Plotting and Analyzing US Baby Naming Data

Photo By mahalie

I’ve created a new tool that allows you to query US baby naming data from the past 130 years and play around with it on an interactive chart. I got the idea after stumbling upon the data at the US Social Security website.

To cut to the chase, below you can see some interesting effects of our culture on naming trends.

  • Star Wars – George Lucas created the names “Anakin” and “Padme”, and he had a big impact on the number of babies given the name “Han”, “Leia” and “Luke”. I didn’t include Luke on the chart because it dwarfed the others so much, but between 1880 and 1977, 18,027 babies were named Luke, between 1977 and now, 176,125 babies were given that name.
  • Hermione – Apparently Hermione is a real name, though the 478 babies given the name since 2000 were probably due to the recent popularity in the Harry Potter series.
  • US Presidents – My friend Ben found this one. Back in the early twentieth century, who got elected president had a big impact on what people named their babies.
  • Reagan and Kennedy – I don’t want to get too political, and I’m just talking out of my ass here, but I wonder if the idealizing of past political heroes (from different sides of the aisle) has led to the recent surge in these names.
  • Ninja Turtles – The Ninja Turtle craze of the late-80’s / early 90’s seems to have caused a small impact on naming trends in that time period.
  • Paris – Paris Hilton’s sex tape leaked onto the internet in 2003 and became a big news story. For some reason this inspired hundreds of people to name their kid after her.
  • Osama – The frequency of people naming their kid “Osama” actually increased after the 1998 embassy bombings, but I’m guessing after 9-11, people realized naming their kid after after the world’s most wanted terrorist was probably not a good idea.
  • Miley – In 2005, 26 babies were born with the name “Miley”. In March of 2006, Hannah Montana debuted with star Miley Cyrus on the Disney Channel. That year the name started to sky rocket in popularity, and peaked in popularity in 2008 when 2,643 babies were given the name.
  • Selena – In 1995, this name shot up in popularity by 400%, with 3,839 babies given the name “Selena”. This was most likely was caused by the 1995 death of latin super star “Selena Quintanilla-Pérez“. Interestingly, Selena Gomez has not had the effect on “Selena” that Miley Cyrus has had with “Miley”.
  • Carson – This name had been slowly increasing in popularity, but it started to skyrocket in 1998, which coincidentally was the year MTV debuted its mega hit TV show TRL, with host Carson Daily. The name has maintained its popularity, so its probably not all due to Daily, but since TRL was a young person’s show, and not many notable people are named Carson, he probably had some effect in getting the ball rolling.
  • Shirley – Shirley Temple shot to super stardom in 1934 with Bright Eyes, and so did the use of her name for new borns.
  • Britney – Britney Spears dropped “…Baby One More Time” in 1999 and had a big impact on the “Britney” (interestingly, the version spelled “Brittany” stayed in steep decline during this time period).

These were all found by just trying out different names and looking at the time period for when the names peaked or dropped in popularity.

Chart Library and Modifications

For those of you who are curious, I used Martin Kleppmann’s PlotKit repo as a starting place for the chart (that repo is a heavily modified version of Plotkit with lots of new features and fixes). I then modified it to add in some additional features and minor bug fixes, including the mouse interaction stuff. I’ll probably submit my changes back to him at some point, though right now I feel like I kind of hacked stuff into it, so I’ll probably wait until I polish it up and the changes are field tested more. If you have any trouble with the chart please let me know.

The mouse interaction stuff was done by creating a separate canvas element and having it overlay the chart. The dynamic dots you see are then drawn on this canvas. This is done because re-drawing the whole chart is time consuming. The one exception to this is IE7 (and possibly IE8), for which I couldn’t get the overlay to work. So for those browsers, the whole chart re-drawn when it changes. So you’ll notice if you use IE7 that mouse interaction isn’t smooth, while if you use Chrome, FireFox, or IE9, things should be pretty smooth.

11 thoughts on “Plotting and Analyzing US Baby Naming Data”

  1. It’d be interesting to have an option that scales the chart by the total number of babies born in each year.

  2. Hrm, that could be good for seeing relative changes between names, it’d be a little tricky though. I could do it easily by processing the data before hand and make the y axis go between 0 and 1, or I could have the chart take in a parameter that formatted things that way. I’ll have to think about it, thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Hi Fred. I looked into it briefly, though I’m not sure it’d be too useful for me. JavaScript on the server side is a neat idea, but it looked like the API was in constant flux and I wasn’t totally sold on the advantages. Right now I’m more interested in all the new HTML5 stuff coming down the pike, though I’d be open to looking into node later on. Why do you ask?

  4. Just out of curiosity. I’ve lurked on your blog since I started programming on AOL and noticed you to be a js guru and was just curious what you thought about it.

    Since we’re on the topic of html5 have you seen 😛

  5. I have. WebGL looks really cool. I haven’t done anything with it, but I did a lot of stuff with OpenGL back in grad school and I think it might be fun to mess around with. As HTML5 matures more, I was actually thinking of writing iPad apps using something like PhoneGap, though that’s something I’m still bating around in my head.

  6. Using the baby naming graph and randomly came across Linda – Which exploded in 1946 due to a song. What an amazing impact. Thank you for 5 minutes time wasting.

  7. That’s a cool find! I may add an annotation feature in later that lets people add notes, as I had never heard of that song and probably would have been pretty confused by that sudden spike.

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