“Parents increasingly tend to give their children unusual, if not unique, names during and shortly after positive social mood trends,” says Alan Hall, a senior analyst at the Socionomics Institute (www.socionomics.net) and a contributing author to the book Socionomic Studies of Society and Culture. “Parents are more likely to opt for ordinary names during and shortly after negative mood trends.”
Hall says one of the best ways to measure the country’s social mood is through the ups and downs of the stock market, so he compared more than seven decades worth of stock-market records to baby-naming records. He found three ways naming babies has similarities to investing in the stock market.
One finding was that a substantial rally in the stock market was matched with an increase in the percentage of children who were given less common names. When the market was down, parents retreated to more common names—much the way investors switch to safer investments during troubling times.
While the average mom or dad probably isn’t consciously thinking, “The social mood is good, I’m going to get creative with my baby’s name,” Hall speculates this tendency has an evolutionary basis in our desire for our offspring to survive and thrive. When social mood heads in the negative direction, parents unconsciously feel that an unusual name could hurt their children’s prospects in society or even endanger them, Hall says. That’s when they stick with classics like James or Emma. “On the other hand, when the mood trends positively, parents feel that an unusual name will help their children get noticed for their special qualities.”
In addition, just as investors are influenced by what others do, so sometimes are parents when it comes to naming their children, according to one 2009 study that Hall cited in his own research. Parents who see a name gaining in popularity are more likely to choose it, just as investors are tempted by the latest hot stock.
And speaking of hot stocks, Hall notes that people jump enthusiastically into the latest craze, but lose interest quickly. Unusual names, ones that barely make it into the top 1,000 popular names of the decade, work much the same way. For example, a graph at babynamewizard.com shows that the name Qiana enjoyed a sudden, dramatic spike in popularity in 1977, peaked in 1978, but quickly plummeted back into obscurity by 1982, never to crack the top 1,000 names again.
The United States has had a bull market for a while now, and the positive mood behind it could be why names such as Wesson for boys and Calliope for girls have crept up into the top 1,000 names, but Hall says, “When a bear market comes, expect to see more-conformist baby names.”