Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Not knowing stuff

This article by Jamelle Bouie makes me realize how little I actually understand poverty. I did know that most people who need food stamps only need them for a short length of time, but it surprises me that only about 3.5% of the population counted as impoverished for the entirety of 2009-2011. That seems hopeful, doesn't it?

Also, I've seen a couple places that if this crazy 6 Californias plan could actually come to fruition, I would suddenly find myself a resident of the poorest state in the country. This...makes me rethink a lot of what I think I know about Mississippi. But I think there's also some important questions that need to be answered before I understand what that statistic really means. Would the median household in "Central California" be poorer than the median household in Mississippi...or are there just a more significant number of very rich people in Mississippi that pull up the mean? Are poor Central Californians better off overall, despite low incomes, because of a more expansive (better?) safety net financed by the richer parts of the state/a more liberal political culture? Even though this area is obviously not rich, I definitely don't go through life viewing my neighbors as some of the most unfortunate people in the country...so either the country is much better off than I thought it was, or there's something extra at play here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Advanced Baby Names, ctd.

I've been thinking about what I mean by "advanced baby naming." What I most definitely do not mean is finding better baby names than the stupid names the plebeians are giving to their children (and to repeat, this is a sentence about what I don't mean, so I DO NOT THINK that the plebeians are giving their children stupid names)...although it can be hard not to stick your foot in your mouth, because there is such a fascinating socioeconomic element to baby names but its impossible to get into specifics without insulting someone. If someone could help me find a perfectly positive way to say "Your choice is so atypical of college educated parents! Please tell me more about your background because I'm intrigued!" I would really really appreciate it. I think what I do mean is a conversation about baby names in which the ultimate goal is not to pick a name for a specific real or even hypothetical baby. It could be a conversation about people names, even...but specifically about the process of parents choosing what to name their children.

So take, for example, unisex names. Parents who pick a name for their child - and for now I'm thinking mostly about daughters - that could be used for the opposite sex often are going for a certain effect. They might be envisioning/assuming/hoping that their child will be a bit of a tomboy. They might like that it seems daring. They might think a masculine name will make people take their child more seriously. Or they might be going for contrast. Being named something like Alex can underscore a person's natural femininity.

I found a peer reviewed article at one point (trying to find it to provide a link) that found that in the 1980s, college educated mothers were especially likely to masculinize their daughter's name...pick Lauren over Laura, for example. This seems to track with 1980s feminism pretty well to me. My question is whether that trend for unisex names is like shoulder pads...something that is eventually going to go out of style...or fairly constant in their appeal.

The first way to look at this is just look for popular unisex names across generations.*

  • 2013: Five definitely unisex names in the top 20 (Addison, Madison, Avery, Harper and Aubrey), and one that might have counted as unisex historically (Evelyn)
  • 1983: Three: Erin, Kimberly, and Ashley 
  • 1953: The only even kind of unisex name I can find in the top 20 is Carol...but Carol was a reasonably common name for men in the generation before, so I'm counting it.
  • 1933: Five...Shirley, Jean, Joyce, Frances, Carol
  • 1903: Only Frances
So unisex is definitely having a moment right now and is a more significant trend than it has been since my grandmother's generation. But what I'd really like to do is go out and interview parents from each of these generations and figure out WHY they liked the names that they liked. Did they imagine the Carols growing up to be assertive and confident? Was Jean supposed to be good at sports? Or was Jean supposed to look like this. While being good at sports? 

*My process for picking out unisex names is to first pick the names I think have been used for boys at some point in the recent past, and then to verify using the SSA database. I did not verify that names like Elizabeth are not unisex, so I could have conceivably made some errors there. Also I didn't consider that parents wanting a boyish name for their daughter might name her Patricia and call her Pat...which is definitely an oversight, but I don't know what to do about it. But I did count names that had a feminine spelling but identical pronunciation to a male name (Erin, Jean).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Advanced Baby Name Discussion

Alright, so last time around I claimed I was ready for advanced baby name discussion. So here's an attempt:

I've been thinking recently about the concept of a "cool" name. People have all kinds of motivations for picking a particular name for their baby, but coolness is definitely one of them. But then, coolness is also generally considered to be generational...parents are inherently uncool. So how can a name picked by parents to be cool be cool?

One theory is something that I think we already kind of know....coolness really isn't that generational. Kids who are cool usually have parents who were cool (and kids who aren't cool usually have parents who weren't cool) so the cool names of any generation are going to be whatever names the cool people of the previous generation like. They teach their kids what to like, and so its a self fulfilling prophesy.

Another theory is related, but not necessarily exactly the same...there is no such thing as a cool name. Cool kids make their names cool. You can give your kid the exact same name as the most badass badass in school, and on that kid it will seem cool and on your kid it won't.

And then the last theory is that the actual cool names are normal names. Trying for coolness is doomed.

In practice, thinking this all through requires remembering what names I thought were cool when I was in elementary - high school. I'm pretty sure in elementary school, the coolest name that anyone I actually knew had was Melissa. I have no idea why I liked it. I was a dork and wanted to turn it into a name that was more unique and special, so I discovered Millicent, and that was my "favorite" name for a while...but really I liked Melissa. And then by high school, I'm pretty sure it was Joanna (plus some of the completely un-Americanized names my classmates had, but I think those have to go in a different category because liking them didn't make them part of the menu of options I had for naming my own kids, at least by my interpretation of what the "rules" are). So I guess that's overall a vote for normal-for-their-generation names. Melissa I think also hints at a preference for newer names...none of my classmates' moms were named Melissa. Joanna (the 88th most popular name in my birth year vs. number 8 for Melissa) I think shows a growing appreciation for timelessness and not being too popular. Both are three syllable, melodic names...of exactly the type I didn't have or give my daughters. Neither one is cool specifically because of the person/people I knew who had it.

I'm not going to list the uncool names, because that's just mean...but they definitely tended to be attached to just one person, and just one person I didn't think was especially cool. I can think of plenty of instances of a unusual name seeming normal because the person with it was so normal or was someone I was close to, but none where I thought someone was a complete dork but had an awesome name. I can actually kind of remember some cognitive dissonance in this area. There were names I wanted to like because they were unique or old fashioned, but I just kind of didn't. (And again, not talking about anyone I was ever close to here...this only seems to work for people who the main thing you know about them is their name).

But obviously, I wasn't really the arbitrar of cool growing up, so my sample size of one is pretty useless.

Oh, and ironically...the coolest name I ever liked as a kid by my current standards would have been the one I picked when I was about three and decided to name all my dolls Alice after my great-aunt.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Finding stuff you like.

I've been feeling a bit like I've hit the end of the internet lately, so on a whim I started reading the actual blog of a woman whose baby name blog I check. (There's a lot of admissions in that statement, primarily that I read baby name blogs. I find them pretty interesting but I think I've graduated to advanced baby name discussion and there actually isn't a place on the internet for that, that I've found. Maybe I'll try to start it here, all by my lonesome, talking to myself). It's turning out to be the kind of thing that I want to email links from to Ryan to give him insight into my inner being. I like the writer's openness. She writes a lot, and obviously thinks a lot...not in a pretentious, every-insight-I-have-is-a-rare-gem kind of way, but in a way that you can imagine becoming exhausting for the people around her. But I think I prefer that risk of being exhausting to the carefully curated risk-free version of life on facebook where people only speak in witty one liners. It makes me miss livejournal. (So here I am, updating my blog).