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Freakonomics Baby Name Predictions Missing The Mark

Since 2005, we've been tracking the baby name predictions of Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The best-selling duo penned their predictions for the most popular baby names for the year 2015 way back in 2005, not dreaming, perhaps, that anyone would bother to keep track.

Surprise! We're keeping track all the way to 2015, to see if Levitt and Dubner called the names correctly, or if they missed by a mile.

The chart below shows what percentage of their predictions now rank among the Top 100 baby names reported by the Social Security Administration. (We felt a "Top 100" ranking is a pretty reasonable definition of a "popular baby name").

Freakonomics Baby Names Chart

Percentage of Freakonomics Predictions Currently on Top 100 Baby Names List

As you can see, less than 30% of their predictions are currently in the Top 100. Given that it's about halfway between 2005 and 2015, it's starting to look a bit shaky for the prophetic pair.

View the full table of year by year rankings here.

How have these percentages changed since 2005 when they made their picks? Not by much. For boys' names, the percentage that are Top 100 baby names has gone from about 14% to 27%. For girls, the percentage is absolutely stagnant – at about 29%. There were 7 girls' names in the Top 100 when Levitt and Dubner read their statistical tea leaves in 2005, and there are still 7 girls' names there today. (Six of the seven are the same names).

Meanwhile, a further 23% of the boys' names and 29% of the girls' names touted by Levitt and Dubner are not even ranked in the Top 1000 baby names (that's "Thousand").

In their mega-bestseller, "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything", Levitt and Dubner ask the question – "where does a name come from"?

The authors are not talking about the origin or meaning of a name, but rather about how a name "surfaces" in our culture, how it rises and falls over time, or, as Levitt and Dubner posed the question, how does a name "migrate through the population"?

In Freakonomics, the authors answer that question by stating that, based on their statistical examination of data, names move through the population from a higher socioeconomic level to a lower level. Levitt and Dubner found "a clear pattern at play: once a name catches on among high-income, highly-educated parents, it starts working its way down the socioeconomic ladder." When the name is adopted "en masse," then "high-end parents begin to abandon it," and the whole cycle repeats itself with a new batch of names.

Or does it? That's what we've set out to discover, by keeping close tabs on the authors' predictions from year to year. And this year, near the halfway mark between 2005 and 2015, it seems that that Levitt's and Dubner's statistical extrapolation is looking a little shaky. Maybe it's true that an influential core of "high-end" parents are the trendsetters behind the rise and fall of baby names over time. But so far, it seems the folks on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder didn't get the memo. Or maybe they just didn't read Freakonomics.

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