The origin of the SSA’s baby name rankings

The Social Security Administration has released the top baby names of 2012!

I have a string of posts about the new names coming up.

Before that, though, here’s a bit about how the name list came to be, as told by Ruth Graham in the Boston Globe last month:

In 1997, Michael Shackleford was an employee of the Office of the Actuary at the Social Security Administration’s headquarters in Baltimore; his wife was pregnant and he was determined to avoid giving the child a common name like his own. With his access to Social Security card data, he wrote a simple program to sort the information by year of birth, gender, and first name. Suddenly he could see every Janet born in 1960. He could see that the number one names in 1990 were Michael and Jessica. He realized this could be important. “I knew that my eyeballs were seeing this list of the most popular baby names nationwide for the first time,” he recalled recently. “It was too good to keep to myself.”

The article goes on to talk about how social scientists have used the name data to do all sorts of interesting research.

One thing I haven’t seen addressed yet, though, is whether or not the mere existence/availability of this data has influenced (or maybe accelerated the cycles of) baby naming trends. Is today’s baby name data less “pure” than it used to be now that so many people are using the data itself to make decisions about baby names?

Source: What baby names say about everything else

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