Invisible Social Forces in Name Popularity
How do people name their kids?
Often people name a new baby after some relative or friend of the family.
However, in the mass media era, naming children has an often unnoticed social component.
I have four daughters, and we went through a different process in naming each of them.
The source of the names, however, interests me each year when the Social Security Administration releases their top names.
They have a very nice Web site where you can track the popularity of names over time. For me, this is particularly fascinating process. For each of my first three daughters, we selected a name that was trending upward.
In the above figure, I have tried to denote the year we picked the name with a vertical black line. However, keep in mind that we would have been looking at SSA data from the year before. We did not know what names would be selected in 2000, for example.
The fourth and final kid's name does not fit the pattern -- it has been stable for a few years -- however, we really picked that name in 2000. It was an alternate for the second kid. And back then it was very much trending upward.
Now let me try to let you in on our basic algorithm. We tried to pick names where they would not have three other kids in their class with the same name, but not so uncommon they would hate us ("Hi, this is my daughter, Rihanna").
Somehow other people must have been having similar thoughts, whether or not those parents' intentions were conscious.
These curves really do fascinate me. With very little deviation, these names became increasingly popular each year. That's an interesting social phenomenon in a country of 300 million people.
Somehow this reminds me of Adam Smith's invisible hand working its way through society.
I'd be interested in your thoughts.