Monday, August 22, 2011

What's in a Name

I'm sure back around the turn of the century, Mildred was a pretty cool name. It's not now (apologies to all the great-grandma's out there), but it happens over time, some names grow in popularity, and others decline.

If you were a pair of hipster parents in 1912, living on the edge with things like bathing suits that exposed your ankles, then if you had a little hipster daughter, you very well might have named her Mildred (It was the 6th most popular girls name that year, which today would be the equivalent of Emily). But that we look at Mildred as a stereotypical 'old' name, and that it once was hugely popular, makes you wonder about own own contemporary naming conventions.

In 100 years, it might be the case that the only Aiden you know is the old guy who always hangs out in the allergists office, or Emma is the kindly old librarian, or the only Sophia is the weird scary lady with a couple dozen cats who buys nothing but cat food to the point where you just kind of assume she's also eating the cat food, but you don't want to ask her about it because it seems impolite to imply that she likes Fancy Feast, but you're really pretty sure she's eating it herself. OK I'll admit that was a little far-fetched.

We all know there won't be libraries in 100 years.

But that's what happens to all these names, they ebb and flow. Except for names that fall victim to what we could call 'external shocks of uncoolness' You could also call it the Adolf factor. Most names probably come and go naturally, unless it happens to be the name of one of society's arch supervillains. It's weird, and probably a little unfortunate, that events completely out of your control could besmirch your name to the point that your mere introduction instantly reminds people of tragedy. And of course, it's not limited to mass murderers.

For anyone named Katrina, it stinks that when meeting for the first time, lots of people will immediately think back to flood waters, Superdome refugees, and the first time they ever got an inkling Kanye West was completely insane, but that's now the way it is. And the popularity of the name reflects that.

Below is the SSA ranking of the name Katrina for U.S. baby girls by year, starting in 2004 (year pre-Hurricane Katrina). A name ranked #1 would be most popular, a name ranked #12,301 would be something like Zorak or

2004: 281
2005: 246
2006: 379
2007: 598
2008: 716
2009: 813
2010: 867

Pretty strong trend there. Although it's interesting that the biggest dip wasn't immediately after the hurricane in 2006 and 2007. Maybe a ton of expecting mothers had already ordered monogrammed bedsheets???

From this, it seems pretty clear. If you want to ruin someone's name, you have two options:

1 - You can help raise a murderous dictator who shares that name (somewhat impractical and probably morally questionable),

2 - Pay off the people who name hurricanes (which for some reason are the only disasters important enough to get their own names, which would tick me off if I were an earthquake, volcano, or gang of rabid attack squirrels) I feel like #2 is relatively reasonable.

The people who name the storms, they can be gotten to right? They're just meteorologists. If I were an eccentric billionaire (ok, if I were a billionaire), I might buy the naming rights to Hurricanes in perpetuity. If you can buy the rights to put a name on a stadium, I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to buy naming rights to a weather system. Plus, the government is in enough financial trouble as it is, so why should they turn down any revenue opportunity???

Then you have your very own Sword of Damocles. No one would mess with you if you could make their name synonymous with death and destruction (unless they were going for that sort of thing, in which case you should name a double rainbow after them) I'd probably just end up naming them after companies with terrible customer service. Although after the twelfth Hurricane Comcast, I'd probably have to think of some new ones.

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