This is no ordinary baby naming book.
The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg begins by explaining its methodology - it tracks the popularity of names based on data from the Social Security Administration, which issues Social Security Numbers to millions of babies per year. From this data, the book creates graphs depicting a name's popularity and its usage. This is the information parents want to know.
After all, "Knowing that Olivia comes from the Latin word for olive doesn't tell you whether there will be three other Olivias on your block. And learning Elmo has the name root as 'helmet' doesn't clue you in that Elmo is a
furry red muppet" (1). Only then does it list some
rules of thumb about choosing a baby name. This book asks that you look at the entire name, where it came from, and how it matches with the last name. The author discusses trends in names, for sample how Americans are importing foreign-sounding names. This book recognizes that the popularity of names changes with the passing of years.
But not until page twenty-one does she begin naming names.
Each name "snapshot" contains its current U.S. popularity, a graph depicting the name's popularity from 1900 to 2005 with notes about when the name peaked, the name's style ("from 'Country & Western' to 'Surfer Sixties'" ), options for nicknames, variations on spellings and closely related names, suggestions for names of sisters and brothers that are harmonious with this name, and finally, commentary on the name.
That's more that you get from the average baby name book.
I looked up my middle name, Marie. Current popularity is 496. It peaked in the 1900s at number eight. The style is "Biblical, French, Solid Citizens" (91). Nicknames include Manon, a name I've never heard of, but variants include Maria and Mary, and those make sense. Possible siblings' names include Irene or Rose for sisters and Carl or Francis for brothers. The book lists five possibilities for sisters and five for brothers. Finally, the commentary notes that this is the French form of Maria and the source of the English name Mary. Also, the name is often used as a middle name.
I looked up my brother's name, Daniel. The name's current popularity is eight, and it peaked in the 1980s at six. The style is "Biblical, Timeless" (148). Nicknames include Dan and Danny. Potential siblings include Rebecca or Sarah and Michael or David. The commentary notes that this name is "one of the few Old Testament names to be rock-solid American classics... It's friendly, handsome, and well-liked" (148).
The names stop on page 216. Then the lists of style families begin. Are you looking for an African-style name? Turn to page 217 and select from girls names like Ashanti and Tanisha or boys names like Jabari and Kwame.
Androgynous? Antique charm? Porch sitters?
Shakespearean? This book has lists of names in all these categories and more. Then you can look up the name for more information. Finally, a rich index lets you find not only the page where the name is discussed, but also pages where the name is a variant spelling or possible sibling name.
Make sure to visit their website, too
(babynamewizard.com), and see the NameVoyager - a java-enabled graph of all names since 1900. The graph is beautiful in its complexity, but don't let that stop you from playing with it! Just type in a letter to see the popularity of names that only begin with that letter. Or type a complete word to see how the name "Breanna" has fared over the years (it didn't appear until 1970 and peaked around 1990).
This is a wonderful book for people looking for baby names. It's also a fascinating look at how the popularity of names has changed over the last century. Useful for novelists, playwrights, amateur historians, and parents, this book is quite an achievement and deserves a space on the bookshelf, even for non-parents.