Baby name popularity trendsetters?

The most pop­u­lar post on my blog, year after year (and now decade after decade), is a 2005 piece on baby names: Unpop­u­lar Baby Names: Avoid­ing the Jacobs, Emilys and Madis­ons. We used the tech­niques list­ed to aid in our attempt to give our own kids clas­sic names that wouldn’t be overused among their peers. The 2015 num­bers are out from the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion. How did we do? The charts below shows the respec­tive rank­ings from 2015 to the year they were born.





The names of our two “babies” — Gre­go­ry, 5, and Lau­ra, 4, are both less pop­u­lar now than they were the year we named them. Yea! They’re both in the low 300s – viable names but far from overused.

Fran­cis, now 10, was drop­ping in pop­u­lar­i­ty and drop­ping into the low 600s. With that trend, we actu­al­ly wor­ried about the name becom­ing too unpop­u­lar. But an uptick start­ed in 2010 and became pro­nounced in 2013 when an Argen­tin­ian named Jorge Mario Bergoglio decid­ed to start call­ing him­self Fran­cis. The name is now in the high 400s.

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of our eldest son’s name, Theodore (“I’m Theo!, don’t call me Theodore!”), start­ed off in the low 300s was hold­ing steady with­in a 20-point range for years until around 2009. In 2015 it cracked the top 100. It’s only at 99 but clear­ly something’s hap­pen­ing. Equal­ly dis­turb­ing, “Theo” wasn’t even on the top 1000 until 2010, when it snuck in at posi­tion 918. Since then it’s leap 100 spots a year. It’s cur­rent­ly at 408 with no sign of slow­ing.

And for those of you look­ing to spot trends: did we just call our names ear­ly? Maybe “Fran­cis” isn’t a slow climb but is about the go shoot­ing for the top 100 in two years time. Maybe “Gre­go­ry” and “Lau­ra” will be all the rage for moth­ers come 2020. Yikes!

Some thoughts on the Twitter expansion

Twit­ter has always been a com­pa­ny that suc­ceeds despite its lead­er­ship. Many of its land­mark fea­tured start­ed as hacks by users. Its first apps were all cre­at­ed by third-party design­ers, whose good will to the curb when it about-faced and killed most of them by restrict­ed its API. Top-down fea­tures like Twit­ter Music have come and gone. The only inter­est­ing grass­roots inno­va­tion of recent years has been users using image attach­ments as a way of going past the 140 char­ac­ter lim­it.

I’ve been get­ting less patient with Twit­ter in recent months. Then-CEO Dick Costel­lo acknowl­edged their fail­ure han­dling abu­sive sit­u­a­tions ear­ly in 2015 but noth­ing much seems to have changed. Hav­ing co-founder Jack Dorsey come back this in Job­sian fash­ion has been encour­ag­ing but only to a point — there’s a lot of weird ego involved in it all. Twitter’s inabil­i­ty to pro­mote diver­si­ty and the tone-deafness of hir­ing a white man as diver­si­ty chief last month makes me won­der if it’s just final­ly going to do a full Yahoo and implode in slow motion.

But today some­thing new: we’re look­ing at doing away with the 140 char­ac­ter lim­it. My ini­tial reac­tion was hor­ror but if done well it could be inter­est­ing. I’ve always won­dered why they didn’t part­ner with blog­ging plat­form Medi­um (found­ed by anoth­er co-founder, fea­tur­ing sim­i­lar core prin­ci­ples). The key will be keep­ing the feed at 2 – 3 lines so we can scan it quick­ly, with some sort of but­ton or link to expand past 140 or so char­ac­ters.

One could argue that these “fat­ter tweets” is Twitter’s way of build­ing the pop­u­lar long-text pic­ture hack into the sys­tem. Could Twit­ter man­age­ment be ready to look at users as co-creators of the wider Twit­ter cul­ture?

