Naming Names: "I won't even get into the wonderful -- and incredibly useful, at least for parents -- information design at Baby Names Wizard's 'Name Voyager' tool. (Do a search on 'Max' to see great example of a name's rise-and-fall-and-rise-again popularity cycle.) I think the most striking thing about the tool is the image you see when you first start it up: the overall distribution of names over the past century. The graphics look something like one of those images you'll see of sedimentary layers viewed from the side, with each layer representing the popularity path of a name through the twentieth century. At various points in this history, a few names are dominant, and so their layers are larger: Mary is very hot through 1950; Michael peaks in the mid 1960s; James does well through most of the century.

Now here's the kicker: as you get to the 1990s, all the larger layers grow more narrow; compared to all the other decades, there are no dominant names. Baby names come and go; there are cycles of naming just as there are cycles of fashion. But this is a different kind of trend: a shift in the overall distribution of names. We're a nation of niche naming now -- all tail, and no head. "

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