Names Ending in N

January 3, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

A post at FiveThirtyEight (here), by Nate Silver and Allison McCann, has the title, “How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know Is Her Name.”* But if the person in question is a male, you might make an equally good guess with one letter – the final one.

In a 2009 post (here), I had some graphs showing the rise of boys names that end in the letter N.

 That trend that had gone largely unnoticed, probably thanks to the availability heuristic.  It’s much easier to think of names and words that start with a given letter rather than those that have that letter elsewhere. Especially with names, we’re more likely to think in terms of initials.

Those data were from 2006. The trend has continued in strength. The FiveThirtyEight post shows the historical change in a slightly different way. Instead of looking at the popular names in each year, Silver and McCann show the age range of people with each name.  Here are the twenty-five oldest names.  The graph shows the median and the inter-quartile range. For example, the median Willard is 65 (the median for all males is about 37); half of all Willards are between ages 51 and 75.

And here are the youngest 25.

Among the oldsters, only Norman and Herman sport the final N. But in the 3-10 median age group, 14 of the top 25, including eight of the eleven youngest, end in N. 

I am at a loss as to how to explain this. It could just be one of those cases of unintentional and unconscious influence. With some names, the imitation with slight variation is more overt – Aidan, Jayden, Brayden, Kayden, et al. But for those others – Landon, Mason, Julian, and the rest – maybe there’s something about that final N that, like the music of Mumford and Sons or Kings of Leon, sounds just right to the ears of 21st-century parents.

* The post appear May but was recently tweeted, which is how I discovered it.

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