cartwheels into your heart

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

So I wrote some singles reviews a week ago and started contributing to the Singles Jukebox podcast as well, which means that from now on, you can listen to me ramble about at least one of the songs that Stylus reviews each week. Last week I tackled New Young Pony Club, and this week it's Japanese novelty rockers Orange Range. Stay tuned...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Unless you've noticed the sidebar link to Laura Wattenberg's Baby Name Wizard blog, you may not know that one of my myriad interests is trends in baby names. Over the last week, I've been reading Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson's A Matter of Taste, an academic treatise that aims to explain changes in fashion. He uses first names as a case study because a) it's a trend that's uncontaminated by commercial influence (which is not to say that parents don't name their children after popular media figures -- witness the ascendance of "Kanye" in 2004 -- but that corporations/celebrities are not in the business of persuading them to do so), and b) there's already a rich data set available for analysis. As someone who owns books full of baseball statistics and Billboard chart data, it's this second factor that heightens the appeal for me, beyond my usual fascination with cultural trends.

After a conversation with Laura about the Lieberson book, I started thinking about the phenomenon of "mom names." Among my generation, there are certain women's names that resonate as names belonging to our mothers and our friends' mothers, names like Sharon and Diane and Kathy. And this association is helped by the fact that these names hardly ever show up among our peers. Since there is such a high turnover for girls' names in particular, all but one of the top 20 girls' names in 1950 was still in the top 20 in 1975. Indeed, many of 1950's top names for girls can be considered "mom names" today, but especially these:

Name     1950


*I was born in 1979, so this data is probably more true for my older friends, but I decided to use a good round number. The twenty-five years difference is also arbitrary and not based on the actual average age of U.S. mothers at childbirth, although I'd wager it's close.

Incidentally, I have never known a single woman named Shirley in my life, but the others sound about right. For the record, Sharon is close behind (11-->75 = a drop of 64), and I suspect that my image of Kathy as a mom name is not due to a drop in Katherines but to a tendency for Katherines my age to prefer Katie as a nickname.

Anyway, this got Laura and I thinking about whether there were equivalent "dad names." My initial inclination was no, since boys' names turn over much more slowly than girls' names and in fact my own dad's name (Michael) was the most popular boys' name the year I was born. But there is some turnover: half of the top 20 in 1950 had been replaced by 1975. The drops aren't nearly as precipitous (not to mention the top 6 names in 1950 stayed firmly within the top 10) -- but then again, I can't think of a single Gary my age and have met only a handful of the rest on this chart:

Name     1950     1975     Drop


Lieberson spends a lot of time showing how turnover in both sexes' names has increased exponentially over the last several decades, however, so I was curious to see if dad names will be more recognizable among children born in this century. I ran a similar comparison for the most popular boys' names in 1975 vs. those in 2000:

Name     1975      2000     Drop


The differences are revealing. Scott and Jeffrey exhibit the same degree of downfall as the readily identifiable mom names of a generation prior, which suggests that they'll be recognized quite strongly as dad names by today's kindergarteners. (I don't know that many Scotts, but I know quite a few Jeffs, so this is amusing to me.) And though Jason's drop is on par with the most likely dad names of the previous generation, it was the #2 boys' name of 1975, which means that while it's by no means an unpopular name today, the sheer number of new dads named Jason is significant. (Probably more so than Mark, which experienced a larger drop but only started out at #19.)

As expected, the girls' chart is more volatile than the boys'. The drops are not substantially more than the previous generation's, but it does appear that extremely popular names (#2, #3) aren't as safe as they once were.

Name     1975     2000      Drop


For me, the most notable revelation here is that for the next decade or two, at least, kids will find it weird that Heather was once a popular name for high schoolers: now it's got "mom name" written all over it.

Update: I listened to Ys while driving to the airport in the rain yesterday morning, and it sounded splendid.

I do think it's a morning-with-tea record rather than a late-night-with-wine record, since the very first time I gave it a shot I was drunk at midnight and splayed out in bed, and Van Dyke Parks's strings felt intrusive, slathered in so many empty spaces that the arrangement couldn't breathe. (And maybe also because I knew they were added after the fact.) It's still maybe a valid criticism of certain tracks (like the opener "Emily"), but when you're alert and born into the world again, that thorniness suggests the hyperactive buzz of genius, and you long for old wood desks with good scratch paper.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I downloaded the new Joanna Newsom the other day, like everyone else, but am finding that I don't want to listen to it on the train or at work or wherever else I usually hear albums first. (I started to listen to Beyonce's B-Day yesterday morning on the bus, while perusing the Red Eye for celeb gossip and sports scores.) I'm not usually so particular about these things, but something about this album -- probably the fact that it's a five-song suite where each song is an average of 10 minutes, maybe also a desire to recapture that initial awe-filled experience with her -- makes me want to sit down with a bottle of wine and the lights dim in my living room, alone, before giving this a chance.