What Does Your Name Say About You? How Old You Are, Among Other Things
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," Juliet famously proclaimed. She may have been right in philosophical terms but there is, in fact, some science to what your name says about you, specifically with regards to your age. Lots of social and cultural information can be mined from what your parents penned on your birth certificate, including the average age of someone who has the same name as you, according to Nate Silver and Allison McCann's research on FiveThirtyEight.
Their method is as follows: they've taken data from the Social Security Administration's baby name database and figured out a) how many people with a given name are still alive, and b) how old they are. For example, let's take a look at my name, Elizabeth. Elizabeth happens to be one of the most popular and enduring names in the United States (thanks, Mom and Dad, for ensuring that I will always be confused with the veritable sea of other Elizabeths in the country...). According to Silver and McCann's charts, 50 percent of all Elizabeths are between about 20 and 52 years old. The average Elizabeth is 36 years old. I'm 20, so we're not even within 15 years on that one.
But when you examine names that rise and fall more dramatically in popularity (as names tend to do, says TIME), you can figure out some pretty specific trends. Do you know an Aiden, a Liam, or an Ava? Is he or she still making macaroni portraits in preschool? If the answer is yes, there's good reason for that: the median age for all those names is under five, and 50 percent of all Aidens, Liams, and Avas are less than ten years old. On the other hand, Willards, Mildreds, and Myrtles are more likely to be checking out the orthopedic shoe section at Macy's: the median age for all those names is 65 or over.
Here are the five youngest names for girls living in the United States:
And the youngest boys' names:
On the other end of the spectrum, the oldest girls' names are the following:
And for the gentlemen:
When you check the charts, almost all of those 20 names have a fairly specific age range that tells you when that name was in vogue. That lends credence to the innate hunch we have that a name "feels" young or old. Turns out there is a reason why I named my old lady alter ego (who wears pastel sweater sets, thinks that Instagram is the name of an arthritis medication, and drinks Tom Collinses) Myrtle.
Brittanys, on the other hand, are almost exclusively college-age or a little older. Check out FiveThirtyEight for more graphs.
Now it's time for some follow-up questions: can a name determine how good of a spouse you'll be? How about whether you're likely to cheat? Maybe even personality characteristics? Opinions may vary, but here's my $0.02 on the matter: while those sorts of investigations (mathematical or...ahem...otherwise) can demonstrate what kinds of characteristics we attach to a name, it doesn't necessarily predict that much. Age, on the other hand, is hard data. So the next time you meet a Herbert, a Hailey, a Blanche, or a Jackson, take a guess at their age — after studying these charts, you probably won't be far off.
Image: How to Tell Someone's Age/FiveThirtyEight