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What’s Your “Name Age”?

January 16, 2020 laurawattenberg 19 Comments

What’s Your “Name Age”?

January 16, 2020 LauraWattenberg 19 Comments
Caitlyn: 21, Jeffrey: 49, Michelle: ??

Can you sort these three American males in age order from youngest to oldest, based just on their names?

Richard
Kaden
Kyle

Chances are, you’d call Kaden the youngest, Kyle the middle, and Richard the oldest. That order feels right. But what is it based on? Certainly not on recent popularity—the three names have been used equally over the past decade. The key is not the present, but the past. While a young boy is as likely to be a Richard as a Kaden, a Richard is more likely to be an old man than a young boy.

As you can see in this chart of historical popularity, the three names have traveled wildly different paths to the same current point.

Graph of popularity of the boys' names Kaden, Kyle and Richard 1900-2018

The typical Richard is 65 years old; the typical Kyle 30; the typical Kaden just 12. Those historical curves and typical values guide our “name age” intuition, shaping our preconceptions. It’s why a baby girl named Eileen sounds more surprising than one named Anya, even though the two names are equally common. And it’s why a middle-aged Mason can look forward to sounding perpetually youthful.

How old does your own name sound? Try the Namerology Name Age Calculator to find out. (Read more background.) Type a name in the blank field at the bottom of this table. The table ABOVE the entry field will automatically update with your answer.

Namerology Name Age Calculator

wdt_ID Name Gender NameAge
1 Aaden M 9
2 Aaliyah F 12
3 Aanya F 8
4 Aarav M 7
6 Aaron M 33
7 Aarush M 8
8 Abagail F 17
9 Abbey F 25
10 Abbi F 24
11 Abbie F 40
Name Gender NameAge
LauraWattenberg
LauraWattenberg

Namerology founder and "Baby Name Wizard" author Laura Wattenberg is a globally recognized name expert, known for her scientific approach to understanding name trends and culture.

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19 Comments

  • Evie
    Evie January 16, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    That graph is fascinating! I was also really surprised to see that my (real) name age is 29. It’s more popular now than it has ever been, so I expected to see a younger age. Then again, it has never been out of the top 1000, so I guess that consistency of usage skews it up.

    Also surprised to see my nom de plume Evie at 35, when again I think of it as trendy amongst the little set—coincidentally pretty close to my actual age, though, so I guess it was a representative choice!

  • Amity January 16, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    So interesting! All of my kids’ names are much older than the kid, except for Wyatt, which was rare when we used it but gained in popularity a lot since then.
    My name is younger than me, but hubby’s is way older.
    Fun tool!

  • Daniel January 17, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Is this a “living” age name?

    If you meet a Hazel today, I’d guess she’s more likely 7 years old than 77, despite the name being roughly as popular in the 1940s as in the 2010s. Quite a few of those Hazels born in the early 20th century are no longer with us.

    • Namerology
      Namerology January 17, 2020 at 3:15 pm

      Hi Daniel, the short answer is that it discounts but does factor in names of past generations, because the goal is to capture the impression a name gives rather than the practical likelihood of an individual’s age. And like ANY attempt to capture this in a single number, it’s unfortunately least effective with names that had two separate popularity waves generations apart, like Hazel.

      I go into this a bit more on the background info page: https://namerology.com/about-the-namerology-name-age-calculator/

      • nedibes
        nedibes January 20, 2020 at 10:21 pm

        Laura, I wonder if it would be possible to indicate the modal age of the names, including two ages for bi-modal names? I’m sure that’s harder than it sounds, but it would be cool to know that modal Violets are either 101 or 1, to put the weighted age (58) in context.

        • Kelly
          Kelly January 21, 2020 at 2:59 pm

          Another idea would be to also show the “quartile points” of each name like this site does (which would also help give a cue as to how “dated” a name is):
          http://rhiever.github.io/name-age-calculator/
          For example since there are plenty of Elizabeths of all ages those figures would have a much wider range than with a name like Jennifer which was overly popular for a small number of years.

        • Namerology
          Namerology January 21, 2020 at 5:18 pm

          I do like that idea! I wanted to go with a single number for simplicity and impact, but there’s a case to be made for mode as well as median. In the Baby Name Wizard books each name comes with a thumbnail graph with the modal year indicated.

        • manton January 21, 2020 at 5:42 pm

          It looks like wolframalpha provides the living age set for most common age but has the graph for modal year https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=given+name+violet

  • TheOtherHungarian January 17, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    I wonder if there’s a way to exclude those stray erroneous-gender numbers from the data, and whether that’d help or hinder the age calculation itself. (Right now, almost every name I’ve tried comes up with both a male and a female line, with a blithe prediction of age even for the highly improbable one, like female David or male Hazel.)

