Despite multiple readings of Pinker and Lakoff, I’ve yet to find hard linguistic evidence to back my favorite theory: That the urge to name things is hardwired into our cognition. We are, as a species, obsessed with names. We name everything: our pets, our cars, our conference sessions … and attach great significance to those chosen. Perhaps this accounts for the fascination with NameVoyager, a delightful web app that visualizes the rise and fall of names over time. (“June,” for example, was very popular in the 20s, but has since gone out of circulation.) It also lets you test your favorite theories: Was the 1984 movie Splash responsible for the rise of Madison, now the 3rd most popular girl’s name? Possibly. According to NameVoyager, Madison was virtually unused before the 80s. So go ahead, graph your own favorite names. But be warned: It’s addicting. Women who are pregnant and people who are on deadline should not follow this link.
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