The Whiteboard: Kobe, Gianna and a brief history of NBA baby names

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In the grand scheme of things, choosing a name is fairly low on the list of things a parent does to impact the lives of their children (Jason Lee and his son Pilot Inspektor excluded). But that doesn’t make it any less stressful. Having gone through the process twice I can tell you that it feels like an enormous decision, one that could shape identity and reflect a wide range of values.

For many people, a child’s name is used as a way to honor someone else important in their lives — a grandparent, a mother’s maiden name or even an inspirational figure. That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the popularity of Kobe and Gianna as baby names has surged this year.

Per CNN:

“The name Kobe experienced a 175% boost in popularity, while Gianna saw an even bigger jump with a 216% boost, according to the BabyCenter, which posted a list of the most popular names in 2020. The bump was enough to propel Gianna into the top 100 for girls’ names, ranking at 24. Kobe, however, did not break the top 100 despite the rise in popularity.”

Obviously, the story of Kobe and Gianna is both exceptional and tragic but it made me wonder how the popularity of other NBA-adjacent names might have changed over time. Luckily, the Baby Name Voyager lets you actually check, visualizing the popularity of various names over time from aggregated national birth records. Here’s what I was able to find:

Kobe

The Baby Name Voyager does not yet include data for 2020 and data for previous decades is aggregated for the entire decade. But we can see that “Kobe” as a name for boys or girls was completely off the radar in the 1990s, going unranked. In the 2000s, it jumped to the 238rd-most popular boys name, peaking at around 350 per million births. The popularity was fairly steady from 2010 to 2019, never falling below 115 per million births or rising higher than 145 per million births. Once the data from 2020 is incorporated, we’ll likely see a huge surge.

LeBron

The Baby Name Voyager only includes names that, at some point in time, were ranked among the 1,000 most popular names for boys or girls. Somewhat surprisingly, LeBron never qualified. Should this count against him in the GOAT discussion?

Dirk

The popularity of Dirk actually peaked in the 1970s, well before the arrival of the 7-foot unicorn with feathery hair and an even featherier jumper. However, in 2011, the year Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks won their improbable title, it leaped from seven per million births to 10 per million births. Somewhere in Dallas, there is a third-grade class with three Dirk’s in it.

Carmelo

Carmelo is, apparently, a first name with a history that stretches waaaaay beyond Carmelo Anthony. It was actually the 706th-most popular boy’s name in the 1920s. However, it’s peak can absolutely be attributed to the Melo we know and love. It peaked in 2012 as the 578th-most popular boy’s name, with 130 per million births. That year covered parts of Anthony’s first and second full seasons with the New York Knicks.

Kyrie

The name Kyrie appears in the Baby Name Voyager for the first time in 2012, as the 871st-most popular boy’s name. It climbed like a rocket ship, peaking at 285th in 2016, with 460 per million births. It’s dropped slightly but is still hovering — like a UFO over a flat earth — above 440 million per 100 births. We’ll have to see how the 2020 numbers shake out but, at least for know, Kyrie > Kobe in the baby name game.

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