Monthly Archives: January 2019

David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd

David and the PhoenixDavid and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with other reviewers, this charming story is a childhood favorite of mine. David is a boy of ten or so who has just moved into a new house at the foot of a mountain. He explores the mountain and discovers The Phoenix, a huge talking bird who is vain, pretentious, and adventure-loving. He and David become fast friends. Since it’s summer vacation David spends every day climbing the mountain and going on adventures with the Phoenix. They meet a witch, gryffens, a faun, and other mythical creatures. The book has very much the same feel as the song Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul, and Mary. The Phoenix is being pursued by The Scientist, who, unfortunately, is not given a sympathetic treatment. The book was a Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club selection. Although aimed at children, the vocabulary is surprisingly advanced. It would make an excellent read for or to a child of David’s age. At some point I must have mentioned this book to my wife, as she obtained a copy from the local school district some time in the past and was able to locate it on our shelves when I remarked about it. I owned a copy as a child, but that one is long gone and this one is not it. It’s probably not available in your local library, but it is at Amazon in both Kindle and hard cover versions.

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Baby Names – Regional trends

In my last post I discussed recent trends in baby names, focusing on why some have come into or gone out of fashion. Today I want to look at which names are regional, and speculate why that is. These tables might be useful for authors choosing names for their characters. I selected several boys’ and girls’ names that show marked regional preferences. See the table:

Name Sex Region States where most popular
Isaac M Mormon UT, NV, AZ
Clyde M Appalachia WV, TN, NC, KY
Anthony M Italian NY, NJ, RI
Lars M Scandinavian WA, MN, CA
Horace M South GA, AL, SC
Clifton M Deep South MS, NC, VA, LA
Noel M Big population states TX, CA, NY

The ethnic names are pretty easy to analyze for regional preferences. Similarly, Old Testament names are very popular among Mormons both for boys and girls. The other names show the regional preferences in the chart, but I’m not sure why. Clifton is an English name. It’s not very popular these days, but historically, it’s been a southern name for some reason. I remember the old song Wolverton Mountain and its fearsome character Clifton Clowers, which was set in Arkansas. I never thought of Horace as a southern name, but it clearly is one. Of course it’s the name of a Roman poet. The name Clyde is Scottish and that can probably explain why it’s popular in Appalachia where Scots-Irish settled heavily in early America, probably due to their mining experience. I have a pretty good idea why Noel is markedly more popular in the states with big populations. See notes of methodology below. The list of states in the table, by the way, are in the order of how popular the names are (or were, since the data covers from 1910 to 2017). Most of the regional preferences have moderated in recent decades, presumably due to travel being easier now and populations mix more.

Now for the girls.

Name Sex Region States where most popular
Gretchen F German/Scandinavian MN, IA, WI
Madonna F Upper Midwest IA, IN, SD
Aliyah F Arab? Spanish? NV, AZ, FL
Dolly F Appalachia WV,  KY, VA
Elaine/Elena F Elaine: Northern Half, Elena: SW Elaine: evenly distributed, Elena: NM, AZ, CA, TX
Annie F Deep South AL, MS, GA, SC, NC
Latoya F African-American DC, MS, LA

Gretchen and Latoya can pretty much be explained by ethnicity. I haven’t identified a reason for Madonna’s and Dolly’s regional trends. Aliyah is very popular among Arabs according to websites I visited, yet its preference is in largely Hispanic states. It must also be popular among Spanish speakers. Most surprising of all for me, however, was Annie. That name has a very pronounced popularity in the Deep South compared to the rest of the country, the most extreme regionality of any of the names I found, yet I was not aware it was a southern name. It was popular throughout all the South. Similarly Elaine was popular throughout the northern half rather evenly distributed, yet not at all in the South. Elena can perhaps be explained as a Spanish name, but I thought it was curious how these two near-identical names split the country on a north-south basis.

I tried to find non-ethnic names that showed regional preference, in some of the other areas, like the West, Florida, etc. My own name, Russ, does prefer the Northwest: WA, OR, CA; but it wasn’t as stark a difference as the names in the charts. Constance was strongly regional to New England (ME, RI, NH) up through the 1950s, but is rare now and evenly distributed.

A note on methodology. The data is from the U.S. Census, which releases baby names for every state every year. My data covers 1910 – 2017. The popularity numbers are based on percentage of babies with the name, not the count. Because the U.S. Census Bureau for privacy reasons only publishes the names which occurred five or more times in a year in each state I had to adjust the percentages. I was able to obtain the total number of babies (names not listed) born in each state each year and by comparing the totals of named babies to total babies I could determine accurate percentages for babies whose names appeared in all states. For less common names where some years they didn’t appear five times or more in some or all states, I have no data, or only data from populous states and those rankings are not accurate. That probably explains Noel. I found it surprising that in some states some years over half the babies born did not make the five minimum cutoff. Bear in mind, too, that the popularity varied over time and may not be accurate for the current day.