Rethinking Blogs

In last weekend’s NYTimes Mag­a­zine, Michael Erard writes about the his­to­ry of online com­ments. Even though I was involved with blog­ging from its ear­li­est days, it sur­prised me to remem­ber that com­ments, perma­links, com­ments, and track­backs were all lat­er inno­va­tions. Erard’s his­tor­i­cal lens is help­ful in show­ing how what we now think of as a typ­i­cal com­ment sys­tem – a line of read­er feed­back in reverse chrono­log­i­cal order under­neath con­tent – grew out of tech­no­log­i­cal restraints. It was eas­i­est to code this sort of sys­tem. The mod­el was bul­letin boards and, before that, “guest­books” that sat on web­sites.

Many of these same con­straints and mod­els under­lay blogs as a whole. Most blog home pages don’t fea­ture the most post pop­u­lar posts or the one the writer might think most impor­tant. No, they show the most recent. As in com­ments, the entries are ordered in reverse chrono­log­i­cal order. The pres­sure on writ­ers is to repeat them­selves so that their main talk­ing points reg­u­lar­ly show up on the home­page. There are ways around this (pinned posts, a list of impor­tant posts, plug-ins that will show what’s most pop­u­lar or get­ting the most com­ments), but they’re rarely imple­ment­ed and all have draw­backs.

Here’s the dilem­ma: the reg­u­lar read­ers who fol­low your blog (read your mag­a­zine, sub­scribe to your Youtube, etc.) prob­a­bly already know where you stand on par­tic­u­lar issue. They gen­er­al­ly share many of your opin­ions and even when they don’t, they’re still com­ing to your site for some sort of con­fir­ma­tion.

The times when blogs and web­sites change lives – and they do some­times – is when some­one comes by to whom your mes­sage is new. Your argu­ments or view­point helps them make sense of some grow­ing real­iza­tion that they’ve intu­it­ed but can’t quite name or define. The writ­ing and con­ver­sa­tion pro­vides a piece of the puz­zle of a grow­ing iden­ti­ty.

(The same is true of some­one walk­ing into a new church; it’s almost a cliché of Friends that a new­com­er feels “as if I’ve been Quak­er my whole life and didn’t know it!” If taught gen­tly, the Quak­er ethos and metaphors give shape to an iden­ti­ty that’s been bub­bling up for some time.)

So if we’re rethink­ing the mechan­i­cal default of com­ments, why not rethink blogs? I know projects such as Medi­um are try­ing to do that. But would it be pos­si­ble to retro­fit exist­ing online pub­li­ca­tions and blogs in a way that was both future-proof and didn’t require inor­di­nate amounts of cat­e­go­riza­tion time?

Religion in the mainstream press

They default to the same bor­ing tropes, says Amy Levin at TheRe­veal­er:

Reli­gious wars, reli­gious dress, reli­gious mon­ey – these are the real and yet superbly com­plex ele­ments of our cul­tur­al exis­tence. Scout any crack or cran­ny of pop­u­lar cul­ture and you find reli­gion cre­at­ing a glo­ri­ous maze of top­ics for writ­ers to dis­cov­er and sift and sing to the mass­es.

But late­ly, I find that a repul­sive plague of rep­e­ti­tion and banal­i­ty has swept over the dis­en­chant­ed cyber­sphere. Each day I begin my reli­gion news search with hope­ful eager­ness, sift­ing close­ly through main­stream and fringe out­lets, hun­gry for signs of a new trend, move­ment, argu­ment, study – any­thing oth­er than what I con­sumed the day before. But I search in vain, and my dol­drums have led me to take action.

(H/T to David Watt on Face­book)


Quakersong.orgWeb­site for Peter Blood & Annie Pat­ter­son, musi­cians most well known for their insanely-popular song­book Rise Up Singing. They sell books and tapes on the site (e-commerce han­dled ably and sim­ply by Pay­pal) and they also have lots of high-quality con­tent includ­ing a lot of hard-to-find Pete Seeger CDs. Mov­able Type is used as a con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem (CMS).

