Monday, December 15, 2014

Elf on the Shelf Names

After discussing the most popular dog names last week, I should probably turn my attention to a more seasonal question: What should you name your Elf on the Shelf?

Fred has a drinking problem.

We got our elf two years ago and named him Fred. It turns out that's the eighth most popular elf name.

Here are the rankings, courtesy of the Elf on the Shelf website. (Apparently people register their elves online, which is how the site gets the data. I wonder if people install tracking chips in their elves too.)
Top 20 Elf on the Shelf names:
1. Buddy
2. Elfie
3. Jingle
4. Snowflake
5. Jingles
6. Jack
7. Charlie
8. Fred
9. Chippy
10. Sparkle
11. Elfy
12. Holly
13. Max
14. Twinkle
15. Jolly
16. Elvis
17. Bob
18. Clyde
19. Peppermint
20. Nick
I like that my own name barely made the top 20 (in fairness, though, an elf named Nick sounds like trouble).

To make things interesting, I looked at how the elf names ranked for humans. The most popular was Jack, which was used 8,512 times last year. That was followed by Max and Charlie.
Number of humans receiving Elf on the Shelf names in 2013:
1. Jack (8,512)
2. Max (3,511)
3. Charlie (2,866)
4. Holly (681)
5. Clyde (195)
6. Elvis (184)
7. Nick (171)
8. Fred (101)
9. Buddy (21)
10. Bob (19)
11. Sparkle (12)
12. Chippy (0)
13. Elfie (0)
14. Elfy (0)
15. Jingle (0)
16. Jingles (0)
17. Jolly (0)
18. Twinkle (0)
19. Peppermint (0)
20. Snowflake (0)
Nine of the names were not used at all. (More precisely, they were used fewer than five times apiece. The Social Security Administration doesn't track names below that threshold.)

But Sparkle was used 12 times on actual humans last year. Amazing!

Now, I know what you're thinking: Is there a name that can serve people, elves and dogs? One name to rule them all.

Let's revisit the elf list, but only include the names that rank among the top 100 dog names and were chosen by at least five sets of parents last year.
Here's the result, with the dog rank in parentheses:
1. Jack (4)
2. Max (1)
3. Charlie (3 for males, 59 for females)
4. Holly (54)
5. Elvis (96)
6. Buddy (2)
We can probably eliminate Elvis and Buddy, since they're pretty uncommon among human offspring these days. (Elvis isn't that high with dogs either.)

That leaves us with Jack, Max, Charlie and Holly.

Four great names that you can literally give to anything (person, canine, elf doll). Go nuts!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to Do Christmas in New York on the Cheap

Today we made our annual pilgrimage to Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park to see the Christmas lights. It's a perfect activity for the kids — and a cheap and easy way to spend an afternoon.

You start by getting off at the Rockefeller Center subway station (stroller accessible!) and check out the decorations.

You might want to skip the main Christmas tree if you're avoiding crowds. There's plenty of other stuff to see.

Our kids were most excited about watching trash swirl around in the wind. You don't have to come to Rockefeller Center to enjoy this phenomenon, but it is 100% free.

You then mosey down to Bryant Park, where there's a winter village — including more than 100 pop-up stores selling artisanal fare — and its own Christmas tree (it's less impressive than the Rockefeller Center fir, but also less mobbed).

Bryant Park has its own ice rink too, but it's expensive and the line is insane. Instead, head over to the carousel, where there's rarely ever a wait. Tickets cost $3 each, and adults ride free.

Afterwards, plunk yourself down at the free outdoor "reading room," which is sponsored by the New York Public Library. It has a range of weathered children's books.

Pick up a few cider doughnuts from the nearby stall and you have yourself an evening!

On the way home, the kids amused themselves by picking out subway lines with the first letter of their names. (E, A and L are all represented.)

There are many times when New York feels expensive and exhausting, but not always. It's nice to be reminded of that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Meeting a Dog With the Same Name as You

The website put out a list of the most popular dog names for 2014, along with lots of other fascinating statistics.

The top choices — Max for male dogs, Bella for females — won't come as a surprise to people tracking dog names. (The same picks were at the top of a chart compiled last year by WNYC.)

