Thursday, August 31, 2006

Trace the rise and fall of baby names

Here's a fascinating bit of information design and Java programming: The Baby Name Wizard. Watch the popularity of given names rise and fall over more than a century. Type in a given name and see when its popularity peaks. (Mickeleh isn't in the database--but Michael is.)

See Abraham make a late century comeback, Watch Ethyl and Myrtle fade, see Shaniqua arrive and vanish with great speed. Lots of info in the FAQ on the data sets and the design choices. Whether you're on the way to naming a baby, or want to see a popularity curve for your own name and those you know, this is a wizard worth seeing.

One potentially confusing design choice is that the scale of the vertical axis changes for each name in order to allow the chart to fill the vertical space. At first glance, all names seem to be equally popular at their peak. The designers use color to denote which names are more popular--below, Michael in deep blue peaks at more than 21,000 per million, whereas Willard peaks at a bit more than 1,100 per million. At its lowest point (in the 1880s at 54th), Michael outranks Willard at its peak (in the 1910s at 83rd). So be careful to pay attention to the elastic scale as you peruse different names.

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