Everyone loves looking up baby name lists, right? Whether or not you are expecting, it’s always fun to see what trends baby name experts are predicting for the coming year. But did you know that natural disasters and other cultural factors play a role in how we choose our child’s name?
According to Wharton marketing professors Jonah Berger and Eric Bradlow — from their upcoming article “From Karen to Katie: Using Baby Names to Understand Cultural Evolution” to be published in the Psychological Science journal — we are more inclined to choose a name that sounds similar to natural disasters than we may want to readily admit. For example, the profs looked at more than 100 years worth of people’s first names and the names of hurricanes. They found that, the bigger the natural disaster, the more the name of the hurricane popped up in casual conversation and, before you know it, there are more girls named “Katie” or “Cassidy” based on its similarities to the sound of the name “Katrina” — as in, Hurricane Katrina.
Berger and Bradlow claim that this type of research will tell marketers a lot about what impacts the public’s choices and will, ultimately, enable them to predict what will be popular in the future based on what is popular now.
They argue that, even when parents try to find unique baby names, it tends to backfire because everyone else is actually thinking of the same sounds and names that you are — and the moment you bring your child to school for the first time you’ll find three other Kaden’s or Kelsey’s running around.
It got me thinking about how much I used to love the name Brianna. For years that was the name I had intended for my future daughter, should I ever have one. I thought it was a beautiful name that you didn’t hear all that often. Then I started working for a daycare centre back in 2008 and there were three — three! — little Brianna’s to look after. So much for my unique, not-very-popular baby name. I’m not going to lie, I was a little crushed at the time. So, I guess this means there was something in popular culture in 2008 that had a distinct “B” sound and was influencing my decisions?
Maybe Berger and Bradlow are onto something here. Or, maybe it’s just another research study that will soon fade from our memories.
Do you think you might have subconsciously named your child after a natural disaster or some other big cultural factor?