Top male dog names
1. Max
2. Buddy
3. Charlie
4. Jack
5. Cooper
6. Rocky
7. Toby
8. Tucker
9. Jake
10. Bear

Top female dog names
1. Bella
2. Lucy
3. Daisy
4. Molly
5. Lola
6. Sophie
7. Sadie
8. Maggie
9. Chloe
10. Bailey

As I mentioned last year, having your baby's name on this list shouldn't be alarming. The popularity of dog and human names often move in lockstep.

In fact, dog names may be a leading indicator for what's going to catch on with babies. (Dog owners are more adventurous with names; whereas parents are going to be more conservative and may not pick a name until it's begun to trend more broadly.)

It's likely that Cooper gained a following in the dog world before more parents embraced it. The moniker now ranks in the top 100 for babies.

Lucy is another surging human name with a solid dog foundation. (Lucy ranks 66th for humans, and second for dogs.) That means our daughter is bound to encounter lots of canine namesakes in her life.

I don't see any harm in that. But I suppose it could be another variable for soon-to-be parents to track. Instead of just worrying about how the same-name kids in your daughter's kindergarten class, you can check to calculate how many same-name dogs will be at the park.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Berkeley as a Baby Name

Years ago, I wrote about the plague of Berkeley misspellings (even by people who work for the city). Pro tip: Keep adding E's until you think you have enough, then add another.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

My discussion yesterday of geographic baby names (and their creative spellings) got me thinking: What's the most popular way to name your kid Berkeley? And is it more common as a boy's name or a girl's name?

So I did a little digging, using 2013 data from the Social Security Administration.

Number of girls named:
Berkley: 231
Berkeley: 84
Berklee: 39
Berkleigh: 22
Berklie: 15
Burklee: 10
Burkley: 7

Number of boys named:
Berkley: 50
Berkeley: 21
Burkley: 5

As you can see, Berkeley is far more common as a girl's name (something that's typical of geographic names).

It's also been growing more popular in recent years.

(Click to enlarge.)

Sadly, the "real" Berkeley spelling ranked second for both boys and girls to Berkley. (For what it's worth, Berkely is a bona fide town in five states, including Michigan. It's also a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Va.)

At least Berkeley beats out Berklee, which — despite being the name of a prestigious music college in Boston — is clearly an eccentric spelling. (The school's founder created it by flipping around his son's name, Lee Eliot Berk.)

They only get worse from there on in.

Burkley? No, thanks.

UPDATE: I should note that Berkeley Breathed, the creator of "Bloom County," is probably the most famous Berkeley. Still, his real name is Guy (Berkeley is his middle name) and apparently he goes by "Berke."

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

How the Name Lynn Morphed Into Brooklynn

Remember my Nameberry post where I showed how baby names are getting longer (with four-syllable picks like Isabella supplanting Mary and Anne)?

Well, while researching that piece, I came across an interesting quirk of the data. Short picks like Lynn and Lee have become relatively uncommon, but they're living on as components of longer names. In fact, names containing Lynn (including Lynn itself) are 50 percent more popular than they were during they heyday of Lynn as a standalone name. Who knew?

I ended up using this information as the basis for a follow-up piece, which you can read here. The most popular "-lynn" name is currently Brooklynn, which lets parents honor New York's most populous borough while using some kr8tive spelling.

Turns out, Lynn lets parents pay tribute to all sorts of place names: Berlynn, Irelynn, Oaklynn and Scotlynn were all used as baby names at least 20 times each last year.

Lee has undergone a similar transformation. As a standalone name, it's long been in decline. But there's a new generation of Kaylees and Rylees out there.

I prefer classic old-lady names, so these aren't really my style. But it's nice to know that Americans aren't abandoning unfashionable names like Lynn; they're just glomming them onto other names.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

South Philly: a Photo Essay

We celebrated Thanksgiving in South Philadelphia, where I got a new perspective on the city. I haven't spent much time here since the 1990s, and even then my trips to South Philly didn't extend beyond getting cheese steaks or visiting South Street (ironically, South Street is the northern edge of South Philly).

My brother lives near Passyunk Avenue, a delightful mix of offbeat bars and shops, along with frozen-in-time Philadelphia retail (for instance, a store selling hearing aids that looks like it opened when hearing aids meant this).

Several of the cafes and stores were covered in mosaic tile. There are murals everywhere, flaming barrels at the Italian market and the beautiful decay that makes Philadelphia so wonderful to photograph.

In short, Passyunk is probably quirkier than 90 percent of Manhattan. Everyone in this neighborhood should have an Instagram account and 10,000 followers.

Hope to be back soon.

