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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Social Subconscious

The way baby naming trends work fascinates me. Out of the four times my parents chose names, twice they chose names they had rarely heard or thought were not too popular, only to find out in the months and years to come that they had tapped into the peak of some major naming trends. You here the story over and over.

 "When we picked the name Ava we thought it was so unique! A throwback, so simple, so beautiful, and not being used. Once she was born though it seemed like we were meeting Ava's everywhere, and now there are three in her preschool!! So much for a unique name..."

"I have ALWAYS wanted a son named Jack! Its just such a cute name! But now its SO popular, and its not fair because its my name, the secret name I have kept for my son for years!!..." 

"My cousin stole my baby name! I have always wanted to name a baby Olivia, but my cousin and I were pregnant at the same time and now she is saying her daugher will be Olivia! She says she has had it picked out since she got married! Out of all the names in the world, how did we pick the same one?"

 Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Why does this happen? How do so many people come to the conclusion that a name is perfect all at the same time? Often these trends are attributed to pieces of popular culture. For example, people say Jacob and Isabella are popular because of the popular TV and Movie series I disagree with this assessment. I would argue that Isabella and Jacob being in Twilight is part of the trend, not the start of it. Stephanie Myers has stated that she chose the name Isabelle because it was the name she wanted for her own daughter, which she never got to use. Jacob was similarly chosen.  Isabella was well on its way to the top prior to the publication of Twilight.

Yes. I am so nerdy that I made a graph. As you can see, Isabella was already trending. Twilight might have given it that last little push to jump from top ten to #1, or perhaps the whole series gave the name more staying power than it would have otherwise had, but the series did not bring about the trend. (I would have loved to make this chart an aggregate of all spelling variations, but the data-gathering task for it would have been quite difficult given just how many spellings there are!).

So, if its not caused by popular culture, what brings it about? Why did Stephanie Myer want to name her daughter Isabella (as did many other women at the same time?) It seems clear that people of the same generation gravitate towards the same types of names, without ever discussing it or focusing on it, like a mass social subconscious. I do not have a better more specific explanation for it, but I think it makes for an excellent study on how the culture and time we grow up in shapes us in ways we do not even realize.

The question then becomes, what is next? What names are mothers choosing today thinking "oh this is so cute and under used?" only to find out tomorrow that the name is actually uber popular? My big predictions are both boys names - Henry and Charles. I think both of these names will see a signifiant increase in their rank this year. Henry is at 57th and Charles is at 62. I am quite confident they will leap, but how big will the leap be? I also get the sense that El and Em names will continue to grow in popularity - Emmit, Emerson, Eli, Elijah, Elliot, Ell, Eleanor, Elsie. But we shall have to wait and see, shan't we?

I have a feeling this is a topic I will be revisiting, because I can think of about 100 permutations or spinoffs of it that I would like to cram in here, but rather than do that, I will save it for another day and just leave you with the question - What names do you think will jump this year?


  1. I agree with Henry--one of our friends wanted me to name my son Henry :)

    I think generally older names that haven't been popular recently are making a comeback (like William and, specifically, using the nn Will). I can also see George and Walter making a resurgence.

  2. Heh. When we named Henry, we actually thought that it would be a name everyone used but was not very common... so much for that! You're right, every time I turn around there's another Henry.