Tech­nolo­gies: Mov­able Type, Pay­pal. Vis­it Site.

Quak​erQuak​er​.org, new home to the blog watch

I’ve moved the Quak­er Blog Watch mate­r­i­al to a new web­site, Quak​erQuak​er​.org. It’s more-or-less the same mate­r­i­al with more-or-less the same design but the project has become pop­u­lar enough that it seems like a good time to send it off on its own. I hope to find ways of mak­ing it more col­lab­o­ra­tive in the near-future.

You can sub­scribe to the Quak­erQuak­er Watch via Blog­lines or to the dai­ly email by fol­low­ing the links. If you’re already fol­low­ing the Watch in a sub­scrip­tion read­er, you should change the source of the feed to http://​feeds​.quak​erquak​er​.org/​q​u​a​ker if you don’t want to miss out on any future inno­va­tions. If you have the Watch cur­rent­ly list­ed in your blog’s side­bar you won’t have to change any­thing.

At some point when the dust of the move has set­tled (and I have the new Quak​erfind​er​.org launched as part of my FGC work), I’ll take a moment to wax philo­soph­i­cal about the evo­lu­tion of this project and will toss out a few ideas about where it might go in the future. In the mean­time, let me know if any­thing is bro­ken, con­fused or gram­mat­i­cal­ly man­gled.
A kind of ret­ro­spec­tive his­to­ry of the project is avail­able on the “quak­erquak­er thread”: of the Ranter.

Unpopular Baby Names: Avoiding the Jacobs, Emilys and Madisons

My wife has now fin­ished the first trimester of her preg­nan­cy so we can let peo­ple know that our lit­tle Theo’s going to be a big broth­er this fall. That means it’s time to think of baby names.

Fallen Baby Names List

Name Rank:
Drop Name Rank:
1 Her­bert 32 962 930 1 Edna 17 986 969
2 Her­man 45 974 929 2 Louise 24 977 953
3 Floyd 50 964 914 3 Beat­rice 44 982 938
4 J 35 920 885 4 Bertha 26 963 937
5 Fred 19 876 857 5 Gladys 15 945 930
6 Earl 27 882 855 6 Lucille 49 954 905
7 Clarence 18 717 699 7 Dorothy 7 846 839
8 Howard 30 721 691 8 Hazel 20 681 661
9 Alfred 33 683 650 9 Edith 25 683 658
10 Ralph 23 660 637 10 Frances 16 580 564
11 Elmer 36 654 618 11 Irene 21 581 560
12 Harold 15 595 580 12 Marie 8 496 488
13 Ernest 26 599 573 13 Martha 31 487 456
14 Eugene 49 578 529 14 Alice 10 426 416
15 Leonard 48 571 523 15 Helen 2 389 387
16 Har­ry 13 517 504 16 Ruth 5 350 345
17 Fran­cis 37 509 472 17 Rose 14 358 344
18 Willie 28 454 426 18 Annie 28 339 311
19 Roy 24 433 409 19 Clara 23 295 272
20 Wal­ter 11 356 345 20 Esther 30 297 267
21 Arthur 14 353 339 21 Josephine 33 260 227
22 Carl 20 357 337 22 Eva 39 215 176
23 Lawrence 34 344 310 23 Ruby 42 197 155
24 Albert 16 311 295 24 Mar­garet 3 130 127
25 Joe 38 321 283 25 Cather­ine 19 106 87
26 Theodore 42 313 271 26 Lau­ra 50 122 72
27 Louis 21 278 257 27 Mary 1 61 60
28 Leo 44 288 244 28 Eve­lyn 34 89 55
29 Frank 8 228 220 29 Anna 4 21 17
30 Ray­mond 22 188 166 30 Eliz­a­beth 6 9 3
31 George 4 137 133 31 Mil­dred 9 n/a 0
32 Edward 9 128 119 32 Flo­rence 11 n/a 0
33 Paul 17 124 107 33 Ethel 12 n/a 0
34 Hen­ry 10 116 106 34 Lil­lian 13 n/a 0
35 Peter 46 148 102 35 Gertrude 22 n/a 0
36 Ken­neth 47 109 62 36 Mabel 27 n/a 0
37 Richard 25 86 61 37 Bessie 32 n/a 0
38 Charles 6 59 53 38 Elsie 35 n/a 0
39 Robert 7 35 28 39 Pearl 36 n/a 0
40 Thomas 12 36 24 40 Agnes 37 n/a 0
41 John 1 17 16 41 Thel­ma 38 n/a 0
42 James 3 18 15 42 Myr­tle 40 n/a 0
43 William 2 11 9 43 Ida 41 n/a 0
44 Jack 41 46 5 44 Min­nie 43 n/a 0
45 Joseph 5 6 1 45 Vio­la 47 n/a 0
46 Samuel 31 23 -8 46 Nel­lie 48 n/a 0
47 David 29 14 -15 47 Grace 18 13 -5
48 Antho­ny 43 10 -33 48 Julia 45 33 -12
49 Andrew 40 5 -35 49 Emma 29 2 -27
50 Michael 39 2 -37 50 Sarah 46 12 -34

