Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Data Visualization Tool Generates Ultimate Baby Names Buyer's Guide: NameVoyager

NameVoyager is a fascinating information visualization tool which allows you to "see" the universe of American first names in ways that can help you see which names are or have been most popular at any point in American recorded history and to discover and consider names that you would have not thought before.

Photo credit: Bianca de Blok

Namevoyager allows you to take a deep dive into your favorite name's place in the historical tides of the recorded American Social Security archives and as such it is an interactive portrait of America's name choices.

Namevoyager takes wind in a "sea" of nearly 5000 names. By typing a letter, you'll zoom in to focus on how that initial has been used over the past one hundred years to give names to boys and girls. Then type a few more letters, or an entire name.

Each visualized stripe is a timeline record of a name, its width reflecting popularity at anyone time.



Inspired and conceived as a complement for the book "The Baby Name Wizard - The ultimate field guide to names" by Laura Wattenberg The NameVoyager visualization tool tracks names of babies born in the Unites States, as reported by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Therefore the original NameVoyager is strictly a portrait of first name usage in the America.

click the above image to enlarge it

The book is the result of many years of research into names origins and trends across the US and around the world. Laura Wattenberg built a computer database of thousands of names, tracking popularity, ethnic origins, cultural references, and dozens of other subtle cues that help shape each name's unique image.

In the book, each listing is a complete snapshot of a name's history, usage and style as well as the key feature of my "buyer's guide" dream: a list of alternative suggestions with a matching style and feeling, for boys and girls alike.

How to use it.

The beginning screen inside NameVoyager shows nearly 5000 names, each represented by an horizontal stripe.

Each stripe is a timeline of one name, from 1900 (at left) to present.

The changing thickness of the stripe reflects the name's changing popularity.

The usage frequency is shown on the right-hand axis, which changes scale as you zoom in and out.

Type a letter, and you'll zoom in to focus on how that initial has been used in American first names over the past century.

Now type more letters to zoom in further, down to the level of a single name. Backspace to delete letters or try a new search.

You can also mouse over a single name stripe to highlight its shape and learn its popularity rank at any point in time, or click on a stripe to zoom in on that name.


The position of names on the screen is alphabetical, from top to bottom. So Jenna, which comes before Jennifer in the alphabet, is on top when you type "JENN." This alphabetical positioning helps you see generational trends in sounds, like the cluster of "Kr" names in the '70s-'80s.

By default, the NameVoyager uses what you type as a "stem" and shows you all the names that complete it. You can zoom in on a single name by clicking its stripe, or hit the Enter key on your keyboard to see exact matches for the stem only.

The right-hand axis shows the graph scale, which changes as you zoom in and out. If a name stripe spans 200 to 300 on the axis, that means that out of every million babies born in the U.S., 100 were given that name. You can also mouse over a name stripe to learn the name's popularity rank for any time period.

Other graphs exist on the Web that portray US baby names statistics based on popularity rank. But be careful of information sources which use this approach as it is fundamentally flawed and the graphs created are not representing what is really out there. "For example, the name Joseph has risen from the 13th most popular name 50 years ago to #6 today...but the name is actually less common today."

NameVoyager is a Java applet, a program written in the secure Java language and formatted to run within a web browser.

Try it now.

(Java required - Check Options/Preferences to make sure that Java is enabled. If you don't have Java installed at all, you can download the free plug-in from Sun Microsystems)

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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, May 25 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




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