Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
610 - Would Smell As Sweet: Geo-popularity of Given Names
Maybe you've never heard of Emmaland or Sophialand, but if you're reading this in the United States, there's a better than 90% chance that you live in either one of these two curious nations.
The former is made up of the 31 states where 'Emma' was the most popular baby name for girls in 2012. In spite of that institutional majority, another girl's name proved more popular nationwide. 'Sophia' also came out ahead in 16 states, including America's three most populous ones .
Last year, a total of 20,791 Emmas were born in the United States. The size of that cohort  was only surpassed by the 22,158 Sophias added to the US population in 2012. Together, both names came out on top in 47 of the 50 states. The exceptions were Florida, where baby girls were most likely to be named Isabella (#3 nationwide); Idaho, where new parents preferred Olivia for their girls (#4 overall); and Vermont, where new parents favoured Ava for their newborn daughters (#5 in the national ranking).
Few aspects of anthrophonomastics  are as eagerly discussed as the names people give their children. Perhaps because few acts are as simultaneously intimate and public: the name you give your child reveals something of the hopes and ambitions you have for your progeny, not to mention the tastes and traditions you inherited from your forebears.
In the last half century, baby-naming has become a lot more agonising. Until the mid-20th century, the popularity of baby names was less prone to variation and fluctuation. Fitting in was a greater priority than standing out: if you weren't named after a family member of a previous generation (often your godfather and/or godmother), you were still most likely stuck with a name from a canonical list of biblical and classical names.
For example, the most popular girl's name in the US from at least the early 1800s up until 1961 was Mary. That remarkable run was only interrupted towards the end by half a dozen Lindas (1947-'52), then followed in the Swinging Sixties by a string of Lisas (1962-'69), and a slightly longer stretch of Jennifers (1970-'84). Recent fashions have been even shorter-lived: Jessica (1985-'90), Ashley (1991-'92), Jessica again (1993-'95), Emily (1996-2007) and Isabella (2008-'10) have succeeded each other fairly rapidly, with the reigning champion Sophia enthroned as recently as 2011.
Not only do today's champions reign shorter, they're also not nearly as popular as yesterday's pop queens. In 1961, the last year of Mary's reign, over 47,000 girls of that name were born in the United States. In 2011, the first year of the current champion, less than 22,000 Sophias were born. The erosion of the top spot's popularity  reflects the trend from conformity to individuality.
It might be true that yesterday's staples are tomorrow's classics, but the numbers indicate that it's still too early for Mary to make a comeback. After losing the top spot in 1962, the name lingered in the top 10 until 1972, consistently sinking lower each year to #123 in 2012. It'll be a while still before Mary will have sunk low enough to achieve that new-name smell indispensable for success.
These and other trends, whether equally consistent or more remarkably volatile, make the annual release of last year's most popular baby names a recurring conversational favourite, both in the US and in other countries . But, in the US at least, those trends also have a remarkable geographic component.
Considering the top names for girls per state, we see two distinct blocks emerging: Sophialand is anchored on the West Coast, with 7 of its 16 states forming a contiguous  territory, from Washington State all the way down to Texas. Its giant next-door neighbour Emmaland occupies a gigantic swathe of land across the west, ranging unimpeded into Pennsylvania. A few mutual enclaves and exclaves  complicate the situation in the Midwestern to Northeastern area: there are four Sophia-enclaves (Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island and a complex of 5 contiguous states: New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia). All the Emma states are contiguous, except for Emmaland's New England province: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The US's two non-contiguous states each declare for either of the main nations: Alaska is Emmaland, Hawaii is Sophialand.
A very different picture emerges when we look at the regional distribution of most popular boy's names. The picture is much more fragmented: 11 names circulate as states favourites, instead of only 5 on the girls' side.
The most popular name, as per number of states, is Mason, top name in 16 states. Those states are all over the place: in the northwest (Washington), New England (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine), throughout the northeast (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland), in the midwest (Kansas and Arkansas), and the deep south (Louisiana). In a game of risk, my money would be on either of the two more compact runners-up, each with 10 states in their portfolio. Liam controls a giant block of the western United States, from Oregon to Iowa (plus an exclaved Indiana), while William controls much of the Old South, plus Utah. Smaller powers are the two tri-state blocks of Michael (New York, New Jersey, Delaware) and Jacob (California, Arizona, Texas, and Illinois). All the other states are Einzelgänger  - each in a gang of one. Old Testament names abound: Noah in New Mexico, Benjamin in Massachusetts, Elijah in Oklahoma, Ethan in Hawaii. Alaska opts for the New Testament (James), Nevada hearkens back to Greek history (Alexander) and Florida goes for Jayden.
