For a lot of us, our names are pretty intrinsic to our identities. From the time we're young, our names are the one of the first pieces of information we associate with ourselves. Our names feel very personal to us, of course, but do you ever wonder "how popular is my name?" Some of us can easily recall sitting in a classroom full of people with the same name, and the funny (but sometimes annoying) confusion of hearing your name, only to realize that the teacher was referring to the other girl in your class. This phenomena begs the question: how many people have my name, anyway?
Luckily for us, there's some really cool data about names out there (thank you, Social Security Administration), and data scientist Randy Olson is here to help us sort through it with his Name Age Calculator. The website is extremely straight forward and user-friendly: You select a gender (Male or Female), type the name you'd like to search, and hit "calculate."
The result? A really fascinating chart which shows the popularity of your name by year, ranging from 1900 to January 2015. Olson does note that "records prior to 1940 are estimates and should be taken with a grain of salt." This search engine also only uses data from the United States.
Want to see it in action? I tested it with my own name, and my result looks like this:
My name was pretty nonexistent prior to the 1950s, and had minimal popularity until the '90s, when it absolutely exploded to its peak of 6,000 — though admittedly 6,000 is still fairly low, especially compared to names like Ashley, which reached 50,000 in the '90s (meaning yes, you're not crazy: Pretty much every other girl in your elementary school was named Ashley). For Marissa, there was a gradual decline in popularity, with a small peak in the early to mid 2000s, which I credit to the popularity of The OC .
The influence of popular culture on baby names is actually super interesting to me, so I decided to run another name through the engine. Now, to be fair, I don't actually have a child, so I'm using the name of my cat: Fitzgerald, for these purposes. Unfortunately, Olson's data actually only pertains to humans, but humor me.
Look at that spike in popularity since The Great Gatsby (2013) was released! Look! There was another huge spike in the '60s, which makes sense, because that's when The Great Gatsby novel became popular and widely acclaimed.
If you're a numbers nerd, you can also download the data by simply hitting the "download the data" hyperlink at the bottom of the page. Your results will look something like this:
On a more serious note, your name may have a serious impact on your life. A disturbing study from New York University found that people with easy to pronounce names often have high status positions in their workplace, as well as generally being judged more positively. Even before we enter the workforce, studies have found that teachers have lower expectations for students with "typically black-sounding names, and set higher expectations for students with typically white- and Asian-sounding names." Racism is a prevalent issue in our country, and seeps into daily life in ways which seriously impact the opportunities of ethnic minorities. Jose Zamora told BuzzFeed, for example, that he became so frustrated at not receiving any responses to his resumes (of which he sent out an average of 50 to 100 per day), he changed his name from "Jose" to "Joe" on his applications. Allegedly, he received phone calls within a week of making the change.
Olson's compilation of data at Name Age Calculator is a really fun and engaging way to spend a few minutes (or, if you're like me and really curious about the popularity of your second cousin's name, a few hours) of your morning. Still, fun aside, it's important to remember that names can hold a lot of weight in our opportunities in life, and too often, it's a reflection of issues of racism and sexism in our country.