Not long ago I stumbled upon a post about baby names at the blog North Carolina Miscellany. It ended with this funny little footnote:
After seeing a baby-names website tout North Carolina’s most historically distinctive names, Zebulon and Zeb, as among 2012’s “hottest,” I was expecting to see them rise in the national rankings. Alas, no. How hot can a name be and still not crack the top 1,000?
Excellent question. Because, not only did Zebulon not make the top 1,000 in 2012, it sank from 25 baby boys in 2011 to a mere 19 in 2012. So, not “hot” at all.
The footnote linked to an earlier post at the same blog called Zebulon on the Rise, which reads:
The News and Observer reported yesterday that the name Zebulon is increasingly popular among parents today, and was listed on a website as one of the “14 hottest” names of the year.
(The post went on to talk about the many North Carolina babies that have been named after Zebulon Vance. But I digress…)
The News and Observer article on Zebulon revealed that the “14 hottest” list had been put out by Nameberry.com.
What were their 13 other “hot” names? Arya, Blue, Caia, Calix, Decimus, Django, Gatsby, Halcyon, Niall, Nova, Senna, Sybil and Theon.
Three of these names — Arya, Calix and Nova — did see big jumps in usage in 2012. But the rest either stayed about the same or were used less often. So, only 3 clear winners out of 14 guesses. Just 21% correct.
How could a site that specializes in baby names get it so wrong?
It has to do with metrics. Nameberry came up with that list by looking at their own website traffic, not by looking at any sort of genuine usage data (e.g., public records, birth announcements). The problem with this, of course, is that the names people search for online often have nothing to do with the names they use in real life. (How many of us like to look up weird celebrity baby names, for instance? *raises hand*)
Not that it matters. Most of the big baby name websites are guilty of using iffy data to compile lists of “top” or “hot” baby names. These lists garner plenty of media attention, but are they ever accurate?
I wish the baby name sites that release these lists would revisit them once the official data for their region is available and publicly assess how well their predictions stand up to the real thing.
Y’know, just to prove that the “experts” aren’t simply churning out link bait…