The origin of that name is more obscure than most other popular names. It shot up the rankings out of nowhere starting in 1994, when it entered the Top 1000 at #851 (with 159 Jaydens born). In 2011, Jayden was the 4th most popular boys' name, with just under 17,000 boys of that name born. Its vertiginous climb was helped by the fact that Will Smith named his son Jaden in 1998. The origin of the name could be Biblical (there is a Jadon the Meronothite in Nehemiah 3:7), but perhaps more likely is an origin in a Star Trek episode originally aired in 1994. In the episode, Lt. Cdr. Data, having lost is memory, is named Jayden by inhabitants of an alien planet.
 California (38 million), Texas (26 million) and New York (20 million). These three states alone make up over a quarter of the entire US population (316 million).
 The term ‘cohort’ originally applied to the size of a non-Roman infantry unit that proved versatile enough on the battlefield to be integrated as a standard subdivision of a Roman legion. After the Reforms of Marius (in 107 BC), a legion (3,600 to 6,000 soldiers strong and commanded by a legatus) was subdivides in 10 cohorts (360 to 600 strong, and led by a tribune). Each cohort was composed of three maniples (120 to 200 soldiers each), and each maniple split into two centuries (each about 80 soldiers). Although cohorts often didn’t have separate commanders, they were ranked for the quality of their soldiers, with the bravest, most battle-hardened troops in the first cohort, which was usually deployed at the most crucial parts of the battlefield. ‘Cohort’ is also used in a demographic sense, to group people born in a certain period that share a certain characteristic. Say, just over 22,000 Sophias - about 4 legions strong...
 The study of the names of human beings, including given names and surnames, but also nicknames, patronyms and matronyms (names referring to a person's father and mother, respectively), teknonyms (names referring to a person's children, sometimes also symbolically, e.g. Abu Nidal ['Father of the Struggle'], or Abu Dhabi, ['Father of Deer', possibly after a local hunter of gazelles]. The city of that name was sometimes also called Umm Dhabi ['Mother of Deer'], while the original toponym was Milh ['Salt']).
 Compared to the much smaller decline in the number of live births in the US over the elapsed 50 years: from 4.27 million in 1961 to 3.99 million in 2011.
 In the US, the data is released by the Social Security Administration. For an overview of popular baby names elsewhere, see this link.
 contiguous derives from the Latin contiguus ('touching'), and is related to the words contact, contingent and contagion. Synonyms: coterminous, adjoining. Most often used in: the contiguous US, i.e. the 'Lower 48' (the 48 states of the US that 'touch each other', i.e. excluding Alaska, Hawaii and other off-shore US territories and possessions).
 The definition of enclaves and exclaves bears repeating here. An enclave is a piece of sovereign territory wholly enclosed by another country. The enclosed country may be sovereign (e.g. the Vatican, within Italy) or dependent (e.g. Baarle-Hertog, Belgian territory within the Netherlands), but cannot border the sea (e.g. Monaco, bordering France and the Mediterranean), for in that case it is not wholly enclosed. An exclave is a piece of sovereign territory that is separated from its 'mainland', by another country, and/or by the sea. So Kaliningrad, bordering Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, is a Russian exclave (but not an enclave). And Lesotho, a sovereign nation encircled by South Africa is an enclave (but not an exclave).
 The opposite of a Doppelgänger.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
New research from the University of Granada found that stress could help determine sex.
Stress in the modern world is generally viewed as a hindrance to a healthy life.
Indeed, excess stress is associated with numerous problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, obesity, and other conditions. While the physiological mechanisms associated with stress can be beneficial, as Kelly McGonigal points out in The Upside of Stress, the modern wellness industry is built on the foundation of stress relief.
The effects of stress on pregnant mothers is another longstanding area of research. For example, what potential negative effects do elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have on fetal development?
A new study, published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, investigated a very specific aspect of stress on fetuses: does it affect sex? Their findings reveal that women with elevated stress are twice as likely to give birth to a girl.
For this research, the University of Granada scientists recorded the stress levels of 108 women before, during, and after conception. By testing cortisol concentration in their hair and subjecting the women to a variety of psychological tests, the researchers discovered that stress indeed influences sex. Specifically, stress made women twice as likely to deliver a baby girl.
The team points out that their research is consistent with other research that used saliva to show that stress resulted in a decreased likelihood of delivering a boy.
