Every year, the Social Security Administration releases its annual list of the most popular names in America. They've become a valuable source of data for researchers, as Ruth Graham brilliantly laid out in the Boston Globe this weekend.
The best thing about name data is that it is the perfect model system for researching how the mechanics of trends work. No one is marketing names or running advertising campaigns for Olivia. And yet, slowly, things change. Individual decisions made by individual families add up to large-scale shifts in what we call each other. And what I learned writing about baby names back in 2009 is this: you can't escape your demographic, so just pick a name you like without trying to game the popularity system.
"What's hard for parents is that what feels like your own personal taste, it's everybody's taste," Laura Wattenberg, who built The Baby Name Wizard told me back then. "It's a no-win situation - if you pick a name you like, probably everybody else will like it too."