The Tool You Need to Explore the Most Popular Baby Names

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Alexis_thename.jpg

Today, the Social Security Administration released its annual list of the most popular baby names in America. Isabella tops the girls' list and Jacob is the boys' champ. The name that gained the most in popularity this year seems to portend a return to preppiness: Bentley, which is now the 101st most popular name in America. Yikes. (Must be because of the Outkast skit featuring Fonzworth Bentley.)

It's hard to explain, but baby name trends are endlessly fascinating. Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson argued that they distill the "pure mechanisms" involved in social and cultural fashion shifts. Whether it's jean bagginess or names ending in the "ey," change happens according to deep rules that have nothing to do with the actual "value" of a fashion (e.g. fat ties vs. skinny ties), even if we think something is cooler at some particular moment.

If you want to dive into the baby name trends, you need exactly one tool, the NameVoyager at BabyNameWizard.com. It presents the most popular baby names within an excellent visual interface, though it hasn't been updated quite yet with the newest data from the SSA.

Using the NameVoyager, you can see, for example, precisely when my name -- Alexis -- became a girl's name and compare it to when Joan Collins became wildly popular starring as the character 'Alexis' on the show Dynasty. Not that I'm bitter about that or anything. (Really, I'm not. Nobody forgets the name of the bearded dude named Alexis.)

If you're curious (and I know you are, no matter who you are), here are the top 10 names for boys and girls in 2010:

Rank Male name Female name
1 Jacob Isabella
2 Ethan Sophia
3 Michael Emma
4 Jayden Olivia
5 William Ava
6 Alexander Emily
7 Noah Abigail
8 Daniel Madison
9 Aiden Chloe
10 Anthony Mia
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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