What’s in a name? An analysis of over a century of baby names

Jas Sohi
Jas Sohi
May 19, 2020 · 6 min read

There has been a lot of controversy about names in 2020: from what to name the virus responsible for the current pandemic to the unusual name of Elon Musk’s new baby boy (X Æ A-12).

In this post, I will go over some pressing questions you’ve had about baby names (ok maybe not pressing) including some recommendations for Elon Musk, see if Americans wanted their babies to “be like Mike”, and look at how baby name trends have changed since the last pandemic over 100 years ago.

I looked at US baby names from 1880 until the most recent data available (2018). This dataset from the Social Security website includes the Top 1000 baby names per year (for privacy reasons) which represents just over 70% of all US baby names.

Elon - baby “X” Musk?

Judging by Grandma’s latest tweet, it looks like Elon Musk’s, and girlfriend singer Grimes’, new baby already has a nickname: X. However, the original name (or is it a model number?) of baby X Æ A-12 and how to pronounce is quite a mystery and may not be legal under California law. It is very likely that they will need to provide a more traditional name on the birth certificate that has only 26 human…uhhmm I mean English letters or maybe X himself will just want to be a known variable one day?

So I thought I’d take things into my own hands and offer up some suggestions. Let’s look at the two letters, X and A, which appear to be the top two options.

However, Elon and Grimes probably aren’t going for a popular name and clearly want something unique. At this moment, Elon is also selling all his property in California and possibly relocating to Texas or Nevada. So what would be some of the rarest baby names we’ve seen in these states? Would any of these be special enough to put on the birth certificate?

Update: Musk & Grimes have changed their baby’s name slightly to X Æ A-Xii to comply with California regulations.

Would you like to be “like” Mike or would you rather just be “named” like Mike?

Moving on from one billionaire in Silicon Valley to another who became the 1st one in the sports world. Judging from Netflix’s Top 10 charts many, many of you have been watching the super hit ESPN documentary - “The Last Dance” starring Michael “MJ” Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. This entertaining documentary showcases their journey to 6 NBA Championships in the 90s.

In one of the episodes, you may have seen this Gatorade commercial starring Air Jordan himself and you may remember this catchy jingle.

That got me thinking 🤔 how popular had Mike really become? Enough to have babies named after him?

How did his name/nickname compare to the popularity of other basketball greats with much rarer names?

This chart was based on this template and guide: https://www.dataquest.io/blog/making-538-plots/

But wait a minute, you probably noticed that Mike is just a nickname and of course many parents won’t name their children with a common nickname (Not to mention dozens of other factors that go into the popularity of a baby name. Remember the old adage: correlation does not necessarily imply causation; we could also speculate that the infamous boxer “Iron” Mike Tyson also had an influence?)

So getting back to that point, how popular is/was MJ’s actual first name of Michael? Did we see an uptick in babies named after him once MJ entered the NBA in 1984?

Note: Mike appears to be 0 throughout, but that is just due to the massive difference in scale (< 500 Mikes/year as per the previous chart)

Pandemic plot

Let’s close this article about baby names with one final plot. No, it’s not what you might be expecting, not another curve that we should try to flatten or doomsday predictions based on different model assumptions.

Rather if you are lucky enough to be expecting during these turbulent times, here is some help in picking a baby name for your little one.

The last comparable pandemic was the Spanish flu of 1918, what were the most popular names then and what are the most popular baby names now?

After the Top 10, the rankings are relative i.e. Michael wasn’t 11th most popular then & Abigail is not 11th now.

Thank you and closing

If you liked some of these plots and maybe want to take a tackle at generating something similar yourself have at look at the full analysis on GitHub here.

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Jas Sohi

Written by

Jas Sohi

Data Scientist, Marketing Analytics www.jassohi.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +789K followers.

Jas Sohi

Written by

Jas Sohi

Data Scientist, Marketing Analytics www.jassohi.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +789K followers.

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