New research claims that parents, at least in the U.S., choose baby names on the basis of social “momentum,” whether the name is rising or falling in popularity. Todd Gureckis, a professor of psychology at NYU, and Robert Goldstone, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, say this new research sheds light on how individual decisions are influenced by group behavior:
“Our results give support to the idea that individual naming choices are in a large part determined by the social environment that expecting parents experience… Like the stock market, cycles of boom and bust appear to arise out of the interactions of a large set of agents who are continually influencing one another.”
The research shows that this baby-naming pattern is relatively recent. Using records provided by the U.S. Social Security Administration, the researchers observed that from 1880 to 1905, the popularity of a name fluctuated from year to year.
However, more recently a different pattern has emerged. Names that experience increasing popularity one year, tend to increase even more the next, allowing the name to steadily gain momentum. The reverse is true for names declining in popularity. As Gureckis and Goldstone note:
“Parents in the United States are increasingly sensitive to the change in frequency of a name in recent time, such that names that are gaining in popularity are seen as more desirable than those that have fallen in popularity in the recent past… This bias then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: names that are falling continue to fall while names on the rise reach new heights of popularity, in turn influencing a new generation of parents.”
This study is published in the journal Topics of Cognitive Science.