Baby Names – recent trends

Recent trends in baby names can only be tracked through 2017 since U.S. Census data has published only that far. There are some interesting trends, though. If you just want to know what’s popular these days, you can go to the census site. I’m more interested in what has changed significantly upward or downward and why. Take a look at these charts for the male names Theodore and Colby.

Rise and Fall of Colby – NOTE: charts represent percentage of all births of that sex, not absolute numbers

Resurgence of Theodore

I’m not sure why Colby (and its variant Kolby) first became moderately popular in the 1970s, but the spectacular jump in 2001 I traced to the success of a contestant on the TV show Survivor at that time. The name hasn’t surfaced in pop culture since then that I could find, which is no doubt why it has subsided since then. Theodore, of course, was first popular when our president bore that name. It’s not clear to me why a gradual resurgence began around 2010. Although it’s gradual, it’s quite substantial. Such a slow climb is not typical of a pop culture cause, and is rare among traditional names such as Theodore. The name Winston¬† has a somewhat similar resurgence, beginning about that same time. Is there a new interest in historical figures?

1940’s surge due to Churchill, but why now?

Now let’s examine girl’s names.

Samara – three jumps

Dolly Parton made this name popular twice

Girl’s names tend to be more influenced by pop culture than boy’s names. Jolene (1973) was Dolly Parton’s most popular song in terms of how often it was recorded by others. She also did a popular cover with the band Pentatonix in 2016, no doubt accounting for the surge then. I’m having more trouble attributing those spikes in Samara’s profile. Actress Samara Weaving might be the cause of the most recent one since she’s had major roles in recent movies and the TV series SMILF, but I haven’t been able to track down anything for 2003 where it first jumped. I examined where the name Jolene was most popular during these different time frames. Prior to 1973 the three states in which the name was most popular were Utah, Iowa, and Nebraska. During 1973 – 1977 it was the Dakotas and Alaska (country music territory), and after 2010, West Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri (also country music territory). It may be possible to track demographic movements this way. Much has been written recently about the steroid “crisis” centered on West Virginians moving into Ohio. See my review of Hillbilly Elegy as a good example.

Other names that have increased quite a bit in the last few years are Matias for boys and Ophelia for girls.

Oddly, or perhaps not, negative publicity about a name, such as an assassin, child molester, or despicable TV character does not seem to result in a precipitous drop in a name’s popularity. Some names do drop, though, and it’s seldom clear why. Colby is perhaps the exception, but it’s clearly not due to negativity, only the absence of the preexisting¬† media boost. Why do long-popular names drop?

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to put a star rating on this one. It’s written in the first person through the eyes of a severely autistic English boy (Christopher) who is also a math whiz. Or maths as they say over there. As such, the language is stilted and simplistic. The “plot,” which Christopher considers to be a mystery, is nothing more than a recounting of his experiences involving a neighbor’s dog who was killed and his own broken home.

I have a severely autistic nephew and I’m very sympathetic to the author’s attempt at bringing understanding to the public of how autistic children think and feel. However, I can’t say I liked the book. I feel almost guilty that I don’t like it better, but the language was boring and, frankly, not very realistic in my experience. I understand the author has extensive experience with autistic children, so perhaps he knows some who speak and act like Christopher, but my nephew is less gifted and more normal. He is a great bowler, though. He once bowled a 300 game. I didn’t hate the book, but I did find myself skipping over a lot of it, especially the digressions where Christopher explains ordinary things. I understand better now how women feel about mansplaining.

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“Dark side of the moon”? NOT!

Now that the Chinese have put a lander (the Chang’e-4) on the far side of the moon, news announcers all over America have been saying it landed on the dark side of the moon. Wrong! The far side gets just as much sunlight as the near side. When the moon is full the far side is dark but when it’s a new moon, the far side is in full sunlight. Is it any wonder American kids are so bad at science when authority figures put out bad science?

Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis is a science fiction book about the colonization of a distant planet by humans – pilgrims of a sort. I gave up on it after about 60 or 70 pages, so I’m not posting an actual review or a star rating. I didn’t give it enough of a chance to judge its real merit, but I thought it would be useful to some readers to know that it starts slow and drags from there. It is rather depressing at the beginning, too, but there’s reason to see hope based on reviews and promotional blurbs. If you’re into world-building sci-fi, you may like it.

Welcome 2019

I haven’t had much to blog about the last few days but I felt I should at least welcome 2019 in with a post. I wish all my readers a happy 2019. For Christmas I got myself a new laptop and some UnderArmour running pants. My kids gave me a combination crossword-jigsaw puzzle. and a book on breaking codes with Python. I’ve already solved the crossword part and now I’m using the finished crossword as a guide to complete the jigsaw. That’s it for now. Stay safe.