Shaquille’s popularity as a baby boy name peaked in 1993 for one obvious reason: It was O’Neal’s rookie year in the NBA. However, this kind of easily explained spike in baby name popularity is the exception, not the rule. The reasons behind the ebb and flow of baby names parents choose each year are generally opaque, and it’s a mystery that has caught the attention of researchers at Carnegie Mellon. Why are names falling out of fashion? What explains the rise of ‘Noah’ and ‘Liam’ and the fall of the others? Researchers set out to study the inexplicable mysteries of what makes a baby name.
Specifically, the researchers wanted to understand changing trends in baby names. Using data from the Social Security Administration, which has tracked the most popular baby names since at least 1880, they developed a mathematical model that captures parents’ conflicting desires to choose a name that stands out at the same time and fits in.
They found that if these two factors were the only ones in play, the same name would be the most popular each year. Since this is not the case, a destabilizing factor must be at play.
Researchers considered social networks, such as neighbors, co-workers and clubs, as a potential factor driving baby name turnover. The research confirmed this hypothesis, as they found that different types of networks produced similar anti-equilibrium effects.
Example: recent opposing popularity trends of girls named Emma and Emily. Between 1996 and 2007, more parents named their little girls Emily than any other name. In 2008, Emma dethroned him, and the Austenian moniker has remained in the top three every year since Emily slipped, falling to 18th place in 2020.
Scholars believe Emily has become less popular because she has become too ubiquitous. Emma was a similar, but socially acceptable name that nevertheless made it much more likely that their child would not have to add their last initial to their name once they reached kindergarten. No Emma B., D’ and K. here – just an Emma.
Of course, now that Emma has dominated for the past two decades, including six years as the most popular female name in the United States, it’s a prime candidate for a similar drop in popularity as more and more more parents are rediscovering Emily or switching to another name entirely.
For parents with a child on the way, this template shows a few different paths to naming the baby: an accepted name that’s popular and likely to drop, and an accepted name that’s less popular and likely to rise, or an unaccepted name. . (in American society it could mean a name from another culture, a TV show like game of thrones, or one that is simply made up) that will stand out, with the positive and negative implications of that non-compliance.