“Name” That Trend

June 14, 2009
The Wolfram|Alpha Team
Posted by

One of the most popular Wolfram|Alpha features is the name directory. Whether you’re researching your own name or brainstorming baby names, the Wolfram|Alpha given name directory is a fun tool you can use to compare name popularity and statistics.

You can learn a lot about popular culture and history by tracking the popularity of given names. One historical example is the name Roosevelt, which celebrated two bursts of popularity, during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Roosevelt Name Trends

Roosevelt name trends

To view a pop culture example, enter the names Farrah, Mallory, and Britney into Wolfram|Alpha. The charted results show how these names peaked at different times. Note that Farrah’s spike in the late 1970s occurs at the time of Fawcett’s Charlie’s Angels fame, Mallory’s spike in popularity appears when Family Ties debuted in 1982, and Britney’s second spike coincides with Spears’ first album release in 1999. The data often has larger implications than just name popularity; think of it as a visual representation of a generation’s cultural influences.

Pop Culture Female Names

Female name trends from pop culture

The Wolfram|Alpha name database currently contains U.S. name data dating back to 1880, with international data to follow in the coming months. So whether you’re a parent seeking more information on baby names or are curious to find out more information on your own name, Wolfram|Alpha has the power to compute insightful results.


Stanley Wolfram estimated it would take W|A 10 years to mature. What is the plan to achieve this?

Posted by Brian Gilbert June 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm Reply

The Titanic effect? ;-) http://www34.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=leonardo

The movie Titanic was released in 1997.

Posted by Jonas June 14, 2009 at 4:25 pm Reply

So how do you coerce Wolfram|Alpha to associate (cast) a type with a search element?

For example, if I put in the phrase “david | simon” it assumes both are movie titles – how do I tell it to consider each term as a given (first) name? From the output, it looked like I could do this:

“david (male given name) | simon (male given name)”

But this doesn’t work. The javascript “assumption” links don’t help either.

Posted by meowsqueak June 14, 2009 at 7:34 pm Reply

    Immediately underneath the Input box you saw

    Assuming “David” is a movie | Use as a surname or a given name instead
    Assuming David (1988) | Use David (1979) instead

    Click on ‘Surname or Given Name to tell W|A which you meant.

    Posted by Brian Gilbert June 15, 2009 at 2:04 am Reply

    Surname David,Simon

    Posted by Brian Gilbert June 15, 2009 at 6:43 am Reply

Incidentally the above problem highlights the fact that W|A does not understand its own ‘Input Interpretation”. Call out the curators.

Posted by Brian Gilbert June 15, 2009 at 2:08 am Reply

very good.

Posted by yuan June 15, 2009 at 3:22 am Reply

Pretty impressive. What are the plans to incorporate non-US name data?

Posted by Matthias June 15, 2009 at 3:49 am Reply

    yup, the rest of the world thing is pretty much ignored although complete computerized detailed data can be easily found for France (back to 1891). Probably UK, Germany, Japan and a few others have comparable sets of data.
    In case you wonder what that “rest of the world” thing is all about anyway, I have a revelation ; this world map http://thetalkingmirror.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/final-world-map1.jpg is not correct.

    Posted by Nicolas June 16, 2009 at 5:23 am Reply

This and many other information on the blog will have deep impact if they are gievn as brief tips on the homepage. Just a feedback!!

Posted by Gaurav June 16, 2009 at 3:42 am Reply

Besides it can be interesting to see a comparison of surnames in different countries. Some trends appear for some local cause whereas global blockbusters such as Titanic, or actors or singers etc. cause worlwide popularity of some names.
One French websites (out of the 20 or so websites that offer the same data, shows how difficult it is to get this data) shows this :
It never was big, but 2 periods have seen a little popularity of the name (40 per year is really smallbut the trend is visible), with Titanic causing the second one. The first one is obviously not worldwide. There was then a Belgian comic artist of Italian origin called Vittorio Leonardo, that could cause a few Leonardos, or there could be another cause. The same website also shows that the french form “Léonard” wasn’t affected by Titanic.

Posted by Nicolas June 16, 2009 at 5:37 am Reply

It still doesn’t know “john, paul, george, ringo” however. if you leave Ringo out, it does work. Sure, Ringo might not be an extremely popular name, but it is a name. Made famous by Ringo Starr, but have we all forgotten about Ringo Lam, Ringo Shiina, Ringo Garza and then of course Ringo Akai, Ringo Brown and Ringo Noyamano? (thank you Wikipedia)
I already pointed this out through feedback several weeks ago, but my advice still seems to have gone unnoticed.

Posted by Daedalus Young June 17, 2009 at 4:09 am Reply

    That would mean that instead of importing the whole database, someone manually enters this data name by name, choosing the names he likes or not… that’s an interesting way to proceed. It might take time.

    Posted by Nicolas June 17, 2009 at 3:39 pm Reply

Can WolframAlpha tell me the top 10 names in 1999?

Posted by Tony June 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm Reply

I think it would be cool to be able to see names that are just now becoming popular, names where the popularity is still increasing. Then maybe I could find a good name for my hypothetical kid and he could be ahead of the curve so to speak…

Posted by Eric Parfitt June 20, 2009 at 11:24 am Reply

Hey, ok, I get it, I guess – but does this really work?

Posted by Sina-Muellerson July 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm Reply

Question: Although I can see the development and cultural influence, I would like to see the associated events/persons on the timeline as well. I’ve just read the other post about WolframAlphas ability to interpret names and phrases, so will this be possible in the future, too?

Example: The name Britney and the associated famous person which caused the trend?

Posted by warrior guide July 15, 2010 at 2:38 am Reply

[...] an earlier post, we had some fun with Wolfram|Alpha’s popular collection of  name data and its ability to [...]

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