Of course, coming home across the Verrazano Bridge last night and seeing lower Manhattan gleaming against an early nightfall, it was hard to argue our home city isn't pretty photogenic too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Timelapse

Our 6-year-old, who is obsessed with timelapse videos, asked if we could make one of Thanksgiving dinner. So this is the result.

I'm not sure it quite captures the spirit of Thanksgiving, but at least I was only caught looking at my phone once.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The East River Roundabout...Up Close

You remember the East River's the controversial sculpture that was recently painted red, making it look like a similar work by the same artist. (Full disclosure: It is only controversial on this blog. Most people don't know it exists.)

Anyway, Elliot and I went over to check it out in person.

As I've mentioned before, the art installation dates to 1995, when it was added to the top of a former garbage-transfer facility.

When we made our recent visit, we were the only people there. That probably doesn't speak to it being a bustling civic center. Still, it was exciting standing over the thrum of FDR drive.

It also provided a unique perspective on the Roosevelt Island tram. You can see it here through the girders of the Roundabout.

Moreover, it's nice to be someplace that considers Roosevelt Island itself to be something worth viewing.

So even if the East River Roundabout fails to be a must-visit destination, I'm glad it exists.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Baby Names Are Getting Longer

In my latest Nameberry post, I look at how U.S. baby names have grown over the past century — especially in terms of syllables. Names like Mary, Ruth and Grace have given way to Sophia, Olivia and Isabella.

The numbers don't really account for nicknames, of course. (My name is officially three syllables, though I only use one of them.) But it does speak to America's changing tastes. Names that were once considered perfectly acceptable birth-certificate material now feel clipped (or as one commenter eloquently put it, "unfinished").

Sophie is a good example. Most Americans would see that as the nickname version of Sophia. But a century ago, Sophie was more common than Sophia as a given name.

Some of this is due to the growth of America's Spanish-speaking population. It's natural that they would prefer Spanish name suffixes ("-a," "-ia") over English and French ones ("-e," "-ie," "-y"). But I think the preference for, say, Isabella over Isabel transcends ethnicity. Same for Olivia over Olive.

It goes back to this idea of names feeling unfinished — something that hits home for us. Is Lucy an unfinished name? Some people might think so. Should it be Lucia or Lucille or Lucillia (yes, Lucillia is real).

As I noted before, the British take the opposite tack, preferring nickname-y options (Harry, Jack, Alfie) over more formal-sounding versions.

I'm not sure which approach is better, but Americans should probably realize that their thirst for longer names is based on modern tastes — not some historic authenticity.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Return to Socrates Sculpture Park

The great thing about Socrates Sculpture Park, the outdoor museum in Queens, is there's always something new to see.

"Balance" by Kimberly Mayhorn

It's been a while since we were there last — I previously blogged about it in November 2012 — so I figured I'd take the kids for another visit (it was the first trip for Lucy, who's never explored this part of Queens).

"What's Progression" by Fitzhugh Karol

Here's a sampling of what we saw.

"Homeland" by Edward Schexnayder

"SkyWatch Spider" by Zaq Landsberg

"Portal" by Amanda Long

"Moon Lasso" by Dane R. Winkler

"Far From This Setting in Which I Now Find Myself" by Meredith James

"06.Sixt_een. O four" by David Wilson

"Solos" by Jordan Griska

"Corner" by Eto Otitigbe

Saturday, November 08, 2014

I'm Not Even Living Large by 1950s Standards

I came across this infographic on Twitter (hat tip: Burrito Justice). It shows how American families have been shrinking in size despite living in increasingly large houses.

Courtesy of via

According to this, the average home is approaching 2,500 square feet. For someone like me, who has spent most of his adult life in San Francisco and New York, that's hard to fathom.

Even when we lived a more suburban existence in Berkeley, our house was less than half that size.

Our family, meanwhile, is about twice the size of the current average. While our apartment feels spacious by New York standards, it's under 1,000 square feet. That means each person has less than 200 square feet apiece — significantly worse than a 1950s family.

In 2011, before I knew we were moving to New York or having a third child, I complained about how our space per person had gradually declined. ("It seems unlikely I will ever have room for a proper man cave," I groused.) I had no idea how bad it would get!

But I hereby vow to keep this family above 100 square feet per person, which I believe is the level at which your home becomes a Chinatown bunkhouse.

And at least we still have it better than the "Too Many Cooks" family.