Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Power of Publicity

I wrote previously about baby names in general and how the top rankings had changed over years. Today, using the same Social Security Administration data, we look at the power of publicity. In this case, Harper Lee.

Of course Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, my all-time favorite novel. She died recently but has been in the news for the last few years for various reasons, mainly the publishing of the "prequel" to Mockingbird, but also for other reasons. The power of publicity when it comes to baby names is a name becomes stuck in your head and you're more likely to use that name when you have a kid. So let's look at the popularity of Harper as a first name for a girl. See the graphic below back to 2004. Last year it was 10th, up from 887th in 2004. Wow.

Can we attribute this to the novel and her publicity? Not necessarily. The name Harper did not appear in the Top 1000 for any year from 1900 to 2003. This includes the year of publication of her novel (1960) or her winning the Pulitzer Prize (1961). I would have expected to see it show up then. Her name also doesn't show up in the Top 100 for her home Alabama. Unfortunately the data doesn't go deeper than that unless I download the extensive dataset.

So what happened in 2004? Well, best I can tell there was no news for "Harper Lee" in 2003, but some in 2004. For example, Too Brief a Treat by her childhood friend Truman Capote was published in 2004, a collection of his letters.

So my answer is ... I dunno. There's some evidence for a publicity effect, but it's also a good name that seems to have caught fire like so many others (Emma, Emily, et al.).

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