I have a new online love, one that swallows me up for hours at a time. It makes me laugh; it's a looking glass into history, giving names to soldiers storming the beach on D-Day, to lovebirds cruising in a 1957 Thunderbird, to girls wearing capris and blowing big bubbles, to all of us who will never forget the picture of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on that awful plane ride back from Dallas, and to everyone who wore — or refused to wear — tie-dyed shirts; it forces me, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, to "puzzle and puzzle until my puzzler is sore" and it makes me blurt out, more than occasionally, "what the heck (or a reasonable facsimile of heck)?"
And I never, ever get bored.
It's the "most popular baby names" tool at ssa.gov (where, of course, you also find endless useful information about your benefits and other Social Security-related issues). I know, I know: You're probably no longer in the business of having to choose baby names. Well, neither am I. The beauty of this tool is that you don't need to be. All you need is a curiosity about the most popular names of today for babies born in the United States in 2011 — and how they compare to the most popular names every year all the way back to 1880.
You can sort by year: Choose your birth year, or your kids' or grandkids' birth years, or your parents' birth years, and see what names were most — and least — popular, from 1 to 1,000. Or choose a name, and see how its popularity has changed every year since 1880. Slice it by state (Red vs. blue? East vs. West? North vs. South? States with large Hispanic, Asian American, or African American populations?), or find the most popular names for twins (in 2011, Olivia and Sophia for girls, Daniel and David for boys). And so on … and on … and on … and ….