linguist (because you’re making both phonological and etymological claims about names) and a demographer (that is, someone with expertise in the changes through time of US demography, particularly ethnic) involved in this in conjunction with a/your statistical analysis of naming trends before I’d be inclined to accept such an assertion.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just heard of someone planning to name her son “Tobin” which to me is a surname but this and the older tread seems to make it more reasonable : The woman said that she wanted something distinct or unusual but the n seems to have appeared –this is in Canada.

  5. Bradley Spahn says:

    Can these phenomena be explained by the increase in the percentage of non-caucasian births? Maybe caucasians are using the popular names just as often, but they make up a smaller percentage of births.

    • Andreas Baumann says:

      I don’t think so; we’re seeing the same pattern all over the world, even in very homogenous countries, such as Scandinavia. A far better explanation would seem to be Parson’s idea of an “expressive revolution”: people choose odd names for their offspring as to ensure their individuation. That would also go somewhere in explaining the somewhat recent divergence of Caucasian and African-American naming practices.

      • gwern says:

        Parson’s idea is very intuitive and the first thing I thought of when I heard that popular names were declining, but my problem is this: the obvious explanations for why people would start picking rarer names is either greater urbanization/larger population units or maybe mass media, but neither trend stopped or reversed 1900-1950! That reversal is quite a big change for a very long time, and needs explanation.

        • “the obvious explanations for why people would start picking rarer names is either greater urbanization/larger population units or maybe mass media”

          I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe industrial culture is linked with cultural homogeneity? That would explain why the tend accelerates when post-industrialsm came about?

  6. Ban Cheah says:

    Hmm. I thought the NYT did include the graphic:

    Did the mess up somewhere?

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