‘Alexa: what should I call my baby?’ Amazon Echo turning parents off robot assistant’s name
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A US researcher has found that since Amazon launched the Amazon Echo smart speaker, the popularity of the name of its virtual assistant, Alexa, has dropped by a third.
The trend was described in a blog post by Professor Philip N Cohen, a sociologist based at the University of Maryland who specialises in the sociology of families, social demographics and inequality. Cohen - who has written about patterns of naming - discovered the trend while looking through 2017 data released by the US Social Security Administration.
Despite having had engineers working on its market-leading smart speaker technology since at least 2010, Amazon only put the Amazon Echo on widespread sale in 2015. Since then, the popularity of the name Alexa – which was given to Amazon Echo’s smart assistant due to the high precision with which the ‘X’ sound can be detected – has fallen by 33 per cent.
In 2015, 6,050 baby girls were named Alexa in the US. Since then, the popularity of the name has declined a significant 33 per cent, having fallen 21.3 per cent in 2016 and a further 19.5 per cent in 2017. Last year, just 3,882 baby girls were given the name Alexa in the US.
While the name ‘Siri’ has also dropped in popularity since the launch of Apple’s eponymous virtual assistant in 2011 (120 baby girls were named Siri in 2009, compared with just 20 in 2017) this effect is less noteworthy, given the longstanding unpopularity of the name Siri compared with the name Alexa.
Alexa could be suffering from ‘name contamination”, in which the association of a given name with an unpleasant, unpopular or embarrassing public figure causes it to drop in popularity. Perhaps the most notable example is of ‘Adolf’ and its variations, which virtually vanished as a newly given name following World War II, despite widespread popularity in the preceding decades. The association of Alexa with a robotic woman’s voice could be having a similar – though far less exaggerated – effect.
In A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions and Culture Change, Stanley Lieberson also suggests that the decline in the name ‘Donald’ could be related to the popular but unsophisticated cartoon character Donald Duck.
In the same blog post, Cohen notes that the popularity of the name Donald is continuing its decades-long fall, now demonstrating “new urgency” with a 4.3 per cent fall in a single year. Melania and Ivanka – the names of US President Donald Trump’s third and current wife and his daughter respectively – have both seen growth in the US, although they still remain uncommon, while Malia – the name of former President Barack Obama’s older daughter – has continued to grow in popularity.