i can't believe I haven't posted about this before.
One of my favorite sites is the Baby Name Wizard site, where you can find out neat stuff about American baby names. Yes, I know, it sounds boring, but it's really not. First of all, the site features the Namevoyager, a widget that contains the 1000 most popular baby names in the US of each year since 1880. You can type a name into the voyager and see the progress of the name's popularity over the past 130 years. (Yes, go there immediately and type in your name. It's a trip. Here's where I blogged about my name. Turns out I was named at the absolute nadir of my name's popularity.)
But the fun doesn't end there. Wizard Laura Wattenberg keeps a blog (she's written books on this stuff. She's an expert) in which she analyzes the current naming trends, comments on celebrity names (like Track and Trig), and talks about stuff like regional naming patterns. In fact, she's come up with a map of the naming regions of the United States. Look:
(Are you sure I haven't posted about this before, Google blog search?) You can get a partial explanation here, but I think the rest is in her book.
The blog is some of the best cultural analysis I've seen in the blogosphere -- and through a unique lens. She also has a baby name wiki on the site.
The site's latest nifty application is the Namemapper, where you can type in a name and see the states of the Union -- since 1960 -- where the name appeared in the top 1000. Basically, you can track the trek of the name through the country in popularity. The image at the top of this post is, of course, the Namemapper tracking the popularity of my name since 1960. Yeah, it blossomed in the "Midwestern Reserve" and the "Creative Fringe," and wandered from there. It's never quite made it to the "Spanish South" or the "Neotraditionals."
You don't have to have a baby to be interested in this stuff. Wattenberg's latest blog post analyzes red state and blue state names, which are the opposite of what you'd think: red state names are newly coined and daring; blue state names are traditional. Looking at a variety of data she tells us that this is because blue state parents are far more likely to be older, red staters to be younger. And she goes from there to point out that, while political opinions and values between red and blue are closer than ever, the perception of a divide is greater than ever ... but that might just be because the average age difference of mothers in red and blue (20 and 22 in 1970; 22 and 27 in 2000) is widening. It's a "life story gap," not a values gap.
See what you can do with maps?