    Unsurprisingly (to me, at least), my name comes up 30 years older than my actual age. The estimate is several years older even than the aunt I was named after. (But she was named in a different country with quite different name statistics.)

    Just to illustrate the pitfalls of trying to sum up a name in a single number: my sister’s name comes up almost exactly with her actual age, which of course means that my mom’s name comes up 25 years younger than her actual age. (My mom and sister have the same given name.)

    • Namerology
      Namerology January 17, 2020 at 4:09 pm

      Unfortunately, the only way to eliminate the “erroneous gender” names from the data is by name-by-name personal judgement. Any algorithmic attempt to eliminate them fails because the error rate turns out to be name-specific, not just a steady rate of noise. It’s actually pretty interesting how different names lead to different error rates. Then when you consider how that might have affected the stats for names with actual unisex usage, the mind reels. 🙂

      One potential interface fix: I could switch the order of the columns, putting Gender first to encourage users to specify a gender before entering a name. The downside is less instant gratification. What do you all think?

      • Namerology
        Namerology January 17, 2020 at 6:02 pm

        UPDATE: I decided to go ahead and hand-cull the cross-gender names. I reviewed every name that appeared for both genders, and deleted any that I felt confident consisted largely of errors, based on patterns in the data itself, likely confusions, and global historical usage patterns. Hopefully the experience of using the calculator will be better now.

        It was a bit of a slog, but it had its moments. I learned about some names with real and surprising cross-gender usage histories…maybe a future article in the works!

  • nedibes
    nedibes January 17, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    My name (Megan/Meghan) is thirty (younger than me), which is interesting because I feel like it has really “come of age” in the past year or two. A year ago there were two of us at my workplace who had both been here many years, and then this school year there are suddenly eight. One out of every 22 voting faculty are now some variant of Megan! This experience almost exactly echoes my experience several decades ago when I went from “did you make up that name?” and not being able to find kitschy name swag anywhere to suddenly hearing “Megan! Put that down!” and similar everywhere I went.

    Also, my mother was really ahead of her time, naming-wise! All of our names are more than a decade younger than we are. I already suspected this (when my thirteen-year-old started kindergarten, he had classmates with all three of my brothers’ names), but it’s fun to have a clear way to quantify this.

  • LikeToPivotPivot
    LikeToPivotPivot January 17, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    I have been using the name age calculator at rhiever dot github dot io to visualize how old a name sounds generally. It does give you a bit more information and a range if ages.
    http://rhiever.github.io/name-age-calculator/index.html

    • Namerology
      Namerology January 21, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      Thank you! I love that calculator, but unfortunately it seems to have a fatal flaw. As far as I can tell it’s based on raw totals of Social Security Number holders, which means it drastically and systematically undercounts data from the early part of the sample.

      A large percentage of Americans born in the first decades of the 20th Century did NOT receive SSNs. For instance, Social Security records count 628K total births in 1910; the real number from other sources was 4-5 times that. To get a sense of the impact of undercounting, take a look at their graph of the name William, which was actually overwhelmingly popular from 1900-1910: http://rhiever.github.io/name-age-calculator/index.html?Gender=M&Name=william

      A more nuanced issue is historical birth rate, and looking at total births vs. percentage of babies born in a given year. If your question is person-centered–“How old is this person likely to be?”–then looking at the number of births suffices. If the question is name-centered–“How old does this name sound?”–then I believe you need to consider BOTH “how many Nancys are 60 years old” and “how likely is it that a 60 year old is named Nancy.” Does that make sense?

  • Megan W. January 17, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Nedibles – that’ s my experience exactly! I’m a Megan too; and much “older than my name”. There was a time when my name was in the email multiple times shared with students. Now, they are co-workers. (The rise of the Megans has coincided with the retirement of the Susans!)

  • Jamie January 18, 2020 at 12:04 am

    It’d be interesting to discuss the experience of living with a name significantly older or younger than you are. My name is over ten years older than me; although I don’t feel it’s really affected my life (so maybe the discussion wouldn’t be that interesting), it does explain why I’ve never particularly liked my name or felt that it suited me (although I love that it honors my dad, and I’d never want to change it to something different). I think that, for a young woman who can be a bit wide-eyed and naive, it probably doesn’t hurt to have a name that subconsciously makes me seem more mature.

    And then you move abroad and all bets are off.

  • Amy3 January 21, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    My husband and I are 51. Our name ages are 49 and 44 respectively. Our daughter who is 18 has a name age of 28 so that one didn’t work quite as well. Her name is (and always has been) dramatically less popular in the US than either of our names though, which I imagine skews the numbers.

  • IraSass January 27, 2020 at 4:54 am

    This is fascinating. It’s super interesting to see which names have a huge “age gap” with gender. A female Charlie is 30, while a male Charlie is 66.

    • IraSass January 27, 2020 at 4:57 am

      Or spelling – Nora is 48, Norah is 12.

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