December 12, 2004

Names, Graphs, Ephemerality

If I were an elementary teacher, I think I'd have this in my back pocket as an activity to plug in when something else fell through. BirthdayAlarm.com has a form that lets you type in a name and see how its popularity has varied over the course of the 20th century. The graph is based on social security records, so the names are strictly American. It would be interesting for kids to check out their own names and those from their families to see shifts across generations.

Some names rise, fall and rise again in popularity (e.g., Alexander); some peaked a long time ago and are no longer popular (Bernard, June); some are fast rising stars (Zachary). I'd have kids speculate on what famous people triggered changed popularity for names, and have them notice the slow rise of Latino names over the decades. Are three-syllable names becoming more popular? What's the trend in saint's names or Old Testament names versus all those Tiffanys and Crystals? Seems like a cool way to acquaint them with the subtle ebb and flow of style and the inevitability of what's hot becoming what's not.

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