Sunday, May 27, 2007

Baby Names Again

How could I blog about baby naming without linking to Martin Wattenberg's Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager? I can only blame a momentary memory lapse. The NameVoyager is one of the most beautiful and elegant pieces of graphic design I have ever seen. That's saying quite a great deal because I took the Edward Tufte class a few months ago.

The NameVoyager is a Java Applets that displays the frequency of use of the top 1000 baby names from 1880-2005, broken down by gender (2000 total).
The NameVoyager tracks names of babies born in the United States, as reported by the Social Security Administration (SSA). We have cleansed the raw SSA data and performed statistical transformations to allow meaningful historical comparisons.
Names are arranged alphabetically. Boys are in blues and grays. Girls are in pinks and gray. The thickness of the colors denote frequency of use. Put your mouse over an area and a box with the name and rank appears.

Type in a name (look at the blinking cursor at top left). As soon as you type in the first letter, the graph changes to show all names that start with those letters. I typed in "I" and saw that "I" names had drastically fallen out of favor between 1930 and 2000. In the early naughts, the popularity of "I" names exploded again.

Type in "IR" and see that Irene used to be much more popular than Iris, but not since the 1990s. Type in "Mad" and see the recent explosive popularity of Madison and Maddox!

I especially like this caution about statistics.
The graphs in the Baby Name Wizard book and web site show the frequency of use of different names. If one name stripe is twice as thick as another on the same screen, that means the name was twice as common.

You may have seen other graphs based on popularity rank. Be wary of any information source which does this--it's a fundamental misuse of data, and the graphs just aren't meaningful. For example, the name Joseph has risen from the 13th most popular name 50 years ago to #10 today...but the name is actually significantly less common today.
Anyway, don't delay. Visit this website now! You have time to kill and I don't have time to explain all the amazing features of this program.

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager
Open House
See Martin Wattenberg's other Art and Science projects

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow! That is nice. The rise and fall of Latasha, the slow decline of William, the fall and resurgence of Jacob...


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