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


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.

Do 'Close Door' Buttons in Elevators Actually Do Anything?

When you’re running late for work, one small comfort is finding an empty elevator waiting for you at your office building. You scurry inside, and since no one else is waiting to enter, you jab the 'close door' button. The doors comply, the elevator starts moving, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a familiar scenario for many, but it’s also a big fat lie. That’s because most of the door-close buttons in U.S. elevators don’t actually work. In fact, they’re programmed that way.

But before you get ready to send off a strongly worded email to your office building’s elevator manufacturer, you may want to hear why this is the case. When the Americans With Disabilities Act was first passed in 1990, certain requirements for elevators were outlined, such as the installation of raised buttons, braille signs, and audible signals.

The act ensured that someone with a disability would have enough time to get inside, stipulating that elevator doors must remain fully open for at least three seconds and thereby preventing the button from cutting that time short. Some elevator manufacturers took it one step further by deactivating the button entirely.

Since the life span of an elevator is about 25 years and the Disabilities Act has been around for 28 years, it’s safe to assume that most of the elevators in operation today do not have a functioning 'close door' button, The New York Times reports. Only firefighters are able to close elevator doors manually through the use of a key.

It's important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, though. As the New York Daily News noted, New York City elevators are required by law to have working 'close door' buttons, even though some operate on a long delay (so long, in fact, that it calls the button's usefulness into question).

However, you’re in luck if you’re taking a lift (which, of course, is British for “elevator”). 'Close door' buttons are fully functional in most elevators in the UK, according to The Telegraph. A spokesman for the Lift and Escalator Industry Association told the newspaper that not all elevators have the button, but when they’re present, they do work. Again, the time it takes for the doors to shut after pressing the button varies from lift to lift.

While U.S. elevator manufacturers have a seemingly good reason for disabling the 'close door' button, some may question the point of propagating the myth and installing a button that serves no purpose in the first place. In response, some would argue that placebo buttons serve an important psychological function in society.

"Perceived control is very important," Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer told The New York Times. "It diminishes stress and promotes well-being."

That’s right: By believing that you’re in control of your fate—or at least how quickly you can make it up to the sixth floor—you’re better off. It doesn’t end with elevators, either. Buttons placed at city crosswalks are often disabled, and the thermostats in many office buildings are rigged so that the temperature can’t be altered (even if the numbers appear to change).

Some might swear up and down that elevator 'close door' buttons work, but this, too, could be your brain deceiving you. As author David McRaney wrote in an essay: “If you happen to find yourself pressing a nonfunctional close-door button, and later the doors close, you’ll probably never notice because a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain once you see what you believe is a response to your action. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pressing the button in the future.”

According to The New Yorker, these buttons are designed to alleviate some of the subconscious anxiety that comes from stepping inside a tiny box that's hoisted up some 20 or 40 or 80 floors by a cable: “Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command."

So now you know: Next time you’re running late to work, take comfort in the fact that those few extra seconds you would’ve saved by pressing a functioning 'close door' button aren’t worth all that much in the long run.

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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