Tuesday, July 08, 2003

second post, first names

I suppose I should blog away some more now. I presume that this Blogger interface will seem less clunky with time.

This weekend the NYT ran an article titled "Where Have All the Lisas Gone?" on first names (I would link to it if I knew how to do that yet). I've been interested in first names even before I read Stanley Lieberson's A Matter of Taste. Among its other virtues, Lieberson opens with a long disquisition on why first names should be interesting to a sociologist. Anyway, much of the NYT article is based on an interview of the authors of the Beyond Jennifer and Jason books. From this interview, I think, the author of the article makes the following improbable assertion: "In 1998, for instance, Kaitlyn was way down at 36. But if you totted up the Katelyns, Caitlins, Caitlyns, Kaitlins, Katelynns, Katlyns, Kaitlynns, Katelins, Caitlynns, Katlins, Katlynns and Kaytlyns, that name would have easily bested the No. 1-ranked Emily." Could it really be that even though the most popular alternate spelling is only ranked #36, summing up all the alternate spellings vaults you over the #1 name? First names are become increasingly evenly distributed, and girls' first names have always been more so than boys', but still... this seemed fishy, and the data are right there...

So I had a look at the Social Security first name site. Turns out that in the Social Security sample, there were 21221 Emilys in 1998. Meanwhile, there were 6416 Kaitlyns, 4297 Katelyns, 3475 Caitlins, 2371 Caitlyns, 1187 Katelynns, 960 Katlyns, 655 Kaitlynns, 327 Katelins, 246 Caitlynns, 240 Katlins, and 210 Katlynns (Kaytlyn was not listed, meaning at most 161 girls in the sample were named this). Add them up, and, however you spell it, you are still 800-900 Kaitlyns short. Score another one for intuitions of media-statistical-fishiness.

Given that I know that the Times is especially interested in the accuracy of its reporting these days, I sent off a correction. We'll see what happens.

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