Most new par­ents want to give their child unique names and want to steer clear of the most over-used names. Yet if you tell your friends you’re nam­ing your boy Jacob or Joshua, they’ll all cheer you on. If your lit­tle girl goes by Emi­ly, Emma or Madi­son, they’ll think that’s dar­ling. Yet those are the top three boy and girl names for 2003.

They are tens of thou­sands of kids get­ting these top names every year. All of the kids with these names are going to be get­ting nick­names to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from one anoth­er: just hope your lit­tle angel isn’t the one that gets tagged “The Ugly Emi­ly” or “The Stu­pid Joshua” by their third grade class­mates!

There are def­i­nite trends in names. Cer­tain names tend to sound fresh and dar­ing even when they’re overused and trite. The only way to train your ear away from such trends is to method­i­cal­ly study the data (the New York Times had a fas­in­cat­ing arti­cle on all this when we were pon­der­ing Theo’s name, Where Have All the Lisas Gone?).

For­tu­nate­ly the U.S. Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion pro­vides a list of the most pop­u­lar baby names by year, going back to the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Using this, my wife and I were able to choose “Theodore” for our first child’s name; born in 2003, he name is the 313th most pop­u­lar boy’s name and drop­ping. Yet it’s a known name and there have been great twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry folks who have answered to it (e.g., Dr. Suess, Theodore Geisel).

How is a par­ent to choose? One recent after­noon I cut and past­ed the top fifty boy and girl names of the first decade of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry. I looked up their cur­rent sta­tus (the 2003 data) to see what move­ment has occured in their place­ment. The old names are still known but some have fall­en far out of use. Her­bert, for exam­ple, was the 32nd most pop­u­lar boy’s name in the first decade of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, but now ranks a dis­mal 930! If you want a name every­one knows but no one is giv­ing their kid, Herbert’s your choice for boy’s and Edna’s your choice for girls.

Now these fall­en names prob­a­bly sound awk­ward. But that’s the point: they run counter to the trends. I’ll admit that some deserve their reduced sta­tus; I can­not imag­ine sad­dling a lit­tle girl with “Edna.” But in the list are some gems which have been undu­ly demot­ed by the trend-setters.

We’ve been very hap­py with “Theodore,” the 26th most fall­en name of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry. He’s offi­cial­ly named after his great-great uncle. The social secu­ri­ty date­base assured us that the name was safe from trendi­ness.

So what will the new baby be named? Check in soon!! The due date is the end of August.

Update: drum­roll please.… Our new son’s name is Fran­cis! And fur­ther follow-up brought us Gre­go­ry and Lau­ra. We’re offi­cial­ly out of the baby-making game now but if we were look­ing for more, Walt and Dorothy would be our next picks of classic-but-uncommon names.