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How Much Does Pop Culture Affect the Prevalence of Certain Baby Names?

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In 2006, 'Jasper' was the 567th most popular name in the country for newborn boys. In 2013, it became the 248th most-popular—a precipitous jump. With absolutely no offense intended towards anyone named Jasper, why on earth did this happen?

What separates the rise of 'Jasper' from newly popular names like 'Jaxon' is that 'Jasper' was not invented recently. It follows a unique curve, as the chart below demonstrates, in which it nearly disappears for decades and then immediately surges back to 1880 levels:

Between 2006 and 2013, there was a 72% increase in instances where a baby named 'Jasper' was introduced into the American populace. This kind of curve—where a name loses its popularity but then quickly regains it—has been seen before, with the name 'Benjamin' (specifically spelled with an i):

The connection? Both names appeared in hugely popular and defining pop culture works right before the spike. Benjamin's popularity started to rise in 1968, shortly after the release of The Graduate. Enough parents-to-be were inspired by Benjamin Braddock's post-college ennui to flood the country with Benjamins.

The popularity of 'Jasper' is, unfortunately, not inspired by Grampa Simpson's friend on The Simpsons ("That's a paddlin'"), but rather Jasper Hale, a character from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight novels, which peaked on the bestseller lists shortly before the name's surprising rise.

'Jasper' is actually a rather small example of Twilight's effect on baby names. In 2009, 'Isabella' became the top name for girls (the shortened 'Bella' was the story's protagonist), and 'Cullen' (which is her romantic foil's last name), jumped 300 spots for boys.

There is no doubt that pop culture contributes to the popularity of baby names. According to Baby Center, 2014 saw a huge increase in names inspired by Netflix's Orange is the New Black. In one year, 'Galina' went up 67%, 'Nicky' 35%, 'Piper' 28%, and 'Dayanara' 19%.

Parents, like children, are susceptible to trends, and trends pulse closer to the surface in the age of the Internet. A baby name can achieve a snowball effect, and even someone who hasn't read or seen the master text will likely stumble upon it through a Google search or baby name site (of which there are a boatload).

Once a name catches on, its very cadence can become so trendy that it inspires others. "Vowels are enormously popular and influential," Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, told the New York Times. For example, Jaden, which became ubiquitous shortly after Will and Jada Pinkett Smith gave it to their son, inspired variants like 'Jayden,' which became the most popular baby name in New York for boys in 2013. "For 'Jayden,'" Wattenberg explains, "there is the long 'a' sound. And today, a third of American boys receive a name ending in the letter 'n.' In fact, 'Jayden' is part of an entire rhyming name family that has defined the sound of a generation for American boys. In a typical year, you’ll find dozens of 'Aiden' variations in the top thousand—'Jayden' and 'Braden' and 'Aiden' and 'Caden' and even 'Zayden.'"

Don't be surprised when President Zayden and Vice President Braden rise to power in 2078. Their quaint, old-fashioned names will remind elderly voters of the good ol' days.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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