Maria Isabel Peralta RamírezPhoto courtesy of University of Granada
Lead author María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, a researcher at the UGR's Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, says that prior research focused on stress levels leading up to and after birth. She was interested in stress's impact leading up to conception. She says:
"Specifically, our research group has shown in numerous publications how psychological stress in the mother generates a greater number of psychopathological symptoms during pregnancy: postpartum depression, a greater likelihood of assisted delivery, an increase in the time taken for lactation to commence (lactogenesis), or inferior neurodevelopment of the baby six months after birth."
While no conclusive evidence has been rendered, the research team believes that activation of the mother's endogenous stress system during conception sets the concentration of sex hormones that will be carried throughout development. As the team writes, "there is evidence that testosterone functions as a mechanism when determining the baby's sex, since the greater the prenatal stress levels, the higher the levels of female testosterone." Levels of paternal stress were not factored into this research.
Previous studies show that sperm carrying an X chromosome are better equipped to reach the egg under adverse conditions than sperm carrying the Y chromosome. Y fetuses also mature slowly and are more likely to produce complications than X fetuses. Peralta also noted that there might be more aborted male fetuses during times of early maternal stress, which would favor more girls being born under such circumstances.
In the future, Peralta and her team say an investigation into aborted fetuses should be undertaken. Right now, the research was limited to a small sample size that did not factor in a number of elements. Still, the team concludes, "the research presented here is pioneering to the extent that it links prenatal stress to the sex of newborns."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
What is the price of peace?
Or put another way, how much better off would we all be in a world where armed conflict was avoided?
To give some context, 689 million people - more than 9% of the world's population - live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures, underscoring the potential impact peace-building activities could have.
Just over 10% of global GDP is being spent on containing, preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence. As well as the 1.4 million violent deaths each year, conflict holds back economic development, causes instability, widens inequality and erodes human capital.
Putting a price tag on peace and violence helps us see the disproportionately high amounts spent on creating and containing violent acts compared to what is spent on building resilient, productive, and peaceful societies.
—Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman, Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP)
The cost of violence
In a report titled "The Economic Value of Peace 2021", the IEP says that for every death from violent conflict, 40 times as many people are injured. The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
Grounds for hope
But the picture is not all bleak. The economic impact of violence fell for the second year in a row in 2019, as parts of the world became more peaceful.
The global cost dropped by $64 billion between 2018 and 2019, even though it was still $1.2 trillion higher than in 2012.
In five regions of the world the costs increased in 2019. The biggest jump was in Central America and the Caribbean, where a rising homicide rate pushed the cost up 8.3%.
Syria, with its ongoing civil war, suffered the greatest economic impact with almost 60% of its GDP lost to conflict in 2019. That was followed by Afghanistan (50%) and South Sudan (46%).
The report makes a direct link between peace and prosperity. It says that, since 2000, countries that have become more peaceful have averaged higher GDP growth than those which have become more violent.
"This differential is significant and represents a GDP per capita that is 30% larger when compounded over a 20-year period," the report says adding that peaceful countries also have substantially lower inflation and unemployment.
"Small improvements in peace can have substantial economic benefits," it adds. "For example, a 2% reduction in the global impact of violence is roughly equivalent to all overseas development aid in 2019."
Equally, the total value of foreign direct investment globally only offsets 10% of the economic impact of violence. Authoritarian regimes lost on average 11% of GDP to the costs of violence while in democracies the cost was just 4% of GDP.
And the gap has widened over time, with democracies reducing the cost of violence by almost 16% since 2007 while in authoritarian countries it has risen by 27% over the same period.
The report uses 18 economic indicators to evaluate the cost of violence. The top three are military spending (which was $5.9 trillion globally in 2019), the cost of internal security which makes up over a third of the total at $4.9 trillion and homicide.
Peace brings prosperity
The formula also contains a multiplier effect because as peace increases, money spent containing violence can instead be used on more productive activities which drive growth and generate higher monetary and social returns.
"Substantial economic improvements are linked to improvements in peace," says the report. "Therefore, government policies should be directed to improving peacefulness, especially in a COVID-19 environment where economic activity has been subdued."
The IEP says what it terms "positive peace" is even more beneficial than "negative peace" which is simply the absence of violence or the fear of violence. Positive peace involves fostering the attitudes, institutions & structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.
The foundations of a positively peaceful society, it says, are: a well functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of human capital, low levels of corruption and equitable distribution of resources.
The World Economic Forum's report Mobilizing the Private Sector in Peace and Reconciliation urged companies large and small to recognise their potential to work for peace quoting the former Goldman Sachs chair, the late Peter Sutherland, who said: "Business thrives where society thrives."
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.