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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
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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