To Name the Vessel of Our Journey

As someone who writes poetry, I’m accustomed to considering just the right word to use for a given abstraction – sometimes considering for a very long time, and the re-working.

When you have an abstract idea in your mind, an idea not only in the intellectual, but also often cutting to the emotional – to bring it out of your mind, and into the world, where others might see and experience it as well – it must be named.

Choosing the proper name can be challenging. From the few words we have, compared to our multitude of ideas and feelings, it is very important to carefully choose the named vessle that will contain what you give to the world.

Heidi just sent me a link she receiced from Jon that’s all about baby names. At this site you can type in a baby name and see how many babies were named this, in a wonderfully graphical form, over the last 100 years. The results, to me, were very interesting.

Somehow, we collectively choose names together – all of us. For example, my name, Mark, was around before the 1900’s. But in the 1930’s, it began to grow in popularity until its peak of popularity in the 1960’s (when I was born). It has since steadily declined in popularity, but is still more popular that the pre-1930’s.

My father’s name, Orville, was far more popular at the turn of the century (the prior century) than it is today. In fact, it reached its peak of popularity in the 1910’s, and has since steadily decreased in popularity, practically dropping out of existence in the 1980’s.

All names I examined had a similar characteristic: they grew in popularity in waves, and declined in popularity in waves.

I have heard it said, often, that there is nothing new under the sun. Every thought has been thought, every thing has been done, already somewhere, by some one.

I think it is likely most of us take comfort in that thought.

Matthew Hahn of Duke University and Alexander Bentley of University College London authored a short paper entitled Drift as a mechanism for cultural change: an example from baby names.

In studying the naming of children they determined that regardless of population growth, the naming of children obeys a power law:

“We show that these distributions are satisfactorily explained by a simple process in which individuals randomly copy names from each other, a process that is analogous to the infinite-allele model of population genetics with random genetic drift. By its simplicity, this model provides a powerful null hypothesis for cultural change.”

So, like birds flying in formation, then weaving back and forth in and around each other, our new beings are named.

Interestingly, female names average 2.3 new names per 10,000 births and male names average 1.6. So females are, on the average, 1.4 times more likely to receive a novel name than boys. This is “most probably owing to the naming customs in a predominantly patriarchal society, and also to the fact tat only around 6% of all the names in the Judeo-Christian scriptures are female.”

So I suppose it is not surprising that the prevailing notion of “nothing new under the sun” is so popular. However, this also says that there is nothing new under the sun unless we, all of us, somehow agree to move toward it.

Here is the baby names “grapher” I mentioned. Thanks Heidi and Jon! Just click on “Launch NameVoyager”.