Blogs > Cliopatria > Some Noted Things ...

Mar 6, 2005 5:25 pm

Some Noted Things ...

Bloody Sundays: If you are Irish, Bloody Sunday is 30 January 1972. If you are an Iraqi, Bloody Sunday is 13 September 2004. If you are an American, Bloody Sunday is 7 March 1965. Please, Lord, no more bloody Sundays.

Unifarcity of Southern Mississippi: It's hard to imagine what would cause a senior university administrator to call for the"public lynching" of a local newspaper reporter. But this is the University of Southern Mississippi, where the president arbitrarily fired two tenured professors last year and subsequent events now jeopardize the university's accreditation. If you want a glimpse at the sorry underbelly of academic politics at America's tertiary public colleges and universities, there's no better place to begin than at the University of Southern Mississippi and Robert Campbell at Liberty & Power is on the case.

War Historian: This weekend, Mark Grimsley begins moving War Historian from to It's a big move and a work in progress, but it is part of his determination to expand our understanding of how to do military history and to make use of the most recent technology. He's already made a pretty impressive beginning. Go over; have a look and listen. His intentions are announced at the blog that will be a part of his new site,"Blogging Them Out of the Stone Age." When Cliopatria gets ready for her facelift, we may have to call in his web designer, Stephanie Wiseman.

Loss and Goodwin on the Dodgers: At No Loss for Words, Danny Loss takes Doris Kearns Goodwin to the woodshed over her memoir, Wait Til Next Year. Goodwin recalls growing up in Brooklyn as a fan of the Dodgers. Loss claims that she should have checked her memory against the baseball stats. He corrects her by doing some of that.

Supreme Court Flash: Yale's Jack Balkin predicts that Sandra Day O'Connor will split the dif on the Ten Commandments. Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the tip.

Updated Congratulations to Tom Bruscino: On Friday, when I kidded Tom about his essay,"Cultures of War" for the Claremont Review, being picked up by a witchcraft site, neither of us yet knew that it was also listed by Arts and Letters Daily (middle column, beginning"If you can't beat an enemy in battle, ..."). But Tom keeps us posted on these things over at Big Tent. Apparently, his essay set a record for visits to the Claremont Review's site; and, yes, it's a good idea to visit Arts and Letters Daily.

Naming Practices: Trace the uses of given names since 1900. Ralphs are things of the past; Calebs and Nathanaels are waves of the future. So, what didn't you know already? Hypothesis: Presidents heavily influence the naming of boys; fictional characters and movie stars the naming of girls. Clearly it changes. Every president from Theodore Roosevelt through Franklin Roosevelt influenced the naming of boys. Thereafter their record declines. Only Eisenhower lifted the popularity of Dwight. Truman, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bushes, and Clinton seem to have had little effect. Hypothesis: Eisenhower's"David" merged with the growing popularity of biblical names thereafter. Thus: Jonathan, Caleb, Mark, Nathanael, Timothy, Abraham, and Moses. (Saul is in ascension, but Paul is in decline.) For women, Katherine and derivatives seems to displace Catherine and derivatives over the years. Sharon is very mid-century. Biblical names for women do not seem to be resurgent. Miriam, Mary and Martha are in decline. Adam is popular; Eve barely registers. Currently the most popular female names: Emily and Emma. For boys: Jacob and Michael. For more, see the Baby Name Wizard's Blog. Why are names of Hispanic, but not Muslim, derivation registering? Check out your own hypotheses. Thanks to Josh Chafetz at Oxblog and Jason Broander at Maroonblog for the tips.

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Timothy James Burke - 3/8/2005

BTW, one interesting test of emergence as explanatory of baby name changes is to try and predict what names are due for the same kind of spike that "Emma" or "Zoe" or "Max" have received in recent years.

Here would be my predictions for "Rule 2 name spikes" in the next decade. What you're looking for is names that had huge peaks of usage in the first 4 or 5 decades on the chart, declined to low usage without every disappearing entirely from the top 1000. Names that had peaks in the 1950s-1960s (like Timothy or Shiela) probably need another decade to resurge:


A few possible "Rule 2" candidates fall out because for whatever reason they just sound wrong to contemporary ears, or because they've acquired some undesirable connotation. I wouldn't look for "Gertrude" or "Bertha" to resurge, for example. The best Rule 2 bets are also those that have palatable sounding short versions (Dot for Dorothy, Theo for Theodore, etc.) partly because contemporary parenting tends to encourage the proposition that you want your kids to make certain choices about how they like to be referred to.

