Saturday, August 02, 2008

A toy for people interested in names


Is your name rising or falling in popularity? When was your name most popular? In your grade school, a quarter of the girls seemed to be named Jennifer, but now many of your daughter's friends seem to be named "Emma." Is this a fluke? You can find out by typing a name into the NameVoyager pictured above.

In the example, we see that my name ranked 142nd in popularity in the 1950s and declined precipitously thereafter.

The site's creators explain:

The NameVoyager tracks names of babies born in the United States, as reported by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The site is the creation of Laura and Martin Wattenberg. It serves to market a book for parents choosing a name for a baby.

But that's not why it came to my attention. Think for a minute about the micro-targeting that campaign hucksters now promise they can do through enhancements to voter files -- improvements to the raw list of names of eligible voters they get from state and county authorities. When they don't have birthdates, they analyze names using statistical tools that work like this one in order to guess at voters' ages. The method is not perfect, but combined with other data can be informative.

Watch out -- someone somewhere is selling very sophisticated tools to sell you a candidate. Of course, you may have wanted to vote for that candidate anyway. ...

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