13 June 2014

Using Name Popularity to Determine Someones Age

Source: http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/babyname.cgi
Have you ever noticed that your forename only seems to be found in “shall we say” individuals of a certain age?  I run into this all the time with my first name of Diane. 

I had wondered if I had imagined this phenomenon and then I read How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know is Her Name.

Picture Mildred, Agnes, Ethel and Blanche. Perhaps you imagine the Golden Girls or your grandmother’s poker game. These are names for women of age, wisdom and distinction. The median living Mildred in the United States is now 78 years old.

Now imagine Madison, Sydney, Alexa and Hailey. They sound like the starting midfield on a fourth-grade girls’ soccer team. And they might as well be: the median American females with these names are between 9 and 12 years old.

The article goes on to discuss the popularity of names over time and that by using such data, based on the Social Security Administration data, you can narrow down the peak time period for any name.  Do recognize that for any names that have had a consistent level of popularity through time, such an analysis may not be as fruitful.

Let’s go back to my name, Diane.  First we go to the Social Security Administration page, Baby Names, select the tab “Popularity of a Name” and we put in the name Diane and 100 years.  I then see a chart which runs from 2004 back to 1914 (90 years) which lists the rank of the name Diane for each year.  Do note that only the most popular 1000 names are listed.  So, if your name is unusual it may not show up for every year.  For example, my son’s name is only listed for 1914-1996 and then falls off the list.  For my daughter, her list starts in 1971, though there are gaps, and the run on her name ends in 1999 before falling off the list.

Now back to Diane.  Here is a chart created by my Excel guru (aka my husband) which plots the ranking of my name (1 is the highest rank and 1000 is the lowest rank in terms of popularity) against year.  Note that the peak rank years for the name Diane are from the early 1940s through the early 1960s.  Let’s just say that my birth year falls squarely within this range !> and reinforces that when I typically meet a Diane, they are of “my generation."

I checked my Mother’s name, my father’s name, which were and are quite popular names though their popularity was greater around the time of their birth.  I also checked my sister’s names and the names of some other family members and overall I found that many of our names and our birth dates correlated quite well with the charts of the popularity of these names.

So, if you are researching someone born in 1914 or later, and need to narrow a probable birth date (or age), you might get some help by examining the available data on the popularity of their forename.

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