None of this, I hasten to add, is particularly original to me--there's a bunch of people who study baby name patterns. The only thing I'm coming up with here are my guesses about the next peaks in the pattern. Actually I wonder if there's a "futures market" in baby names, like the Hollywood Stock Exchange. Could be fun if so: it's a natural for that.

Timothy James Burke - 3/8/2005

Yeah, that fourth category is there as well--and some of those group-identifier systems are very short-lived (track "Latisha" on the Baby Name Wizard and you'll see what I mean--basically a concerted attempt to create such a traditional naming system that followed a bit of rule 2 as well. Jewish naming practices are much more long-term, essentially being bound to the Torah.

On emergent systems, well, where to begin? There was a nice post at Cliopatria a few weeks back about self-organizing systems and criticality ("tipping points"). Mostly I tend to think that the idea of emergence is useful as a metaphorical framing of historical causality, that most human activity is almost too banally complex to be shoehorned into this more rigorous sense of the term "complexity". But there are a lot of little subsystems like baby names that aren't just metaphorically emergent but are empirically so. I blush to mention it, given its exotic status in the context of this blog, but a lot of behavior of the players of massively-multiplayer online computer games could be meaningfully described as "emergent": the players are constrained by clearly defined and relatively simple rules, but the rules produce unforeseen patterns and complexities that have a kind of structural permanance to them over time. I think basically any social subsystem where you can meaningfully describe the behavior of human beings in terms of relatively simple rulesets without being painfully reductionist and where the subsystem is delineated by very clear boundaries of action, emergence is probably going to be an observable phenomenon. I think that sense of boundaries or constrained spaces (like "choosing baby names": very concrete, very specific) is very important, otherwise you end up doing the same kind of silly stuff that Richard Dawkins and his disciples have done with the idea of "memes".

Jonathan Dresner - 3/7/2005

I suppose we fell into category 2, mostly, but there's a significant fourth category which is worth citing: people who are constrained by family, social or religious tradition to a set of names which is normal in a subgroup but quite distinctive in broader society.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/7/2005

_Very_ interesting, Tim. Would you reference other examples of emergent systems?

Timothy James Burke - 3/7/2005

This is one of the best empirical examples of what is sometimes called "emergence", basically the self-organizing creation of complex structures or patterns from simple initial rules, without any guiding or controlling agent or design.

Imagine if you will that there are three basic populations of name-giving agents following a constrained naming rule (e.g., parents) in the US (it's a bit messier than this, but not that much so):

1. People whose main principle of selection is to pick a name which makes their child relatively anonymous, e.g., a name that is extremely common.
2. People whose main principle of selection is to pick a name which sounds "normal" but which is also distinctive in some fashion
3. People whose main principle of selection is to pick a completely unique and distinctive name which nevertheless does not sound arbitrary (e.g., which appears to come from some intelligible cultural system of names/terms/words).

People following rule number 1 tend to keep certain extremely popular names at relatively stable levels of high popularity over time. "John", for example.

People following rule number 2 tend to select names that once were popular in naming systems but which declined in popularity: the name thus sounds highly individual but also sounds "normal". This is where emergence is most clearly seen. Look at the name "Emma": it fits the pattern perfectly. What you've got at present is many people picking the name spontaneously, with no idea that it's popular, and then finding suddenly that for some reason they did something that many other people did, without any plan or overall awareness of the pattern.

People following rule number 3 are the ones who tend to crack into some heretofore unused cultural subsystem for name selection. Say, for example, the names of states, hence "Montana", "Dakota", and so on. Enough of that and you may actually establish a platform for people in group 2 to circulate the name more widely.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/6/2005

Jeff, I know the social security site. Try the site I was pointing to. It is very cool.

Jeff Vanke - 3/6/2005

As someone who has perused a few thousand names in the past few years, I point you directly to Social-Security-derived sites. Just google "top 1000 names," and you can do decades back to the 1880s, and individual recent years. Muslim names are there. U.S. social history is very well if vaguely reflected in these rankings.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/6/2005

Ok so what's tertiary? If it's working at a place where the people at the top are in desperate need of treatnment, so much so that it hurts the institution, that is one thing and your remark makes perfect sense.

But if it's being in a small out of the way place and not having a big budget there are lot of us at tertiaries, Ralph. And we hold onto our pride.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/6/2005

Thanks, Robert. I was trying to be generous because I have friends there. Having taught at both quarternary and tertiary institutions, I know that it's sometimes a struggle to hold onto your pride.

Robert L. Campbell - 3/6/2005


If you rank universities as US News and World Report does, USM isn't even tertiary any more--it's dropped to quaternary.

Robert Campbell